Should This Woman Be Jailed By The U.S. For Resistance to Iraq War?

kimberly rivera

Kimberly Rivera could face 2 to 5 years in prison for her resistance to the Iraq war.

In the next 48 hours, Kimberly Rivera will have her moment of truth: she will find out whether she will be deported to the US., where she will be immediately jailed for her resistance to the Iraq War.

While in Iraq, Kimberly began to seriously doubt the justification of the war, her participation in it, and being part of the US army. Coupled with her study of the Bible, she decided as a matter of moral conscience she could no longer participate in the war. Now she may be jailed for this decision.

She should not be.

Amnesty International believes “the right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is part of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as recognized in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

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Both Illegal and Dumb

This weekend saw the publication of two powerful opinion pieces on the futility of using torture as an interrogation tool.  Writing in The (London) Times on Friday General Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the UK Defense Staff, argued that the use of torture was “both illegal and dumb.” Drawing on Britain’s bitter experience using coercive interrogation tactics in Northern Ireland, Lord Guthrie continued:

“Western use of torture to counter terror has been a propaganda coup for al-Qaeda and a recruiting sergeant for its global jihad. Our hypocrisy has radicalised our enemies and corroded the power we base on our proclaimed values. We save more lives in the long term by rejecting torture than we do by perpetrating it.”

In addition to serving successively in two of Britain’s most senior military posts, Lord Guthrie spent almost a decade as an officer in Britain’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) during which period he served in Aden, the Gulf, Malaysia and East Africa. The SAS fulfils the same counterterrorist role as America’s Delta Force. Lord Guthrie also served in Northern Ireland with the Welsh Guards. The full article (Torture uses the body against the soul) can be accessed at www.timesonline.co.uk.

On Sunday the News in Review section of The New York Times featured an article by Ambassador Donald P. Gregg, a thirty year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who served as the National Security Adviser to Vice-President George H. W. Bush during the Reagan administration.

Ambassador Gregg had been responsible for intelligence operations in ten Vietnamese provinces between 1971-72 and he described how his South Vietnamese counterpart had routinely tortured prisoners, producing a great deal of information much of which proved to be false.  By contrast Ambassador Gregg’s team employed “more humane methods” and generated more accurate intelligence.  He concludes:

“The key to successful interrogation is for the interrogator — even as he controls the situation — to recognize a prisoner’s humanity, to understand his culture, background and language. Torture makes this impossible.”

Ambassador Gregg’s article (Speaking with the Enemy) can be accessed at www.nytimes.com.

It is fashionable to portray calls for a return to due process, American values and human rights as a liberal cause. In reality, as the contributions from Lord Guthrie and Ambassador Gregg demonstrate, it is a cause that attracts a great deal of support from among professional military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel because they know effective counterterrorism is perfectly compatible with democratic principles.

I'd Hire Blackwater? A wake-up call to renewed action.

When a good friend left for Iraq, I noticed I began to pay even closer attention to the daily news reports coming out of Baghdad. I emailed, but didn’t hear back. Then reports of more suicide bombings, killing dozens. Then the outbreak of extreme levels of violence in Israel/Palestine. And finally, a thought entered my mind: if I had the money, I’d hire a Blackwater guard and fly over there, see for myself, find those I care about and make sure they’re ok. Wait, what did I just say? I’d hire Blackwater?

As soon as I entertained the thought, I delved immediately into reflection on it.

Maybe it is the same political, economic, religious or other fervor that drives states and peoples into conflicts and into dependence on (or addiction to) military and security forces (public or private) that I was experiencing on a micro level –feeling an urgent and desperate need to do something, go somewhere, be someplace. As time passed without information, communication, resolution, the need to protect my own interest consumed everything in its path.

Driven by emotion. Untamed by perspective or rationality. This thought inherently dangerous because of its drunken-stupor-foundation in restlessness and despair. But that’s what law and regulation is there for. When people, states, companies become engulfed in a tidal wave of philosophy, belief, or emotion, we rely on time-tested structures and principles to protect ourselves from ourselves.

This is why Amnesty and other human rights groups have been pushing so hard for stronger regulation of companies that operate in conflict zones – places that are extremely vulnerable to rampant human rights violations, attacks on civilians, killing of innocents. We can’t let the urge to protect our own interests at any cost consume everything else.

Maybe a lot of us are watching horrific violence unfold in the pages of the daily paper or on our TV or computer screens and feel uncomfortably helpless in the comforts of our own security. But there is a lot we can do on our own soil. We don’t all need to hire private security detail and hop a plane to the Middle East. We need to work now – sober, dedicated and strong – to make sure we improve law and enforcement mechanisms that will ultimately protect the human rights in lands near and far.

The U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement now in effect includes a withdrawal timeline for troops to leave Iraq, but not for security companies to leave. Though there has been a lot of talk about Blackwater, and the indictment of some of its personnel, the reality is that there are many U.S. companies operating in sensitive roles overseas without adequate regulation or oversight.

The to-do list of the incoming administration and the next Congressional session is already packed with urgent agendas – improved law relating to companies operating abroad, particularly in conflict and war zones, must not be forgotten.

[Stay updated on ways to take action -- www.amnestyusa.org/pmscs]

What the UDHR Means to Me

The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), proposed by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted by the United Nations in 1948 established 30 articles of universal Human Rights. This document establishes and protects the framework for civilized and respectful interaction between all people and nations no matter what their political, religious or cultural beliefs. Over 190 nations have ratified this declaration; and yet surveys show that more people can name 3 members of the Homer Simpson TV Cartoon family than they can name three of their basic human rights. You can’t defend what you do not know.

At a time when we see women being stoned to death, child executions, people starving in the Eastern Sudan, children being stolen from their families and made into child-soldiers or prostitutes, prisoners being water-boarded, millions of people starving and dying of AIDS each year – we have to ask: what can human rights education do? My answer is everything. It’s where it all begins.

A friend once told me a story I will never forget. In the early 1940’s there was a young black boy in the Deep South, a sharecropper’s son. He went to school in a one-room, tattered schoolhouse. One morning, sitting by himself, he opened a third-hand, torn Civics text book. He read a page – The United States Bill of Rights. He read it again. He looked around and what he saw were white only schools, white only restrooms, and “sit on the back of the bus”. It didn’t make sense. And at that single moment, education, as it does for all of us, made that young Black boy more aware – and he decided to do something about it. His name was Martin Luther King Jr., and the rest is history.

Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can learn to love.”

Human rights violations know no borders. From child soldiers in the Congo, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to the rise in human trafficking right here in the US, it is easy to see that the whole world needs to change.

By knowing all 30 Articles of the UDHR we can be equipped with the knowledge to fight against any injustice anywhere in the world. On this 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration, with all the turmoil that currently exists in the world, it has become more important than ever for people to know their rights, to pass them onto others, and to defend them relentlessly.

The solution to global issues such as poverty, famine, war and political unrest is encompassed by the UDHR, and human rights education is the first step in resolving these issues at a grassroots level.

I hope to see the day when human rights education becomes a mandatory part of every middle school curriculum on every continent across the world, so that every man, woman and child knows and can defend their God-given rights.

Forced to Leave Home

Bloggers Unite

Every day across the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. War, persecution, environmental disaster and poverty are just some of the reasons why a person might feel that they have to leave their family, community or country.

Refugees leave their country because they have no other choice and fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Refugees also flee their country when their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people around the world have fled and are waiting to begin their lives again. Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa wonder if today is the day their food rations will run out. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand worry that today is the day they will succumb to illness without medical attention. A quarter of a million Colombian refugees in Ecuador fear that today is the day they will be sent back to face the violence in their home country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main agency mandated to provide protection and humanitarian services to those fleeing persecution, estimates there are almost 10 million refugees around the world. They have fled political and religious persecution, been caught up in ethnic conflict, and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. There are many reasons that people become refugees, but only a few ways to obtain the protection they so desperately need. International agencies and local organizations do their best to assist everyone, but caring for the world’s most vulnerable is a daunting task.

Amnesty International USA advocates for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States, and for the humane and dignified treatment of refugees and migrants worldwide. As violations of human rights continue and the number of fleeing people rises, we must all raise our voices to protect the persecuted.