5 Questions on Drones Senators Should Ask Attorney General Holder on Wednesday

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder  (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

On Wednesday March 6th at 9 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice with Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s not a hearing on drones and the Obama administration’s counter terrorism policy, but it should be.

As we saw with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing with John Brennan several weeks ago, the Obama administration’s killing program remains shrouded in secrecy and the little information we do know gives grounds to conclude that the program as a whole allows for the use of lethal force that violates the right to life under international law.

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Why Drone Death Courts are a Terrible Idea

drones fb graphic
Public thirst is growing for more information about the Obama administration’s death-by-drone program and what can be done to ensure US policies do not authorize unlawful killings— whether of a US citizen or anyone else. Unfortunately,  a number of commentators—including the editorial board of the New York Times—have proposed the idea of a special court to review the Obama administration’s kill list, along the lines of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews executive surveillance and search requests in espionage or terrorism cases. It’s a terrible idea that underscores how far from basic human rights principles the “global war” approach to countering terrorism has taken the US government.

A secret drone death-warrant court, would in some sense be issuing a warrant of execution, without the condemned person ever knowing that a “charge” has been laid, that a “trial” has taken place, or that a “verdict” and “sentence” has been passed, let alone being able to defend themselves in the proceedings in any way.  If “global war” thinking hadn’t permeated so much of the way the US government thinks and talks about how to deal with the threat of terrorism, the proposal by some to establish a special court that would secretly review and approve government proposals to conduct lethal drone strikes would immediately be rejected as a non-starter that misses the point.

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Posted in USA

Justice Is Exception Not Rule in India

Biliqis Yakoob Rasool

During the large scale violence in Gujarat, India in 2002, Biliqis Yakoob Rasool was gang-raped and saw her entire family, including her daugher, killed in front of her.

A recent report by the New Delhi-based organization, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), documents India’s the sordid record when it comes to custodial and extrajudicial deaths. They report that since 2001, 14,231 people died in police or judicial custody in India. Some of the cases may not be due to misconduct, but according to the ACHR, “a large majority of these deaths are a direct consequence of torture in custody.”

Amnesty International has been demanding a thorough investigation into 31 unlawful killings by police in the state of Gujarat during 2002-2006. This is not to mention coming to grips with the massacres of minorities in the state that left hundreds dead.

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Secretary Clinton: when you go to Guatemala, will you put human rights at the top of your agenda?

Extrajudicial killings in Guatemala

I hope that during US Secretary of State Clinton’s March 4th visit to Guatemala, the grave human rights situation, specifically the extra-judicial killings coupled with the cloud of impunity surrounding those killings, are at the top of the agenda.  Secretary Clinton will be taking a quick trip thorough South and Central America, and her trip will be concluding in Guatemala, where she will be meeting with Guatemalan President Colom and a few other Central American leaders.

Over the past several years, various Guatemalan human rights organizations have received numerous reports of kidnappings and murders where police officers, off duty officers, hired security, or members of the armed forces are the suspected perpetrators. In many instances, officers act under direct order, complicity, or the acquiescence of Guatemalan authorities. Frequently, young men from marginalized sectors of society who have criminal records are the victims, and potential witnesses refuse to testify for fear of retribution.

It is important to note here too, that not just young men are targets; members of indigenous communities, women, and human rights activists are also at risk. Amnesty International has a current urgent action calling for the protection of the activists of civil society group, FRENA, the Resistance Front for the Defense of Natural Resources and People’s Rights (or in Spanish Frente de Resistencia en Defensa de los Recursos Naturales y Derechos de los Pueblos) three members of which have been the victims of extrajudicial killings. Currently there are no suspects.  A recent press release issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the necessity for “the Guatemalan State to maximize its efforts to investigate and legally clarify these crimes and to prosecute the perpetrators and masterminds”.

In 2007, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings visited Guatemala and published a report which noted that:

“…There is strong evidence that some acts of social cleansing—executions of gang members, criminal suspects, and other ‘undesirables’ –are committed by police personnel”. 

The report found that of Guatemala’s 5,000 annual homicides, 1.4% of those cases end in a conviction. In the same 2007 report, the Rapporteur called for the “categorical rejection” by the government of the practice of extrajudicial killings and the expansion of the criminal justice system to effectively investigate murders. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST