What the Fourth of July Is All About

Fireworks explode over the White House. (Matt Campbell-Pool/Getty Images)

Last Thursday the Obama administration launched its new National Strategy for Counterterrorism, tailored to the post-bin Laden era. At first glance there seems to be a great deal for human rights advocates to welcome in this document.

Introducing the new strategy John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, told his audience that the foundation of this new strategy would be a fundamental commitment to core American values and human rights:

“When we fail to abide by our values, we play right into the hands of al-Qa’ida, which falsely tries to portray us as a people of hypocrisy and decadence. Conversely, when we uphold these values it sends a message to the people around the world that it is America—not al-Qa’ida—that represents opportunity, dignity, and justice. In other words, living our values helps keep us safe.”


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.

USA: We find the defendant NOT guilty. Now lock him up!

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr

Is this America or the Twilight Zone? According to Amnesty International’s new report, President Obama’s new rules for military commissions at Guantanamo allow for a defendant who is found NOT guilty to be locked up. Potentially forever.

It could happen to Omar Khadr. He will be the first person tried under President Obama’s military commissions, and his pre-trial hearings started this week.  Khadr is a Canadian national who has been held in US custody for nearly 8 years, since he was 15 years old. He has said he was repeatedly tortured in U.S. custody.

His military commission is set up such that it will not meet international standards for fairness. And, even if he is found not guilty after his unfair trial, he can still be held indefinitely.

The new military commissions rule book notes that indefinite detention after acquittal by military commission “may be authorized by statute, such as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), as informed by the laws of war.” (Rule 1101, page II-139.)

President Obama has already used the AUMF to justify indefinite detention and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has proposed writing that justification into standard American law.  President Obama and Senator Graham worked with Congress last year to set up the current unfair military commissions.

They are using—as did President Bush—the concept of a global war against al Qaeda as justification for violating three pillars of the American justice system:

-If you are accused of a crime, you have the right to either be charged and tried, or be released.

-If you are tried, you have the right to a fair trial.

-If you are found not guilty, you have the right to go free.

Now that two presidents and hundreds of members of Congress from two different parties have responded to the heinous attacks on 9/11 by throwing away due process and fair trials, the conclusion is inescapable:  al Qaeda has destroyed the U.S. justice system.

It’s pretty obvious that self-imposed self destruction by states is one of the hallmark goals of terrorism; how could elected officials ignore—to this day—the American military and intelligence experts who warn them over and over again not to go down this road?