26 October 2014

Amnesty International reports on human rights abuses in Ferguson

Amnesty International (AI) recently released a report on human rights abuses in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the August 9th shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

The report, titled On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, outlines the findings by AI observers who were in Ferguson from August 14-22 to monitor the post-shooting protests and police response, along with recommendations to local, state and federal authorities regarding both the use of lethal force and the policing of protests.

The report addresses the following issues:

• Use of lethal force

• Racial discrimination and excessive use of police force

• Law enforcement response to protests

• Imposition of restrictions on the rights to protest - curfews, designated protest areas, and other restrictions

• Intimidation of protesters

• Use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests

• Use of Long Range Acoustic Devices

• Restrictions on the media as well as legal and human rights observers at protests

• Failures of accountability for law enforcement in policing protests

"What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans," said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of AI USA. "No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights as a human being – and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on W. Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force."

"The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America," added Hawkins. "That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state, and federal levels."

>> Read the full report.

25 October 2014

F___ human rights?!

While visiting the Facebook page of the USA section of Amnesty International, specifically a post regarding this morning's execution in Iran of a woman who killed her rapist in self-defense, I noticed that a Scott Davies shared the following comment: "F___ human rights." (Emphasis mine.)

But he spelled it all out.

I wonder: Why would someone be so opposed to human rights?

And, perhaps even more disturbing: As of this writing, his comment has 3 "Likes".

What drives these people?!

22 October 2014

Malala receives Liberty Medal

Last night, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai received the 2014 Liberty Medal here in Philadelphia "for her continued demonstration of courage and resilience in the face of adversity and for serving as a powerful voice for those who have been denied their basic human rights and liberties." She is the youngest-ever recipient of the Medal.

This came after Malala had already spent a busy day speaking at the Forbes Under 30 summit, which is being held in Philly this week. There, she was also a hit.

Congratulations to Malala for this well-deserved recognition.

21 October 2014

New PA law threatens prisoners' freedom of speech

Earlier this month, on invitation, controversial convicted Philadelphia cop killer and former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal (now serving a life sentence) spoke remotely to Goddard College's graduation class. And some people didn't like it. So the Pennsylvania state legislature fast-tracked a bill called the "Revictimization Relief Act", which allows crime victims to sue to stop offenders from speaking if it might cause the victims mental anguish.

Today, Governor Tom Corbett signed that bill into law.

That slope seems pretty slippery to me.

And civil rights advocates are accusing the new law of violating the First Amendment, so I'm guessing that there's probably another kind of lawsuit brewing here. I certainly hope so.

Let me say right now that this is not a blog post about Mumia. I've written all I have to say (for now) about him here. This is about Pennsylvania's new law in general and First Amendment rights in particular.

"This bill [is] terrible public policy," said PA State Senator Daylin Leach (D, District 17), who voted against it. "You can punish certain, limited types of speech after the fact (libel, lying in advertising, etc.)," he continued. "But you can never (except for revealing state military secrets) be restrained from speaking before you speak. This is the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable."

"Keep in mind, the First Amendment was designed specifically to protect unpopular speakers, like Mumia," said Leach. "Popular speakers with popular messages don't need First Amendment protection. Nobody is trying to silence them. When I taught First Amendment law, I would tell my students: 'To see if you really believe in free speech, think of the speech you hate the most, and defend that.'"

Amen.

-----

"The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech."
-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Monica's life was ruined, but Bill's got better

Yesterday, Monica Lewinsky spoke here in Philly at a Forbes "30 Under 30" summit. She gave an emotional speech that set the Twittersphere on fire, in a very positive sense.

So I decided to research what Lewinsky's been up to in the more than 15 years since the scandal arose when it was discovered that she, a White House Intern at the time, was getting it on with then-President Bill Clinton.

As it turns out, she's been very busy. She earned a graduate degree from the London School of Economics - impressive! And she's done some public appearances. But, according to Wikipedia, this poised, smart, and well educated young woman can't find a steady job - or a steady guy.

While I do not condone Lewinsky's affair with Bill Clinton, I think she's been treated quite unfairly. While Bill Clinton was impeached by the House because of the affair (a partisan overreaction, in my opinion), the Senate overturned it, and he has gone on to become one of the most popular former presidents this nation has ever seen.

But we shouldn't be surprised. Here in the USA, in matters of illicit sex, the man is usually seen as a stud, while the woman is usually seen as a slut.

