5 Ways President Obama Can End the Hunger Strike & Close Guantánamo

UPDATE: On 4/30 President Obama again vowed to close Guantanamo. While we welcome this call words must be followed up by action, such as the steps below.

gitmo shaker finalSign our new petition telling President Obama and Congress that you support closing Guantanamo.

Imagine you’re Shaker Aamer, locked up without charge for 11 years, thousands of miles from home, despite being cleared, for years, to leave. The UK government has repeatedly intervened on your behalf in an effort to reunite you with your wife and children in London. But you’re still held. You go on hunger strike in an attempt to draw attention to your plight. You have told your lawyers that you and your fellow inmates are being beaten, deprived of sleep and punished just for protesting. And all this is being done by the United States government, whose president promised four years and three months ago to shut Guantánamo for good. Just imagine.

Two months into the most recent hunger strike at Guantánamo and over three years after the deadline for closing the facility, President Obama has barely said a peep about his broken promise. But ignoring the problem at Guantánamo is simply unacceptable. The US government is obligated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other treaties and binding laws, to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. That’s a point made last week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in this strong statement.

As High Commissioner Pillay points out, yes, those responsible for the September 11 attacks must be brought to justice, and the government has a duty and responsibility to ensure safety. But the US can’t exempt itself from its human rights obligations in doing either of these things. That’s why instead of Guantánamo, the criminal justice and law enforcement systems in the US – available from day one –  should be used. These systems are far from perfect and must themselves be reformed, but they are quipped to ensure justice for the 9/11 attacks and address any security risks posed by those held at Guantánamo.

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Turning 9/11 Grief into Hope

Terry Rockefeller and her sister Laura

Terry Rockefeller (left) with her sister Laura. Photo courtesy of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Terry Rockefeller.

It has now been eleven years since the September 11 attacks. I still think about that morning every day. I could see the Towers from my living room, and from my walk to the subway. In my mind, I see the first Tower on fire. I see the second fall.

I think about all the people who lost their lives, all the survivors and all those who lost loved ones. Will their rights to justice, truth and redress ever be fulfilled?

I also think about all those who have suffered from the U.S. government’s response to the attacks. Will indefinite detention, unlawful drone killings and impunity for torture ever end?

And I wonder if Amnesty International’s vision of a world with human rights for all people will ever become reality. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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.
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What We Can Learn From Rais Bhuiyan

Rais Bhuiyan is challenging stereotypes about “Muslim radicalization” every day.

You may have read about Rais on this blog before, or even participated in our online chat, but the importance of his story to our larger work fighting prejudice in a post 9-11 world can’t be overstated.

Just ten days after the September 11 attacks Mark Stroman walked into the gas station where Rais Bhuiyan was working and shot him point blank in the face with a shotgun cartridge.

Against all odds Mr. Bhuiyan survived the attack but Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel were both killed by Stroman in similar incidents in which the self-styled ‘Arab slayer’ sought ‘revenge’ for Al Qaeda’s assault on New York and Washington by targeting residents of his small corner of Texas with darker skin than his own.

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9/11 Families Speak Out Against Torture

By Adele Welty, with Marianne Stone, of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

On September 11th, my son, a Firefighter intent on saving lives, lost his life at the World Trade Center.

I am a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group born out of the grief of losing family members in the attacks of 9/11 that promotes nonviolent options in the pursuit of justice rather than revenge.

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Back to Basics: A Military Commissions Primer

The announcement that the Obama administration plans to refer more cases to the Military Commissions process rather than federal court has set off another round of debate about the nature of threat posed by Al Qaeda and its surrogates, and it is worth reiterating some of the positions that Amnesty takes on the Global War on Terror paradigm.

First and foremost, international humanitarian law conceives of just two categories of armed conflict: international and non-international. International armed conflicts are fought exclusively between sovereign states, not between states and non-state actors. Osama bin Laden can no more declare war on the United States than you or I can.

Non-international armed conflicts — for example, civil wars, rebellions, insurgencies — involve fighting between regular state armed forces and identifiable armed groups, or between armed groups fighting one another, but only within the territory of a single State. There are rules that govern both international and internal armed conflict but they differ in certain important respects. Some basic rules — like Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions — apply across the board.

When the law of international armed conflict or the law pertaining to internal armed conflict applies can differ from one case to the next. The legal standing of Al Qaeda as an entity in Afghanistan may differ to its standing in Pakistan, which in turn may be different to its standing in Yemen, Europe or even the United States.

Confused? You should be. In law, this is all a matter of argument as much as fact. It is complicated and often uncertain.

