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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A Diminished Force for Good

president obama sri lanka speech

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

On Tuesday the United States sponsored a resolution at United Nations Human Rights Council calling on Sri Lanka to investigate alleged human rights abuses that occurred in the final days of the country’s struggle with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A United Nations Panel of Experts has estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final stages of the conflict as the Sri Lankan Army overran the last few pockets of LTTE opposition.

As Amnesty’s recent report Locked Away: Sri Lanka’s security detainees makes clear, there are good reasons to believe that human rights abuses still continue to this day. Instances of arbitrary and illegal detention have been widely reported, as have acts of torture and extrajudicial execution.

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Eric Holder Unveils 'The Cake Doctrine'

Holder Discusses Obama Administration's Counterterrorism Efforts

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Discusses Obama Administration's Counterterrorism Efforts at Northwestern Law School March 5, 2012 (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)

Speaking yesterday at Northwestern University the Attorney-General Eric Holder set out the clearest intellectual framework so far for the Obama administration’s evolving counterterrorism doctrine.

All good doctrines need a name and so I am going to take this opportunity to propose one for President Obama’s approach: ‘The Cake Doctrine.’

As in wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

The Cake Doctrine is an advance on the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive self-defense in that President Obama has more faith in the courts and our system of justice than his predecessor did.

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Prisoner Cleared for Release Marks 10 Years of Captivity at Guantanamo

Shaker AamerToday is the tenth anniversary of Shaker Aamer’s arrival at Guantanamo Bay. Even though he was cleared for release in 2007, he still languishes in a cell there today.

Shaker is a British resident of Saudi descent. He was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001 and was one of the first detainees transferred to Guantanamo when it opened in 2002.

We have seen much of the intelligence on which the US originally based its decision to hold Shaker courtesy of the WikiLeaks website.

Shaker’s Detainee Assessment Brief (DAB) revealed that the bulk of the case against him had been assembled from the testimony of other detainees at Guantanamo.

Prisoners with something to gain from cooperating with their jailers don’t make the most credible of witnesses. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Coming Face to Face with Torture

Pawiak Prison Museum in Warsaw Poland

Pawiak Prison Museum in Warsaw, Poland.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Pawiak Prison Museum in Warsaw, Poland.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II Pawiak was the largest political prison in the country – approximately 100,000 prisoners passed through its cells.

37,000 of those men and women died in Pawiak – many under interrogation by the Gestapo. Another 60,000 were sent to German concentration camps. Very few survived the war.

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10 Years On, 10 Reasons Guantanamo Must Be Closed

guantanamo protest france

(Pierre-Yves Brunaud)

Ten years ago today the first twenty prisoners arrived at the US military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. As we mark this dismal anniversary, it is instructive to take a moment to reflect on the damage Guantanamo continues to do to the global cause of human rights.

Guantanamo is much more than simply the sum of its parts, and outlined below are 10 powerful anti-human rights messages that the continued existence of the detention facility sends out to the world:

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Can US Citizens Now be Detained Indefinitely?

prisoner in detention

© John Moore/Getty Images

There has been a great deal of confusion over whether the indefinite detention provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) apply to US citizens or not – the simple answer is that it is too early to tell.

The NDAA provisions greatly strengthen a framework for detaining suspected members of Al Qaeda or its affiliates that is derived from the law of armed conflict. Under the law of armed conflict belligerents can be detained until the conflict ends or until they no longer pose a threat.

The NDAA drafters draw a clear distinction between US citizens and non-US citizens which is itself problematic since equality before the law is one of the most fundamental principles of justice and a core human right.

The NDAA “requires” that non-US citizens be treated as enemy combatants rather than as criminal suspects unless the President issues a waiver in the interests of national security.

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Guantanamo: Reopening Under New Management

(JTF Guantanamo photo by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gino Reyes)

Next Wednesday will mark the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainee at the military prison hurriedly erected on the arid scrubland of the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In the past decade more than 775 individuals have made that journey, the vast majority have been released without charge after years of harsh captivity, 171 still remain – many cleared for release by the military but trapped by the restrictions placed on their resettlement by Congress.

The last prisoner arrived in Guantanamo in March 2008 but this spring we can expect the first new arrivals in four years to start trickling into the facility. The passage of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) means that Gitmo has now been reopened for business.

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No One's Above the Law

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Last Thursday the Washington Post columnist and Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen launched a vitriolic attack on Amnesty International for advocating for former President Bush’s arrest during a trip to Africa.

Amnesty urged officials in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to detain Mr. Bush so that his role in ordering the torture of detainees in US custody could be properly investigated. Thiessen called for official Washington to shun Amnesty for taking this position, which he said took the organization out of the political mainstream and into the fever swamps:

“Conservative groups concerned with freedom, democracy, and human rights should similarly refuse to work with Amnesty. The group should pay a steep reputational price for stupidity such as this. If Amnesty wants to behave like a left-wing fringe group, it should be treated as such.”

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Welcome to the War

Update 12/15: The U.S. House of Representatives passes the NDAA.

US soldier marine

© Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images

The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) through the Senate last Thursday saw the culmination of a ten-year crusade by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to make the law of war apply on US soil.

In many ways Senator Graham is simply following the logic of the Global War on Terror frame to its inevitable conclusion: If we are at war with Al Qaeda all around the world then there is no good reason why US soil should be excluded.

Senator Graham’s avowed objective is to allow for the military detention of suspected Al Qaeda, Taliban or otherwise affiliated terrorists captured on US soil, but of course detention is not the only arrow in the military quiver.

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Senate's Disastrous New Detention Bill

Update 12/2/11: The Senate passed NDAA.  President Obama must veto this disastrous bill.

The new National Defense Authorization Bill (S1867) presented to the Senate by the Armed Services Committee is such a disaster for civil liberties and human rights it is difficult to know where to begin.

Section 1031 of the Bill extends the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after the September 11th attacks to encompass any individual who has “substantially supported” Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or “associated forces”.

This is extraordinarily vague.  The phrase ‘associated forces’ is so flexible that it can be used to encompass almost any militant Islamic group in existence from Indonesia to Nigeria. It might include political parties who share some of the militants’ aims but not their methods – like the Hizb ut Tahrir movement active in Western Europe and Australia.

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