And it's so unfair when this double standard serves to waste the potential of someone as impressive (affair aside) as Monica Lewinsky.

After all, who hasn't done something stupid at age 22?

18 October 2014

Mexico releases prisoner of conscience

Good news: According to Amnesty International (AI), "[p]risoner of conscience and torture victim Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo has been released from [a Mexican] prison after five years in pre-trial detention, in a move that is welcome but long overdue."

Huge thanks to the more than 20,000 AI activists who have taken action demanding his release.

The following is AI's summary of the case:

Ángel Colón was arrested by police in Tijuana, northern Mexico, while traveling from his home in Honduras to the United States in March 2009. He was then tortured by police and soldiers: beaten, asphyxiated and racially abused. He was forced to sign a false statement which was used to implicate him in criminal activity. He retracted the statement when brought before a judge and reported his torture to the authorities who failed to take any action.

The Mexican Federal Attorney General has now agreed to drop charges against Ángel Colón and he has been released unconditionally.

"Ángel Colón suffered torture at the hands of the Mexican authorities and has had years of his life wasted in pre-trial detention. This is an outrage," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at AI. "The Mexican authorities can and do more to ensure torture is never used by police or military officials, and that any reports of torture are swiftly and thoroughly investigated. They cannot allow the injustices inflicted on Ángel Colón to ever be repeated."

But, sadly, Ángel Colón's case is not unusual.

Last month, AI published a report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico, which noted that reports of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of police and soldiers had risen by 600 percent over a decade.

According to a survey conducted by AI, 64 percent of Mexicans said they were afraid of being tortured if detained by the police or other authorities.

But we'll be watching.

See a moving video message from Ángel Colón here.

14 October 2014

On Thursday, Oct. 16, wear purple to fight bullying!

Thursday, October 16, is Spirit Day 2014.

Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe of the rainblow flag representing "spirit", was established as an opportunity for people to speak out against the plague of bullying aimed at LGBT youth.

On Thursday, please wear purple to show your support. I certainly will, as I do every year. (The photo is of me wearing purple for the first Spirit Day in 2010.)

Do more:

>> Find more Spirit Day actions at www.glaad.org/spiritday.

12 October 2014

A youthful spin on the right-to-die movement

Terminally ill 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard is the new face of the right-to-die movement - a movement previously associated primarily with much older people.

Maynard suffers from a glioblastoma brain tumor - the deadliest form of brain cancer - and her doctors have predicted that she has only a few months to live, at most. So on November 1, Maynard plans to take her own life using medications prescribed by her doctor in accordance with Oregon's Death with Dignity law. Maynard moved from her native California to Oregon in order to take advantage of the law.

To date, only 4 U.S. states - Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington - have legalized physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, allowing them to die on their own terms. It allows them to choose a quick and dignified death over a painful, lingering one.

Furthermore, Maynard has teamed up with the nonprofit organization Compassion & Choices (formerly known as the Hemlock Society) to launch an online campaign to draw attention to the issue. (Full disclosure: I am a lifetime member of Compassion & Choices.) Hopefully this campaign, and the extensive press coverage it's been receiving, will trigger a new national dialog that will prompt more states to adopt their own Death with Dignity laws.

So-called "pro-life" groups typically oppose physician-assisted suicide. I guess they would prefer that the terminally ill be forced to tolerate the sometimes excruciating pain and suffering that accompany so many terminal conditions. What kind of "life" is that?

And I guess they want the families to suffer, too, as they watch their loved ones die slowly, sometimes over several months or even years, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes.

What it boils down to is this: While life is precious and should not be thrown away lightly, modern medical science cannot yet provide adequate pain control in all dying patients, even in the best hospices.

While physicians do take an oath to "do no harm", is it not harmful to force a dying patient to suffer a slow, lingering death against his or her will, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes?

When a pet becomes ill to the point where it is near death or suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the pet be euthanized, to put the animal out of its misery.

So why do we treat our dying pets with more mercy than we treat our dying people?

---

"I didn't launch this campaign because I wanted attention; in fact, it's hard for me to process it all. I did this because I want to see a world where everyone has access to death with dignity, as I have had. My journey is easier because of this choice."
-- Brittany Maynard

11 October 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt was much more than a wife

Today is October 11, and I just learned that Eleanor Roosevelt was born on this date in 1884. The website FamousBirthdays.com describes her as a "Political Wife". But Eleanor Roosevelt was so much more than that, and I want the world to know. She is one of our historical figures whom I admire the most.

