3 Things You Can Do To Stop Indefinite Detention & Close Guantanamo

©PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Congress is poised to force through a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would violate human rights and undermine the rule of law.

Provisions that were snuck into the bill with little notice from mainsteam media could spell indefinite detention without a hearing, keep Guantanamo open, and hinder fair trials. With your help, we can ensure that human rights violating provisions in the draft bill do not become law.

Here are three things you can do right now:

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Indefinite Detention: 3 Conservative Voices of Reason

The House and Senate are locked in conference this week to thrash out the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2012. It’s a curious sign of the times that there are many conservative voices crying foul over the bill as well as progressive ones. Three in particular are worth noting.

Senator Rand Paul, cast one of the bravest votes last week against a bipartisan group that voted for the NDAA, one of the worst bills to cross the floor this year. It threatens to detain suspects indefinitely, undercuts the rights of US citizens, and sideline our best tools in countering terrorism in one fell swoop.

I don’t doubt the sincerity or passion of those on the opposing side, only their wisdom and their open ended faith in government. Those who place their blind faith and trust in government, and trust that authority will keep itself in check, are liable to find their liberties are eroded as surely as termites eat away an old wooden house.

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Doubling Down On Failure At Guantanamo

There are still 172 detainees held at the Guantánamo Bay detention centre © Amnesty International

Released just as President Obama seems to have washed his hands of closing Guantanamo, a new batch of leaked government documents provide fresh insight into just how inadequate, iniquitous and ultimately counterproductive, the US foray into indefinite detention has been.

The new document cache consists of Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) – essentially case summaries – produced by intelligence analysts at Guantanamo between 2002 and 2009 that were first leaked to Wikileaks and then by someone in the Wikileaks community to the press.

The picture of Guantanamo that emerges from these new documents is of an arbitrary review process, operating from a presumption of guilt not innocence, thrown together on the fly, and overseen by individuals with so little understanding of cultural nuance that they might as well have been drafted in from Mars.

The New York Times points out that the qualification “possibly” appears 387 times about intelligence used in the files, with the qualifiers “unknown” and “deceptive” appearing 188 times and 85 times respectively. Further proof that the intelligence business is anything but a precise science.

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Tweet for a Fair Trial of Walid Yunis Ahmad in Iraq

Walid Yunis Ahmad, a Turkomen and father of three children who worked at a radio station, has been detained without charge in the Kurdistan region of Iraq since 2000. He was “disappeared” for three years and tortured. February 6th is the 11th anniversary of his detention.

Walid Yunis AhmadHis case may be familiar: he was included in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights   letter writing marathon in December, featured in our report “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detention and Torture in Iraq ,” and we’ve distributed action postcards on his case at our Regional Conferences last fall.

Recently we learned that Walid Yunis Ahmad has been charged, nearly 11 years after his arrest, for terrorism-related crimes which, implausibly, he is alleged to have committed from his prison cell. His lawyer believes the charges have been fabricated.

Walid Yunis Ahmad now faces the possibility of an unfair trial that could result in the death penalty.

We need your help to flood the Kurdish Regional authorities with Tweets, emails and letters on or around February 6th, urging them to ensure that Walid Yunis Ahmad receives a fair trial, without recourse to the death penalty. Here’s what you can do:

•    Send emails and letters to the Kurdish Regional authorities

•    Tweet the accounts of the Kurdish Prime Minster, Barhim Salih, at @barhamsalih and the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative in the US, Qubad Talabani, at @qubadjt.

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SCOTUS to Arar: the USA Can Send You to Be Tortured

Maher Arar is reunited with his family after being released from Syria where he was held for almost a year without charge.

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old engineer and Canadian citizen born in Syria. According to Arar, in 2002, while he was in transit in New York City’s JFK Airport, after coming back from a vacation with his family, he was interrogated and detained by U.S. Officials alleging presumed links to al-Qaeda. Days later, he was secretly rendered to Syria, where he was held for almost one year under no formal charges, constant torture –including severe beating and the constant threat to be tortured harder— and was forced to falsely confess his links to the organization.

Most of the time he was held on a three feet wide, six feet deep and seven feet high cell, with no windows and with rats and cats everywhere.  After his release to Canada, the Government created a Commission of Inquiry that cleared Arar from all terrorist allegations and entitled him to compensation.

In 2004, in order to determine the responsibility of the U.S. Officials involved in his rendition to torture, Maher Arar filed a suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, as well as numerous Immigration Officials. However, the District Court of Brooklyn dismissed the suit, based on national security grounds. It held that the reasons why Arar was considered a member of al-Qaeda and transferred to Syria, were state secrets and that their disclosure would reveal intelligence methods, affecting national security and U.S. foreign relations.

In 2006, he appealed the decision before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the dismissal, and for those reasons, in 2010, he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.

On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected his writ of certiorari, eliminating Maher Arar’s last hope to find an answer in the U.S. judicial system for the “egregious wrong done” to him, as one of his lawyers said.

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USA: We find the defendant NOT guilty. Now lock him up!

Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr

Is this America or the Twilight Zone? According to Amnesty International’s new report, President Obama’s new rules for military commissions at Guantanamo allow for a defendant who is found NOT guilty to be locked up. Potentially forever.

It could happen to Omar Khadr. He will be the first person tried under President Obama’s military commissions, and his pre-trial hearings started this week.  Khadr is a Canadian national who has been held in US custody for nearly 8 years, since he was 15 years old. He has said he was repeatedly tortured in U.S. custody.

His military commission is set up such that it will not meet international standards for fairness. And, even if he is found not guilty after his unfair trial, he can still be held indefinitely.

The new military commissions rule book notes that indefinite detention after acquittal by military commission “may be authorized by statute, such as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), as informed by the laws of war.” (Rule 1101, page II-139.)

President Obama has already used the AUMF to justify indefinite detention and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has proposed writing that justification into standard American law.  President Obama and Senator Graham worked with Congress last year to set up the current unfair military commissions.

They are using—as did President Bush—the concept of a global war against al Qaeda as justification for violating three pillars of the American justice system:

-If you are accused of a crime, you have the right to either be charged and tried, or be released.

-If you are tried, you have the right to a fair trial.

-If you are found not guilty, you have the right to go free.

Now that two presidents and hundreds of members of Congress from two different parties have responded to the heinous attacks on 9/11 by throwing away due process and fair trials, the conclusion is inescapable:  al Qaeda has destroyed the U.S. justice system.

It’s pretty obvious that self-imposed self destruction by states is one of the hallmark goals of terrorism; how could elected officials ignore—to this day—the American military and intelligence experts who warn them over and over again not to go down this road?

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Don't Just Close It, Close It Right!

OK, I just ate lunch (yes at 4:39 PM) and I need a few minutes to digest before I dive into emails, so I thought I’d post this, off the top of my head. Please excuse any burrito-coma induced spelling and/or grammatical and/or policy mistakes.

Anyway, there’s been a lot of talk in the last week about when and how President-elect Obama will close GTMO, and while it’s good that he’s said he will close it, it needs to be done the right way.

In part, that means no:

“National Security Courts.” As a New Yorker who saw the towers fall, I want the people responsible held to account–and that means a FAIR trial.  US federal courts can do the trick, and they’ve done it before: e.g., the first WTC bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing. We didn’t need the unfair military commissions set up by the Military Commissions Act and we don’t need a replacement system that’s also unfair.  Agree? Let President-elect Obama know through the change.gov website.

Transfer of detainees to countries where they will be at risk of human rights abuse. The US government is obligated to ensure that people released from U.S. custody are relocated to countries where their human rights will be respected. If the US can’t find a safe place for them, then they should be brought to the US. (Case in point: the Uighurs.) Agree? change.gov website.

Indefinite detention. There’s been talk about people who can’t be tried but who are too dangerous to release. This is absurd. People must either be charged with a crime and given a fair trial, or be released. End of story. That’s the way it works. Either there’s evidence against you or there isn’t. change.gov website.

Lollygagging. I’ve seen quite a few articles, NY Times and The New Yorker included talk about how difficult it will be to close GTMO. I don’t see it. Either charge people and given them a fair trial in a US federal court, or release them to a country where they won’t be at risk of human rights abuse. Problem solved. change.gov

…And no forgetting about Bagram and all the other U.S. facilities–from Afghanistan to Iraq to secret places we don’t know about–where people are held outside of the law. Yup, change.gov

Agree on all? Join us!