Amnesty Activists March to White House Today Calling for Accountability

Amnesty International activists en route to White House, April 30, 2009 (c) Shawn Duffy

At last night’s press conference marking 100 days in office, President Obama said that over time a “short-cut” like torture “corrodes the character of a country.” And he has gotten a start on rebuilding U.S. character with his executive orders.  But another important step still has not been taken to ensure these abusive policies end permanently.  If the Obama administration does not uphold the law by investigating and if necessary, prosecuting torture, it will be taking its own damaging “short-cut” and undermining U.S. laws.

Amnesty International activists dressed in Guantanamo-like jumpsuits marched from the U.S. Capitol to the White House today to urge the Obama administration to hold accountable those who sanctioned and carried out torture and other inhumane counterterrorism policies.  The ACLU, Witness Against Torture and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition partnered in the event.

Activists made their point loud and clear: accountability for torture is not petty “retribution.” It’s enforcing U.S. laws.  Looking forward to the next 100 days, the Obama administration must ask itself what kind of country it wants to lead–one characterized by impunity or by justice?  If you are for justice, take action with us by demanding an independent investigation into torture.

Major General Backs Torture Commission

Major General Antonio Taguba speaks with about why he supports a commission to examine torture:

“You can’t sweep unlawful activities under the table and just forget about it. I feel strongly about this because we have future generations who will be the beneficiaries of these actions… We have a lot of unanswered questions on accountability, questions that need to be answered and hold responsible officials — civilians and military — accountable. These include contractors… We have an integrity issue to contend with if we are to prevent this matter from recurring.”

Read the entire interview on here.

Momentum is building on accountability. Last week, Amnesty International members called their Senators in Congress to urge support of an independent commission, and Amnesty International joined Major General Taguba, former FBI Director William Sessions and 17 human rights organizations in a public statement urging President Obama to set up  a non-partisan commission on detention, treatment and transfer of detainees. Yesterday, Salon reported encouraging news that the “Senate will advance torture commission.”

We need to keep the pressure on to make sure a commission happens–and happens the right way. Let President Obama know that you support accountability. Take part in Amnesty International’s 100 Days Action now.

Watch "Getting Out of Gitmo" Tonight on PBS

Tonight (January 27) at 9pm ET PBS will premiere the new Frontline segment “Getting Out of Gitmo,” about the 17 Uighurs illegally detained at Guantanamo.  Check out the trailer here.

Afterward, be sure to take Amnesty International’s Urgent Action on behalf of the Uighurs and our 100 Days Action, calling on President Obama to:

  • Promptly charge Guantánamo detainees with recognizable criminal offenses or release them immediately;
  • Ensure that those detainees who are to be charged receive fair trials in US federal courts;
  • Ensure that an independent commission on US “war on terror” abuses is set up.

Learn more about the Uighur’s Guantanamo detention.

"You're All Going to Hell"

Those were the words shouted at me and several hundred other people as we were walking to the National Mall to attend Obama’s inauguration. (More about our petition action there in Zeke’s post). Those words were yelled by some protesters who were unhappy with the views espoused by Obama and concerned about the policies they expect he will implement.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take some offense at being told I was going to hell simply because I was walking toward an event that made those people unhappy. But I was also glad to see the protesters. They were there on the curb with their signs and their slogans, and no one was bothering them. No police were shooing them away, much less beating them or throwing them in jail. And when I was on the Mall collecting signatures for our 100 Days petition, no one stopped me or tried to arrest me either.

How lucky we all are–me, you, those protesters–to be able to express our opinions without fear of reprisal, imprisonment, or death. So many of our priority cases are not so lucky. If you’ve lived most of your life in places where freedom of expression is “no big deal”, it can be easy to take that right for granted. Has anyone spent time in a place where it was dangerous to express your views? What was it like to live under those conditions?

Call To Action, Obama's Orders

The Counter Terror With Justice campaign and Amnesty International volunteers were on the National Mall yesterday, gathering 100 Days petition signatures before the inauguration and wearing orange and holding signs on the parade route.

I took this picture of JD with my phone, sorry it’s kinda pixely. It was great meeting so many people from around the country who want GTMO closed, torture ended and accountability for abuse. (Reminded me of the GTMO Cell Tour.)

We’ve been hearing for a few days now that President Obama would act quickly to address some of these points, but I didn’t think about how I’d feel when the time came. Now I’m getting a sense. My Aunt just forwarded me this, from ABC News: “Torture, Gitmo, and the Treatment of Detainees: President Obama’s Three Executive Orders for Thursday.”  If this article is correct, these orders would, quote:

  • close the detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay within a year and establish a process by which the U.S. government figures out what to do with the remaining detainees;
  • establish new rules on interrogation methods moving forward;
  • establish new guidelines for the treatment of detainees moving forward.

I have mixed emotions. I’d be thrilled to see such profoundly positive movement on these issues from President Obama, especially so quickly, but I’m already steeling myself for what will be probably be harder than getting to this point:

  • getting the details of the above right;
  • making sure illegal practices stop not just at GTMO, but also at Bagram, CIA sites and other US facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere;
  • ending rendition
  • ensuring accountability for torture and other illegal US interrogation and detention practices and policies—whether under Bush, Clinton, or anyone else.

Right now, the best thing we can all do is let President Obama know that we support and care about efforts to bring US interrogation and detention practices and policies in line with international law.

To that end, please take a moment to:








  • celebrate. We’ve all put a lot of hard work into this campaign—please give yourself a pat on the back. Have some orange juice. You’ll need a recharge for the fight ahead. Get that orange gear washed, ironed up and ready to go.

Make Your Voice Heard for Change! wants you to change our government.  Inspired by President-elect Obama’s commitment to “open the doors of government,” is offering people an opportunity to send ideas to the incoming administration that will bring real, tangible solutions for our country.  They will then present the “Top 10 Ideas for America” to the Obama administration on Inauguration Day and work with partner organizations to turn those ideas into specific policies.

At Amnesty, we know that one of the most important changes our nation can make is to restore its respect for human rights and the rule of law.  A crucial first step is to investigate abuses carried out in the War on Terror and ensure accountability all the way up the chain of command.

We are already pressuring the President-elect Obama through our 100 Days Campaign to make human rights central to his administration.  Help us gather even more support by going to and voting up this issue.  Let’s send the message loud and clear that Americans care about human rights and our government should too!

Obama Renews Comittment to Human Rights on 60 Minutes

The tide of American politics is changing. That much is clear.

Barack Obama has inspired Americans to renew their faith in their country and has repeatedly stated that he will act to renew the moral standing of the United States in the world.

“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

-President-elect Barack Obama on CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday, Nov. 16th, 2008

What is unclear is whether or not inspiration and statements will translate into results. As we ride the wave of hope into the next administration, it is crucial that we turn the momentum into concrete action.

Amnesty International is asking that within the first 100 days of his Presidency, Barack Obama:

  • -announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo
  • -issue an executive order to ban tortue
  • -ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up

The same grassroots energy that propeled Barack Obama to victory can now be the driving force behind America’s renewed commitment to human rights. Act now.

A presidential pardon would not preclude accountability

The worth of a law is in its enforcement; if a law is not enforced, then it has no more value than a platitude, aspiration, or preference.  Because of this reason, one of AIUSA’s CTWJ campaign goals 100 days goals for the new administration is “accountability.”  Or in other words, AIUSA will demand that the government account for illegal or wrongful conduct of its employees or agents in the “war on terror.”

At first glace, a general presidential pardon (which seems likely in some form) threatens the accountability process.  But as I explain below, a pardon will likely only have a limited affect upon accountability.

As a general matter, a pardon precludes the US from prosecuting someone for criminal acts covered by the pardon.  However, accountability comes in many forms, not the least of which is a process resembling a truth commission.

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

South Africa


Congress has authority to summon witnesses to testify in hearings and a pardon does not limit this congressional power.  First, witnesses will have few, if any, 5th amendment rights protecting them from self-incrimination if those witnesses previously received a pardon.  If a witness has immunity, then there is no legal justification for that person to invoke the 5th amendment.  Second, a pardon does not protect a person from prosecution for future crimes.  If a person subject to a pardon refuses to testify, then congress can institute contempt proceedings against that individual.

There is also a question whether a pardon really protects US citizens from criminal liability.  Genocide, torture, or other violations of the law of are grave breaches of international law.  Grave breaches of international law trigger a doctrine called “universal jurisdiction,” meaning a person may be prosecuted by any country that obtains control over the person to be tried.  So, a person subject to a pardon for grave breaches of international law may be immune from prosecution in the US but remain subject to prosecution in any other country.  And if a person has received a presidential pardon but is detained overseas, then that county cannot extradite the American citizen back to the US for prosecution because the US will be precluded from trying the individual in American courts due to the broad application of the pardon.

So while a presidential pardon may create procedural or legal challenges to the accountability process, a pardon will not derail the accountability process.

3 Steps for President Obama

© AP Graphics Bank

© AP Graphics Bank

Please be sure to take our new “100 Days Action,” urging President-elect Obama to take three essential steps in the first 100 days of his term to close Guantanamo, eradicate torture and end impunity for human rights abuses:

> Announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo;

>Issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;

>Ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

These three steps are part of a “checklist” of actions Amnesty International is asking the new U.S. President to take during the first 100 days in office.

We have to keep the pressure on, no matter who’s in power!

There Is No Justification In Keeping Gitmo Open

Below is my reply on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Piece of Nov. 4, 2008: Guantanamo Revelation.

I served in the military for 14 years, including three deployments to the Middle East. My last deployment was to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom and I remain deployed in Baghdad after its fall until December, 2003. As an Arabic speaker, I worked closely with Arabs of nearly all nationalities. I had many frank discussions. In discussing the difference between the US and Saddam’s Iraq, I could always point to the legal system in the US as a venue for any citizen to protest their grievances and to protect their constitutional rights. In contrast, I could discuss Saddam’s closed and often secret state security courts, arbitrary detentions, and prolonged arrest of state enemies without trial. This point became lost on Arabs after Gitmo continued to operate as it has over the last 7 years….7 years in which 775 people have been detained, approximately 250 remain in detention, and only two have faced anything resembling a trial.

If a Gulag is where Soviet officials sent enemies of the state, whether real or perceived, to some remote outpost and then removed the prisoners’ ability to challenge the legality of their detention or have a timely and fair trial, then GITMO is a gulag in all but name only. Its reputation as a gulag is not false, but well earned. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST