Obama's Alleged Link to Secret Prisons and Extraordinary Rendition

Following hard on the heels of the revelation that the Obama administration had held Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame in secret detention on a US naval vessel patrolling off the coast of Somalia for over two months, comes a startling new claim from The Nation magazine that the Obama administration is back in the extraordinary rendition business.

Writing in the latest edition of The Nation, journalist Jeremy Scahill alleges that since early 2009 the United States has maintained a secret prison located on a compound within the perimeter of Mogadishu Airport and that in July 2009 the United States was involved in the extraordinary rendition of Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan from Kenya to Somalia.

Without further independent investigation it is difficult to make a definitive judgment about Scahill’s claims but it is worth noting that he is the author of the well-regarded study “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and has extensive contacts in the intelligence, special forces, and private military contractor communities.


Obama and Egypt: The Window for Action Remains Open

Note: This post was updated at 12:30 p.m. EST)

US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Egypt on Feburary 1, 2011. TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Hosni Mubarak’s stubborn pride and imperious manner made change in Egypt personal, but he was right in his speech Thursday when he said it was not about him.  It is about bringing about institutional and constitutional change that will embed and protect democratic and human rights for all of Egypt.

That means that after a day of celebrating Mubarak’s resignation, the protesters are cognizant enough that there is hard and important work to be done.  And that means President Obama still has one more chance to do what’s right for Egypt and for the United States.

Human rights activists and the Egyptian protesters have been rightly disappointed so far in his muddled and wavering message and policy.  His call for an “orderly transition” to democracy has been met by Mubarak with stinging rebukes and excuses for further delays.

If one is inclined to have some sympathy for the administration, you can point to this: For 30 years, every American president has known the day when payment for compliance with the region’s autocrats would come due.  Each has at best hoped that they could delay that day to the next president.

Obama is that next president and reversing that history and making it right requires change of our own. It is up to him to stand up to the Washington army of paid hacks and Mubarak retainers who whisper caution, to the other allies in the region who fear change and to the wise men, serious-thinking pundits and religious leaders who see Arab democracy as a phony front for a global caliphate.

Amnesty International’s Human Rights Agenda for Change provides a guide for what he needs to do.  He should make a clear statement that the window for delay has gone, and only specific and immediate action, not promises for down the road will be acceptable.


President Obama and China's Human Rights: Real Change or Rehashed Rhetoric?

By T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director

The headlines are clear. President Obama exerted pressure on Chinese President Hu Jintao about China’s human rights record during this week’s summit.

While Amnesty International applauds President Obama for speaking publicly about human rights during the press conference, the question remains: will US policy in practice reflect President Obama’s rhetoric? The challenge for President Obama is to convert the overly positive publicity into real concrete action to bring improvements in China’s human rights.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo remains locked up in China.

The rhetoric at the press briefing should be matched by incorporating human rights into every aspect of U.S. policy, not only limited to the State Department’s human rights bureau and annual human rights dialogue.  Human rights should be part of the policy brief for all the U.S. departments that interact with the Chinese government. Importantly, human rights should play an equal and important part of the US – China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

Prior to the state visit, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations urged President Obama to meet former political prisoners from China who are currently residing in the United States. President Bush met these political prisoners before his trip to China to attend the Olympics. President Obama ignored our request for reasons known only to him. By refusing to meet these political prisoners, the administration missed an opportunity to demonstrate the seriousness by which the United States views human rights in China. President Obama’s inaction also raises the question whether he is hesitant to be tough on human rights, in the absence of giving speeches.

The repartee between the Presidents was covered extensively; but the question looms: did President Obama get any commitment from the Chinese president for any tangible improvement in human rights? Did President Obama set any benchmarks or timelines? There are several areas to focus starting with re-education through labor camps, where Chinese authorities arbitrarily detain around 200,000 people, to the execution of political prisoners, and the continued imprisonment of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.

President Hu Jintao acknowledged the human rights issues in response to reporters’ questions. Will President Obama do his part to translate his human rights rhetoric into practice?

Another Presidential Flip-flop

Khalid Sheik Mohammed

The Obama administration released a trial (no pun intended) balloon over the weekend, leaking that it was thinking of shelving plans to bring Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the other alleged 9/11 conspirators to trial.

Instead the administration is apparently considering holding KSM and other GTMO detainees indefinitely as Prisoners of War. Far from closing GTMO, the new Obama plan seems to be to institutionalize it as part of the national landscape.

If GTMO becomes a permanent feature of America’s counter-terrorism architecture it is inevitable that sooner or later new detainees will be sent there. Federal agents and intelligence officials faced with a hard case or sensitive sources to protect will opt for indefinite detention over prosecution. More mistakes are going to be made.

Indeed, given the amount of flip-flopping we have seen from the White House on this issue, I am beginning to wonder how long it will be before the Presidential ban on coercive interrogation is lifted in the spirit of bipartisanship.

In June 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder met with 9/11 families and told them that he was personally committed to bringing the perpetrators to trial in open, transparent courts. This was the only way forward if the administration was to rehabilitate America’s damaged reputation on the world stage.


Upon Arrival in Indonesia, Obama Must Address Human Rights Issues

As President Barack Obama prepares to fly to Indonesia November 9th, it is paramount that he concentrates on a few crucial human rights issues. Three main issues should be addressed:

Amnesty International holds raally for imprisoned Indonesian activist Filep Karma

First and foremost, President Obama must demand the immediate release of political prisoners.  Some individuals such as Filep Karma have been imprisoned for peacefully protesting by merely waving the Papuan flag.  He should do this before arriving in Indonesia to demonstrate our commitment to the right to protest peacefully and the freedom of expression.

Just last year in September, Indonesia passed a law that endorses stoning as a punishment for adultery. Not only is adultery punished but so is sexual orientation if it is not heterosexual, which can receive a punishment of 100 lashes from a cane. President Obama must urge the Indonesian authorities to repeal these laws which use cruel and unusual punishments.

Lastly, freedom of religion is severely restricted.  In fact, several laws further restrict freedom of thought and conscience.  “Blasphemy” is punishable by up to 5 years of imprisonment and at least 13 people are currently serving time under this law.  Christian groups have been attacked by villagers linked to the Islamic Defenders Front, who enjoy impunity for their crimes.  Obama should demand that the Indonesian authorities guarantee freedom of religion and protect religious minorities.

The United States needs to stand with human rights in Indonesia and advocate for the protection of peaceful protestors, the repeal of inhumane punishments, and the guarantee of freedom of religion.  The best time to do that is when President Obama touches down on Indonesian soil on November 9th.

Call-In Day of Action for Bhopal

International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal Demands Justice for the 1984 industrial disaster

As I mentioned earlier in the week, US President Barack Obama is in India.  At this very moment, he’s in New Delhi after a day in India’s financial center of Mumbai.  Now is the time to call the White House and tell them that you want justice for the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak from a plant operated by a US based company now owned by Dow Chemical.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), a partner of AI’s efforts to seek redress for the victims of this awful gas leak, aims to get Bhopal on the agenda for Obama’s visit, so Bhopalis will be staging a day-long sit in, and ICJB is organizing an international solidarity call in action to support them.

AIUSA has been an integral part of the coalition for justice for the people of Bhopal.  In fact, just before Obama left for India, Amnesty International issued a letter to the White House saying in part that

“It is essential that your administration and the Government of India cooperate to ensure that  those accused of causing the Bhopal disaster, including UCC, are made to face trial, and that Bhopal survivors are able to obtain redress.”

Please join Amnesty International USA’s Corporate Action Network and the South Asia Regional Action Network in helping to promote the ICJB action today and in the future. We are asking AIUSA supporters to call the White House comment line and express their concern for Bhopal.

