Tweet for the Release of Walid Yunis Ahmad

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Today marks the 12th anniversary of the unlawful detention of Walid Yunis Ahmad in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.

You may recognize his name. Perhaps the longest serving detainee in Iraq, Walid was featured in our report, “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detention and Torture in Iraq” and has been the subject of several Amnesty International actions.

Walid Yunis Ahmad is a Turkomen and father of three who worked for a local radio and TV station. He was arrested on February 6, 2000.

He was “disappeared” for three years, tortured, and detained without charge or trial for ten years. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Uighur Blogger Still Held

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Since July 8, Ilham Tohti, editor of the Web site Uighur Online and a professor at Central Nationalities University in Beijing, has been held incommunicado by Chinese authorities. He was interrogated after posting articles on the site and his personal blog about a clash between members of China’s majority ethnic Han group and Uighurs in Guangdong Province on June 26.

The Uighurs are a Muslim minority group in China most of whom live in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China. For two decades now Chinese authoirities have been pursuing a campaign in the area against “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism,” in the process have diluting the Uighur population and severely restricting the civil and cultural rights of Uighurs. Ilham Tohti’s case is in no way isolated. Although authorities in XUAR set up a media center for foreign journalists in Urumqi during the recent violence, reporters have been prevented – by police, other security forces or even just people on the street – from reporting freely in the XUAR. One New York Times reporter described tour guides in Kashgar who refused to lead him around the city and translators who feared repercussions if they were to translate certain conversations. Clearly Chinese authorities fear what the people of Kashgar might say to journalists, but what’s even worse is that they’re causing residents in the XUAR to fear expressing their opinions.

All this repression suggests the unliklihood of an independent inquiry into the events last month in Xinjiang as well as open, fair trials for those who have been detained. Take action now for Ilham Tohti!

Zimbabwe Justice: No Dancing Babies

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The legal system in Zimbabwe isn’t comprised of lawyers in skimpy clothing sharing a unisex bathroom while litigating bizarre and yet fascinating cases. Instead, there is a politicized judiciary, draconian laws designed to stifle dissent and a prison system that would give Auschwitz a run for its money. Amnesty International is monitoring the legal cases of human rights defenders and political activists. Below is an update on some of these cases.

Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)-
The leaders of WOZA were arrested and jailed in October 2008 for disturbing the peace during a protest over food aid distribution. Their trial has been continually delayed by both the prosecution and due to a petition the women filed before the Supreme Court asking the charges be dismissed as unconstitutional as Zimbabwe’s Constitution guarantees the right of assembly. The leaders, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu appeared in court yesterday where the magistrate wanted to proceed to trial despite this pending petition. The Supreme Court verbally ruled on June 4th that the arrest was unlawful but a written decision has not yet been produced. The case was finally postponed again until August 17th to wait for the ruling from the Court.

On June 18th, four members of WOZA were viciously beaten by police during a protest to call attention to the plight of informal traders struggling to make a living in Zimbabwe. Yesterday, a court in Harare ruled that the police officers responsible will be charged with assault. The case was postponed to July 13th to allow the officers time to prepare their case. The charges against the four WOZA members of disturbing the peace were dropped the day before.

Jestina Mukoko et al-
Late last year, Jestina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted from her home, illegally detained, tortured and charged with recruiting persons to participate in alleged militia camps in Botswana. She is one of 18 persons abducted and tortured around this same time and charged with variations of the same crime. On June 25th, the Supreme Court heard a petition from Ms. Mukoko and her co-defendants claiming their arrest was unconstitutional because they were illegally abducted and tortured. The Attorney General’s office admitted that Ms. Mukoko was illegally detained by state security agents but asserted that this should have no bearing on the case. A decision by the Court is still pending.

MDC activists and an independent journalist also on trial filed a petition before the Supreme Court asserting the same claim of unconstitutionality. At the hearing before the High Court, however, the State Security Minister took the opportunity to deny that the defendants, including Mukoko, were illegally detained. The petition was referred on to the Supreme Court. It is assumed that the remaining abductees will file similar complaints and their cases will be remanded until such time as the Supreme Court rules on the pending petitions.

Military Commissions Redux

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(As originally posted on Daily Kos)

100 days have come and gone with all the accompanying media hoopla but it increasingly seems like President Obama’s first 24 hours represented the high water mark of his commitment to rolling back the human rights abuses committed by the Bush administration.

The past week has seen still further blows to campaigners’ hopes that the Obama administration would place traditional American values of accountability and the rule of law at the heart of their response to the ongoing terrorist threat.

Leaks from the Department of Justice suggest that former Bush administration lawyers Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury are unlikely to face significant disciplinary action – let alone criminal charges – for their role in designing the coercive interrogation practices introduced to military and CIA detention facilities around the world in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

These latter day Tom Hagen’s were asked by the White House to cloak the Bush administration’s illegal innovation in a mantle of legitimacy. In doing so, they were not acting in good faith. Rather, like Michael Corleone’s tame lawyer, they were actively engaged in a criminal conspiracy to circumvent U.S. law.

I have been baffled by the argument that criminal charges would produce a chilling effect on lawyers asked to provide legal advice to the executive. Is this really such a bad thing? The whole point of having in-house legal counsels is to make sure the government stays within the boundaries of the law. Government lawyers should be cautious.

Also worrying are fresh leaks from inside the administration that suggest the President is seriously considering reactivating the Military Commissions put on hold when he came into office. These are the same Commissions that the President denounced on the campaign trail as “an enormous failure.”

Should the President decide to abandon a campaign pledge to “reject” the Military Commissions Act, he will be breathing life into a court system with the fewest rights for suspects of any court in the western world. His first instinct was right – we should not bastardize our judicial system to accommodate illegal practices that should have never been countenanced in the first place.

This morning John McCain and Lindsay Graham published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in which they note that 1 in 10 of the individuals released from Guantanamo have returned to the battlefield. This also means that 9 out of 10 have not.

The detainees in Guantanamo were supposed to be the worst of the worst but it turns out that 9 times out of 10 our intelligence professionals got the wrong man. The Military Commissions will take the assertions of these same professionals at face value and accord them the weight of evidence.

If the Military Commissions are reinstated we can look forward to many more miscarriages of justice. If you think this is a price worth paying for greater security, consider the damage that the cases of the Guilford Four and Birmingham Six did to the reputation of British justice.

The Obama administration is posed to go down a path that will repeat many of the mistakes of the past eight years. This is a time for moral courage not moral compromise. We can do better and we need to make sure that this White House hears that message.

Obama possessed

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By Cheney that is.

Last Friday, the Obama administration turned to the “dark-side” yet again, and appealed a district court ruling that would give detainees in Afghanistan a chance to challenge their detention before a judge.

The Justice Department also went on to ask the judge to halt proceedings on three other habeas corpus cases.

This wasn’t the first time we’d seen this from the Obama administration. Back in February, the Justice Department announced it would no longer use the term “enemy combatant”, which sounds great!, until you hear the part about them saying that despite this change, they still have the authority to detain suspects indefinitely, without charge or trial.

Sounds like Cheney to me.

And get this, the detainees represented in this most recent case weren’t captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. They were Yemenis and Tunisians the U.S. government decided might be a threat for whatever unknown reason, and locked them away for six years without any charges.

The judge, John Bates, said:

It is one thing to detain those captured on the surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram, which respondents correctly maintain is in a theater of war. It is quite another thing to apprehend people in foreign countries — far from any Afghan battlefield — and then bring them to a theater of war, where the Constitution arguable may not reach. Such rendition resurrects the same specter of limitless Executive power the Supreme Court sought to guard against in Boumediene — the concern that the Executive could move detainees physically beyond the reach of the Constitution and detain them indefinitely

That’s coming from a judge who Glenn Greenwald notes:

is an appointee of George W. Bush, a former Whitewater prosecutor, and a very pro-executive-power judge.

And that Boumediene Supreme Court ruling he references? Listen to what Obama had to say about that before he was president:

Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice, while also protecting our core values. The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain. This is an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus. Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy.

Right. So, what happened to Barack Obama? Why does that phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” keep ringing in our heads? The only way we’re going to banish the forces of the “dark-side”, as Cheney likes to call them, is by holding everyone responsible for unleashing said forces accountable.