After her time as First Lady of New York and then First Lady of the United States (during which time she was a very vocal civil rights activist), Eleanor Roosevelt served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which she chaired from 1946 to 1951. While at the UN, Roosevelt played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She later became the first chair of the newly created Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under President John F. Kennedy.

Eleanor Roosevelt received no less than 35 honorary degrees.

These are not the accomplishments of a mere "Political Wife". She was a political powerhouse in her own right. And she did it all with great compassion.

The world is a better place because of her contributions.

10 October 2014

Much meaning and symbolism in this year's Nobel Peace Prize

Today, the Nobel Committee announced that Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India will share this year's Nobel Peace Prize "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

Malala was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012 for advocating for girls' right to education. The tragedy only inspired her to work even harder, and on an international scale.

Satyarthi has worked for more than three decades as a children's rights activist, focusing on issues such as child labor and slavery.

This year's award is remarkable for a number of reasons.

First, 17-year-old Malala becomes the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Second, the Nobel Committee "regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism."

"Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai are both incredible examples of each individual's power to improve our world," said Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. "Though they are decades apart in age, and though they hail from two countries historically hostile to one another, they share a common commitment to peace, justice, and human dignity. They are richly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Huge congratulations to both of these great human rights defenders, with thanks for their hard work, their courage, and their strength. I am inspired.

07 October 2014

Same-sex marriage is on a roll - Idaho and Nevada today!

Another good step towards equality for all: Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down Idaho's and Nevada's bans on same-sex marriage on grounds that they violated equal protection rights.

This comes on the heels of yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision not to review five same-sex marriage cases, thus upholding lower court rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The momentum is great. I have a feeling that it will continue. Fingers crossed.

06 October 2014

SCOTUS paves the way for legalized same-sex marriage in majority of states

Today, in another great step forward towards equal rights for all, the US Supreme Court decided not to review five same-sex marriage cases, thus upholding lower court rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

According to the Washington Post, "the decision will likely expand same-sex marriages to other states covered by the federal appeals courts that already have ruled that the bans are unconstitutional, including Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina[,] and South Carolina. That would bring to 30 the number of states where gays can marry."

This demonstrates that the Supremes can still do some things right.

Fingers crossed in hopes that similar cases yield similar results in the remaining 20 states in my lifetime.

30 September 2014

US signs endless-war treaty in Afghanistan, appears insane

Today, according to the Washington Post, the US and Afghanistan signed a security agreement that "allows for 9,800 U.S. troops to stay in the country past 2014 to help train, equip[,] and advise Afghan military and police forces."

We've been in Afghanistan since 2001. We've spent the past 13 years "help[ing] train, equip, and advise Afghan military and police forces." If it hasn't worked by now, there's got to be an underlying reason that requires a different approach.

It brings to mind Albert Einstein's definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

23 September 2014

China is exporting torture

Research by Amnesty International (AI) and the Omega Research Foundation has uncovered a "flourishing trade" in the "export of tools of torture by Chinese companies" which is fueling human rights violations worldwide.

A new report, titled China's Trade in Tools of Torture and Repression, alleges that more than 130 Chinese companies are currently involved in the "production and trade of potentially dangerous law enforcement equipment."

According to AI, "Some of the devices openly marketed by these companies - including electric shock stun batons, metal spiked batons, and weighted leg cuffs - are intrinsically cruel and inhumane and therefore should immediately be banned. Other equipment - that can have legitimate use in policing - such as tear gas and plastic projectiles or riot control vehicles - is being exported from China even when there is a substantial risk of serious human rights violations by the receiving law enforcement agencies."

"Increasing numbers of Chinese companies are profiting from the trade in tools of torture and repression," said Patrick Wilcken, an AI security trade and human rights researcher. "This trade - which causes immense suffering - is flourishing because the Chinese authorities have done nothing to stop companies supplying these sickening devices for export or to prevent policing equipment falling into the hands of known human rights abusers."

"There is no excuse whatsoever for allowing the manufacture and trade in equipment for which the primary purpose is to torture or inflict cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on people," said Wilcken. "These heinous acts are totally banned under international law and Chinese authorities should immediately place a ban on the production and trade in such cruel and inhumane devices."

Most of the Chinese companies are state-owned.