After calling the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 (between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm EST) on November 8, 2010, here are some ideas on how you can further support this effort:

  1. Post a link to this blog post, including a blurb on the action (suggested blurb: “We are asking AUSA supporters to call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 (between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm EST) and express their concern for Bhopal, on your website.
  2. Set this as your Twitter/Facebook status: Today I’m calling Obama’s office to ask him to support justice in Bhopal while in India. Join the action! http://www.studentsforbhopal.org/raiseyourvoice [or use this short URL: http://tiny.cc/mgozc]
  3. Post this Facebook message:

Dear friends: Today I am asking concerned citizens worldwide act in solidarity with the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal, India Gas Disaster who staged a protests in New Delhi today. While Obama is in India, we would like him to properly address the unresolved human rights crisis and support real justice for the people of Bhopal. Please call the White House comment line to make this request: (202) 456-1111.  If we all take action together, maybe he’ll realize how many people feel that his Administration’s position on Bhopal needs to change. More information at http://www.studentsforbhopal.org/raiseyourvoice.  Thank you for your continued support!

Thank you for supporting Bhopal’s human right to health and a clean environment.  If you want more resources on AIUSA’s work on Bhopal, just ask down in the comments.

Obama: India Ain't Just About Gandhi and Outsourcing

As an Indian-American, anytime the US President visits India, I get excited about the possibilities of a stronger relationship between the two gigantic countries.  And, tomorrow, US President Barack Obama is off to India, stopping in Mumbai and Delhi, among other places.  It also happens to coincide with Diwali, the closest equivalent to Christmas in the Hindu calendar.

The Indian media as usual is going completely bonkers about the trip highlighting every aspect of the trip from the security issues related to a US presidential visit to whether a visit to the Sikh holy site in Amritar might be bad for Obama politically back home.

There is also WAY too much coverage of Obama’s views of Mahatma Gandhi and what it means for him to be visiting India.  Of course, there’s the obligatory stuff about India’s booming outsourcing industry and their high tech sector.

What I haven’t seen much of was whether there will be a discussion of human rights.  It’s probably because there won’t be much of a discussion.  But, there is a LOT to talk about:

  1. Bhopal: 24 years almost to the day was when the world heard the horror of the victims of the Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) gas release.  There is still little accountability for allowing these deaths to occur and both President Obama and Prime Minister Singh must take steps in each of their countries to prosecute the perpetrators of this human rights catastrophe.
  2. Kashmir: Obama is walking a tightrope on getting involved in the human rights violations in Kashmir, but he must insist that the human rights violations stop and that peace and justice return to the valley as a way to begin discussions on the status of the area.  I recently did a chat on Twitter about Kashmir and we have an action on Kashmir as well.  Things are incredibly grim in the Kashmir Valley and if it’s ignored, the US will have certainly lost credibility on human rights.
  3. Myanmar (aka Burma): Both the US and India must publicly call for the release of all prisoner’s of conscience and an end to human rights violations.
  4. Sri Lanka: Both the US and India must call upon the Sri Lankan government to address human rights violations that had occurred during the civil war.
  5. Terrorism: Both India and the US must take steps to ensure that all prosecutions of terrorism suspects be conducted fairly.  Victims of terrorism are victims of human rights violations and the perpetrators of these violations need to be prosecuted.
  6. Both countries need to abolish the death penalty.

If India and the United States work to incorporate human rights into their relationship, then this could be the start of a great relationship!

Will Obama Cut Ties With Indonesian Torture?

By Carole Marzolf, Indonesia Country Specialist for Amnesty International

Filep Karma, imprisoned in Indonesida for raising a flag

President Obama will visit his childhood home of Indonesia in early November in his first official visit since taking office.  While his visit may bring back fond memories of his youth, there is nothing fond about the years of rampant human rights abuses carried out by Indonesia’s Special Forces that are about to receive renewed support from the US.

