Tweet for a Fair Trial of Walid Yunis Ahmad in Iraq

Walid Yunis Ahmad, a Turkomen and father of three children who worked at a radio station, has been detained without charge in the Kurdistan region of Iraq since 2000. He was “disappeared” for three years and tortured. February 6th is the 11th anniversary of his detention.

Walid Yunis AhmadHis case may be familiar: he was included in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights   letter writing marathon in December, featured in our report “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detention and Torture in Iraq ,” and we’ve distributed action postcards on his case at our Regional Conferences last fall.

Recently we learned that Walid Yunis Ahmad has been charged, nearly 11 years after his arrest, for terrorism-related crimes which, implausibly, he is alleged to have committed from his prison cell. His lawyer believes the charges have been fabricated.

Walid Yunis Ahmad now faces the possibility of an unfair trial that could result in the death penalty.

We need your help to flood the Kurdish Regional authorities with Tweets, emails and letters on or around February 6th, urging them to ensure that Walid Yunis Ahmad receives a fair trial, without recourse to the death penalty. Here’s what you can do:

•    Send emails and letters to the Kurdish Regional authorities

•    Tweet the accounts of the Kurdish Prime Minster, Barhim Salih, at @barhamsalih and the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative in the US, Qubad Talabani, at @qubadjt.

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Kangaroos Storm DC to Close Guantanamo!

The kangaroo photos are further down!

On January 11th, over 200 activists marched from the White House to the Department of Justice to mark the 9th anniversary of the detention facility at Guantanamo and demand an end to unfair kangaroo courts, indefinite detention and impunity for torture. The march was covered by the media, including the Washington Post and the Miami Herald.

The march was organized by Witness Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Amnesty International USA. Similar demonstrations were held around the world.

In front of the Department of Justice.

Amnesty International UK and Amnesty USA are campaigning to resolve the case of Shaker Aamer, a former UK resident with a wife and children in London who has been held without charge for over 8 years.  The UK government has asked for him back–UK Foreign Secretary William Hague even raised the case with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton–but Shaker Aamer remains detained without charge and without explanation.

We are calling on the US government to either charge Shaker Aamer with a crime and give him a fair trial in US federal court, or release him. You can help resolve this case and get us one step closer to closing Guantanamo by emailing Secretary Clinton and President Obama right now.

This is when the snow started.

To help raise awareness about Shaker Aamer’s case, Amnesty USA activists are organizing events across America this month, includingscreenings of The Response, a 30-minute drama about Guantanamo starring Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If you’d like to organize a screening click here.

We don’t want to be out in the cold and snow again next January 11th, but if Guantanamo is still open, we’ll be there!

We love kangaroos, but kangaroo courts have got to go.

On the way to the DoJ.

Good News: Qusay Case Resolved in Iraq

I’m happy to share good news today: Qusay ‘Abdel-Razaq Zabib, a former police officer detained without charge in Iraq for over two years, has been released.

His case was detailed in Amnesty International’s September 2010 report New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq.  According to the report:

“Qusay ‘Abdel-Razaq Zabib, a 36-year-old police officer in ‘Uwaynat village near Tikrit, married with two children, was arrested on 17 July 2008 by US soldiers after he was summoned to attend a meeting at the police station where he worked.

He was taken to a US military post in Tikrit and held there for 21 days, then transferred first to Camp Cropper for three weeks and then Camp Bucca, where he was held for 11 months. He was then moved to Camp Taji for a month, then back to Camp Cropper for six months, then to Camp Taji once more, apparently because he was suspected of collaborating with armed groups.

On 3 March 2010, a few weeks before the Iraqi government assumed control of Camp Taji, the US military recommended that he be released but in early July he was still detained there, without charge or trial, and now in the custody of the Iraqi authorities. His family are able to visit him but two years after his arrest it remains unclear how long he will continue to be detained in the absence of any charges brought against him.”

Amnesty International called on the authorities to either charge and fairly try Qusay, or release him.

