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.


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.


Despite Crackdown, Saudi Ambassador Claims "There Is No Repression"

Hamad Kassawy © Amnesty International

“There is no repression in Saudi Arabia.” – H.E. Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian national Hamza Kashgari and Amnesty International beg to differ.

In a recent talk with the Saudi ambassador at New York University, he claimed that Saudi Arabia is a “land of opportunity” where there was no oppression of dissidents. “We don’t have a Guantanamo. We don’t have an Abu Ghraib,” he pointed out.

Saudi Arabia may not have a ‘Guantanamo’ or an ‘Abu Ghraib,’ but it has the notorious Al-Ha’ir prison and ‘Ulaysha Prison, and, according to Amnesty International’s report Saudi Arabia: Repression in the Name of Security, a new wave of repression that began in March 2011. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Closing the Doors to Justice in Turkey

In a recent blog, my colleague, Bill Jones, noted the ways in which the Turkish government has targeted Kurdish lawyers as part of its general crackdown on political dissent in Turkey.  These arrests, he points out, are in violation of UN agreements and represent a violation of basic human rights.  But conditions seem likely to get worse before they get better.

A draft law is currently working its way through the Turkish Parliament that will further curb the capacity of lawyers to meet with their clients.  The law was developed primarily to limit communications between imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and his lawyers, forty-seven of whom were arrested this past November.  Apparently, claiming that the ferry to İmralı Island, where Öcalan is incarcerated, is “out of order” is no longer considered sufficient.

The draft law, which has largely passed unnoticed by domestic and international observers, promises to be yet another tool by which Turkey will be able to limit the rights of prisoners.  It would effectively give the government the right to ban prisoners’ access to lawyers for up to six months.  Needless to say, all of this is likely to further violate international agreements regarding the treatment of prisoners.


Tweet for the Release of Walid Yunis Ahmad

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the unlawful detention of Walid Yunis Ahmad in the Kurdish Region of Iraq.

You may recognize his name. Perhaps the longest serving detainee in Iraq, Walid was featured in our report, “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detention and Torture in Iraq” and has been the subject of several Amnesty International actions.

Walid Yunis Ahmad is a Turkomen and father of three who worked for a local radio and TV station. He was arrested on February 6, 2000.

He was “disappeared” for three years, tortured, and detained without charge or trial for ten years. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Prisoner Swap in Saudi Arabia

2010 SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images

‘If you don’t, we won’t either.’

That’s the agreement the Saudi and Iraqi government found on the matter of executing prisoners each is holding from the other country.

Arab News reported Friday that government officials of both countries came to a consent, at least in principle, to put executions of Saudi and Iraqi prisoners on death row on hold. This ‘in principle’ agreement reportedly will last two months until a final agreement to swap prisoners is reached. Currently, there are 138 Iraqi nationals imprisoned in the Saudi Kingdom, most of whom were charged with involvement in terrorist operations.  Eleven Iraqis were sentenced to death. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Day of Action Against Guantanamo & NDAA

Wednesday, January 11 marked 10 years since the US government brought the first twenty Muslim men to the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in order to detain and interrogate them outside of the law.

People around the world protested the anniversary by issuing a resounding “Not in my name!” to the US government’s use of torture, indefinite detention and unfair trials, as part of the Day of Action Against Guantanamo and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).


Uludere: Civilian Deaths and a Culture of Silence in Turkey

On the night of December 28, 2011, two Turkish F-16s attacked a group of civilians crossing into Turkey from Iraq, killing thirty-five, many of whom were children (one only twelve years old).  The Turkish government has described it as an unfortunate accident and promised an investigation, but many believe the attack was intentional, especially given that this was a well-known smuggling route for Kurds along the Turkish-Iraqi border.   It was, according to the head of the Turkish Human Rights Association, Öztürk Türkdoğan, quite simply, “a massacre… an extrajudicial execution.”

Clearly, without a transparent inquiry, the truth cannot be known.  But, will the Turkish government be willing to fully investigate these deaths and hold those responsible to account?  Despite the promises of Turkish government officials, early signs are not positive.  The investigator has, for example, refused to meet with Turkish human rights organizations, despite multiple petitions.  Protests in response to the deaths were met by arrests.


Scholars Targeted in Turkey "War on Terror"

One particularly troubling aspect of Turkey’s own “War on Terror” is the way that it has targeted a wide range of individuals with no record of violence.  Virtually anyone critical of the government may be arrested.

A recent speech by Interior Minister, İdris Naim Şahin, made clear that terrorism includes “[writing] poems or short articles [which] demoralize the soldiers or police” and that terrorist cells can include “a university chair, an association, or a non-governmental organization” in “Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Germany, London, wherever…”

This rhetoric reflects an ugly reality: thousands of individuals have been arrested, with most held in lengthy pre-trial detentions.  Most are not accused of violence and none have the right to challenge evidence in advance of their trial.


3 Things You Can Do To Stop Indefinite Detention & Close Guantanamo


Congress is poised to force through a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would violate human rights and undermine the rule of law.

Provisions that were snuck into the bill with little notice from mainsteam media could spell indefinite detention without a hearing, keep Guantanamo open, and hinder fair trials. With your help, we can ensure that human rights violating provisions in the draft bill do not become law.

Here are three things you can do right now: