Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Senator Udall’s fight to amend our past

Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 12:35 pm by

The George W. Bush Presidential Library  and Museum opened to the public this week, a great unveiling that has  reignited the debate about the Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read: torture).  One of the most controversial elements of the new museum is a video narrated by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.  The video explains that President Bush asked two “very important” questions in his decision to use torture in the post-9/11 “War on Terror”: was it legal?  And was it necessary?  When allegedly answered “yes” to both of these questions, President Bush proceeded in making detention and torture an instrumental part of his administration’s work.

The real surprise of the video, though, is in Rice’s suggestion that the United States was spared further terrorist attacks because of Bush’s detention and torture policies.  Rice argues that, “The fact that we have not had a successful attack on our territory traces directly to those difficult decisions in a new kind of war after September 11th.”  This is a dangerous allegation to make, and it underscores the need for our government to reconsider the effectiveness of detention and torture, a fight of which Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) has been at the forefront.

Udall correctly commented that the video in the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum “could potentially leave thousands of visitors to the library with the false impression that this wrongheaded program prevented terrorist attacks here in the United States.”  Udall seeks to correct the record on the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program and to declassify the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence more than 6,000 page report on that program.

Understanding the effectiveness of Bush’s detention and interrogation programs is particularly crucial as the U.S. now faces a new moral dilemma posed by the Obama administration’s drone programs and the new executive power to legally authorize the targeted killing of American citizens.  To move forward without rectifying past misuses of executive power would likely make any hope of future executive accountability unattainable.  In order to hold the Obama administration to a higher humanitarian standard and reject the executive power to assassinate American citizens, we must demand truth and accountability from past administrations as well.  It is for this reason that Udall’s push to correct the record on the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs and declassify the 6,000 plus page report is so crucial.  You can support Senator Udall’s fight by signing BORDC’s petition to declassify the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report.

Coalition forms against officer entangled in torture tape scandal

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11:17 am by

A coalition of religious leaders and human rights groups are protesting the possible promotion of a CIA official who was allegedly involved in the destruction of several videos showing US officials torturing detainees. The coalition against her promotion is led by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and also includes the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Policy Center, and Physicians for Human Rights.

The group sent a letter to the CIA Director, John Brennan, calling on him not to promote anyone involved in torture “black sites,” or in the destruction of the torture tapes. The letter says, “Promoting such an individual would compound the existing impunity for torture, by suggesting that such actions are in fact rewarded.”


Although the name of the CIA official has not been made public, the Washington Post has reported a few things on her: she would be the first woman to lead the clandestine services area of the CIA, she is highly respected within the agency for her work, and she was a very strong advocate for the use of torture during interrogations after 9/11.

In 2002, this CIA operative helped run a “black site” in Thailand. It is widely acknowledged that the CIA was torturing detainees at these secret prisons. According to a report on US torture after 9/11 published by the Constitution Project, “many lower level troops believed ‘the gloves were off’ regarding treatment of prisoners.” At the CIA location in Thailand, 92 tapes of interrogation were recorded, reportedly including agents waterboarding a prisoner to the point of “screaming and vomiting.”

In 2004, a US court ordered the government to turn over or preserve all evidence in relation to its secret interrogation programs. In 2005, all 92 of the tapes were destroyed against court orders, allegedly at the request of this CIA official as well as CIA’s head of counterterrorism, Jose Rodriguez. The videos were destroyed the same month that Dana Priest wrote a exhaustive article about the CIA’s black sites, leading to increased public scrutiny of the practice.

This official is already acting as head of the clandestine operations, but John Brennan has hesitated in making her the permanent leader of that office. Clandestine operations oversees sending spies abroad and the CIA’s drone program, which has faced its own criticism lately over transparency.

Marc Thiessen, a former Bush administration official, wrote a defense of the agent, in which he worries that demoting this official could “send a chilling message through the ranks of the CIA…It would push the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept 11, 2001, mindset.”

If the risks that the CIA is taking involves torturing people, then that is exactly the kind of message we should be sending. Depriving people of their rights from the Geneva Convention is not a “risk” we should ever be willing to take. So far, there has been no punishment for those involved in the destruction of the tapes. How can we hold the government accountable when they are destroying all of the evidence against themselves?

Kimani Gray and state-sanctioned terrorism

Friday, April 5, 2013 at 11:10 am by

On Saturday, March 23, 150 people filled St. Catherine of Genoa Church in Brooklyn to mourn the death of Kimani Gray.  Outside, police surveyed the scene from the street and from rooftop. On the night of March 9 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, sixteen year-old Kimani Gray was walking home from a birthday party when he was shot and killed by two plainclothes policemen.   Many witnesses say that Gray “pleaded for his life” as the police fired eleven shots, seven of which hit him.


While Gray was simply returning from a birthday party with friends, the police no doubt “saw a gang,” rashly taking stock of the age, gender and race of the boys before them.  Some reports have argued that Gray allegedly pulled a .38 revolver on the officers (without firing), but at least one witness has denied that Gray drew any weapon.  Gray’s possible weapon possession has raised questions about his potential gang affiliation.  Any possession of firearms or gang affiliation on Gray’s part is irrelevant, though, and only detracts from the conversation—The tragedy of Gray’s murder, above all else, speaks to the unnecessary and dangerous militarization and surveillance of American ghettos.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk programs, communities of color like East Flatbush have been subject to near-constant surveillance.  Rosa Squillacote of the Police Reform Organizing Project in New York City commented in the wake of Gray’s death, saying that as young men of color, they fear that “if [they] go outside, [they're] being watched.”  Her comment was specifically in response to stop-and-frisk programs, which operate on a racial bias (87% of those stopped by the NYPD in 2011 were black or Latino and weapons were found in less than 0.02% of those cases), but it applies to a broader state of living in New York City as well.

There exists a long history of police surveillance and profiling in lower-income, majority non-white neighborhoods in New York City.  This was evidenced in the nights following Gray’s death, when reporters noted scores of police surveilling his East Flatbush home.  Mere days after his death, the neighborhood was overrun: “Walking east along Church Avenue from Nostrand last Thursday afternoon, The Observer counted two police officers on every corner.”  Those police were allegedly there to manage the protests after Gray’s murder, but a similar scene would likely have greeted any passerby before Gray’s death.


Letters to the president: Closing Guantanamo

Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 10:09 am by

EvidencePresident Obama’s 2009 promise to close down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, infamous for its flagrant denial of human rights, was met with much support throughout the United States and the world.  Human rights advocates throughout the world felt justice would finally be served by transferring and releasing detainees from the Guantanamo detention facility.  Individuals within the U.S. hoped that Obama’s promise to close the facility would re-solidify the country’s position as the self-proclaimed exemplar of moral and ethical leadership.

Unfortunately, four years later, Guantanamo remains open, still imprisoning detainees who are held without charge, and without access to judge or lawyer.  In January of 2012, several retired generals and admirals drafted a letter to President Obama urging the transfer of Guantanamo detainees cleared by the Task Force, under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Security Waver.  They write:

We recognize the political opposition you have faced in attempting to honor your commitment. Congress has repeatedly restricted your ability to transfer detainees held there who have been cleared for release. Congress has also restricted your authority to bring criminal suspects held at Guantanamo to justice in our time-honored federal criminal courts. However, despite these restrictions, we are asking you to act within the discretion available to you to move our nation forward in closing Guantanamo once and for all.

Political opposition (particularly in the House of Representatives) has been one of the defining challenges of Obama’s presidency, and while it is a legitimate hurdle, it does not excuse Obama’s unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo.  The President must be held accountable as well.


The tragedy of Stephen Slevin: torture within the US

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 11:10 am by

News broke on March 7 that a man held in solitary confinement for 22 months won a settlement of $15.5 million.  In August 2005, Stephen Slevin had been pulled over in New Mexico and accused of drunk driving a stolen vehicle  (though Slevin explained that a friend had lent him the car for a cross-country road trip). Slevin claims he never saw a judge after being arrested, and when he refused to post a $40,000 bond, he was transferred to a cell in total isolation ”in [a] jail near the Mexican border without explanation.”

