Yesterday a coalition of 18 leading human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute launched a call for the establishment of a non-partisan commission of eminent persons to investigate and examine the detention, treatment, and transfer of detainees following the 9/11 attacks.
The call was backed by former FBI Director William Sessions, Major General Antonio Taguba who headed the military investigations into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, Juan Mendez, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the President of the United Church of Christ Dr. John Thomas.
Former FBI Director Sessions commented:
“The president has a responsibility to protect and defend Americans and unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered as to whether the detention, transfer, and treatment of detainees following the September 11th attacks were in the country’s best interest. We need to understand what happened and how to prevent any illegal actions form taking place in the future.”
The United States used to inspire the world as a beacon for human rights. The U.S. championed the international rule of law and pressed other countries in Latin America, Europe and Africa to bring human rights abusers to account for their actions. The past eight years have greatly damaged America’s image in the world. We need to repair than damage by showing that we hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold other nations.
Speaking to Politico last Tuesday, former Vice-President Richard Cheneyopined:
“When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.”
Sadly, this is a sentiment that Amnesty International volunteers hear a lot as they engage in the debate on the abuse of detainees. It is also a line of argument that can be easily rebuffed.
The bottom line is that such macho posturing does the national security of this country no favors. Due process rights keep us honest but they also make us smarter. They hold law enforcement, military and intelligence officers to a higher standard. A standard that holds mere assertion, hearsay and innuendo is not sufficient to deprive an individual of his or her liberty; A standard that requires official action to be based on the collection of facts – evidence – that will stand up in court; That ensures skilled interviewing by trained and experienced investigators replaces mindless bullying and produces better intelligence; That guarantees fewer miscarriages of justice.
The former Vice-President is not wrong to highlight the threat from terrorism. The threat has not gone away and, if anything, the Bush Administration’s policies over the past seven years have ensured that the threat is greater now than it has ever been. Terrorism is the ultimate human rights abuse and Amnesty International is as steadfast in its condemnation and opposition to such tactics as it is to the use of torture and indefinite detention by government agents.
Macho posturing is no substitute for effective counterterrorism policies. And passion is no substitute for competence. Human rights standards keep us smarter and make our counterterrorism efforts more effective. No democratic state that has betrayed these basic principles has ever successively defeated a terrorist threat. Bitter experience teaches us that the war on terror can only be fought and won from the moral high ground.
One positive piece of President Obama’s much heralded executive orders that seems to be overlooked in all the excitement is the unambiguous statement that contractor abuses fall within the scope of inquiry and review and that that work will be done by government employees, not contractors.
Companies hired by Defense, State and other agencies of the US government have been involved in almost every stage of the ‘war on terror’, from escorting convoys to building and maintaining facilities to interrogating detainees and providing security to US officials, and all too often with no accountability when implicated in a range of human rights abuses. As Senator Feingold brought to light, contractors were also hired to oversee other contractors at the State Department.
In his executive orders, President Obama (a champion of regulation of security contractors while in the Senate) made clear that only full-time or permanent employees or officers of the United States would be able to:
– Serve on the special task force to identify lawful options for the disposition of detainees
– Review status of individual detainee cases
– Serve on the special task force on interrogation and transfer policies
At the same time, the orders are comprehensive in covering facilities run by, or acts committed by, “agents” of the United States, ie, contractors, to be reviewed.
In a way, the President has proffered crucial first steps on a number of issues. We wanted Guantanamo closed, he’s set a timeline; we’re calling for investigation and accountability, he gave us a nod to transparency in the face of executive privilege; we documented abuses not only by US government officials, but also by the corporate sector, he’s got them covered and ruled them out of oversight functions.
Now it’s time to keep pushing to ensure that doors that are cracked open don’t swing back and slam shut the hope for an end to torture, indefinite detention and attacks against civilians.
The Counter Terror With Justice campaign and Amnesty International volunteers were on the National Mall yesterday, gathering 100 Days petition signatures before the inauguration and wearing orange and holding signs on the parade route.
I took this picture of JD with my phone, sorry it’s kinda pixely. It was great meeting so many people from around the country who want GTMO closed, torture ended and accountability for abuse. (Reminded me of the GTMO Cell Tour.)
close the detainee camp at Guantanamo Bay within a year and establish a process by which the U.S. government figures out what to do with the remaining detainees;
establish new rules on interrogation methods moving forward;
establish new guidelines for the treatment of detainees moving forward.
I have mixed emotions. I’d be thrilled to see such profoundly positive movement on these issues from President Obama, especially so quickly, but I’m already steeling myself for what will be probably be harder than getting to this point:
getting the details of the above right;
making sure illegal practices stop not just at GTMO, but also at Bagram, CIA sites and other US facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere;
ensuring accountability for torture and other illegal US interrogation and detention practices and policies—whether under Bush, Clinton, or anyone else.
Right now, the best thing we can all do is let President Obama know that we support and care about efforts to bring US interrogation and detention practices and policies in line with international law.
celebrate. We’ve all put a lot of hard work into this campaign—please give yourself a pat on the back. Have some orange juice. You’ll need a recharge for the fight ahead. Get that orange gear washed, ironed up and ready to go.
Again and again we’re told that closing Guantanamo is “complicated.” I don’t see what’s complicated about it. Flying a chunk of metal with people in it to the moon? That’s complicated. Following U.S. and international law? Not so much. Try the detainees in federal courts or release them. If they are tried and found guilty, then incarcerate them in the US. I’ll help build a special prison in my neighborhood. If they are found not guilty, then release them. I have a room for rent. The “complicated” rhetoric serves as a stalling tactic and a justification for the whole mess. I don’t buy it. As always, I’m open to being convinced by a logical argument, but the burden of proof is on those who claim it’s hard to follow the law.
Which brings me to Obama’s comments on investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by members of the Bush administration. Since when is moving “forward” in tension with investigating and prosecuting people who broke the law? If we are going to move forward, then investigating and prosecuting crimes is exactly what we have to do. If we are going to move forward, Obama and Congress must commit this country to the rule of law.
As a New Yorker who saw the Towers fall, as an American who is ashamed that his tax dollars have gone towards murder and torture, and as a citizen of the world who wants his family and friends to be safe, happy and free, I am so, so very ready for those responsible for 9/11 to be held accountable, for those responsible for torture to be held accountable, and for a U.S. President to follow the law and uphold human rights. Is it really so hard to do the right thing?
Barack Obama has announced that he will close Guantanamo. Throughout the world, this announcement will be understood as an introduction to a new kind of American leadership, a repudiation of the unilateralism of the Bush administration, and a return to diplomacy and the rule of law.
Closing Guantanamo will be a complicated process, which must be accomplished in phases. But the first step clearly is the settlement of the 50 or 60 detainees who have been cleared for release but have nowhere to go. These men have been called the “Guantanamo refugees.” Some of these men are stateless, but most of them simply can’t be returned to their home countries because their lives would be in danger there.
A number of European countries have recently indicated a willingness to take in some of the Guantanamo refugees. But the U.S. must also take some of them.
A group of 17 ethnic Uyghurs from western China have been at Guantanamo almost since its opening. From very early on, they were known to be innocent. In September 2008, a federal court officially cleared them of “enemy combatant” status. In October, Federal Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered them released into the U.S, where Uyghur-American families were waiting to take them in. Justice Department lawyers obtained a stay pending appeal to the Court of Appeals. The appeal was briefed and argued in late November. The Government argued that only the President has the power to order the transfer of detainees and their release into the U.S. The appeal has not yet been decided by the Court. As President, Obama should either dismiss the appeal and comply with Judge Urbina’s order or exercise his power as President to bring the Uyghurs to the U.S.
So it ain’t breaking news that the Bush administration concocted a legal flip-flam to justify the kidnapping, capture, detention and torture of hundreds of people from around the world, under the guise of national security. But to witness how and exactly what they did in meticulous detail – legal memos, public statements (ie, lies) by administration officials, accurate re-enactments of torture, and testimony from a few extraordinarily strong men who survived death-defying treatment – was beyond maddening.
This happened last night as my husband pulled me away from Facebook to watch Torturing Democracy, an excellent new documentary produced by National Security Archive and Washington Media Associates airing now on PBS. My blood was boiling by the end.
Perhaps most compelling were the half-dozen or more former military officers who denounced the detainee treatment policy. These guys weren’t paper-pushing, desk-weenies. One is a former Navy aviator and one is the former head of the Navy’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program. They stated emphatically how this undercut America’s core values and how this will harm American servicemen and women “for decades.”
Here’s a transcript from Malcolm Nance, Chief of Training, US Navy SERE, (1997-2001):
“It will hurt us for decades to come. Decades. Our people will all be subjected to these tactics, because we have authorized them for the world now. How it got to Guantanamo is a crime and somebody needs to figure out who did it, how they did it, who authorized them to do it, and shut it down because our servicemen will suffer for years.”
Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, Senior Prosecutor, Office of Military Commissions, (2003-06):
“If we stoop and we compromise on our ideals as a nation, then these guys have accomplished much more than driving airplanes into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.”
As for me, I’m not religious, but I love how Col. Couch simply framed this issue:
“God means what he says. And we were created in his image, and we owe each other a certain level of dignity — a certain level of respect. And that’s just a line we can’t cross.”
As a human being, I was heartbroken and astonished that anyone could survive torture of this sickness and duration. As the daughter of a 32-year decorated Viet Nam veteran (U.S. Marine), I can only imagine that my dad is turning in his grave at Quantico National Cemetery. As an Amnesty International staff member, I am both fired up and proud that my organization is unwaveringly committed to fighting this unspeakable crap wherever it occurs, no matter who does it and no matter how far ahead of public opinion we may be.
Skip late-night Friends re-runs, this is must-see TV — if you care what your government does in your name.
Most Americans are ready to move beyond the nightmare of the last eight years. Yep, I’m all for massive change. But for some things in life the perps really ought to pay. And the U.S. war-on-terror detainees’ policy is one of them.
Last week Portugal offered to accept some Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release by the Pentagon but who cannot return to their home countries. In a letter to his counterparts in other European Union countries, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado urged them to do the same. Portugal’s commendable initiative is based on a recognition that it is no longer acceptable for European governments to sit back and carp from the sidelines.
(c) US DoD
Closing Guantanamo simply cannot be accomplished without other governments’ assistance in resettling some of the detainees. According to the New York Times, Luis Serradas Tavares, a legal adviser in Portugal’s foreign ministry, acknowledged that the Portuguese people probably would be hesitant to accept detainees who had been labeled dangerous terrorists by the U.S., but he added that his government was nevertheless willing to do so because “the U.S. has assured us that these people are the least dangerous people.”
It is past time for the U.S. to follow its own advice to European governments and Portugal’s example. In the case of 17 Chinese Uighurs, who belong to a persecuted ethnic, religious (Muslim), and linguistic minority in China, the U.S. continues to vehemently oppose efforts by their lawyers to get them admitted into the U.S. Most of the Uighurs have long been cleared for release, and they never should have been sent to Guantanamo in the first place.
In classic Orwellian fashion, the Pentagon has reclassified them as “no longer enemy combatants” (NLEC). There is a community of Uighurs in the Washington, DC, area that is fully prepared to assist the Uighur detainees, including by providing housing and employment assistance to help put these men on the path to becoming self-supporting. Releasing them into the United States clearly is the best option for them, as there are very few other places where there is already a well-established Uighur community that speaks the same language and can provide such a range of support services for these men.
However, the U.S. persists in keeping the Uighurs in a “Catch-22” bind by arguing both that (1) the Uighurs no longer pose a threat to U.S. national security but (2) they are inadmissible under U.S. immigration laws, which automatically deem foreign nationals who have received “weapons training” abroad to be dangerous. (At least some of the Uighurs allegedly received some training in the use of firearms in Afghanistan after they fled there from China.)
This matter is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The rest of the world is watching to see what the U.S. does about the Uighurs, whose plight Amnesty International has called a “monstrous absurdity.” As U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina found in October, the U.S. government has never produced a shred of credible evidence that the Uighurs in any way pose a danger to the U.S. As long as the U.S. continues to stubbornly insist on its internally contradictory argument, reluctance by other governments to follow Portugal’s example is likely to persist.
“The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat said Tuesday he has recommended that President-elect Barack Obama keep the country’s current national intelligence director and CIA chief in place for some time to ensure continuity in U.S. intelligence programs during the transition to a new administration.
Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he also recommended to Obama’s transition team that some parts of the CIA’s controversial alternative interrogation program should be allowed to continue. He declined to say what he specifically recommended, however.”
Personnel issues aside, the Obama team needs to send a clear message, that it repudiates the fact that the US has abdicated a bipartisan position on treatment and torture that has spanned over 50 years. The US should adopt a single standard for the treatment of detainees and it should be based on the US Army field manual.
The notion that undermining this standard advances our national security is absurd, and based on a cartoon-like view of the threats and challenges we face. Everytime we hold an individual we put a mirror to ourselves and our values, and we should treat them according to the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.