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

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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Mad About the NDAA? Join the January 11 Protest in DC

close gitmo rallyLate last night, President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law with provisions that restrict the transfer of Guantanamo detainees and further impede closure of the prison. Furthermore, nothing was done to correct provisions in last year’s NDAA that further entrench indefinite military detention, unfair trials, and the U.S. government’s “global war” framework, in U.S. law.

The “global war” framework— which holds that the U.S. government is engaged in a global, pervasive, never-ending “war” with al-Qaeda and other vaguely defined groups and individuals—was first articulated by the Bush administration and has been embraced by the Obama administration.

Expressed in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and reaffirmed in the 2012 NDAA, this “global war” doctrine is used to justify everything from killings with drones to detention without charge at Guantanamo to renditions (still happening, according to a Washington Post report) to impunity for crimes under international law, including torture and enforced disappearances.

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Breaking: Congress Passes 2013 NDAA, President Obama Must Veto

Protest at the White House against the prison at Guantanamo 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.

This is unacceptable, morally and legally. And it’s a reason why Amnesty International and 28 other human rights, religious and civil liberties organizations sent a letter calling on President Obama to veto the NDAA.

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3 Things You Should Know About “Zero Dark Thirty” and Torture

Still from Zero Dark Thirty.

After seeing the new film Zero Dark Thirty, I think there are three things everyone should know:

1) Zero Dark Thirty is not a documentary. The film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, said: “It’s a movie. It’s not a documentary… My standard is not a journalistic standard of ‘Is this a word-for-word quote?’ I’m not asking to be held to that standard and I’m certainly not representing my film as that. The standard is more, ‘Is this more or less in the ballpark?’”

2) Torture did not help find Osama bin Laden. This is established by the public record and verified by people who have access to classified information. For example, yesterday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) sent this letter to the head of Sony Entertainment with citations pointing out that torture and other abuses did not help find Osama bin Laden.

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Do You Know About Guantánamo Detainee Hussain Almerfedi?

Hussain Salem Mohammed AlmerfediFew people know about the plight of Guantánamo detainee Hussain Salem Mohammed Almerfedi, but they should. That’s why Amnesty International included his case in Write #4Rights,  a special period of global activism from December 5th to 16th  marking International Human Rights Day on December 10th.

Almerfedi is a Yemeni national who has been held in U.S. military custody at Guantánamo Bay for over nine years:

President Obama: Keep Your Promise to Close Guantanamo

indefinite detention graphic

Click to enlarge.

Nearly four years ago, on his second day in office, President Obama ordered the Guantanamo prison closed within one year.  Today it remains open, with 166 detainees, and human rights violations in the name of “global war” have become the “new normal” there, at Bagram in Afghanistan and elsewhere, including indefinite detention, unfair trials, unlawful killings with drones and impunity for torture.

President Obama must make good on his promise to close the prison, and he must end–and ensure accountability for–human rights violations in the name of “global war.” Yes, there are obstacles to closure and reform–however, if President Obama were to change course and honor the U.S. government’s international human rights obligations, the path forward is clear, because human rights provide a framework that protect and ensure justice for all of us.

Here are 10 concrete steps–by no means exhaustive–President Obama can take now and in the near future to keep his promise and help make his rhetoric on human rights a reality:

1) Immediately recommit publicly to closing Guantanamo, recognize that international law applies to all U.S. counterterrorism operations, and recognize that the right way to close Guantanamo is to ensure that detainees are either charged and fairly prosecuted in federal court, or released to countries that will respect their human rights.

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President Obama Keeps a Yemeni Journalist in Jail

drones yemen

Unexlpoded BLU 97 cluster bomlet, part of the evidence found in 2009 US attack.

Why would President Obama want a Yemeni journalist, known for his reports of human rights abuses, to remain in Yemeni prison?

That’s the question Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ wants to know after two years in detention following his reports – later proven correct — that the United States was involved in a deadly attack on an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp which took place on Dec. 17, 2009.

Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ was the first Yemeni journalist to allege US involvement in the missile attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah. Shortly after the attack – which killed 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women – he wrote articles and spoke to news channel Al Jazeera and newspapers. In addition, 14 alleged al-Qa’ida members were also reportedly killed in the missile attack.

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Why Close Guantánamo? A Dead Man’s Poem Speaks

Adnan Latif guantanamo prisoner

Click above to read the full article on Adnan Latif in our 2007 magazine

Adnan Latif died at Guantánamo on Saturday, after being held over 10 years without charge—despite a judge’s order that he be released.

Latif protested his treatment with a hunger strike and poetry; these lines were cleared by government censors and serve as a tragic reminder of the urgent need to end indefinite detention and close the prison:

“Hunger Strike Poem”

They are artists of torture,
They are artists of pain and fatigue,
They are artists of insults
and humiliation.
Where is the world to save us
from torture?
Where is the world to save us
from the fire and sadness?
Where is the world to save
the hunger strikers?

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7 Important Stories You Probably Missed on Drones, Guantanamo and Torture

Pakistan drone attack

Pakistani tribesmen carry the coffin of a person allegedly killed in a US drone attack. (Photo AFP/Getty Images)

It can be tough to follow all of the developments on drones, Guantanamo and torture, as these issues are constantly evolving though government policy-making and public debate.

So here’s a quick round up of important news you should know, along with links to take action and make your voice heard. While drones, Guantanamo and torture can seem distant from your regular life, these issues affect all of us, because they undermine the rule of law and the human rights framework, both here at home and around the world, making us all less safe.

1) Debate is swirling about whether drone operators killing people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere by remote control from the U.S. should be awarded medals. Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times wrote the initial article and Gabor Rona of Human Rights First added his thoughts. If you want to skip the debate and urge the government to end unlawful killing with drones, take this action.

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Friends, Neighbors and the Fight Against Torture

Many Amnesty International members have long experience with the challenge of opposing state-sponsored torture in other countries.  But when human rights activists in North Carolina found that a trail of torture led to their own backdoor, they learned that talking to neighbors about human rights abuses is just as difficult as challenging a foreign government.

The Washington Post last week featured a story, “Hangar 3′s Mystery” about the work of North Carolina Stop Torture Now to document the activities of a small, nominally private air charter company, Aero Contractors,  whose headquarters are at an airfield in Smithfield, North Carolina.

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