Anti-war protesters disrupt the start of a nomination hearing for U.S. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan before the Senate Intelligence Committee February 7, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Yesterday,the Senate Intelligence Committee endorsed a new director of the CIA — John Brennan. He is a controversial figure, and as you read this Senator Rand Paul and a bi-partisan group of Senators may still be attempting to filibuster the final Senate vote on his nomination. (You can check here.)
What’s the controversy? John Brennan is one of the chief architects of the administration’s drone killing policy, which has reportedly resulted in 4,700 people killed so far, according to Senator Lindsey Graham.
Read that number again. 4,700 human beings killed. Call us crazy, but don’t you think the world — including the thousands of people and families directly affected by drone attacks worldwide – deserves to know on what basis the Obama administration claims the right to kill people?
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearing of the Department of Justice on Wednesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images).
On Wednesday March 6th at 9 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its ninth periodic oversight hearingof the Department of Justice with Attorney General Eric Holder. It’s not a hearing on drones and the Obama administration’s counter terrorism policy, but it should be.
As we saw with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s confirmation hearing with John Brennanseveral weeks ago, the Obama administration’s killing program remains shrouded in secrecy and the little information we do know gives grounds to conclude that the program as a whole allows for the use of lethal force that violates the right to lifeunder international law.
Public thirst is growing for more information about the Obama administration’s death-by-drone program and what can be done to ensure US policies do not authorize unlawful killings— whether of a US citizen or anyone else. Unfortunately, a number of commentators—including the editorial board of the New York Times—have proposed the idea of a special court to review the Obama administration’s kill list, along the lines of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews executive surveillance and search requests in espionage or terrorism cases. It’s a terrible idea that underscores how far from basic human rights principles the “global war” approach to countering terrorism has taken the US government.
A secret drone death-warrant court, would in some sense be issuing a warrant of execution, without the condemned person ever knowing that a “charge” has been laid, that a “trial” has taken place, or that a “verdict” and “sentence” has been passed, let alone being able to defend themselves in the proceedings in any way. If “global war” thinking hadn’t permeated so much of the way the US government thinks and talks about how to deal with the threat of terrorism, the proposal by some to establish a special court that would secretly review and approve government proposals to conduct lethal drone strikes would immediately be rejected as a non-starter that misses the point.
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.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
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 Guantanamois to ensure that detainees are either charged and fairly prosecuted in federal court, or released to countries that will respect their human rights.
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.
Unexlpoded BLU 97 cluster bomlet, part of the evidence found in 2009 US attack.
Why would President Obama want a Yemeni journalist, known for his reports of human rights abuses, to remain in Yemeni prison?
That’s the question Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ wants to know after two years in detention following his reports – later proven correct — that the United States was involved in a deadly attack on an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp which took place on Dec. 17, 2009.
Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ was the first Yemeni journalist to allege US involvement in the missile attack on the community of al-Ma’jalah. Shortly after the attack – which killed 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women – he wrote articles and spoke to news channel Al Jazeera and newspapers. In addition, 14 alleged al-Qa’ida members were also reportedly killed in the missile attack.
16-year-old Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi was one of three U.S. citizens killed by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen last year. Abdulrahman was eating at a restaurant with his teenage cousin when they and 5 others were torn to shreds. Abdulrahman was not accused of any crime.
This video about Abdulrahman, including photos of him as a young child and an interview with his grandfather, is hard to watch. But it tells the human story of drone killing in a way words can’t.
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.