5 Reasons the Feinstein/Paul Amendment Doesn’t Fix the NDAA

indefinite detention graphic

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There’s a new crisis unfolding in the Senate right now over the infamous indefinite military detention provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  I know the effort to fix the NDAA seems to be never-ending, but it is crucial to take action once again, as the Senate is expected to vote tonight or tomorrow. The outcome is critical for human rights.

The problem:  A new amendment to the 2013 NDAA offered yesterday by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and supported by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is being touted in some quarters as sufficient to end concerns about indefinite detention. Unfortunately, that’s not true—and it could make things worse.

Here are 5 reasons Senators Feinstein and Paul should change their amendment to truly support human rights and civil liberties:


President Obama: Keep Your Promise to Close Guantanamo

indefinite detention graphic

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Nearly four years ago, on his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Guantanamo prison closed within one year.  Today it remains open, with 166 detainees, and human rights violations in the name of “global war” have become the “new normal” there, at Bagram in Afghanistan and elsewhere, including indefinite detention, unfair trials, unlawful killings with drones and impunity for torture.

President Obama must make good on his promise to close the prison, and he must end–and ensure accountability for–human rights violations in the name of “global war.” Yes, there are obstacles to closure and reform–however, if President Obama were to change course and honor the U.S. government’s international human rights obligations, the path forward is clear, because human rights provide a framework that protect and ensure justice for all of us.

Here are 10 concrete steps–by no means exhaustive–President Obama can take now and in the near future to keep his promise and help make his rhetoric on human rights a reality:

1) Immediately recommit publicly to closing Guantanamo, recognize that international law applies to all U.S. counterterrorism operations, and recognize that the right way to close Guantanamo is to ensure that detainees are either charged and fairly prosecuted in federal court, or released to countries that will respect their human rights.


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.”


Bagram's New Black Hole

Last week the BBC reported that it had interviewed nine Afghan detainees who claimed to have been held in a secret detention facility on Bagram Air Base where they suffered abuse at the hands of US personnel.

The detainees were held in a hitherto unidentified detention facility called “The Black Hole” by their American guards. Most of the detainees said they had been beaten at the time of their arrest – one was missing a row of teeth.

In the prison lights were kept on in the cells 24 hours a day and the constant hum machinery seemed designed to prevent detainees from sleeping. One detainee, Mirwais, claimed that he was made to dance by the guards every time he needed to use the bathroom.

There are several shocking aspects to this story. First, in all nine cases the abuse reportedly occurred after President Obama issued his Executive Order Ensuring Lawful Interrogations. The military denies the existence of the facility.

Second, it would appear that sleep deprivation is being used as deliberate tactic to soften up detainees in contravention of the Army Field Manual on Interrogations, which requires that detainees be allowed 4 hours sleeps in every 24 hour period.

Third, and perhaps most disturbing of all, is the complete lack of interest that the US media has taken in the story.  On the face of it the BBC report seems credible, meriting further investigation at the very least, but the silence has been deafening.

America seems to have lost its appetite for self-examination and, by refusing to investigate and punish the systemic use of torture by the Bush administration, President Obama has contributed to the culture of impunity that allows such abuses to flourish in the field.

The President made a commitment to run an anti-torture administration and now he has reached a moment of truth.  Apparently not everyone got the memo. He cannot turn the page on the BBC’s story. This is happening on his watch.

President Obama must order an immediate inquiry into these allegations. If offences have been committed criminal charges must follow.

The Commander-in-Chief sets the tone for the armed forces and actions speak louder than words. Only by acting decisively in the face of these new revelations can he make his repugnance at such tactics clear.

Detainees Protest at Bagram

US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan. (c) Digital Globe 2009. Screenshot taken from Google Earth

US air base in Bagram, Afghanistan. (c) Digital Globe 2009. Screenshot taken from Google Earth

Detainees held in the U.S. military detention center at Bagram Air Base are in the middle of a conundrum over their legal rights. Human rights campaigners argue that the prisoners should be provided with the same rights as those being held in the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The United States military, however, argues that they deserve different treatment since they are held in a  current war zone. In Bagram, detainees are informed about the reason for their arrest, and are offered the ability to defend themselves without outside legal counsel at six-month military review sessions.

To protest their lack of legal representation, the detainees themselves have begun protesting, refusing privileges such as recreation time and family visits in order to obtain access to lawyers or independent reviews. The prisoners further refuse to leave their cells to shower or exercise.  The prison wide protest started on July 1 and only became public recently through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The U.S. detention facility in Bagram is even more closed off to the public than Guantanmo Bay. The Washington Post has more background information on the expanding detention facility.

Jacki Mowery contributed to this post

Obama's Mixed Messages on Torture & Abuse

The President on counterterrorism policy, after 100 days in office: No more torture, or loopholes galore? Important symbolic steps, or stalling tactics? Heading in the right direction, or Barack “Dubya” Obama?

Pundits are coming at President Obama from all sides, but after 100 days in office, what’s really going on?

Well, one important way to judge is on the basis of international human rights law–including the U.N. Convention Against Torture–and on that standard it’s clear: President Obama has a lot more to do. Scratch that. President Obama has a lot more he is legally obligated to do.

Read all about it in Amnesty International’s new report, “Mixed Messages: Counter Terror and Human Rights–President Obama’s First 100 Days.” OK, it’s a long report so here’s the take away, President Obama needs to:

  • Charge Guantanamo detainees and give them fair trials in US federal courts, or release them;
  • Respect the rights of detainees at other US facilities, like Bagram in Afghanistan;
  • Ensure that the US will never again resort to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment–as defined by international law;
  • Ensure accountability for torture and other human rights violations through: an independent commission of inquiry; prosecutions where warranted; and redress and remedy for victims.

Our message isn’t mixed: President Obama must respect and protect human rights. It’s up to us to make sure it happens.

Another Blow to Illegal Detention

Judge John Bates took a stand for human rights and common sense when he ruled yesterday that foreign prisoners held in the U.S. prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan who had been brought there from outside Afghanistan may challenge their continued detention in the U.S. courts.

The petition before the U.S. District Court had been brought by four inmates at Bagram seeking to extend the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision, that recognized habeas corpus rights for detainees at Guantanamo, to detention facilities in Afghanistan.

The four inmates include Amin al-Balri, a Yemeni national, who was detained in Thailand; Redha Al-Najar, a Tunisian, who was detained in Pakistan; Fadi al Maqaleh, a Yemeni national, who was detained in an undisclosed location outside Afghan borders; and Haji Wazir, an Afghan national, who was apprehended in Dubai.

Judge Bates noted that three of the four petitioners had no connection with Afghanistan prior to their transfer to Bagram. He added that although practical obstacles existed in resolving a detainee’s right to habeas corpus in a war zone, these obstacles were of the U.S. government’s choosing since it had opted to render them to this location:

“It is one thing to detain those captured on the surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram, which respondents correctly maintain is in a theater of war. It is quite another thing to apprehend people in foreign countries – far from any Afghan battlefield – and then bring them to a theater of war, where the Constitution arguably may not reach.”

Applying the functional, multi-factor, detainee-by-detainee test mandated by the Supreme Court in its Boumediene decision, Judge Bates upheld the habeas rights of all but Haji Wazir. Disappointingly, the judge held that as an Afghan national, even one apprehended outside the country, Wazir could legitimately be held as an enemy combatant.

However, the process used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan for determining whether an individual can be classified as an enemy combatant was also criticized, with Judge Bates labeling it “inadequate” for the task at hand and even less thorough than the discredited Combatant Status Review Tribunals established in Guantanamo.

Although Judge Bates did not seek to expand the scope of his ruling beyond the petition before him, it can nevertheless be seen as a body blow to the global war doctrine previously espoused by the Bush administration.

If the judgment stands, individuals detained outside a military theater – for example, the fictional terrorist financier in the Philippines posited by Senator Lindsay Graham during Solicitor-General Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing – should henceforth be destined for the criminal justice system rather than a prisoner of war camp.

Furthermore, an unsubstantiated accusation will no longer be enough to condemn such a detainee to endless years in limbo. Thursday was not just a good day for the Constitution of the United States, it was a red letter day for the Magna Carta as well!

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.

Don't Just Close It, Close It Right!

OK, I just ate lunch (yes at 4:39 PM) and I need a few minutes to digest before I dive into emails, so I thought I’d post this, off the top of my head. Please excuse any burrito-coma induced spelling and/or grammatical and/or policy mistakes.

Anyway, there’s been a lot of talk in the last week about when and how President-elect Obama will close GTMO, and while it’s good that he’s said he will close it, it needs to be done the right way.

In part, that means no:

“National Security Courts.” As a New Yorker who saw the towers fall, I want the people responsible held to account–and that means a FAIR trial.  US federal courts can do the trick, and they’ve done it before: e.g., the first WTC bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing. We didn’t need the unfair military commissions set up by the Military Commissions Act and we don’t need a replacement system that’s also unfair.  Agree? Let President-elect Obama know through the change.gov website.

Transfer of detainees to countries where they will be at risk of human rights abuse. The US government is obligated to ensure that people released from U.S. custody are relocated to countries where their human rights will be respected. If the US can’t find a safe place for them, then they should be brought to the US. (Case in point: the Uighurs.) Agree? change.gov website.

Indefinite detention. There’s been talk about people who can’t be tried but who are too dangerous to release. This is absurd. People must either be charged with a crime and given a fair trial, or be released. End of story. That’s the way it works. Either there’s evidence against you or there isn’t. change.gov website.

Lollygagging. I’ve seen quite a few articles, NY Times and The New Yorker included talk about how difficult it will be to close GTMO. I don’t see it. Either charge people and given them a fair trial in a US federal court, or release them to a country where they won’t be at risk of human rights abuse. Problem solved. change.gov

…And no forgetting about Bagram and all the other U.S. facilities–from Afghanistan to Iraq to secret places we don’t know about–where people are held outside of the law. Yup, change.gov

Agree on all? Join us!