USA: It’s Time for Real Criminal Justice Reform

US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world.  (Photo credit:SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Barack Obama speaks as he tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. (Photo credit:SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Last week, President Obama put a much-needed spotlight on the vicious cycle of mass incarceration. In the past three decades, the prison population in the U.S. has ballooned due to a number of factors that have created a system rife with discrimination and other abuses. And the burden falls disproportionately on low-income people and people of color.

The President made a historic visit on July 16 to a federal prison — the first sitting president to do so. His visit spotlighted the massive overcrowding problem — he was shown one 9-by-10-foot cell that sometimes holds three prisoners — that is the result of a broken criminal justice system.

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#FreeRaif: US should press for release of Saudi blogger

Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi

Ensaf Haidar, wife of imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi

By Ensaf Haidar, via The Washington Post

On June 17, 2012, my husband, Raif Badawi, the father of my three children and my best friend, was arrested in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. For nearly three years, as he has languished in prison, my family has been trapped in a nightmare.

Raif is a man of principle and a respected activist in Saudi Arabia. In 2008, he started a blog where readers could openly discuss politics, religion and other social issues. But in Saudi Arabia, one can pay an unthinkable price simply for blogging. Raif was convicted of insulting Islam and violating the kingdom’s repressive information-technology laws. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

#DearObama: Use Your State of the Union to Reject Politics of Fear

the america i believe in

This blog is part of a series on human rights in the State of the Union address. The United States has an obligation to pursue policies that ensure respect for human rights at home and around the world. Follow along and join the conversation using #SOTUrights.

Dear Mr. President,

Here comes the fear again.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, some in the broadcast news media are attempting to turn the public’s shock into full-fledged hysteria – the kind that fuels not only their ratings, but suspicion, hate and a bunker mentality.

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One Palestinian Village Obama Should Visit

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Former prisoner of conscience Bassem Tamimi holds plastic and rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.

Yesterday morning, US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel to much fanfare.  He has said that he has come to listen.  One place he should start is the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

I visited Nabi Saleh last week as part of an Amnesty International research mission to the West Bank.  The village sits atop a hill, facing the illegal Israeli settlement Halamish.  The settlers of Halamish, like so many other Israeli settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), are backed by the lethal force of the Israeli army.

For protesting against the settlement, the residents of Nabi Saleh have paid a heavy price.  I spoke with village resident Bassem Tamimi, a man who Amnesty International previously declared a prisoner of conscience when he was imprisoned by Israel for involvement in peaceful protests.  During Bassem’s most recent jail term, his brother-in-law Rushdi Tamimi, 31, was shot by Israeli soldiers at another protest in November 2012 and died days later in a hospital.  In December 2011, another member of the village, Mustafa Tamimi, died after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired at close range from an Israeli military jeep.

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7 Ways for Obama to REALLY Earn that Nobel Peace Prize

president obama

Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.

As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.

INCOMPLETE

Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

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Will The Election Decide What Is Considered ‘Torture’?

torture protest washington dc

© Shawn Duffy

Yesterday The New York Times published a story with the headline “Election May Decide When Interrogation Amounts to Torture.” It compares and contrasts President Obama and Governor Romney on torture.

While there are a number of points in the article one could address—for example, the claim that techniques approved in the Army Field Manual are “nonabusive”—the bigger picture is this:

  • U.S. torture was, and continues to be, about systemic institutional failures, including an over emphasis on domestic political values at the expense of international standards, and the failure to end impunity and lack of remedy for past abuses.

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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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Blood in the Street, Injustice in the Courts, Silence from the US

While Bahraini authorities are silencing activists, opposition leaders and even medical personnel in military courts, the United States Government remains silent. We have seen the US respond to the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, yet government officials so far have remained relatively silent on the crackdown in Bahrain – imposed on the streets and in the courts.

The most recent indications for this silent acceptance of human rights violations include the (rather secret) meetings of high level US government officials with the Bahraini Crown Prince yesterday, and the recent refusal by the State Department to testify before the Congressional Human Rights Commission.

The United States’ failure to act in Bahrain represents a tragic double standard in US Middle East policies. In Obama’s May 19th speech on the Middle East and North Africa, the President won applause for rhetoric admonishing the Bahraini Monarchy’s repression of dissent, stating that “you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

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Killing Osama

Politicians from across the political spectrum in the United States have been quick to hail the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US special forces as an act of justice.  The operation may have been many things, but the exercise of the due process of law it was not.

The Obama administration has yet to set out the legal grounds under which the operation in Pakistan was conducted, with senior officials characterizing it variously as an act of national self-defense or a military engagement. From a legal standpoint neither framework is a particularly good fit.

What the operation to ‘kill or capture’ bin Laden resembles most closely is the kind of targeted assassination mission frequently undertaken by the Israeli Defense Forces and this begs the question, has the US now fully embraced a similar policy?

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Iraq Is Not Shining Example For Middle East

© Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

It’s rare to hear Iraq described as “heaven,” but that is how a Christian Iraqi described his hometown in northern Kurdistan after returning to the US from a trip to visit his family there. Electricity, food and clean water are in abundance, and Christians live in peace with their Kurdish neighbors.

In his speech last week, President Obama stressed the United States’ support for universal rights, including the freedom of religion “whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.”

Later in his speech, he presented Iraq as an example of how other countries in the Middle East should proceed:

“In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy. There, the Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence for a democratic process, even as they have taken full responsibility for their own security. Like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.”

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