Slevin was allegedly severely depressed when he was arrested. Once put into a padded cell without any natural light and in total isolation for 23 hours a day, he was deemed suicidal.  He faced total neglect as his psychological and physical condition deteriorated, developing a facial fungus and an infected tooth that he was forced to remove himself when denied access to a dentist.  His toenails grew so long that they curled under his feet.   He developed bedsores on his legs.

His lawyer, Matt Coyte, explained:

As your insanity builds, some people holler or throw feces out their cell doors…Others rock back and forth under a blanket for a year or more, which is what my client did….


New York Times a gov’t mouthpiece?

Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 10:49 am by

Anwar al-Awlaki (also spelled al-Aulaqi) was never charged with a crime. Despite the lack of charges and trials, the US government executed the American-born citizen in a targeted drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. The same drone strike killed fellow American Samir Khan.  Al-Awlaki’s 16 year-old son Adulrahman was killed in another strike a few weeks later, making three American murdered by their own government without any pretense of trial or due process.

The assassination became a public controversy during John Brennan‘s nomination to the head of the Central Intelligence Agency after his time as President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. The New York Times ran a story based on interviews with various anonymous administration officials on Sunday, March 9, prompting accusations of serving as a mouthpiece for government propaganda.

The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights issued a joint statement blasting the Times’ article as “the latest in a series of one-sided, selective disclosures that prevent meaningful public debate and legal or even political accountability for the government’s killing program.”

Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, the Times reporters who wrote the article, uncritically describe Al-Awlaki using the government’s words. They call him “a senior operative in Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen” and a terrorist leader,” yet Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted both accusations remain unproven and dubious. The ACLU’s statement goes on to correctly point out:

Government officials have made serious allegations against Anwar al-Aulaqi, but allegations are not evidence, and the whole point of the Constitution’s due process clause is that a court must distinguish between the two. If the government has evidence that Al-Aulaqi posed an imminent threat at the time it killed him, it should present that evidence to a court….


The sequester: a promise of immigration reform?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm by

President Obama has had a complex (and somewhat contradictory) stance on immigration for as long as he has been in office.  His administration has proudly touted its aim to deport record numbers of  undocumented immigrants, while simultaneously pushing for the passage of the DREAM act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants who fall into one of two socially acceptable categories: those willing to risk their lives for the United States military, and those who are interested in pursuing a college degree.

Immigrants not interested in either of the two straight-and-narrow paths offered by the DREAM act can say goodbye to a life in the U.S.

The exact number of undocumented immigrants deported under Obama is somewhat unclear. Some sources report over 400,000 in the 2012 fiscal year alone and a continuous increase in removals since President Bush left office, while other sources suggest these numbers have been inflated, and that there has actually been a steady decrease in deportation since Obama first came to office in 2008.


Obama might explain why he can drone you, but he’ll be wrong

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 7:14 am by

In Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent contentious appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he hinted that President Obama would soon make a speech on the topic of drone usage for targeted killing. Holder alluded to President Obama’s promise for more openness on the issue in his State of the Union address:

“We have talked about a need for greater transparency in what we share, what we talk about,” said Holder, who added that with the release of more information, “there would be a greater degree of comfort that this government does these things reluctantly but also in conformity with international law, with domestic law and with our values.”


The executive’s track record on this has been dismal. The administration first denied the existence of any sort of drone or targeted killing program, continued to use the denial as a shield against liability for its killings in court, while beginning to announce its reasoning informally in speeches by various executive officials.

Any actual documentation of the administration’s logic for assassinating  both citizens and non-citizens was unseen until a “white paper“ summarizing a portion of the goverment’s logic was leaked to the press.

Finally, the administration has begun to show some of the actual (still classified legal) memos outlining the criteria for extra judicial killing to selected members of congress.  However, the public still doesn’t know under what circumstances the President and his lawyers think would justify their murder from the sky.

Transparency would be a good first step. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) staked out a courageous position on in his recent filibuster, finally forcing Eric Holder to declare:

Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?” The answer to that question is no.

However, this representation (which begs the question: how does Holder define combat?), disclosure of all of the legal memos around drones, and a clear speech from President Obama explaining his necessity for keeping a “kill list” (or “disposition matrix,” if you prefer the administration’s sanitized euphemism) are only the beginning.


Ultimately, the people of the United States and their all too often cowed representatives in Washington need to demand a stop to murder, killing and assassination by drones in contravention of the Constitution, international law and human rights law. The broad claims staked out in the leaked white paper make clear that the administration is currently operating under a rubric that violates all three.

While some constitutional issues are esoteric, the protections of due process under the Fifth Amendment are not.  The government does not have the right to deprive you of your life, after review of your perceived sins by government officials on “Terror Tuesdays.”

Some in Congress and the punditocracy have suggested that the due process problem be solved by so called “drone courts” where the government would secretly present the evidence against you to a judge who would then sign a death warrant. While paying some lip service to the idea that an independent judiciary can constrain executive power, a secret court authorizing murder is not a check or balance in any meaningful way.


Hunger strike in Guantanamo over conditions

Friday, March 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm by

Worsening conditions for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison have caused many of the detainees to hold a mass hunger strike for the last three weeks. According to the detainees’ lawyers, the hunger strike is in reaction to searches of personal belongings, including mail and religious items. They said that the handling of their Qur’ans “amounted to desecration” and that the guards were often disrespectful during prayer times. Although the lawyers claim that almost all of the 166 prisoners are refusing food, a Guantanamo spokesperson denied that there are protests or any mishandling of religious items.

The prison  did later admit that six prisoners have missed enough meals to reach the army’s classification of hunger strike, and are now being force fed liquid protein to keep them alive. However, just how many meals and in what condition it takes to be classified as on a hunger strike is unclear. One lawyer reported that his client had not eaten in 23 days, but was still considered healthy enough to not require force feeding. The health of others like him on the hunger strike, “appears to be rapidly deteriorating and reaching a potentially critical level.” Prisoners have reportedly begun coughing up blood and fainting.

Further, this is only one of the slew of human rights related charges against the facility in recent weeks. Other recent news includes a guard shooting a “non-lethal” round of gunfire at prisoners on January 2, 2013 in what is being called a standard “crowd dispersal procedures.”  Also, Egyptians are pressing for the release of Tariq al-Sawah, who is not charged with any crimes but remains imprisoned. Al-Sawah appears to be in extremely bad health but is refused medical treatment by prison authorities.


Brown liars and the rise of ‘Warrior Academics’

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:12 am by

Two War Fronts (6)In just two months, in April, 2013, Yale University will officially open its doors to the United States Special Forces as the University debuts its first ever training center for military interrogators.  Yale and the U.S. Department of Defense see New Haven’s large immigrant community as a perfect test population for the lie detection and interrogation techniques they will be developing at the center.

In 2006, the New York Times called New Haven, Connecticut one of the poorest cities in the United States, where almost 25% of the population lives below the poverty line and the per capita income hovered at $16,393 in 2011.  The large majority of New Haven’s population is non-white; non-Hispanic whites made up 31.8% of the city’s population in 2010.  New Haven’s stark racial and economic divide is further emphasized by the presence of Yale University, a symbol of economic and racial privilege, which is now using these privileges to coerce its immigrant population into the role of guinea pig in the new center for “warrior academics.”

Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry at Yale and head of the University’s new interrogation training program, euphemistically referred to “warrior academics” as fostering “people skills.”  He will specifically require the center’s test subjects to be brown-skinned immigrants, specifically naming “Moroccans, Colombians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others” as possible participants.  These individuals will be financially compensated for their participation, but far from being benevolent, this compensation stands as proof that the Military Industrial Complex (now inextricably linked with academic institutions) preys upon the economic vulnerability of marginalized populations to advance its own agenda.

The use of brown faces (which Professor Morgan hopes signifies “someone [soldiers] can’t necessarily identify with”) will only continue to disadvantage global and local non-white populations.  Here on  U.S. soil, New Haven’s non-white populations will be postured as unfamiliar racial “others.”  Abroad, it is likely that American soldiers will enter interrogation settings being predisposed to mistrust brown faces and with the supposition that all brown people “must belong to the same ‘category’ of liar” (which the center naturally assumes is a different category than white liars) as Guest Columnists for the Yale Daily News Nathalie Batraville and Alex Law argue.