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Obama Surrenders on Military Commission Trials

Attorney General Eric Holder announced earlier this afternoon that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks will face trial before military commissions rather than in federal court.

This announcement represents yet another disappointing political compromise by the Obama administration. The President came into office pledging to restore the United States’ global reputation by closing the detention facility at Guantanamo and doing away with the widely discredited kangaroo court system cobbled together by the Bush administration. That pledge died today.

The Attorney General said he would continue to push back against Congressional interference in the judicial process but, given the spineless performance of the government to date, I wouldn’t bet against Congress having the last word.

Military commissions have proved to be a colossal failure. They started off hopelessly weighted in favor of the prosecution. Constant revisions have addressed some but certainly not all such concerns; they have also generated a great deal of cynicism and confusion about the process.

In nine years the commissions have only heard six cases, four of which ended in plea deals. That represents less than 1% of the total detainee population that has passed through Guantanamo. So, in addition to lacking credibility, military commissions are neither tried nor tested.

By way of contrast, in roughly the same period, more than 800 individuals charged in terrorism-related cases have passed through the federal court system where the conviction rate is close to 90%.

In his press conference, Attorney General Holder described the federal courts as “an unparalleled instrument for bringing terrorists to justice.” This rather begs the question: Why has the administration not fought harder to win this battle?

The President and his administration should have been out in public fighting for federal court as the proper venue for these trials. Instead there has been a deafening silence from the White House over the past year. The President clearly decided to use his political capital elsewhere.

Coming, as it did, on the same day that President Obama announced his 2012 reelection bid, today’s announcement provided a timely reminder of just how little campaign promises are worth.

Finally a good news story…

James Zadroga

Yesterday, while still on vacation in Hawaii, President Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law, laying the groundwork for a $4.3 billion fund to cover the healthcare costs of first responders suffering from medical complications arising from their service at Ground Zero.

The act will come too late to help former NYPD officer James Zadroga, who died in January 2006, but 100s of his fellow officers, firefighters, steelworkers and volunteers will benefit enormously. In the words of Mike Paladino, President of the New York City Detectives Endowment Association:

“The USA has done the right thing.”

It is shocking to note that New Yorkers had to wait nine years for this burden for so many heroes of 9/11 to be lifted. It is even more shocking to note that if had not been for public outrage at the political shenanigans that accompanied the dying days of the last Congress this act would still be languishing at the bottom of politicians’ ‘to do’ list.

So, we would like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to all of you who raised your voices on this issue and to those who took our online action. You can be very proud of a good day’s work.

It is not yet clear how exactly the act will be implemented but you can rest assured that going forward Amnesty International USA will be keeping a watchful eye on Washington to make sure that all those first responders and residents of lower Manhattan who need medical help in the months and years ahead receive it.

No More Delays

In the past week we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of U.S. Senators blocking the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R.847) until the Bush tax cut debate was concluded to their satisfaction. Even with the tax cut issue settled, the Zadroga Bill (or as Jon Stewart memorably put it on The Daily Show “the least we can do no brainer act of 2010″) still languishes on the Senate’s to do list.

The lack of urgency with which this bill has been treated by Congress and the mainstream media is a national disgrace. Politicians who do not hesitate to wrap themselves in the flag and invoke the memory of 9/11 for their own selfish purposes are playing petty politics with the lives of men and women that sacrificed everything to answer their country’s call in one of its darkest hours.

Last Thursday Senator Susan Collins (R- ME) even called Capitol police when she was alarmed to learn that a group of 9/11 first responders planned to camp out in Senate offices until they garnered the necessary 60 votes to secure the bill’s passage.

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A Week in Politics

"Congress"As the dust settles on the midterm election we thought it might be useful to take a moment to assess what implications the results have for the Counter Terror with Justice (CTWJ) campaign.

Economic woes dominated election stump speeches and national security issues were surprisingly little addressed by either main party. However, the changed political landscape is going to have a real impact on our issues.

The likely accession of Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee is going to present further obstacles to the administration’s attempts to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Smith took the opportunity in his first press statement after the election to pledge that keeping the prison open for business would be one of his top priorities for the coming session.

Republican staffers on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee have already begun to investigate the security regimes under which former GTMO detainees cleared for release are currently living in the European countries that stepped forward to offer them sanctuary. We can expect to see security concerns raised in an effort to block the further release of cleared detainees.

Another troubling outcome of the vote was the election to the House of Representatives of Allen West (R-Florida) whose war record in Iraq one would have thought would have disqualified him from office. In August 2003 Lt. Col. West stood by and watched his men beat up an Iraqi suspect, Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi. He then threatened to kill Hamoodi, drawing his own handgun and discharging it next to the prisoner’s head.

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