Partisan Election of Judges + Death Penalty = Bad Idea

On November 6th, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller was re-elected despite previously facing removal from the bench over a case in which she refused an after-hours appeal by a death row inmate who was executed later that night.

The election of judges based on popular vote is not unique to Texas, though it is one of only 8 states that choose judges for its highest courts with partisan elections.

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Locked Away: Sri Lanka's "Security" Detainees

Sri Lanka

Prisoners have been held for extended periods without charge at Welikada Prison © Private

I want to tell you a story about a man arrested in Sri Lanka.  It’s shocking.

In June 2008, “Roshan” (not his real name) was arrested in Colombo by unknown assailants who he later learned were plainclothes police.  The police suspected him of links to the opposition Tamil Tigers.  He was held for two years without ever being charged or tried and was repeatedly tortured, before eventually being released.  No one has been held accountable for his treatment.

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3 Things You Can Do To Stop Indefinite Detention & Close Guantanamo

©PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Congress is poised to force through a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would violate human rights and undermine the rule of law.

Provisions that were snuck into the bill with little notice from mainsteam media could spell indefinite detention without a hearing, keep Guantanamo open, and hinder fair trials. With your help, we can ensure that human rights violating provisions in the draft bill do not become law.

Here are three things you can do right now:

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A Common-Sense Approach to Torture

President Obama again displayed in his speech today on national security that he is an exceptionally gifted and thoughtful politician who cares about the rule of law.  Indeed, there is much to admire in his remarks today.  So I can’t help wondering why he is being so obtuse about investigating torture. 

He says he wants to establish legal mechanisms for dealing with terrorists that will be useful for his successors.  “We can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my Administration, and that endures for the next President and the President after that. . .”, the President said.  Sadly, though, this vision of his legacy apparently does not include concrete measures to ensure that torture will never be carried out again by any of his successors, merely the hope that they will follow his example.  That is where his refusal to carry out his legal obligation to investigate torture leaves us — merely hoping his successors will be wise.

The President continues to characterize those who press for an investigation as vengeful zealots uninterested in constructive problem-solving:  “Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort and our politics on the challenges of the future.”  The truth is, however, that many in the human rights movement who are calling for an investigation have worked most of their lives for justice and accountability for human rights crimes in country after country — Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and so many others.  These are people whose purpose is the opposite of ”finger-pointing” for petty partisan aims.

In any event, it is not up to President Obama to decide all by himself how to prevent future abuses in combatting terrorism.  We — the public, Congress, and officials in the executive branch — all share in the responsibility for this “mess”, as the President labelled it.  We must seek solutions together, and an independent, impartial, nonpartisan commission of inquiry is the logical instrument through which we can begin to make this happen.

The weakness of the President’s argument against an investigation is made all the more stark by its contrast with the cogency of his arguments against torture and for closing Guantanamo.  Moreover, his speech today marked yet another flip-flop in the reasons for his opposition.  Just a month ago, he expressed his preference that, if there was going to be an investigation, it be conducted by an independent panel, outside the normal Congressional hearing process.  He said that he worried about hearings becoming too partisan.  Today, however, Mr. Obama said that he was opposed to an independent commission because he believes “our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability.  The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. . .”

Well, which is it?  Is the President now saying that balkanized investigations by Congressional committees controlled by Democrats are actually preferable to a truly independent investigation by experts who have no political agenda?  I don’t see the logic in this view.  The President prides himself on applying rational, common-sense approaches to problem solving.  But rationality and common sense are lacking in his stubborn opposition to an impartial investigation.  We need to figure out how to ensure future presidents won’t yield to the same cowardly impulses that defined the Bush administration’s resort to torture.  Only a thorough, impartial probe of how it happened can lead to effective remedies for the future.

Make Your Voice Heard for Change!

Change.org wants you to change our government.  Inspired by President-elect Obama’s commitment to “open the doors of government,” Change.org is offering people an opportunity to send ideas to the incoming administration that will bring real, tangible solutions for our country.  They will then present the “Top 10 Ideas for America” to the Obama administration on Inauguration Day and work with partner organizations to turn those ideas into specific policies.

At Amnesty, we know that one of the most important changes our nation can make is to restore its respect for human rights and the rule of law.  A crucial first step is to investigate abuses carried out in the War on Terror and ensure accountability all the way up the chain of command.

We are already pressuring the President-elect Obama through our 100 Days Campaign to make human rights central to his administration.  Help us gather even more support by going to change.org and voting up this issue.  Let’s send the message loud and clear that Americans care about human rights and our government should too!