Qusay thanked Amnesty International for campaigning on his behalf and said that he plans to undertake training at a police academy in Baghdad and return to his former role as a police officer.

Of course, Amensty International’s campaigning to end unlawful detention and torture in Iraq continues. Amnesty’s report estimated that 30,000 people are detained without charge in Iraq. One of them is Walid Yunis Ahmad, held for over ten years without charge.  Hopefully, with your help, we’ll have good news on his case soon.

Join Us at the Stewart/Colbert Rally in DC!

Join Amnesty International at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally on Saturday, October 30th!

Our contingent will be making noise to close Guantanamo and ensure accountability for  U.S. torture–we need your voice!

We’ll be handing out free buttons, holding signs and chanting slogans.

You’ll get a free t-shirt and have a ton of fun with us!

It will be a great way to meet new friends who share your passion for making the world a better place.

How to Find Us

Location: Archives- Navy Memorial- Penn Quarter Metro Station (yellow/ green line)

Time: We will be there starting at 10:00am

Let us know if you are planning to attend, email egutierrez@aiusa.org

If you have trouble finding us, text 917-815-6980

See you there!

Kidnapped in Italy, Tortured in Egypt

By Steve Hendricks

In 2003 the police of Milan were closing in on a network of Islamic terrorists that recruited suicide bombers—until the radical imam at the heart of their investigation, Abu Omar, inexplicably disappeared. He was, it would turn out, snatched off the street by the CIA, roughed up, and eventually flown to Egypt, where he was savagely tortured. The full story is told in my new book, A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial,  published yesterday by W. W. Norton.

I started working on A Kidnapping in Milan four years ago because I was frustrated that there were no narratives that described the full horror of what our client states were doing to our captives in our offshore dungeons. By depicting that horror in all its depth (as I think I’ve done), I hope more people will understand why systematic torture is not just a crime but a crime against humanity. I hope more people will also begin to see why President Obama’s continuation of our torture-by-proxy program makes him a species of criminal that, if not up the high mark of his predecessor, is still appalling.

A Kidnapping in Milan, though, is not just a narrative of torture. In a sense, it’s a heroic story, for it also tells how a bold Italian magistrate, Armando Spataro, traced the CIA’s kidnappers through cell-phone records, hotel receipts, and other clues that they had sloppily strewn around Milan, then how he struggled to bring the kidnappers to trial—the first-ever such trial of CIA officers by an ally of the United States. One of the joys of working on this book was getting to spend a lot of time with one of the few heroes to have emerged in the “war on terror.”

The Chicago Tribune has called A Kidnapping in Milan “[a] real-life thriller … skillfully crafted, highly disturbing,” and Tom Parker, Policy Director for Amnesty International’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign has called it “an amazing good read—at once a page-turner, a wry look at CIA lunacy, and a stirring call for justice.”

As I travel around the country on my book tour,  I’ll also be spreading the word about Amnesty’s campaign. I hope to see some of you on my stops. For more information about the book, see www.SteveHendricks.org.  And of course, you can buy the book anywhere books are sold. If you buy on Amazon through this special URL, Amnesty International will receive a percent of the sale.

Steve Hendricks is a freelance writer living in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Helena, Montana. His first book, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, made several best-of-the-year lists in 2006.

Accountability for Torture After 'Mohamed v Jeppesen' Setback

When one door shuts, we have to look for other openings.  That’s what activists are doing in the aftermath of the Sept. 8 federal court decision blocking a lawsuit from people who suffered torture through U.S. extraordinary renditions from proceeding.

Egyptian-born Binyam Mohamed spent just under seven years in custody, four of which at Guantanamo Bay. Mohamed has always insisted that the evidence against him was obtained through torture. The US dropped all charges against him in 2008. SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images

The lawsuit was the last hope among three cases aiming to force the U.S. government to be held accountable for its acts in rendering people to black site prisons or third-party countries where the prisoners were tortured.  This last lawsuit was filed by Binyam Mohamed, Egyptian Ahmed Agiza and three other men who claim they were subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of US personnel and agents of other countries.

