“The America I Believe In”: 3 Hopes for this July 4th

Amnesty International posterI see this poster every day in the main hallway of our Amnesty International office: it depicts the Statue of Liberty and reads: “The America I believe in leads the world on human rights.

It’s aspirational. And in too many ways, it’s proven the opposite of true. The United States is leading the world in perversely innovative human rights abuses, such as unlawful drone strikes and mass surveillance tapping into the Internet’s backbone.

And when it’s the US rather than another country committing human right abuses, there are additional consequences: the U.S. sets dangerous precedents for other nations to follow, while providing abusive regimes a ready-made excuse to flout their human rights obligations.

Still, I think there’s hope. July 4th is a celebration not just of U.S. nationhood, but of the country’s ideals and the best parts of its history. It’s those that I think of, when I hope for this:

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From Albert Woodfox to Kalief Browder: The Devastation of Solitary Confinement

A cell in the Closed Cell Restricted (isolation) unit in Angola prison in Louisiana. (Credit: Louisiana State Archives)

A cell in the isolation unit in Angola prison in Louisiana. (Credit: Louisiana State Archives)

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has specifically condemned Woodfox’s treatment as torture and called on the United States to eliminate the use of prolonged isolation. Albert’s case has returned to the spotlight in the past month because he is no longer a convicted man – a federal judge ordered his unconditional release in early June, two years after his conviction had been overturned for a third time (a last-minute appeal kept him behind bars).

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Are Justices Breyer and Ginsberg Ready to Call It Quits on the Death Penalty?

Texas

On Monday the Supreme Court issued their decision in Glossip v. Gross, voting 5-4 to allow Oklahoma to continue to use midazolam in their lethal injection procedure. The Court ruled that the petitioners failed to provide an alternative method, and deferred to the District Court’s ruling that midazolam is likely to render a person unable to feel pain during the execution.

The case and the Court’s decision are narrow: they only examined the question of one particular drug used by some states in lethal injections. That means the Court did not address the bigger question of the death penalty itself and its many inherent flaws. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Juan Mendez: “I Was Tortured. I Know How Important It Is To Hold The CIA Accountable”

Juan Mendez, lawyer and human rights activist, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. London 30 June 2014 (c) Amnesty International

Juan Mendez, lawyer and human rights activist, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. London 30 June 2014 (c) Amnesty International

By Juan E. Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment

More than once, I begged my torturers to kill me. Years later, I think about it and wonder if I really meant it. I think I did, at the time.

I was tied up, nude and blindfolded, and electrically prodded all over my body. Twice they pretended they were executing me by placing a gun to my head or in my mouth and clicking the trigger.

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“Torture is Not Just Something that Happens to Mel Gibson”: 4 Things You Need to Know about John Oliver’s Takedown of CIA Torture

JohnOliverCIATortureOn Sunday, John Oliver made me laugh about CIA torture—and want to do everything in my power to stop the U.S. from returning to it.

His show, Last Week Tonight, ran a pointed critique of the U.S. government’s torture program: not just that it happened and that it was horrific, but that too many people in the United States continue to believe that it was excusable or even justifiable.

As Oliver explains, six months ago the Senate released a summary of its report on the CIA torture program, know as the Senate Torture Report. It contains disturbing allegations of forced rectal feeding, sexual abuse and extensive use of waterboarding.

Here’s what you missed – and what more you need to know:

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7 ways the world has changed thanks to Edward Snowden

On June 5, 2013, The Guardian and The Washington Post published the first revelations from Edward Snowden about mass government surveillance. (c) Private

On 5 June 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the first shocking evidence of global mass surveillance programs.

We’ve since learned that the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have been monitoring the internet and phone activity of hundreds of millions of people across the world.

Two years on, we take a look at seven ways the landscape has changed thanks to the documents Snowden released:

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5 Things You Need to Know: The CIA’s Horrific Torture of Majid Khan

MajidKhan

By Kimie Matsuo and Zak Newman

We learned earlier this week of even more shocking, horrific details in the case of one detainee who fell victim to the CIA’s torture program. Majid Khan, who has been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for almost nine years, is one of the 119 men whose case is mentioned in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s landmark report on CIA torture. But this week’s news, coming from declassified statements from Khan himself, includes revelations of grotesque and abhorrent treatment never publicly reported by the Senate committee.

Here’s what you need to know: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Why We’re #WearingOrange on June 2nd

Gun violence is a national issue that impacts tens of thousands of Americans each year. Each day 88 people lose their lives to firearms in the United States, and countless other lives are permanently and irrevocably altered. The causes of this epidemic of violence are complex, but there are organizations working around the clock to bring it to an end.

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VICTORY: Nebraska Becomes the 19th US State to Abolish the Death Penalty!


By Christy Hargesheimer, Nebraska resident and Nebraska State Death Penalty Action Coordinator for Amnesty International USA

Wow, who would have thought it possible? Red-state Nebraska (with a few purple splotches) actually has repealed the death penalty by voting to override the Governor’s veto! And who were the people responsible for finally pushing this through? A strong coalition of abolitionists, plus some unlikely suspects, that’s who.

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Nebraska, Tsarnaev, and the United States’ dwindling use of the death penalty

 In a stunning move this morning, Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill to abolish the death penalty in their state. And although the Governor has promised to veto, with 32 votes in favor the legislature stands poised to override the governor and make the bill law. Doing so would make Nebraska the 19th state to repeal the death penalty, the 7th since 2007.

Meanwhile, the nation is still reacting to the news that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death last week for the Boston Marathon bombings.

At first blush, the two news stories may seem at odds – while capital punishment looks to be on the way out in Nebraska, it looks alive and well in one Boston federal courthouse. But appearances can be deceiving, and the nation’s reaction to the Tsarnaev sentence shows a deep conflict, even discomfort, over the death penalty.

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