4 Ways to Tell if President Obama is Bluffing on Surveillance Reform

President Obama needs to reboot the surveillance program (Photo Credit: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images).

President Obama needs to reboot the surveillance program (Photo Credit: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images).

By Naureen Shah, Advocacy Advisor at Amnesty International USA

On Friday, January 17, President Obama will announce the results of his review of National Security Agency surveillance programs. Will he renounce mass surveillance and put human rights at the heart of reform? Or will he perpetuate a global spying program that puts free speech and privacy rights of people around the world at risk?

It’s tough to sort rhetoric from reality on an issue as complicated and contested as surveillance, so we’ve put together a cheat sheet to evaluate the President’s speech:

1) He pays lip service to the 95%, but doesn’t scrap global warrantless surveillance. 

Ninety-five percent of the world’s people live outside the U.S. and are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. But under U.S. law they count as “non-U.S. persons” – who get few protections under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under section 702 of that law, the government claims authority to surveill countless people outside the U.S. – including the content of their emails – without notice, independent judicial review of individual cases, a warrant, probable cause or access to a remedy for privacy violations.


Guantánamo: 12 Years Too Many, No More Excuses, Shut It Down


“In retrospect, the entire detention and interrogation strategy was wrong. We squandered the goodwill of the world after we were attacked by our actions in Guantánamo.”

- Major General Michael Lehnert (ret.), first commander of detentions at Guantánamo (2002), December 2013

By Natalie Butz, Communications Specialist at Amnesty International USA

As U.S. detentions at Guantánamo enter their 13th year, we need to take President Obama and Congress to task for their delay in closing the detention facility.

It’s been twelve years too many. The time for action is now. President Obama must transfer cleared detainees, including Shaker Aamer. There are no excuses, especially now that he has greater flexibility from Congress to do just that.


The Power of Us

game of drones

As I write this, Amnesty International activists across the U.S. are preparing to come together for Regional Conferences. They are crafting booths for Ideas Fairs, writing curricula for workshops on effective advocacy, researching complex human rights issues around the globe. They are organizing their communities to come together and build a movement.

At Amnesty, I am continually struck by the Power of Us – the theme of this year’s Regional Conferences. Everywhere I look, Amnesty activists are building a larger and stronger “us” with even more grassroots power.


Dirty Wars: It’s Time to Pick Sides


This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour. Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.

By the time the stragglers reached the auditorium at the Ithaca College showing of Dirty Wars, everyone was packed shoulder to shoulder in their seats, a solid mass of people talking excitedly and straining to get closer to the screen. I saw one young woman squirm through the crowd to find one of the last empty seats, wedging herself between two others.

A quiet slowly settled across the room and the film began, Jeremy Scahill’s voice carrying through the auditorium. The faces of children who have lost mothers and uncles and grandparents to U.S. strikes with drones and other weapons flashed across the screen. The film details the raids and strikes that characterize President Obama’s deadliest and most secret game: the Game of Drones.


Many Voices, One Fight: Building the Movement to Ending Obama’s Game of Drones

Drone model used for Amnesty's "Game of Drones" tour (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

Drone model used for Amnesty’s “Game of Drones” tour (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

By Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator

As I write these words, the sun is just starting to come up on a crisp, clear Vermont day. It will warm up later, but the chill in the air and the turning leaves tell me one thing is sure: winter is coming.

As the seasons change, another year of the U.S. government’s shadowy ‘global war’ continues. The Obama Administration’s drone policy remains shrouded in secrecy despite serious allegations of unlawful killings. Amid raids and strikes, untold many have been killed and injured, and countless other lives remain perilously in the balance as President Obama plays the deadliest of games: the Game of Drones.

This fall, we’re standing up and saying this has got to end now. I’m taking the fight to campuses across the country, meeting people in classrooms and common rooms to recruit them into a growing movement calling on President Obama to release the names of victims of drone strikes, and end this Game of Drones!


From Jail Cell to Board Chair: Ann Burroughs on the Urgent Action Network

946701_10151615992491363_98894236_nThis post is the second in a three-part blog series commemorating the launch of Amnesty USA’s redesigned Urgent Action Network. Read on for how this updated tool will help activists make a stronger impact.

Even now, twenty-seven years later, Ann Burroughs can remember what it felt like to go to prison.

I’ll never forget my anger as the door shut behind me for the first time. But I did not for a moment question my commitment to opposing injustice and the government’s repressive policies of discrimination and segregation.

Ann’s “crime” was campaigning against apartheid in South Africa. After being convicted, Amnesty declared Ann a Prisoner of Conscience and made her the subject of an Urgent Action (UA). The letters that poured in to South African officials as a result of that UA were integral in securing Ann’s release.


12 Photographs of Hope & Remembrance on 9/11

Today marks twelve years since the September 11 attacks, a crime against humanity. As we reflect on that day and all that has happened since, here are 12 images intended to inspire hope for a better future.

People at a candlelight vigil the night of September 12, 2001. New York City (Photo Credit: Lynn Johnson via Getty Images).

People at a candlelight vigil the night of September 12, 2001. New York City (Photo Credit: Lynn Johnson via Getty Images).


First Look: New U.S. Drone Program Documentary

By Naureen Shah, Advocacy Adviser at Amnesty International USA

Today, filmmaker Brave New Foundation released this virtual legal debate on drone strikes, featuring Amnesty International USA and other leading human rights and civil rights organizations. Brave New Foundation’s full documentary on drone strikes will be released October 30. The virtual legal debate shows that too often, the U.S. government’s rhetoric has not matched the reality of U.S. policies and practices that treat the world as a global battlefield.


Bradley Manning Verdict: Double Standards and Misplaced Priorities

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning being escorted from court (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning being escorted from court (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).

It has been a more than three years since the initial leaks of classified information were posted on Wikileaks. Bradley Manning has faced many issues during that three year span – not the least of which being the unnecessarily harsh conditions of his confinement when held in a brig in Quantico – and he will continue to face many more for the foreseeable future.

However, one issue has stood out above all others: being charged and possibly convicted for aiding the enemy, for releasing classified information to Wikileaks – information that Manning reasonably believed demonstrated human rights violations and potential war crimes by the U.S. government.

The charge seemed like a stretch from the get-go. But after hearing the evidence, the prosecution presented to support such a charge, it became painfully obvious that the government was trying to make an example of Bradley Manning: regardless of your motives, if you leak government information you will pay with your life, literally.