“You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” I keep a poster up in my office with this quote from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. To me, it perfectly summarizes Amnesty International’s work of pushing back against the human rights abuses carried out in the name of national security. That’s because we’re fighting against fear and hate, which are powerful, intimidating adversaries. But recent victories have reminded me that there’s something stronger than fear and hate, and that our fight is worthwhile. We may feel sometimes as if human rights rarely win – but this time, they did. And they won big.
In an unprecedented victory for torture accountability, the U.S. Justice Department decided not to block a private lawsuit from going forward, and to actually allow survivors and victims of CIA torture to have their their day in court. This was a shocking development – typically, the U.S. government invokes “state secrets” and blocks these types of lawsuits from ever really going anywhere. For years, Amnesty International has urged the U.S. government not to use “state secrets” to block torture accountability.
Amnesty International members across the U.S. re-iterated that call for accountability this past December. After gathering by webinar to learn about this case, then taking action by flooding the Justice Department with phone calls, emails, and petition signatures, activists urged the Department of Justice not to use “state secrets” yet again in this case to block accountability for torture. It was a natural continuation of work they’d long been doing, because one of the names in this lawsuit was very familiar to Amnesty International activists: Gul Rahman.
Gul Rahman is one of the victims of CIA torture represented in this case. You can read more about his tragic story here, including how he froze to death in CIA custody. Moved by his story to take action, thousands of Amnesty members have sought accountability from the U.S. government for Gul Rahman’s torture.
Just a few days ago, activists got what they asked for. In a shocking development, the Justice Department decided not to invoke state secrets and not to block the lawsuit from going forward. These survivors and victims of CIA torture will get a day in court. To be sure, there is still a long road to travel as they seek accountability, but for now, they’re still being allowed to push forward. It’s a milestone few thought we would reach.
Amnesty International activists helped this happen. Every phone call, every email, every petition, and every social media post contributed to a wave of activism that refuses to let anyone get away with torture, and refuses to let the world forget about Gul Rahman.
Today, accountability for the American Torture Story is just a little closer within reach. Onward.