Director of Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan, December 11, 2014. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
By Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA Director of Security with Human Rights
Today John Brennan, director of the CIA, gave a live press conference responding to the Senate’s landmark report on the CIA torture and secret detention program. He acknowledged “mistakes.” He said that the program was “flawed.” He said that the CIA had now improved “management” and “planning.”
But words like these do not reflect the full gravity of torture and enforced disappearances. They downgrade this program of systematic human rights violations to a series of unforeseen complications. They make torture seem like a bad choice – instead of the crime that it is.
On Thursday, February 7th, John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, will face a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearing comes on the heels of yesterday’s release of troubling information about the Obama administration’s use of lethal force.
John Brennan has served in important leadership roles in the Bush and Obama administrations, including at the CIA. The Senate and the U.S. public have a right to know the truth about his involvement, if any, in human rights violations. Brennan should also be asked what he will do to make sure human rights violations are never committed again.
Amnesty International does not currently take a position on whether or not John Brennan should head the CIA. However, all government officials—including Brennan—have an obligation to ensure that the U.S. meets its responsibilities under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.
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 letterto the head of Sony Entertainment with citations pointing out that torture and other abuses did not help find Osama bin Laden.
At tonight’s debate President Obama and Governor Romney will face questions for the last time before the Presidential Elections. Even as they speak and try to sell themselves to the American public, scores of unmanned aerial vehicles will be flying over the skies of northwestern Pakistan, their remote control operators sitting thousands of miles away, and the hundreds of thousands of villagers under their shadow cowering in fear for when they will spit out a missile and wreak destruction over the land that has been their home for centuries.
In the words of the recent report compiled by NYU and Stanford University:
“Drones hover twenty four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan striking homes, vehicles and public spaces their presence terrorizes men, women and children giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities”
Even as the Presidential candidates sparred on October 11, 2012, President Obama had already authorized his 297th drone strike since taking office, it was the deadliest one in 2012, killing 17 people, the second strike in less than twenty four hours in the area. In the aftermath of the strike the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan said the strike was a “clear violation of international law and of Pakistani sovereignty”. As has been the case, for the hundreds of other strikes the objections made by Pakistan, a country against which the United States has not declared war, they were ignored.
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.
June 26th is the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture and Amnesty International has launched a powerful new online video – “Hooded” – to mark the occasion.
Hooding is a practice that gets to the heart of the relationship between the torturer and his – or her – victim. The hooded victim is dehumanized – hooding deprives the victim of a face, of an identity – and dehumanization is almost always a precursor of abuse.
The anthropologists Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson famously labeled dehumanization “the fifth horseman of the apocalypse”, an essential precursor to war, rape, pillage and genocide.
Hooding is disorientating. It is designed to restrict the victim’s ability to defend himself – or herself – from harm. It is also calculated to instill fear, a dread of the unknown, of the dark.
Pakistani tribesmen carry the coffin of a person allegedly killed in a US drone attack. (Photo by THIR KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
On Monday John Brennan, the President’s adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, popped up at the Woodrow Wilson Center to give a major policy speech on the “ethics and efficacy” of drone use.
Brennan’s argument had two main planks: That drones work and that their use is entirely legal. Both claims deserve close examination because neither is quite as simple as it seems.
In a classic rhetorical device Brennan threw out perhaps the most contentious aspect of his analysis as though it was a given, stating that “as a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and associated forces.”
It feels like we have been here before. Another testosterone-fueled memoir from a charter member of President Bush’s torture team unapologetically seeks to justify the unjustifiable with inflated claims of attacks thwarted and secret battles won.
Latest to the plate is Jose Rodriguez, former Head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, and the man charged with implementing the application of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) to detainees that fell into the CIA’s clutches after 9/11.
Rodriguez was not always quite so willing to boast about his handiwork. In 2005 he destroyed 92 videotapes of high value detainees Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri being water-boarded at secret CIA prisons in Thailand.
At the time Rodriguez justified his action to CIA Director Porter Goss by telling him that the tapes would make the CIA “look terrible; it would be devastating to us.”
Last weekend the State Department released a draft copy of a highly critical internal memo about the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that had long since been believed lost to posterity.
The draft, written by State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow in 2006, was uncovered by a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the former Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman. The final memo had been considered so explosive that the Bush administration instructed every single copy be collected and destroyed.
The memo was prepared in response to the passage of new legislation through Congress – the McCain amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act – that prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading (CID) treatment or punishment. There was no way for the Bush administration to avoid the need to reevaluate the CIA black site program against a CID standard.
Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, former Head of Polish Intelligence
Last week was a good week for accountability — in Europe. The government of Poland and the European Parliament both took major steps towards holding European officials responsible for supporting the CIA’s illegal rendition to torture program.
In Poland the former Head of Polish Intelligence, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, revealed that he had been charged with “unlawfully depriving prisoners of the their liberty” because of the alleged role he played in helping to establish a CIA secret prison in Stare Klejkuty, north-eastern Poland, in 2002-2003. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
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