About Tom Parker

Tom Parker is the former Policy Director for Terrorism, Counterterrorism and Human Rights at Amnesty International USA. He was previously Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven, Connecticut and has worked extensively during the past five years as a consultant on post-conflict justice issues for clients such as USAID, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Institute on projects in Darfur, Iraq and Georgia. Tom has also served as a war crimes investigator with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and as a counterterrorist official with the British government. Tom has held adjunct positions with both Yale University’s Residential College Seminar Program and Bard University’s Globalization and International Affairs Program teaching courses on trends in international terrorism and counter-terrorism. He has also been a member of the adjunct faculty of the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies (DIILS) serving as an instructor on counterterrorism training programs in countries as diverse as Latvia, Rwanda, Nepal, Albania, Thailand, Lebanon and Sri Lanka. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics, the University of Leiden and Brown.
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Nothing Justifies This

June 26th is the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture and Amnesty International has launched a powerful new online video – “Hooded” – to mark the occasion.

Hooding is a practice that gets to the heart of the relationship between the torturer and his – or her – victim. The hooded victim is dehumanized – hooding deprives the victim of a face, of an identity – and dehumanization is almost always a precursor of abuse.

The anthropologists Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson famously labeled dehumanization “the fifth horseman of the apocalypse”, an essential precursor to war, rape, pillage and genocide.

Hooding is disorientating. It is designed to restrict the victim’s ability to defend himself – or herself – from harm. It is also calculated to instill fear, a dread of the unknown, of the dark.


US Opposition to Drone Use Growing

drone victims pakistan

Pakistani tribesmen protest US drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal region on February 25, 2012. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past month opposition to CIA drone strikes has started to gather pace as lawmakers in the US have finally started to look more critically at the program.

On Tuesday twenty-six House Representatives – including Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ron Paul (R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI) and Michael Honda (D-CA) – wrote a bipartisan letter to the White House expressing concern about the use of ‘signature strikes’, and the legal basis under which they are conducted, telling the President:

“The use of such ‘signature’ strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States.”


The Obama-Bush Doctrine

Protest Bush Canada

Activists protest former President Bush's visit to Canada

In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post last Friday by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen asked why Amnesty International had not called for the arrest of President Obama for war crimes and claimed that a double standard is at work.

That is not the case.

Amnesty International called for President George W. Bush to be investigated for authorizing the use of torture on detainees in US custody. Torture is recognized as an international crime and states have an obligation to investigate individuals credibly accused of ordering its use who come within their jurisdiction.

It’s that simple.


Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Maher Arar

More than 60,000 people signed a petition delivered to the White House yesterday calling on President Barack Obama to issue a formal apology to US rendition victim Maher Arar.

In September 2002 Maher was traveling home to Canada from a family holiday in Tunis. His flight transited New York’s JFK airport where he was pulled aside by US immigration officials and detained.

Maher was targeted because he had been briefly seen in the company of an individual, Abdullah Almaki, who was a peripheral ‘person of interest’ in a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigation. The Canadians shared this titbit of intelligence with their US allies who took it and ran with it.

There doesn’t seem to have been any meaningful investigation of Maher’s relationship with Almaki. In fact, their only connection was that Maher had once worked in a Canadian technology firm with Almaki’s brother.

This was a simple case of guilt by association, even though, it should be emphasized, the Canadian authorities didn’t even have any real evidence against Almaki either.


The Elephant in the Courtroom

No matter how hard the Military Commissions try they can’t escape the elephant in the courtroom. The five defendants in the 9/11 case were tortured by the CIA and the government is tying itself in knots trying to work around this fact.

In his press conference on the eve of the arraignment the Chief Prosecutor, General Mark Martens, tried to address this issue:

“Some have said that any attempt to seek accountability within the Military Commissions system must inevitably be tainted by torture… we acknowledge your skepticism, but we also say that the law prohibits the use of any statement obtained as a result of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and we will implement the law.”

Of course the law also requires the state to investigate allegations of torture – yet in the case of the five defendants being arraigned this hasn’t happened. That might explain some of our skepticism.

Military Commissions: Still a Failure

Camp Justice, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Last week a court in Brooklyn convicted Al Qaeda operative Adis Medunjanin of plotting to bomb the New York subway.

Bosnian-born US citizen Medunjanin conspired with Najibullah Zazi and Zarein Ahmedzay to launch a major attack before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2009.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials disrupted the plot before anyone could get hurt, and arrested those involved.

Make no mistake, this plot represented a serious threat to the United States. It was conceived in 2008 by the then head of Al Qaeda’s external operations, Rashid Rauf.


Drones: The Known Knowns

Pakistan drone attack

Pakistani tribesmen carry the coffin of a person allegedly killed in a US drone attack. (Photo by THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Monday John Brennan, the President’s adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, popped up at the Woodrow Wilson Center to give a major policy speech on the “ethics and efficacy” of drone use.

Brennan’s argument had two main planks: That drones work and that their use is entirely legal. Both claims deserve close examination because neither is quite as simple as it seems.

In a classic rhetorical device Brennan threw out perhaps the most contentious aspect of his analysis as though it was a given, stating that “as a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces.”


Ex-CIA Chief Defends Hiding Torture Evidence, But We Need to Know the Truth


It feels like we have been here before. Another testosterone-fueled memoir from a charter member of President Bush’s torture team unapologetically seeks to justify the unjustifiable with inflated claims of attacks thwarted and secret battles won.

Latest to the plate is Jose Rodriguez, former Head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, and the man charged with implementing the application of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) to detainees that fell into the CIA’s clutches after 9/11.

Rodriguez was not always quite so willing to boast about his handiwork. In 2005 he destroyed 92 videotapes of high value detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri being water-boarded at secret CIA prisons in Thailand.

At the time Rodriguez justified his action to CIA Director Porter Goss by telling him that the tapes would make the CIA “look terrible; it would be devastating to us.”


Bush-Era Memo Raises New Questions About Torture and Accountability


Last weekend the State Department released a draft copy of a highly critical internal memo about the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that had long since been believed lost to posterity.

The draft, written by State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow in 2006, was uncovered by a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the former Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman. The final memo had been considered so explosive that the Bush administration instructed every single copy be collected and destroyed.

The memo was prepared in response to the passage of new legislation through Congress – the McCain amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act – that prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading (CID) treatment or punishment. There was no way for the Bush administration to avoid the need to reevaluate the CIA black site program against a CID standard.


Europeans Shame US on Secret Prisons

Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, former Head of Polish Intelligence

Last week was a good week for accountability — in Europe. The government of Poland and the European Parliament both took major steps towards holding European officials responsible for supporting the CIA’s illegal rendition to torture program.

In Poland the former Head of Polish Intelligence, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, revealed that he had been charged with “unlawfully depriving prisoners of the their liberty” because of the alleged role he played in helping to establish a CIA secret prison in Stare Klejkuty, north-eastern Poland, in 2002-2003. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST