Doubts Cast in Gilad Shalit/Palestinian Prisoner Swap

Today, we woke up to find the exchange of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and 477 Palestinian prisoners.

As news services around the world covering the exchange highlight Gilad Shalit’s ordeal of being held for five years in virtual incommunicado detention and the story of the Palestinian prisoners being released – some having been held for decades – one thing is glaringly obvious – this whole episode highlights the need for the humane treatment of all detainees – whether Palestinian or Israeli.


Back to Basics: A Military Commissions Primer

The announcement that the Obama administration plans to refer more cases to the Military Commissions process rather than federal court has set off another round of debate about the nature of threat posed by Al Qaeda and its surrogates, and it is worth reiterating some of the positions that Amnesty takes on the Global War on Terror paradigm.

First and foremost, international humanitarian law conceives of just two categories of armed conflict: international and non-international. International armed conflicts are fought exclusively between sovereign states, not between states and non-state actors. Osama bin Laden can no more declare war on the United States than you or I can.

Non-international armed conflicts — for example, civil wars, rebellions, insurgencies — involve fighting between regular state armed forces and identifiable armed groups, or between armed groups fighting one another, but only within the territory of a single State. There are rules that govern both international and internal armed conflict but they differ in certain important respects. Some basic rules — like Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions — apply across the board.

When the law of international armed conflict or the law pertaining to internal armed conflict applies can differ from one case to the next. The legal standing of Al Qaeda as an entity in Afghanistan may differ to its standing in Pakistan, which in turn may be different to its standing in Yemen, Europe or even the United States.

Confused? You should be. In law, this is all a matter of argument as much as fact. It is complicated and often uncertain.


Heavy Criticism Emerges after Jerusalem Evictions

Yesterday, approximately 55 Arabs, including 14 children, were evicted from their houses in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jewish families that claimed ownerships of the property. Soon after the evictions, these families moved in under the protection of Jerusalem police.


However, the US, UN, and UK have all come out strongly against these evictions. “Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community,” the State Department said in a released statement. Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, said that the Arab families had been living there for more than 50 years.

Evictions, settlements, and the greater question of Jerusalem remain among the most contentious obstacles to a sustainable peace. Actions such as this are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Attacks on Ambulance Workers

(As originally Posted to Livewire)

gaza-ambulance-missileTuesday, 27 January: Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat.

These provisions of international law have not been respected during the recent three-week conflict in the Gaza Strip. Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, repeatedly came under fire from Israeli forces while they were carrying out their duties. At least seven were killed and more than 20 were injured while they were transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead.

In one case Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, a paramedic, was killed by flechettes, tiny metal darts packed 5-8,000 to a shell, which should never be used in civilian areas (see yesterday’s post).

On 4 January 2009, an ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after a missile strike in Beit Lahiya that apparently targeted five unarmed young men. It was hit a few minutes later by a tank shell filled with flechettes.

Two paramedics were seriously wounded in the incident. One of them, Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, later died. Examining the wall of the shop beside where the ambulance had been, we found it pierced by hundreds of these darts.

In another case, three paramedics in their mid 20s – Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir, and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al – were killed in the early afternoon of 4 January in Gaza City as they walked through a small field on their way to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard. A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was standing near his home indicating to the paramedic the place where the wounded were, was also killed in the same strike.

Label on the remains of a missile that killed three paramedics and a child ©Amnesty International
We went to the scene of the incident with the two ambulance drivers who had accompanied the paramedics and who had witnessed the attack. There we met the child’s distraught mother and we found the remains of the missile that killed the three paramedics and the child. The label reads “guided missile, surface attack” and the USA is mentioned as the weapon’s country of provenance.

After the four were killed in the missile strike, their bodies could not be removed for two days as the ambulances crews who tried to approach the site again came under fire from Israeli forces and could not approach.gaza-missile-label

In yet another case, on 12 January, several ambulances arrived rapidly after a six-storey apartment building had been hit by two missiles. Local residents were already trying to evacuate bodies of wounded and dead from the upper floors.

Dr Issa Abdel Rahim Saleh and a paramedic, Ahmad Abdel Bari Abu Foul, were the first emergency medical workers at the scene and started evacuating the wounded. However, as they climbed down the stairs between the sixth and fifth floor an Israeli tank shell came through a window, slicing through the head and body of Dr Saleh who was standing on the landing.

With several ambulances in the street below, and paramedics plainly visible by their phosphorescent jackets, it must have been clear to the Israeli surveillance drones hovering above the area and the tank crews a few kilometres away in the Jabal Raiss area that there were medics in the house, yet they fired nevertheless.

Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London

Obama planning to end harsh interrogations?

News reports indicate that President-elect Barack Obama is planning to end harsh interrogations of detainees by directing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to adhere to the U.S. Army Field Manual for interviewing suspects.  If today’s reports are correct, Obama believes that returning the United States to the rule of law is paramount for his administration. It is vital that there be a single standard for all interrogations for all agents and forces of the U.S. government.

But there are also worrying signs that the administration is thinking of leaving a loophole for special techniques for the CIA. The military is on the frontlines dealing with insurgents and terrorism suspects everyday and has historically adhered to, respected and championed the Geneva Conventions. The argument that the CIA needs additional techniques, tools or methods is absurd and, even more importantly, fundamentally dangerous to our national security. Former FBI agents and among the best counterterrorism interrogators have denounced this false choice for what it is, a road to nowhere.  Or at best a confusing maze of contradictory standards ripe for abuse which we leave our own forces on the frontlines and yet fail to give them the clear guidance that they deserve.

Our security in dealing with insurgents or terrorists does not stem from the barrel of a gun, but from our own conviction and the faith we impart in American values and the strength of our democracy. The difference between winning and losing the fight with terrorists is the difference between our values and theirs, how we treat captured personnel and how they treated Neil Roberts. Every time we cross that line we diminish ourselves, our values and our chance of victory.

Amnesty International calls on the new administration to categorically reject the notion that any additional special techniques or methods beyond the Army Field Manual are needed. Torture or abuses in any form are neither acceptable nor necessary in protecting the United States.