Life Under Pinochet: ‘I Remember Being Shown Some Very Severe Signs of Torture’


In advance of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30th, we have the following feature on Augusto Pinochet’s regime.

Roger Plant joined Amnesty International in 1972 to cover the organization’s work on Latin America. A few months after Pinochet took power by force, he went to Chile to document the arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances. The result was a groundbreaking report that helped shine a light on the reality of life in the Latin-American country.

As a young researcher, Roger Plant had only been working for Amnesty International for less than a year when Augusto Pinochet launched his coup d’état in 1973. With his feet barely under the desk, it was a baptism of fire – a seminal moment that would eventually define his career.


On International Justice Day, An Inconvenient Truth

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir takes part in the African Union Summit on health focusing on HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. Nigeria's president defended welcoming Sudan President Omar al-Bashir to the African Union health summit despite war crimes charges against him, saying it could not interfere in AU affairs.     (Photo Credit: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images).

Nigeria’s president defended welcoming Sudan President Omar al-Bashir to an African Union health summit this week despite war crimes charges against him, saying it could not interfere in AU affairs. (Photo Credit: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images).

Just as storms overwhelm unattended levees, political strife and armed conflict can overwhelm the system of international law created to ensure we do not repeat the darkest periods of human history. Today marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statue, which established the International Criminal Court to secure accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This week also brings continued news of the terrible price paid by civilians as a result of such grievous crimes in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere.

Millions have been victims of these crimes in recent history, yet only very rarely have those responsible been held accountable. In the last two decades, however, progress has been made towards reversing this trend of impunity. With the establishment of the International Criminal Court, a clear message was sent around the world that failure to investigate and prosecute such crimes at the national level will not be tolerated.

Yet, every hopeful step is met with new and compelling challenges. Political alliances sometimes supersede international legal and moral obligations, shielding fugitives such as Omar al-Bashir, the sitting president of Sudan, for example, from appearing before a court of law to answer for their alleged crimes. Impunity for grave crimes robs those victimized of justice, and prevents communities and whole countries from recovering from trauma.


Can You Make 1 Phone Call Before 5pm EST Today to Help Close Guantanamo?


Activists demonstrate against indefinite detention and unfair trials at US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (Photo Credit: Shawn Duffy).

Angry. That’s how I felt when President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law, despite containing terrible provisions that run afoul of human rights standards and have been used to justify indefinite detention at Guantanamo.

Well, the NDAA is back in the House of Representatives this week and the bad Guantanamo provisions are in it again. Will you join me in demanding that Congress support the human rights of all people?

Pick up the phone and tell your Representative to support closing Guantanamo – but you must call before 5pm EST TODAY!


Do You Know Who is Detained at Guantanamo Bay?

guantanamoOn May 23, 2013, President Obama stated that history will cast a harsh judgment on the legacy of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center and those who fail to end it. Unfortunately, the current reality is that dozens of men are detained in Guantanamo despite being cleared for transfer. Here are just a few:

Yusef Abbas, Hajiakbar Abdulghupur, and Saidullah Khalik – Detained in Guantanamo for 10 years and 11 months. The three men are ethnic Uyghurs from China. They were arrested in Pakistan in late 2001. After they were given over to U.S. forces, they were transferred to Guantanamo in 2002. In 2008, they, along with 14 other Uyghurs, successfully filed writs of Habeas Corpus. While all the other Uyghur held at Guantanamo have been transferred, these three remain detained.

Shaker Aamer – Detained for 11 years and 4 months. Originally from Saudi Arabia, he was arrested in Afghanistan, where he was living with his family, in 2001. He was transferred to Guantanamo in February, 2002. Under President Bush he was cleared for transfer. Despite the U.K. government’s requests he be transferred to the U.K., Shaker Aamer remains in Guantanamo.


Writing Letters to Guantanamo

Sami al Hajj received than 20,000 letters from members and supporters of Amnesty International during his last two years at Guantánamo Bay (Photo Credit: Sami al Hajj).

Sami al Hajj received than 20,000 letters from members and supporters of Amnesty International during his last two years at Guantánamo (Photo Credit: Sami al Hajj).

Have you ever doubted the power of a letter?

If so, read this note Amnesty received from Sami al Hajj, who was held at Guantanamo without charge for years and finally transferred home to Sudan in 2008:

“I received more than 20,000 letters from members and supporters of Amnesty International during my last two years at Guantánamo Bay…These letters really encouraged me during my very difficult time. They made me feel as though I was not alone and not to give up…Also, I felt and could notice that from all these letters, the Administration of Guantánamo Bay changed and improved towards me, as they knew I was not alone and I had people who cared about me. The guards said to me that they could see I was someone who mattered and must be important because of all the letters – this made them respect me more.”

Read Sami’s full letter to Amnesty supporters here.

Turn to Guantanamo today – we’re entering month five of the hunger strike and over 11 years of indefinite detention. It is well past time for each detainee to either be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or released.


7 Recommendations to President Obama on Guantanamo, Torture & Drones

On May 23rd, 2013, President Obama made his first major speech on national security since 2009 (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

On May 23rd, 2013, President Obama made his first major speech on national security since 2009 (Photo Credit: Getty Images).

Today, Amnesty International released in-depth analysis of President Obama’s speech on national security: “Words, War, and the Rule of Law. President Obama revisits counter-terrorism policy, but human rights still missing.”

Our report makes clear that, while there were encouraging signs in the speech, the continuing absence of international human rights law from the US government’s counterterrorism framework remains a grave cause for concern.

Here are seven key recommendations from the report:


President Obama: Recapture the Human Rights High Ground

President Obama

US President Barack Obama gives a thumbs-up after winning the 2012 US presidential election in Chicago on November 7, 2012. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

When President Obama was first elected in 2008, many human rights activists rejoiced. It had been eight long years where the United States tortured, detained hundreds without charge and trial and tried to justify the horrors of Abu Ghraib.  His first campaign for the White House offered the promise of an administration that would recapture the United States’ credibility on human rights issues, bringing detention practices in line with international law, repudiating secrecy and ensuring that human rights weren’t traded away in the name of national security.

More simply, President Obama promised a new dawn of American leadership, one in which human rights would be given more than lip-service.

Unfortunately, the first Obama administration broke many of its promises when human rights were pitted against national security interests. When it comes to countering terrorism, President Obama has hidden behind national security imperatives to shield administration policy in secrecy and pursue programs such as expanded drone use and thwarted accountability.


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:

Why is June Torture Awareness Month?

Torture activism in front of the White HouseEvery year, human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Center for Victims of Torture mark June as Torture Awareness Month. Why?

The short answer is because it’s when a very important treaty against torture took effect and there are still people who flout it—people like Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who went on 60 Minutes recently to promote waterboarding and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.

Let’s start with the law. It’s called the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT for short) and it entered into force on June 26, 1987. That’s why June 26 is marked as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture—and why we’re calling on President Obama to apologize to torture survivor Maher Arar on that day. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST