About Justin Mazzola

Justin Mazzola is an attorney and Researcher with Amnesty International USA. He has worked on issues related to immigration, national security and criminal justice for the organization.
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Leonard Peltier, 38 Years A Detainee: How Did We Get Here?

Amnesty has serious concerns about the fairness of Leonard Peltier's (above) trial (Photo Credit: Taro Yamasaki).

Amnesty has serious concerns about the fairness of Leonard Peltier’s (above) trial (Photo Credit: Taro Yamasaki).

February 6th marked the 38th anniversary of the arrest of Anishinabe-Lokota Native American, Leonard Peltier. Amnesty International marked this date, as did many others in the U.S. and around the world.

Leonard Peltier was arrested 38 years ago in connection with the murders of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, during a confrontation involving American Indian Movement (AIM) members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. While he admits to having been present during the incident, Leonard Peltier, who in 1977 was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders, has always denied killing the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.

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Chelsea Manning: Which One Doesn’t Belong?

It seems clear Manning’s sentence serves only one purpose: to make an example of a soldier who only intended to show the true costs of war (Photo credit should read Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

It seems clear Manning’s sentence serves only one purpose: to make an example of a soldier who only intended to show the true costs of war (Photo credit should read Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

Let’s all take a trip down memory lane to our Sesame Street days and engage in the following exercise of “Which One Doesn’t Belong”:

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Bradley Manning Verdict: Hysteria Over Leakers, Impunity for Human Rights Violators

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning arrives at a U.S. military court facility to hear his sentence in his trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013 (Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning arrives at a U.S. military court facility to hear his sentence in his trial at Fort Meade, Maryland on August 21, 2013 (Photo Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images).

UPDATE: It was reported on August 22 that Pfc. Manning is now publicly identifying as Chelsea Manning and requests that she be identified as such from now on. Amnesty International will now refer to her as Chelsea Manning out of respect for her wishes.

It has been 1,182 days since Pfc. Bradley Manning was arrested at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq for releasing classified information to Wikileaks. This morning, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison, as well as received a reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of his military pay, and dishonorable discharge.

He has already served more than three years in pre-trial detention, including 11 months in conditions described by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture as cruel and inhumane.

He will get credit for those more than 3 years of pre-trial confinement, including 112 days for being unlawfully punished by harsh conditions at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps brig – a literal drop in the bucket compared to the enormous sentence he is facing.

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Bradley Manning Verdict: Double Standards and Misplaced Priorities

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning being escorted from court (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning being escorted from court (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).

It has been a more than three years since the initial leaks of classified information were posted on Wikileaks. Bradley Manning has faced many issues during that three year span – not the least of which being the unnecessarily harsh conditions of his confinement when held in a brig in Quantico – and he will continue to face many more for the foreseeable future.

However, one issue has stood out above all others: being charged and possibly convicted for aiding the enemy, for releasing classified information to Wikileaks – information that Manning reasonably believed demonstrated human rights violations and potential war crimes by the U.S. government.

The charge seemed like a stretch from the get-go. But after hearing the evidence, the prosecution presented to support such a charge, it became painfully obvious that the government was trying to make an example of Bradley Manning: regardless of your motives, if you leak government information you will pay with your life, literally.

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Good News: U.K. Prime Minister Cameron Raises Shaker Aamer With President Obama

Shaker Aamer (Photo Credit: Department of Defense/MCT via Getty Images)

Shaker Aamer (Photo Credit: Department of Defense/MCT via Getty Images)

Shaker Aamer is a U.K. resident who has been held in U.S. custody since 2001 – originally detained in notorious detention facilities at the Bagram and Kandahar Air Force bases in Afghanistan before being transferred in February 2002 to Guantanamo Bay. He was allegedly tortured – both in Afghanistan and during his time at Guantanamo – and has now been on hunger strike for more than 120 days, joining more than 100 other detainees at the facility who are also on strike.