Indonesia may be perceived as a country gaining clout in the international arena but it is wrecked by massive corruption and its security forces get away with torture in total impunity, and those with opposing views may find themselves muzzled and thrown in jail.

As President Obama readies for his visit to Indonesia, join us in asking your Representative to support House Resolution 1355 calling for an end to human rights abuses and freedom for prisoners of conscience in Indonesia.

Although since the fall of President Suharto in May 1998 Indonesia saw a period of rapid reform, twelve years on, the process seems to have severely crumbled away.  According to Transparency International which measures corruption perceptions worldwide, Indonesia ranked 110th in 2010 on an equal footing with Gabon, Senegal or Bolivia. As a comparison, the United States ranked 22nd, while Malaysia ranked 56th and China 78th.

According to an Amnesty International report published last year, Indonesia’s security forces – both the police and military – regularly carry out horrific human rights abuses including torture.  Most recently, the Indonesian government acknowledged that men torturing Papuans in a video that circulated online are from the military.


President Obama: This Summer, Help Women and Girls Around the World

President Obama has repeatedly declared his support for women worldwide, stating that ratification of the CEDAW treaty (Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) is an important priority for the United States. The time has come for President Obama to send a strong signal to the Senate that ratification of CEDAW is vital.

The United States remains the only industrialized democracy and the only country in the Western Hemisphere not to ratify this critical treaty which affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world.

We know that CEDAW works! Countries from Australia to Uganda, Brazil, Morocco, and South Africa, have incorporated provisions in the CEDAW treaty into their constitutions and domestic legal codes.  Additionally, Egypt, Jordan, Nicaragua, and Pakistan have all seen significant increases in literacy rates after improving access to education for girls and women.

It is time for the US to show global leadership on women’s issues by ratifying CEDAW. Advancing women’s human rights is critical to America’s national security interests and a cornerstone of our foreign policy. However, because the US has not ratified CEDAW, it cannot participate in the CEDAW committee, the one global forum dedicated to women’s human rights.

Women of the world are calling on the US for ratification of CEDAW as a strong signal to their governments that promoting the rights of women is a priority. It would help enable a national dialogue on how to address persistent gaps in women’s full equality and would serve to address domestic issues of maternal mortality in US. CEDAW calls for equal access to health services (including maternal health) and ending discrimination on the grounds of maternity. Learn more about Amnesty’s Maternal Health Campaign.

President Obama has stated that ratification of the CEDAW Treaty is an important priority for his Administration.  We now need him to translate words into action and show true leadership in advancing women and girls’ rights around the world.  As women and men who believe in the basic rights of women and girls worldwide – the right to live free from violence, the ability to go to school, and access to the political system – we need President Obama to send a strong and urgent signal to the Senate that ratification of CEDAW is vital.


The Cancer of Democracy

Last month, representing Amnesty International in a meeting at the State Department, I listened to the new Legal Adviser Harold Koh, former Dean of the Yale Law School, describe the Obama administration as the anti-torture presidency.

That is a bold claim and the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture is the perfect moment to take a step back and review the administration’s record on this issue. Can Obama really claim to be the anti-torture president?

As far as human rights groups were concerned the Obama administration got off to a flying start with the executive orders pledging to close Guantanamo and restricting all US personnel to using interrogation techniques delineated in the 2006 Army Field Manual on Interrogations.

Unfortunately this was high point and it has been downhill all the way ever since. While the Executive Order put an apparent end to waterboarding and CIA black sites the 2006 Interrogations Field Manual is itself far from unproblematic.

There is nothing in the manual to prevent the reintroduction of the so-called “frequent flyer” technique of constantly waking and rewaking an individual after only a few minutes sleep so that no effective rest is gained at all.

In the past eight months credible reports have emerged that such techniques are still being used in US military detainee screening centers in Afghanistan. An earlier US Army field manual explicitly prohibited “abnormal sleep deprivation” as a form of “mental torture.”