About Zeke Johnson

Zeke Johnson is the Director of Amnesty International USA's Security & Human Rights Campaign. He advocates for effective US security policies that comply with international law. His areas of expertise include detention, interrogation, lethal force and drones. He has testified before members of Congress about US drone strike policy and has served as an observer of the military commissions at US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay. His analysis has been cited by the Associated Press, BBC News, CBS News, CNN, NPR, Politico, Reuters, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. For media inquiries, please contact 212.633.4256 or @ZekeJohnsonAi on Twitter.
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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.


Does Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Have Rights?

On Monday here at Guantánamo, I saw Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in person for the first time. He’s accused of leading involvement in the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,976 people. Proceedings against him and the four alleged 9/11 co-conspirators resumed at the U.S. Naval Station this week, in a military commission process that does not meet international standards for fair trials.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, a crime against humanity, Amnesty International has been calling for those involved to be brought to justice. In a letter to President George W. Bush over 11 years ago, we wrote that in the wake of such a crime:

It is vital to maintain the highest respect for human rights and international human rights standards. This should include using every means available to bring those responsible for the 11 September attacks to justice within the framework of a fair and accountable criminal justice system, and with full respect for international standards for a fair trial. We urge your administration to adhere to such standards every step of the way towards the objective of justice, and to reject any resort to the death penalty in pursuit of this goal.


What’s Going On At Guantanamo This Week? Shhh…It’s A Secret

camp justice guantanamo

Camp justice?

It’s no secret that I’m at Guantánamo this week to observe pre-trial motion hearings in the military commission case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks.

What is secret? According to U.S. authorities, everything the five defendants know, say or write–including about their time in CIA custody. It’s all “presumptively classified” Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI).  Everything. From torture to what they ate for breakfast.

According to a defense motion filed against “presumptive classification” (one of several motions to be addressed at Guantánamo this week), “If a prisoner says that he misses his family, this information is ‘born classified’ even though no original classification authority would or could ever classify it.”

As Amnesty International’s report, “Wrong Court, Wrong Place, Wrong
Punishment” explains:

Will The Election Decide What Is Considered ‘Torture’?

torture protest washington dc

© Shawn Duffy

Yesterday The New York Times published a story with the headline “Election May Decide When Interrogation Amounts to Torture.” It compares and contrasts President Obama and Governor Romney on torture.

While there are a number of points in the article one could address—for example, the claim that techniques approved in the Army Field Manual are “nonabusive”—the bigger picture is this:

  • U.S. torture was, and continues to be, about systemic institutional failures, including an over emphasis on domestic political values at the expense of international standards, and the failure to end impunity and lack of remedy for past abuses.


The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

cell solitary confinement

Bunk in Secure Housing Unit cell, Pelican Bay, California © Rina Palta/KALW

Today, Amnesty International issued a new report calling for an end to the use of prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons.  The report contains shocking details about the scope and impact of abusive use of solitary confinement on prisoners, ex-prisoners, families and communities.

There is no policing of the system, they do whatever they want and they get away with it.

Sister of a man held in solitary confinement for a total of 21 years

What’s Solitary Like?

Personally, I find it hard to imagine what it’s like to be held in solitary confinement for a couple days, let alone a couple decades. Medical doctors have described how, even after short periods of time, solitary can lead to insanity. I can see how after reading this Kafkaesque story about a prisoner who participated in a hunger strike to protest  the use of solitary:

Breaking: US Issues List of 55 Guantanamo Detainees Cleared for Transfer

Guantanamo Bay detention camp

Guantanamo Bay detention camp

Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports that the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has made public for the first time a list of 55 Guantanamo detainees cleared for transfer out of the prison.

These detainees must be immediately released to countries that will respect their human rights. If the Obama administration can’t find suitable and willing countries to take them right away, then these detainees should–if they are willing–be released in the United States.


Good News! Court Blocks NDAA Indefinite Detention Provision

guantanamo adnan latif

Protest in Washington DC of the 9th anniversary of the Guantanamo prison.

On Wednesday, a U.S. judge ruled that a provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes indefinite detention is unconstitutional, and blocked the government from using the provision to hold people without charge.

The ruling is a major win for the movement to end indefinite detention, which for over 10 years has been a hallmark of the human rights vaccum at Guantánamo and was codified in U.S. law last year by President Obama and Congress. Shamefully, the Obama administration has appealed.

Why care about indefinite detention?

Imagine you were locked up, accused of—but never charged with—a crime, and denied a fair trial to make your case. Seem farfetched?


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?


Turning 9/11 Grief into Hope

Terry Rockefeller and her sister Laura

Terry Rockefeller (left) with her sister Laura. Photo courtesy of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and Terry Rockefeller.

It has now been eleven years since the September 11 attacks. I still think about that morning every day. I could see the Towers from my living room, and from my walk to the subway. In my mind, I see the first Tower on fire. I see the second fall.

I think about all the people who lost their lives, all the survivors and all those who lost loved ones. Will their rights to justice, truth and redress ever be fulfilled?

I also think about all those who have suffered from the U.S. government’s response to the attacks. Will indefinite detention, unlawful drone killings and impunity for torture ever end?

And I wonder if Amnesty International’s vision of a world with human rights for all people will ever become reality. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Guantanamo: Still Open, Still Violating Human Rights

Omar Khadr guantanamo

Omar Khadr has been held since he was 15 years old, and awaits transfer home to Canada as part of a plea deal.

Today, 168 people are imprisoned at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay by the US government.

I’ll be at Guantánamo this week to observe military commission proceedings in a case relating to the September 11 attacks. (When possible, I’ll share my thoughts from Guantánamo on the blog and on Twitter @ZekeJohnsonAi.) The case is resuming over three years after President Obama ordered the prison closed in one year.

All of the detainees at Guantánamo should already long ago have either been charged and tried fairly in civilian court, or been released to countries that would respect their human rights.

Instead, the US government continues to violate human rights at Guantánamo Bay. A 2010 government task force outlined the Administration’s plans: