Kashmir's "Abu Ghraib Video"

Several people have been killed during recent protests in Kashmir © AP GraphicsBank

Indian authorities must carry out an investigation immediately into a video clip that appears to show detainees in Kashmir being stripped and humiliated by security forces.

The three-minute clip, described on social networking sites as “Kashmir’s Abu Ghraib video”, apparently shows Jammu and Kashmir police and Central Reserve Police Force personnel herding at least four naked young men to a nearby police station.

This behaviour is in clear violation of the universal and absolute right to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The video, apparently recorded by one of the security personnel, has since been removed from social networking sites, including Facebook and YouTube, after the Jammu and Kashmir police reportedly began legal action against the publishers of what it termed a “baseless and malicious clip”.

It is unclear when the clip was recorded, although it was reportedly taken in the north-western town of Sopore.

The recorded conversation in Hindi-Urdu suggests that the security force personnel suspected the young men of being involved in throwing stones at the security forces, and that they had been caught after a long chase.

Amnesty International has consistently received reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in various police stations and interrogation centres in Jammu and Kashmir. Such accounts have often included men being stripped naked and humiliated by security force personnel.

The Indian Parliament is currently debating new legislation criminalizing torture and the Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram has said the video will be investigated.

However, a statement by Jammu and Kashmir Police to local media indicated that a formal case had been registered against the clip’s distributors.

“The approach of the local police raises serious concerns. Instead of investigating and identifying the perpetrators of the humiliating treatment, the police appear to be more concerned about who uploaded and circulated the video clip,” said Donna Guest, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program.

“The Indian and Jammu and Kashmir authorities must ensure that the content of the clip is subjected to an independent, impartial and effective investigation. Any officials who are suspected of offences involving human rights violations should be prosecuted in fair trials.”

Under the Veil of "Counter Terrorism"

Amnesty International has just released a report detailing the consistent human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia under the facade of combatting terrorism. Thousands of people have been arrested and detained in virtual secrecy, while others have been killed in uncertain circumstances. Hundreds more people face secret and summary trials and possible execution. Many are reported to have been tortured in order to extract confessions or as punishment after conviction.

Reported methods of torture and other ill-treatment include severe beatings with sticks, punching, and suspension from the ceiling, use of electric shocks and sleep deprivation. Flogging is also imposed as a legal punishment by itself or in addition to imprisonment, and sentences can include thousands of lashes.

Since the attacks of September 11th, Saudi Arabia has been under intense pressure by the West to take on terrorism as 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Abdulrahman Alhadlaq, a Saudi Interior Ministry official, told The Associated Press that Amnesty International’s assertions were “claims that have to be proven.”

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

The Hits Keep Coming from Obama

(As originally posted on Daily Kos)

And the hits just keep coming. Despite its pledge to reintroduce greater transparency to government the Obama administration reversed itself again this week, announcing that it would now seek to block the release of detainee abuse photographs sought by the ACLU.

Then yesterday the CIA announced, in a fine example of Orwellian double-speak, that it would not release memos cited by former Vice-President Dick Cheney because they are subject to a Freedom of Information Act suit being pursued by Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU.

Amnesty does not often find itself on the same side of an argument as the former Vice President but on this occasion we welcome his late conversion to the merits of transparency in government.

And finally, the President confirmed today that his administration will reintroduce Military Commissions to try terrorism cases that cannot be successfully pursued in a federal court. Of course, he put it slightly differently but that is what the decision amounts to. Reverse engineering courts to work around mistakes and abuses that have been committed in the past is not a sound basis for any system of justice.

A comment to a previous posting accused me of being “a one note Johnny” on this subject and I am afraid the charge is quite true. I truly wish it wasn’t. I wish I could report that things were improving on the human rights front and that in confronting terrorism the President was living up to the pledges he had made on the campaign trail.

Instead, sadly political pragmatism seems to be the order of the day. This might be sound political sense but it is not moral leadership. So it is particularly ironic to note today that Lakhdar Boumediene, the Algerian national arrested in Bosnia and falsely accused of plotting to blow up the US Embassy in Sarajevo, is finally today en route to France where he will be resettled.

This innocent man spent eight years detained in Guantanamo. He has been cleared of all charges since November 2008. He is only being released now because France has generously agreed – despite the “freedom fries” and “axis of weasel” jibes – to take him in. One might think a few apologies might be in order. One might also think that Boumediene’s case might give pause for reflection before we head back down the path of backwoods justice once again.

Business as Usual?

The past week has seen some alarming news stories (and bloggers trying to figure out how alarming) suggesting that the Obama administration may be backing away from commitments made on the campaign trail to end detainee abuse, promote American adherance to international human rights standards and bring greater transparency to Washington.

The Senate confirmation hearings for the new Director of the Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta, raised the most significant flag when he told Senators that he had no intention of holding CIA officers responsible for the policies they were told to carry out – effectively suggesting the historically discredited defense of “only obeying orders” would be given currency by the Obama administration.

Equally disappointing was the decision by Department of Justice lawyers to press for the dismissal of a civil case brought by five victims of the Bush administration’s rendition program against Jeppersen Dataplan Inc., the US-based flight services company that facilitated the renditions, advancing the same ‘state secrets’ argument employed by the previous administration.

The administration has also continued to block the release of 42 classified documents concerning the ill-treatment of British Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed. The Bush administration threatened to drastically reduce intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom if the documents were made public by the British High Court.

Just how concerned should we be? Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic cautioned yesterday that the administration may simply be in a holding pattern pending a thorough review of their predecessors’ positions on a range of issues with long-term legal implications. This may well be so. However, those concerned about human rights and accountability must keep up the pressure for change.

President Obama has been consistent in his assertion that he is interested in looking forward not backwards and it is unlikely that any initiative to establish an accounting process for the widespread abuses committed under the rubric of the Global War on Terror will come from inside the administration unless political pressure builds on the President to act

The fact that the Chairmen of the Judiciary Committees of both Houses of Congress, Representative Conyers (D, Michigan) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D, Vermont) have called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the abuses of the past seven years is a powerful step towards accountability. But it is only the first step in what will likely be a long journey.

Next week Amnesty International USA activists across the country will participate in a Congressional call-in week, urging their senators and representative to support an independent investigation into the Bush administration’s war-on-terror policies. Please join them in adding your voice to our campaign to end the culture of impunity that has blackened America’s reputation around the world.