5 Questions on Drones Senators Should Ask Attorney General Holder on Wednesday

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder  (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).

On Wednesday March 6th at 9 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice with Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s not a hearing on drones and the Obama administration’s counter terrorism policy, but it should be.

As we saw with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing with John Brennan several weeks ago, the Obama administration’s killing program remains shrouded in secrecy and the little information we do know gives grounds to conclude that the program as a whole allows for the use of lethal force that violates the right to life under international law.

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The U.S. Finally Rethinking Solitary Confinement

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solitary confinementAnthony Graves spent 18 years on death row in Texas, all in solitary confinement. He was the fifth and last witness to speak at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on solitary confinement Tuesday morning.

Mr. Graves spoke eloquently and powerfully to a packed room and an overflow audience about his experience, the deplorable conditions, and the lasting psychological effects he cannot escape. He was exonerated and released from prison around two years ago, but still carries the scars. He spoke of watching completely sane individuals come to death row, and within three years lose their grip on reality. He described what it was like to live in a very, very small box 23 hours a day, forced to sit like a trained dog when guards delivered food.

One argument against the death penalty is the danger of executing the innocent. It’s a strong argument – Mr. Grave’s case highlights this – but no one should have to live in the conditions he described.

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Protecting Americans Abroad, And Human Rights

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If you were detained abroad, would you want to be guaranteed access to help from your Embassy?  Of course you would.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from officials at the Department of Justice, the State Department, prominent constitutional lawyers, and Clare Gillis, a journalist who spent 44 fearful days detained in Libya, in support of the Consular Notification Compliance Act, legislation introduced earlier this summer by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

This bill enlists state law enforcement officials and federal courts to comply with a 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, known as the Avena decision, which ordered the U.S. to remedy its failure to inform 51 foreign national death row prisoners of their right to access their consulate “without delay”.  This right is specified by the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations (VCCR), which became U.S. law in 1969. One of the 51 men, Humberto Leal, was recently executed by Texas as Leahy presented his legislation.

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