In a recent op-ed in the Guardian, Shaker stated that every day at Guantanamo is torture. He finished the piece with this poignant point: “I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow. But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.”

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Do You Know Who is Detained at Guantanamo Bay?

guantanamoOn May 23, 2013, President Obama stated that history will cast a harsh judgment on the legacy of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center and those who fail to end it. Unfortunately, the current reality is that dozens of men are detained in Guantanamo despite being cleared for transfer. Here are just a few:

Yusef Abbas, Hajiakbar Abdulghupur, and Saidullah Khalik – Detained in Guantanamo for 10 years and 11 months. The three men are ethnic Uyghurs from China. They were arrested in Pakistan in late 2001. After they were given over to U.S. forces, they were transferred to Guantanamo in 2002. In 2008, they, along with 14 other Uyghurs, successfully filed writs of Habeas Corpus. While all the other Uyghur held at Guantanamo have been transferred, these three remain detained.

Shaker Aamer - Detained for 11 years and 4 months. Originally from Saudi Arabia, he was arrested in Afghanistan, where he was living with his family, in 2001. He was transferred to Guantanamo in February, 2002. Under President Bush he was cleared for transfer. Despite the U.K. government’s requests he be transferred to the U.K., Shaker Aamer remains in Guantanamo.

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The Bradley Manning Trials

U.S. Army private first class Bradley Manning (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images).

U.S. Army private first class Bradley Manning (Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images).

Today I am going to observe the pre-trial hearings in US v. Manning that are taking place at Fort Meade, Maryland this week. Bradley Manning is a 25-year-old Private First Class in the United States Army who was arrested in May 2010 while stationed with the US army in Iraq. He has been in US military custody since his arrest. Manning was charged with 22 counts of misconduct – the most serious of which is “aiding the enemy”- connected to the release of various US Military videos, intelligence reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic cables on the website Wikileaks.

He is currently held in a medium security prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and faces a military court martial trial at Fort Meade, Maryland. In early 2011, Amnesty International called on the US Government to end the unnecessarily harsh and punitive conditions under which Bradley Manning was held in pre-trial detention at the Quantico facility in Virginia.

We understand that his conditions improved considerably after he was transferred to a medium security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in late April 2011. Instead of being isolated, Bradley Manning is allowed to interact with other detainees, receive approved visitors, as well as receive mail from anyone while detained at Fort Leavenworth.

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Jailed Without Justice: Immigrants in Solitary Confinement

A guard locks a gate inside Homeland Security's Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

A guard locks a gate inside Homeland Security’s Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

On March 25, 2013, the New York Times published an article about the use, and overuse, of solitary confinement in immigration detention. It reported that 300 individuals are held in solitary confinement while awaiting resolution of their immigration cases, including one individual who was held for four months because of his sexual orientation.

Much like the issue raised by Congressman Spencer Bachus of Alabama at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration detention on March 19th, the real question is why are these individuals even detained in the first place?

As Amnesty International documented in its report in 2009, Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA, individuals, including lawful permanent residents with long-standing ties to the U.S. and asylum seekers, are needlessly locked up in state and local jails and prisons for the sole purpose of appearing at immigration hearings, often without a hearing to determine whether they are a danger to the community or a flight risk.

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Dispatch from Guantanamo: Military Commissions, in Fits and Starts

Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

This assignment was supposed to fulfill a career-long dream. In the ten years I have been employed by Amnesty International USA in research, the opportunity to travel to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to observe military commission proceedings against the detainees charged with leading involvement in the September 11th terrorist attacks was something I always wanted to experience firsthand.

I flew down to this US Naval station on the southeast edge of Cuba and I arrived Sunday evening just in time to gain my first experience of the ever-changing world of military commission justice when the press briefing rules were amended at the last minute to prevent observers from attending the opening press briefing by the defense and prosecution counsels.

As a human rights researcher, I somewhat knew what to expect. However as an attorney, this morning threw me a relative curveball, even from a military commission process which is now in its third incarnation with multiple legal challenges and stoppages in the past 12 years.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST