Nothing Justifies This

June 26th is the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture and Amnesty International has launched a powerful new online video – “Hooded” – to mark the occasion.

Hooding is a practice that gets to the heart of the relationship between the torturer and his – or her – victim. The hooded victim is dehumanized – hooding deprives the victim of a face, of an identity – and dehumanization is almost always a precursor of abuse.

The anthropologists Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson famously labeled dehumanization “the fifth horseman of the apocalypse”, an essential precursor to war, rape, pillage and genocide.

Hooding is disorientating. It is designed to restrict the victim’s ability to defend himself – or herself – from harm. It is also calculated to instill fear, a dread of the unknown, of the dark.


The Obama-Bush Doctrine

Protest Bush Canada

Activists protest former President Bush's visit to Canada

In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post last Friday by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen asked why Amnesty International had not called for the arrest of President Obama for war crimes and claimed that a double standard is at work.

That is not the case.

Amnesty International called for President George W. Bush to be investigated for authorizing the use of torture on detainees in US custody. Torture is recognized as an international crime and states have an obligation to investigate individuals credibly accused of ordering its use who come within their jurisdiction.

It’s that simple.


Why is June Torture Awareness Month?

Torture activism in front of the White HouseEvery year, human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Center for Victims of Torture mark June as Torture Awareness Month. Why?

The short answer is because it’s when a very important treaty against torture took effect and there are still people who flout it—people like Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who went on 60 Minutes recently to promote waterboarding and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.

Let’s start with the law. It’s called the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) and it entered into force on June 26, 1987. That’s why June 26 is marked as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture—and why we’re calling on President Obama to apologize to torture survivor Maher Arar on that day. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Maher Arar

More than 60,000 people signed a petition delivered to the White House yesterday calling on President Barack Obama to issue a formal apology to US rendition victim Maher Arar.

In September 2002 Maher was traveling home to Canada from a family holiday in Tunis. His flight transited New York’s JFK airport where he was pulled aside by US immigration officials and detained.

Maher was targeted because he had been briefly seen in the company of an individual, Abdullah Almaki, who was a peripheral ‘person of interest’ in a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigation. The Canadians shared this titbit of intelligence with their US allies who took it and ran with it.

There doesn’t seem to have been any meaningful investigation of Maher’s relationship with Almaki. In fact, their only connection was that Maher had once worked in a Canadian technology firm with Almaki’s brother.

This was a simple case of guilt by association, even though, it should be emphasized, the Canadian authorities didn’t even have any real evidence against Almaki either.


Dudley Do-Wrong

Protest Bush Canada

Activists protest former President Bush's visit to Canada

Last week former President George W. Bush visited British Columbia, Canada, to give a speech at the Surrey Regional Economic Summit. He was reportedly paid $150,000 for his appearance.

Setting aside the fact that the Bush administration had much the same effect on America’s economy that the iceberg had on the Titanic, there is another good reason why President Bush was a very poor choice of speaker.

As President of the United States, George Bush ordered the torture of detainees in US custody.


10 Books for Your 2011 Summer Reading List

Looking for a good book to add to your summer reading list that won’t bore but will also educate you about human rights? We asked our bloggers and staff members to recommend fiction and non-fiction titles published in the last year that do just that.

So behold, our list of 10 books (in no particular order) to add to your Kindle, Nook, or library queue right now. If your favorite didn’t make the list, please share your recommendations in the comments area below.

1. Then They Came For Me by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy
Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist, tells the story of his imprisonment and mistreatment in Iran for four months in 2009. His own story is weaved into that of his father and sister, who were also imprisoned for political reasons in earlier years. This book makes both for a gripping memoir and an introduction to the history of human rights in Iran. To learn more about human rights in Iran after reading this book, visit our website. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Maher Arar, Bradley Manning and the Sad State of the U.S. Justice System

Guest post by Chase Madar, a lawyer in New York. His next book, The Passion of Bradley Manning, will be published by O/R Books in the fall.

What the US government did to Maher Arar is certainly atrocious. But is our government’s treatment of Arar so very different from what it routinely does to its own citizens, minus the air travel and exotic outsourcing? After all, many of the atrocities that we have committed in the course of our Global War on Terror find easy analogs in our everyday “normal” justice system.

Take Omar Khadr, captured at the age of 15 in Afghanistan, tortured during interrogation and, after years of pretrial detention, convicted of a wholly invented “war crime”. This is surely an appalling persecution of a child soldier. But here in the United States we have young men doing life without parole for crimes committed when they were 13, and who have been treated no less roughly every step of the way. Is the Khadr prosecution consistent with American values? You bet. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Tweet @BarackObama and @StateDept Demanding Apology for Torture

We’ve spent the entire month of June, Torture Awareness Month, focusing on the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was spirited off to Syria to be tortured, all under the eye of the U.S. government. Now it’s time to turn up the pressure on President Obama, Congress and the State Department to begin to make amends for Arar’s terrible mistreatment — starting with an apology!

Activists are speaking out in support of torture survivor Maher Arar from all sides, between protesting on the ground, organizing house parties to discuss Arar’s story, and signing our online petition. But why not use all the tools at Amnesty’s cyber-disposal, including Twitter? It’s not just for disgraced politicians and Justin Bieber fans anymore: It can also be a really effective tool for Amnesty’s activism!

Today, join us in a Twitter campaign targeting President Obama and Michael Posner of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.  SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Winter of Human Rights

By Elaine Scarry, Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University and author of “The Body in Pain” and the recently published “Thinking in an Emergency,” part of the Amnesty International Global Ethics Series

Early on the morning of December 9, 2008, I flew from Boston to New York City to be present at the U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit’s rehearing of Arar v. Ashcroft.  The trial was scheduled for 2:00 p.m., but anticipating the courtroom would be packed, I felt it would be prudent to arrive by 8:30 a.m.

Maher Arar

From Amnesty USA's infographic on the Maher Arar case, taken from photo by © Bud Schultz.

Six months earlier a Second Circuit panel of three judges had declined to hear Maher Arar’s claims on the grounds – put forward by Mr.Ashcroft’s defense – that doing so would jeopardize national security. Then suddenly, out of the blue, this very same court – but  this time the full panel of 12 judges – had decided en banc and sua sponte (collectively and on its own) to reconsider the case.


5 Books Tell of US Torture in Post 9/11 World

Ok, I know it sounds depressing to pick a book about torture for your summer beach reading, but the following books that tell the tale of US torture since 9/11 are actually compelling reads that will inspire your human rights activism during Torture Awareness Month and beyond.

I know there are plenty of other indispensable books against torture–please share your suggestions in the comments section; one random commentor will receive an autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s “Kill or Capture” (number 3 below).

One other thing: if you buy books (or anything else) from via this referral link, Amnesty International will receive between 5 – 10% of the sale.