Death at Camp Delta

On the evening of June 9, 2006, three inmates of the Guantanamo detention facility known as Camp Delta, Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Tala al-Zahrani, were found dead in their cells.

All three men had died in a very similar and somewhat bizarre circumstances hung alone in their individual cells, with bound hands and feet, and with a rag stuffed down their throats.

Their bodies were not discovered for two hours despite supposedly being under surveillance from both circulating guards and static cameras.

Senior military commanders at Guantanamo described the deaths as “an act of asymmetrical warfare” perpetrated by the dead men. A military investigation pronounced the deaths suicides.

No disciplinary action was taken against any member of the guard force despite manifest breaches in the standard operating procedures in effect at the facility on the night in question.

In December 2009 Seton Hall University School of Law published a detailed review of the military investigation based on redacted documents disclosed as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report, Death in Camp Delta, found that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation suffered from major shortcomings and raised “more questions than answers”.

Earlier this month an article written by Scott Horton for Harper’s Magazine appeared which went one step further. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Obama's Mixed Messages on Torture & Abuse

The President on counterterrorism policy, after 100 days in office: No more torture, or loopholes galore? Important symbolic steps, or stalling tactics? Heading in the right direction, or Barack “Dubya” Obama?

Pundits are coming at President Obama from all sides, but after 100 days in office, what’s really going on?

Well, one important way to judge is on the basis of international human rights law–including the U.N. Convention Against Torture–and on that standard it’s clear: President Obama has a lot more to do. Scratch that. President Obama has a lot more he is legally obligated to do.

Read all about it in Amnesty International’s new report, “Mixed Messages: Counter Terror and Human Rights–President Obama’s First 100 Days.” OK, it’s a long report so here’s the take away, President Obama needs to:

  • Charge Guantanamo detainees and give them fair trials in US federal courts, or release them;
  • Respect the rights of detainees at other US facilities, like Bagram in Afghanistan;
  • Ensure that the US will never again resort to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment–as defined by international law;
  • Ensure accountability for torture and other human rights violations through: an independent commission of inquiry; prosecutions where warranted; and redress and remedy for victims.

Our message isn’t mixed: President Obama must respect and protect human rights. It’s up to us to make sure it happens.

Obama Drops Resistance to Investigating Torture

President Obama gingerly retreated Tuesday from his resistance to a Congressionally-authorized commission of inquiry to investigate US detention and interrogation practices.  During a photo-op with the King of Jordan, he acknowledged that it is up to Congress and the Attorney General, respectively, to decide whether to authorize a special investigatory commission, or initiate a criminal investigation of torture allegations.  The President moved closer to what Amnesty and other NGOs have long been advocating — namely, not a commission composed of members of Congress, but a truly independent body consisting of internationally-recognized experts with no partisan affiliation.

Amnesty has called for a commission to be composed of “credible experts, who will be seen to be independent, impartial and objective, who command public confidence, and whose expertise includes international human rights and humanitarian law.”  There are other criteria in Amnesty’s recommendations that are designed to ensure that the commission will be truly independent and nonpartisan and that it is properly resourced.   These are vital ingredients to ensuring that the commission is seen as above reproach, thereby giving it a real chance of helping to heal rather than exacerbating political divisions.  The President recognized this concern when he ruminated about the danger of a Congressional investigation dissolving into partisan backbiting.

Another reason the commission should be composed of nonpartisan experts is that Congress itself has arguably been complicit in the abuses that have come to light, or at the very least, has failed to conduct effective oversight.  Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, for example, don’t even have the same recollections about the extent to which they were briefed or the content of their briefings on interrogation of terror suspects.  All the more reason for us to let our US Representatives and Senators know that we want them to support a nonpartisan commission of inquiry that meets Amnesty’s criteria.

Only by getting the whole truth out can we move forward by identifying how to prevent a future administration from violating our laws and treaty obligations barring torture.

World’s Top Investigators Call for Gaza Inquiry

(Originally posted on Daily Kos)

The top dogs of international justice and reconciliation today called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN member states to set up a UN commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict, adding a powerful voice to extend the current insufficient investigation beyond attacks against UN facilities.

The impressive group of signatories surely knows what they are talking about: they are the world’s top investigators and judges, having worked on transitional justice issues in countries like Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leona and South Africa – among others. Signatories include Richard Goldstone, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu.

In their letter they identify a key issue of why a proper investigation is so important, and how it will ultimately help to prevent future violence:

Without setting the record straight in a credible and impartial manner, it will be difficult for those communities that have borne the heavy cost of violence to move beyond the terrible aftermath of conflict and help build a better peace.

A prompt, independent and impartial investigation would provide a public record of gross violations of international humanitarian law committed and provide recommendations on how those responsible for crimes should be held to account. We have seen at first hand the importance of investigating the truth and delivering justice for the victims of conflict and believe it is a precondition to move forward and achieve peace in the Middle East.

Additionally, I want to add one point: in setting the record straight, it will be possible to assign individual responsibility for the crimes committed, as opposed to group responsibility, a further key requirement to prevent further conflict.

If anyone can explain to me why attacks against UN installations, like the UN compound in Gaza City, by Israeli forces are worth investigating, while attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in both Gaza and Southern Israel are ignored – please go ahead. And if you agree with me on the importance of this issue, support the call for full accountability.

PS: Thanks to Crisis Action for initiating this letter!

Freed GTMO Detainee Becomes Al Qaeda Chief? Blame Bush (and Clinton).

In a case of interesting timing, today’s New York Times reports in “Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief”  that a former Guantanamo detainee is now a deputy leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen and opines that this has “underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.” A related Times online forum debates “The Risks of Releasing Detainees.” 

To me, however, this case–and the Pentagon’s reports of recidivism–underscores the failure of the Bush administration’s attempt to identify and prosecute those responsible for 9/11.

By resorting to illegal and untested practices and policies, the Bush administration turned its back on the best tools we have for identifying and prosecuting people responsible for grave acts of violence against civilians–including standard law-enforcement practices and a tried and true federal court system.

As a result, some of the wrong people may have been released and some of the wrong people have been (and continue to be) detained–while those ultimately responsible for 9/11 remain either at large or unprosecuted.

This is criminal. In addition to accountability for torture and other abuses against detainees, there should be accountability for the failure to identify, apprehend and prosecute those who have attacked the United States, whether under G.W. Bush’s administration–or Clinton’s.

If anything, accounts of the radicalization of former detainees underscore the need for a full, independent, investigation into the U.S. government’s detention and interrogation program to find out where things went wrong, make sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated and hold those responsible accountable.  

President Obama has the power to make it all happen. Let him know you want him to.