Archive for April 12th, 2012

Congressman fails to provide convincing defense for NDAA

Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm by

A report from one of Salon’s online contributors, John Knefel, claims that even the most staunch supporters of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cannot defend it against accusations that it violates the rights of US citizens. In a discussion with Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), Gibson based his defense of the NDAA on Section 1021(e) of the law, which states,

Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.

Defendants of the NDAA have repeatedly submitted this specific section as proof that the NDAA does not change the existing law protecting US citizens and legal aliens. But as Knefel points out, “existing law is part of the problem.” Most notably, there is the case of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Muslim cleric, who was killed on September 30, 2011 by a missile fired from an American drone aircraft. Although Awlaki was considered one of the most prominent English-speaking advocates of violent jihad against the United States, this strike appeared to be the first time since the 9/11 attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately targeted and killed by American forces.

His assassination was ordered by the Obama administration in 2010 despite his US citizenship, which naturally provoked lawsuits from human rights and civil liberties groups. According to The New York Times, the administration issued a secret legal memorandum that opened the door to killing a US citizen without trial. This secret memorandum remained intact despite the fact that it contradicts an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various structures of the international laws of war. Although this secret memo was tailored specifically to the case of Awlaki and does not allow for the assassination of any US citizen suspected of involvement with a terrorist organization, it does demonstrate how existing law allows for complete disregard of constitutional liberties under certain circumstances.

In short, Section 1021(e) of the NDAA offers little assurance that civil liberties will remain intact. Even if supporters of the NDAA are correct in their statements that this law only reinforces existing law, they can by no means justify the claim that it will have little or no impact on US citizens.

News Digest 04/12/12

Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Guantánamo autopsy raises concerns over mistreatment of prisoners

Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm by

GuantanamoA recently released autopsy report of two prisoners in Guantánamo Bay casts suspicions on the supposed suicides that transpired in May 2007 and June 2009. The Department of Defense examiners reported that Abdul Rahman Al Amri was found hanging dead with his hands tied behind his back, raising questions about how he could have managed to kill himself.  The second prisoner, Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Selah Al Hanashi “was found wearing standard issue detainee clothing, the undergarments from which he supposedly used to kill himself, and not the tear-proof suicide smock issued to detainees who are actively suicidal.” It is still uncertain whether or not Al Hanashi was under an active suicide watch, even though reports claim that he had been seen “repeatedly banging his head on prison walls, and had made five suicide attempts in the four weeks prior to his death.”

The mysterious circumstances and unanswered questions surrounding these deaths continue to feed concerns that this may not have been as open and shut as the autopsy report claimed. While several of these details were kept from the media, they were not unknown among the other prisoners. As Jeffrey Kaye of Truthout magazine reports,

In a 2010 letter to his attorney, released as part of a court filing, longtime Guantanamo hunger striker Abdul Rahman Shalabi told his attorney, “You know what happened to (Abdul Rahman Al-Amri) who was killed in camp five two years ago, hanging while his hands were tied behind his back, and he was in solitary confinement…. When the Americans released the news of his death, they said that they found him dead in his cell and he was on hunger strike and they covered up the crime.”

As Kaye goes on to discuss, the facts presented in the reports and the circumstances surrounding the case don’t seem to add up. While this information cannot disprove the suicide theory, it does provide strong evidence that warrants further investigation into the nature of these deaths.

As UN rapporteur Philip Alston noted in confidential communication concerning the equally suspicious deaths at Guantánamo in 2006:

When the State detains an individual, it is held to a heightened level of diligence in protecting that individual’s rights. As a consequence, when an individual dies in State custody, there is a presumption of State responsibility…

In order to overcome the presumption of State responsibility for a death in custody, there must be a “thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances.”

It has been clear for years that the Bush administration paid little attention to international law concerning human rights in the operation of Guantánamo Bay. Though President Obama ran on claims that he would not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, he has repeatedly refused to hold torturers accountable for their crimes and has failed to follow through on his promise to close Guantánamo. And his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, demonstrates that the current administration has in fact expanded the government’s power to ignore international standards of basic human rights.

Although prisoners, by definition, are not afforded all the privileges of free citizens, they are assured certain rights by the Constitution and the moral standards of the community. These rights include prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the right to due process of law. However, recent polls from the Washington Post suggest that 70 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s decision to keep Guantánamo Bay open. Without public support, the chances for a fair, impartial investigation into the treatment of detainees seems unlikely at best.