Demonstrators take part in a rally to call for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center (Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images).
By Saira Khan, Intern at Amnesty International USA’s Security & Human Rights Program
I was born and raised in New York. My mother is originally from Pakistan and my father is from India. My parents and I are Muslim. From a young age, I had the impression that most Americans did not know much about my culture or religion.
During the September 11 attacks, I was in fifth grade. I can distinctly remember a classmate calling me a terrorist in the following days. While I knew that he did not realize the gravity of his accusations, I also understood that his words represented a new perspective held by many Americans regarding Muslims. As I have gotten older, this stereotypical outlook has been reinforced through my personal experiences.
Many Americans assume that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo must be guilty of something, and therefore are deserving of the conditions in which they live. The reality is that most detainees in Guantanamo Bay detention facility have never been charged, and none fairly tried. Yet they are all still being punished. I’m concerned that the passive acceptance of Guantanamo in our country is amanifestation of latent discrimination toward Muslims. This is a travesty, especially for America, the supposed “land of the free.”
Shaker Aamer (Photo Credit: Department of Defense/MCT via Getty Images)
Shaker Aamer is a U.K. resident who has been held in U.S. custody since 2001 – originally detained in notorious detention facilities at the Bagram and Kandahar Air Force bases in Afghanistan before being transferred in February 2002 to Guantanamo Bay. He was allegedly tortured – both in Afghanistan and during his time at Guantanamo – and has now been on hunger strike for more than 120 days, joining more than 100 other detainees at the facility who are also on strike.
In a recent op-ed in the Guardian, Shaker stated that every day at Guantanamo is torture. He finished the piece with this poignant point: “I hope I do not die in this awful place. I want to hug my children and watch them as they grow. But if it is God’s will that I should die here, I want to die with dignity. I hope, if the worst comes to the worst, that my children will understand that I cared for the rights of those suffering around me almost as much as I care for them.”
This Thursday at 1:30p.m. eastern, President Obama will deliver a widely anticipated speech at National Defense University that is expected to address closing Guantanamo, drones and US counterterrorism policy.
If President Obama is serious about ending human rights violations by the US government in the name national security, he should use the speech to announce, among other points, that:
1) Forced feeding will stop and the transfer of detainees cleared to leave will resume. There are dozens cleared by the administration to leave the detention facility. Even under current Congressional conditions on transfers, these men can and must be transferred out where there are countries to take them that will respect their human rights.
One example is Shaker Aamer. He has been cleared for transfer under the Bush and Obama administrations, and the British government says he should be free with his wife and children in London. Why has he not been transferred there? Instead of brutal force feeding of detainees, it’s time to fulfill human rights.
UPDATE: On 4/30 President Obama again vowed to close Guantanamo. While we welcome this call words must be followed up by action, such as the steps below.
Sign our new petition telling President Obama and Congress that you support closing Guantanamo.
Imagine you’re Shaker Aamer, locked up without charge for 11 years, thousands of miles from home, despite being cleared, for years, to leave. The UK government has repeatedly intervened on your behalf in an effort to reunite you with your wife and children in London. But you’re still held. You go on hunger strike in an attempt to draw attention to your plight. You have told your lawyers that you and your fellow inmates are being beaten, deprived of sleep and punished just for protesting. And all this is being done by the United States government, whose president promised four years and three months ago to shut Guantánamo for good. Just imagine.
Two months into the most recent hunger strike at Guantánamo and over three years after the deadline for closing the facility, President Obama has barely said a peep about his broken promise. But ignoring the problem at Guantánamo is simply unacceptable. The US government is obligated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other treaties and binding laws, to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. That’s a point made last week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in this strong statement.
As High Commissioner Pillay points out, yes, those responsible for the September 11 attacks must be brought to justice, and the government has a duty and responsibility to ensure safety. But the US can’t exempt itself from its human rights obligations in doing either of these things. That’s why instead of Guantánamo, the criminal justice and law enforcement systems in the US – available from day one – should be used. These systems are far from perfect and must themselves be reformed, but they are quipped to ensure justice for the 9/11 attacks and address any security risks posed by those held at Guantánamo.
This assignment was supposed to fulfill a career-long dream. In the ten years I have been employed by Amnesty International USA in research, the opportunity to travel to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to observe military commission proceedings against the detainees charged with leading involvement in the September 11th terrorist attacks was something I always wanted to experience firsthand.
I flew down to this US Naval station on the southeast edge of Cuba and I arrived Sunday evening just in time to gain my first experience of the ever-changing world of military commission justice when the press briefing rules were amended at the last minute to prevent observers from attending the opening press briefing by the defense and prosecution counsels.
As a human rights researcher, I somewhat knew what to expect. However as an attorney, this morning threw me a relative curveball, even from a military commission process which is now in its third incarnation with multiple legal challenges and stoppages in the past 12 years. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
This Valentine’s Day marks 11 years in Guantanamo for Shaker Aamer. President Obama, charge Shaker or send him home!
Valentine’s Day is almost here — a bittersweet holiday for human rights activists who have been campaigning to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. February 14th marks a tragic milestone for Shaker Aamer, one of the detainee cases Amnesty International has worked on for years now.
11 years on February 14, 2013. That’s how long Shaker Aamer has spent behind bars at Guantanamo Bay Prison, without charge, without trial – really, without hope.
Tonight President Obama will give his State of the Union address, the first of his new administration. Will he mention how he broke his promise to close Guantanamo? Will Shaker Aamer’s name come up? President Obama has been given four more years to shape a legacy worthy of his Nobel Peace Prize. But Shaker Aamer can’t wait any longer for justice. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
We still don’t have the outcome we all want — President Obama hasn’t ended human rights violations and hasn’t kept his long-standing promise to close Guantanamo prison. But we are making progress. We know it will be a long fight, but history shows that change can happen through sustained activism. Just last week the infamous Tamms “supermax” prison in Illinois closed after years of campaigning. Guantanamo will be next!
We can’t do it without you. Here are 4 things we can do to close Guantanamo and promote human rights in 2013:
Today, Congress again failed to uphold the U.S. government’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. It passed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with provisions that would gravely hinder the effort to close Guantanamo prison, and would further entrench indefinite detention.