But, even as this last case disappears without a hearing, there is hope.

The day before the ruling was issued, I and a group of individuals looking to pry open the secrecy covering American renditions, met with U.S. Rep. David Price, an Amnesty member with a powerful seat on the House Appropriations Committee.  Price noted that despite our concerns that the Obama Administration hasn’t gone far enough to address human rights concerns in the U.S. war on terror, that opponents have thwarted even the mildest efforts in that vein. “They think they have a political winner,” Rep. Price said. “And I fear I think they are right.”

So what to do when the judges point to Congress and Congress point toward each other to act on something that both acknowledge is a problem but neither will take responsibility for? Amnesty’s statement on the ruling suggests one course of action. Our emphasis is to focus on the justices’ call for non-judicial relief.

In short, it means it is up to us to change the political culture.  I am comfortable with the justice’s efforts to ask the public to take the lead on this.  We shouldn’t rely on the courts to provoke public discussion and acknowledgment of the acts that have been done in our names.

But Rep. Price is also right.  Currently, opposing the closing of black prison sites, opposing closing Guantánamo and opposing any platform for the victims of extraordinary rendition is a political winner.  It’s up to us to change that.  It’s not enough for us to remain quiet.  We have to lead, to talk with our neighbors and in our local communities.

The plane that flew Ahmad Agiza from Sweden to Egypt where he was tortured took off from an airport not 30 miles from my house in North Carolina. The  plane that flew Binyam Mohamed to be tortured came from the same airstrip. We have documented that.  The pilots who flew the plane that carried two men, blindfolded, cuffed and beaten across Europe to Egypt live near me.  The responsibility for the torture that the justices refused to hear truly belongs on all of us. It will stop when we are willing to stand up to make it stop.

Congress: Pass the 9/11 Health & Compensation Act

The 9/11 Heath & Compensation Act would ensure medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 responders and other survivors.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R.847) — named for a 9/11 responder whose death has been attributed to exposure to toxic dust and debris at the Ground Zero site — will help ensure medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 responders and other survivors, including firefighters, police officers and clean-up workers, as well as area residents and workers adversely affected by the attacks.

The New York Times reported that Detective Zadroga’s father, Joseph Zadroga, said he was pleased the bill was named after his son. “It’s an important issue because of the first responders,” he said. “They’re not getting the proper care that they should be getting.”

The bill was defeated earlier this year when some Representatives complained that it would create a new entitlement program and waste taxpayer dollars, and objected to the inclusion of undocumented workers who helped respond to and clean up 9/11 sites.

However, the bill will be voted on again soon, possibly even this week , so we need you to email your Representative, urging her/him to support it.

Under international human rights laws and standards, victims of crimes such as the attacks of September 11have a right to reparations, including medical care and compensation. Passing H.R. 847 would be a crucial step toward fulfilling this right.

It is shocking that U.S. government representatives would turn their backs on the very people who put their lives on the line to be involved in rescue, recovery and clean up efforts.  It amounts to nothing less than revictimizing people already traumatized by the attacks.  Nine years later, it is long past time to move beyond the rhetoric of being in  “solidarity” with victims, and actually pass the laws and adequately fund the programs that victims not only need, but have a right to.

Time Running Out for Omar Khadr

Time is running out for Omar Khadr, his Military Commission trial will finally get underway on August 10th and it is likely to be completed within two weeks.

We don’t anticipate a very edifying spectacle. Khadr fired his hopelessly outclassed civilian defense attorneys last month and is refusing to participate any further in the proceedings. As he explained in a letter to the court:

“It is going to be the same thing with or without lawyers. It’s going to be a life sentence.”

It is hardly a surprise that after eight years of delay and prevarication, rule changes and procedural challenges, Khadr has no faith in the genuine independence of the military commission process. Few international observers do.

Omar Khadr was taken into US custody when he was 15 years old on 27 July 2002 in Afghanistan. On the right is a picture of him after being detained for eight years.