Accountability means no one is above the law. President. Republican. Democrat. It doesn’t matter.

Spain is doing just that, moving ahead with indictments for six former Bush staff.

Greenwald argues Spain not only has the right to do this, but actually has an obligation under the Convention Against Torture and Geneva Conventions. And more importantly, the primary responsibility under these international laws to prosecute lie with the country whose officials authorized the crimes.

Why does it feel like Obama will fight to hold onto that “limitless Executive power” every step of the way? Could there be any clearer a reason why this nation must move forward with an independent commission of inquiry? (you can tell Congress to do just that here)

Another Blow to Illegal Detention

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Judge John Bates took a stand for human rights and common sense when he ruled yesterday that foreign prisoners held in the U.S. prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan who had been brought there from outside Afghanistan may challenge their continued detention in the U.S. courts.

The petition before the U.S. District Court had been brought by four inmates at Bagram seeking to extend the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision, that recognized habeas corpus rights for detainees at Guantanamo, to detention facilities in Afghanistan.

The four inmates include Amin al-Balri, a Yemeni national, who was detained in Thailand; Redha Al-Najar, a Tunisian, who was detained in Pakistan; Fadi al Maqaleh, a Yemeni national, who was detained in an undisclosed location outside Afghan borders; and Haji Wazir, an Afghan national, who was apprehended in Dubai.

Judge Bates noted that three of the four petitioners had no connection with Afghanistan prior to their transfer to Bagram. He added that although practical obstacles existed in resolving a detainee’s right to habeas corpus in a war zone, these obstacles were of the U.S. government’s choosing since it had opted to render them to this location:

“It is one thing to detain those captured on the surrounding battlefield at a place like Bagram, which respondents correctly maintain is in a theater of war. It is quite another thing to apprehend people in foreign countries – far from any Afghan battlefield – and then bring them to a theater of war, where the Constitution arguably may not reach.”

Applying the functional, multi-factor, detainee-by-detainee test mandated by the Supreme Court in its Boumediene decision, Judge Bates upheld the habeas rights of all but Haji Wazir. Disappointingly, the judge held that as an Afghan national, even one apprehended outside the country, Wazir could legitimately be held as an enemy combatant.

However, the process used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan for determining whether an individual can be classified as an enemy combatant was also criticized, with Judge Bates labeling it “inadequate” for the task at hand and even less thorough than the discredited Combatant Status Review Tribunals established in Guantanamo.

Although Judge Bates did not seek to expand the scope of his ruling beyond the petition before him, it can nevertheless be seen as a body blow to the global war doctrine previously espoused by the Bush administration.

If the judgment stands, individuals detained outside a military theater – for example, the fictional terrorist financier in the Philippines posited by Senator Lindsay Graham during Solicitor-General Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing – should henceforth be destined for the criminal justice system rather than a prisoner of war camp.

Furthermore, an unsubstantiated accusation will no longer be enough to condemn such a detainee to endless years in limbo. Thursday was not just a good day for the Constitution of the United States, it was a red letter day for the Magna Carta as well!

The Latest Buzz on our New Immigration Detention Report

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Here’s what the papers are saying about the report we released today, Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA.

USA Today: “Opposing view: We’re seeing progress” By Dora Schriro, special adviser to Homeland Security Secretary

I have learned that the best way to achieve change is to work closely with partners inside and outside of government, including vital organizations such as Amnesty International, which will issue a report raising concerns about immigration detention later today. I will carefully consider this important report.”

San Francisco Chronicle: “New report blasts U.S. on immigrant detainees

More than 400,000 people a year are detained by immigration officials in the United States – including undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants who run afoul of the law and asylum seekers who come fleeing persecution – but according to a report released today by Amnesty International, conditions are often deplorable and detainees are routinely denied due process.”

Bloomberg News: “Immigrants, Citizens Languish in U.S. Detention, Report Says” By Jeff Bliss

Amnesty International recommends that detention become a last resort and that authorities refrain from harsh restraining methods. The New York-based human rights groups also said Congress should pass legislation that would ensure immigrants have individual hearings to determine the need for detention.”

San Jose Mercury News: “Amnesty International lambastes U.S. for treatment of immigrant detainees”  By Ken McLaughlin

In a scathing report on the treatment of immigration detainees held in detention centers and more than 300 local facilities such as the Santa Clara County Jail, Amnesty International charges the federal government violates human rights by allowing tens of thousands of people to languish in custody every year without receiving hearings to determine whether their detention is warranted.”

Posted in USA

Immigrants Locked Away in Legal Limbo

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New research shows immigrants, including asylum seekers fleeing torture and long-time lawful permanent residents, are being unjustly detained in the U.S. Tens of thousands of people sit locked up in a broken and cruel system of detention with no right to even a hearing to determine if their detention is warranted.

A detained immigrant visits with his son and family members in a California detention center.

A detained immigrant visits with his son and family members in a California detention center.

Many languish separated from their families, commingled with people serving criminal sentences, and sometimes denied access to attorneys, family members and adequate medical care. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could issue new regulations that would quickly solve many of these problems. But instead, just three weeks ago, the office in charge of these policies testified before Congress that it plans to detain almost a hundred thousand more immigrants this year than last.

The new research outlined in the Amnesty International report released today, Jailed without Justice, shows that:

Lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers, and survivors of torture are being detained while they fight for protection
• US citizens and lawful permanent residents can be detained for years without any review of their custody
• Meaningful oversight and accountability for abuse or neglect in detention is almost nonexistent
• Individuals in detention often lack treatment for their medical needs and 74 people have died while in immigration detention over the past five years

Our findings are similar to what I’ve seen working in the immigration system for a decade. Before I joined Amnesty International’s staff, I represented immigrants and asylum seekers in San Francisco. I never met the first detained person whom I represented. He was a nineteen-year-old from Sierra Leone who had witnessed the murder of his father and neighbors. I will call him Joseph. The night of the massacre, he slipped into a cargo ship not knowing where he was going or how long he would be at sea. Joseph was discovered by the ship’s captain and turned over to immigration authorities upon arrival in the U.S. He was detained in Texas and applied for asylum without the help of an attorney. His case was denied. To be granted asylum, a person must show that he fears persecution on account of a protected ground: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Joseph belonged to a particular tribe and his village was targeted for this reason. Under immigration law, a tribe is often considered either a race or nationality for purposes of asylum protection.

In detention, Joseph was unable to secure documents to support his claim and in representing himself, he did not know what was important to share with the immigration judge and government attorney. I learned of Joseph’s case through a pro bono program and agreed to write his appeal. In the appeal I asked that the case be reopened so that Joseph could submit documents supporting his claim. Joseph’s appeal was denied. The Board of Immigration Appeals thought Joseph had not provided evidence that he was persecuted on account of a protected ground. I believed this decision was wrong and advised Joseph to appeal, but he couldn’t face months or years more in detention with an uncertain outcome. He was deported.

In San Francisco I could meet my clients in jail, but communication was very difficult. Oftentimes they were despondent and we spent a lot of time talking about why it was worth it to continue fighting. Preparing a detained client for court was extremely difficult because often the client’s wrist was shackled to the table, there was very little privacy, and we had limited amount of time together. Securing documents could take an exceptionally long time.

When I joined Amnesty International, immigrants in detention were never far from my mind. As part of the research team assigned to look at immigrant detention, I went back to San Francisco to document detention practices in the Bay Area. It was disturbing to see that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies on detention had not improved, and in many instances, seemed more draconian. Detained immigrants still faced an indefinite number of months and years behind bars; securing affordable counsel was exceptionally hard; and immigrants were forced to wear prison jumpsuits, shackled to each other or a table when they were outside their cells, and their time was limited when spouses and children came to visit. It was heartbreaking and unnecessary.

Depriving people of their liberty without any right to a hearing is contrary to the constitution and American values. As the Supreme Court found in the Guantanamo cases, the constitution does not permit the U.S. to lock people up and throw away the key. Yet, that is exactly what is happening to tens of thousands of immigrants (and some US citizens) as they go through deportation proceedings in the U.S. The law must change to reflect international human rights standards and U.S. values.

Posted in USA