The case against Khadr is a weak one. There are no eyewitnesses to the primary

incident and the only real evidence against him are statements obtained from him under duress and a videotape of him apparently helping to plant an IED. It is not clear whether the tape is of a training exercise or an actual attack.

The judge in the case is still refusing to consider whether incriminating statements made by Khadr after his capture were obtained through torture – hardly a fanciful claim since his interrogator was actually convicted in a US court martial of abusing another detainee in the same facility.

Khadr’s remaining–military–attorney, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, has petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the propriety of the US government maintaining in essence a separate legal system for US non-citizens. US citizens charged with terrorist offenses are directed to the federal courts not military commissions. As Lt. Col. Jackson notes: “separate is always unequal.”

Finally, perhaps most egregious of all, Khadr is being tried as an adult despite the fact that he was only fifteen when the alleged offenses he is accused of occurred. Under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which the United States is a signatory, Khadr should properly be considered a child soldier.

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Finally Home from GTMO

Good news: the US Department of Defense announced yesterday that Mohammed al-Odaini has been transferred home to Yemen. He had been held at Guantanamo without charge for over eight years–since 2002, from age 18-26–despite the fact that he had been cleared for release in 2005.

On May 26, 2010, a US federal judge ordered the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps” to arrange the release of Mohammed al-Odaini. The US administration had until June 25, 2010 to respond.

Over that month, Amnesty International members emailed, wrote and called President Obama, Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton, urging them to comply with the judge’s order and release Mohammed al-Odaini. They did.

For years, Amnesty International members have taken action on Mohammed al-Odaini’s case, calling for him–and all other Guantanamo detainees–to either be charged with a crime and fairly tried, or be released.

Amnesty International USA Local Group 50 in Chicago, Local Group 139 in Wisconsin and Local Group 708 in Massachusetts adopted Mohammed al-Odaini’s case, and this past yearmore than 12,000 of you joined the Global Write-a-thon to write letters on behalf of Mohammed al-Odaini and other individuals at risk of severe human rights violations.

Many thanks to all of you who have campaigned on his behalf over the years.  Mohammed’s lawyer sent this message:

“Mr al-Odaini’s release is cause for celebration. After Judge Kennedy ruled in his favor, it was by no means clear that the government would release him, when the government would release him, or where the government would send him. We had an uphill fight. But with Amnesty International’s support–and your support–we persuaded the government to return Mr. al-Odaini to Yemen and reunite him with his family. Only the kind of broad public support Amnesty brings to bear could ensure such a happy ending. I cannot thank you enough.”

Mohammed al-Odaini’s case is far from being the exception. Approximately 50% of those who remain detained at Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals.

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US Media: American Waterboarding Good, Foreign Waterboarding Bad

According to a new study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, since the beginning of the “war on terror,” and especially since the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the nation’s four widest circulated newspapers, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, have had a “significant and sudden shift in how [they have] characterized waterboarding.”

The study shows very interesting findings regarding the characterization of waterboarding in a number of articles over the last 70 years. From the 1930s and until 2002-2004, the Media that covered waterboarding considered it torture, or at least implied that it was torture. However, after it was clear that the U.S. was using this interrogation technique, those newspapers stopped referring, in most of the cases, to it as a form of torture.

Instead, they started giving it a “softer and less negative” connotation using words like “harsh,” “coercive” and “controversial.” For example, while the New York Times, between 1931 and 1999, considered waterboarding as torture in 81.5% of the articles that mentioned the practice, between 2002 and 2008, waterboarding was only considered as torture in 1.4% of the cases. The percentages of articles in the LA Times reflect almost the same pattern.

But ironically, when waterboarding was used in a country other than the United States, the newspapers under the study indeed referred to it as torture.

The study concludes that the change in waterboarding’s characterization is not due to the Media’s efforts “to remain neutral in the debate going on in the U.S.,” as some suggest. Rather, since waterboarding has always been considered as torture under American and international law, “the newspaper’s equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.”

Join our call for a full investigation into the US government’s use of torture.