AI and Omega are urging the Chinese authorities and those of all other countries to:

- impose an immediate ban on the production and trade of inherently abusive equipment;

- immediately suspend or deny trade licenses for the supply of other equipment to law enforcement agencies and forces where there is a substantial risk the equipment will be used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations;

- establish export control regulations and practices for the control of security and police equipment that can have a legitimate use but is easy to abuse; and

- end all torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment, as well as the use of arbitrary force, and investigate all allegations of such acts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

>> Download the report (PDF).

22 September 2014

US State Dept announces aid to Gaza; too little too late?

Today, the State Department announced that the US will provide more than $71 million in "additional life-saving humanitarian assistance to help meet emergency needs in Gaza," noting that "[m]ore than 58,000 people are still sheltering in United Nations facilities and basic necessities like food, clean water, and fuel remain in short supply throughout the territory."

Good. That aid is much needed.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the US appears to be playing both sides of this conflict.

Israel, which US officials repeatedly refer to as our "ally", remains the largest recipient of military assistance, having received some $3.1 billion in military aid last year alone.

Our $71 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza pales in comparison.

And it seems ironic, given that our aid to Israel has contributed to the need for our aid to Gaza.

14 September 2014

Get a flu shot, give a free vaccine to a child who needs it

It's time for my annual flu shot, and I'm going to get mine at Walgreens this year. That's because Walgreens is partnering with the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign.

When you get a flu shot at Walgeens now through October 13, the program will provide a vaccine against polio or measles to a child in a developing country.

To learn more about the Shot@Life program, click here.

Note: Walgreens is not paying me to promote their flu shots (or for anything else). I just think this program is worth sharing.

13 September 2014

Student POC released from prison in Tajikistan

More proof that worldwide activism can save lives: According to Amnesty International, Alexander Sodiqov has been released from prison in Tajikistan and is now back home in Canada!

Amnesty considered Sodiqov a prisoner of conscience "who was detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, as he had been undertaking legitimate academic research intended for publication." He was the subject of Amnesty's Urgent Action 157/14.

Thanks to all who took action on his behalf.

08 September 2014

Busted: See satellite images of Russian military build-up in Ukraine

Amnesty International has released satellite images that appear to illustrate "a build-up of Russian armour and artillery in eastern Ukraine." This is despite the Kremlin's denial of any involvement in the fighting in Ukraine.

You can view the images here.

Click on an image to view a detailed analysis of what you're seeing.

Thanks to technology like this, it's harder now for the bad guys to hide their actions.

Read more about Amnesty's findings in Ukraine here.

02 September 2014

Amnesty condemns Israel's latest illegal land grab

We recently learned that Israel is planning to illegally "settle" 988 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank - the largest such land grab in 30 years. Even the generally pro-Israel U.S. government is pushing back this time.

And now Amnesty International (AI) - which researches, reports on, and condemns human rights abuses on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - has issued a statement about this latest move by Israel, saying that "[t]he Israeli authorities' outrageous plan to expropriate nearly 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank is illegal and must be rescinded immediately."

"Israel's strategy of illegally confiscating land for settlements in the West Bank must stop once and for all," said Philip Luther, AI's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Not only it is illegal under international law but it is leading to a wide range of violations of Palestinians' human rights on a mass scale."

"Reports that that the Israeli cabinet justified this land grab as a reaction to the deplorable murder in June of three Israeli teenagers suggests this is an act of collective punishment and that Israel is moving further and further away from its obligations under international law," Luther continued.

According to AI, "Israel is appropriating the land based on its interpretation of a law dating back to the Ottoman era which declares an area 'state land' if it has not been cultivated or farmed for several consecutive years." But the Ottoman era was hundreds of years ago. Things have changed, including international human rights laws and treaties.

It's time for Israel to get with the 21st century and start respecting Palestinian human rights and other obligations under international law. Failure to do so will only continue to exacerbate tensions throughout the Middle East region. And we certainly don't need that.

28 August 2014

A mayor's immigration irony

In his column today in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank writes about the anti-immigration rantings of Judith Flanagan Kennedy, mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts.

I couldn't help but notice the mayor's name, which clearly suggests that she is of Irish descent. And I couldn't help but recall the stories of how badly Irish immigrants were treated a century ago. They got no respect - kind of like the Guatemalan immigrants of today whom the mayor disparages.

Sadly, I'm sure the mayor doesn't see the irony here.

24 August 2014

Rights groups react to the murder of journalist James Foley

James Foley was a much stronger journalist than I could ever hope to be. Foley went missing in Syria in 2012, and it appears that he remained stoic right through the last words he spoke on video just before his brutal beheading by an Islamic State terrorist thug.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "Islamic State kidnaps, kills, and threatens journalists wherever it holds sway. Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with at least 70 killed covering the conflict."

Amnesty International (AI) has called Foley's murder a war crime. "Those who carried out the killing and those who ordered it must face justice," said Margaret Huang, AIUSA's Deputy Executive Director of Campaigns and Programs.

"It is imperative that all warring countries and others with interests in the region use all diplomatic means possible to ensure that no more journalists - or others carrying out their legitimate work in the area – are killed for doing their job," declared Said Boumedouha, AI's Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa Program. "The militants also claim to be holding another U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, and state that his life depends on U.S. President Barack Obama's next move."

"The implication made in the video that journalists are being targeted in revenge for the U.S. government's involvement in Iraq is deeply alarming and increases fears that other hostages may be at heightened risk," Boumedouha continued. "Journalists, like all civilians, are bystanders in armed conflict and must be protected from harm rather than singled out for brutal killings."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) agrees, stating that "[g]roups detaining journalists should immediately and unconditionally release them."

"James went to Syria because of his commitment to exposing the horrors civilians faced since the uprising against the government there," said Peter Bouckaert, HRW's Emergencies Director and a personal friend of Foley's. "He, like the other journalists who are now held prisoner in Syria, courageously risked his life so that the world might know the truth and act to ease the suffering of the Syrian people."

Bouckaert continued: "I wish there was no video showing his brutal execution to haunt his family and friends forever. It is unbearable to think of Jim's final terror-filled moments, designed by the Islamic State to horrify us all. It is unbearable to think that there are still other hostages in the hands of the Islamic State, hostages kept for the same purpose. It is unbearable to think of the hundreds of mostly nameless Iraqis and Syrians who have suffered the same fate as Jim at the hands of the Islamic State, but Jim would want us to think of them."

"Goodbye, dear Jim," said Bouckaert. "We will remember you for the beauty of your life well lived and not its brutal end."

21 August 2014

9/21: Join me in NYC for the People's Climate March (or get active where you live)

Hundreds - literally hundreds - of organizations have joined together to plan what we hope will be the largest climate march in history.

The People's Climate March is scheduled for September 21, starting at 11:30 am, in New York City. Please join me there, if you can.

Get the details at www.peoplesclimate.org/march. There you'll find info on the march route, a schedule of events, transportation and housing information, and everything else you need to know to participate.

If you can't get to NYC:

Other events are being planned around the world throughout that weekend.

To find an event near you, or to organize an event, go to www.peoplesclimate.org/global.

18 August 2014

New report on U.S. hunger brings alarming news

Today, the organization Feeding America released the results of a new study on hunger in America. The group calls the study "the nation’s largest and most comprehensive insight into charitable food distribution in the United States."

While the report seems partially self-promotional for the Feeding America program, its data is nonetheless alarming.

Some highlights (or, I should say, lowlights):

The Feeding America program serves 46.5 million food-insecure people each year. That's 1 in 7 Americans. Yes, 1 in 7!

That number includes 12 million American children and 7 million seniors.

20% of households served by Feeding America have a member who has served in the U.S. military. In other words, we support our troops by making them resort to food pantries and other services so they won't starve.

41% of supported households have a member with a post-high-school education.

And one has to wonder how much worse the problem would seem if the report were to factor in those who do not seek or accept food donations from Feeding America or other relief agencies. I know they're out there.

>> Read more and download the report.

14 August 2014

Ferguson and Gaza

In Ferguson, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, citizens continue to protest the recent shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a local (and as yet unnamed) cop.

And the police are overreacting, to put it mildly. Provoked by a very few unruly protestors, they have been using tear gas, and military equipment and tactics, against even peaceful demonstrators. They've even arrested some reporters who were covering the protests.

These cops are engaging in collective punishment, which is a clear-cut human rights violation. You can take action against your aggressors; they are fair game. But innocent bystanders are supposed to be off-limits.

It reminds me of the current situation in Gaza, where the Israeli military is overreacting to a handful of rockets and a handful of casualties - mostly military - perpetrated by a few bad apples.

Israel has responded by bombing civilian structures, including multiple United Nations bomb shelters. As a result, the Palestinian death count - mostly civilian - has risen to at least 1,959.

Violence is never a viable solution to a political/diplomatic problem - be it in Ferguson or in Gaza. And hope is lost whenever a Gazan baby is injured or killed, and also whenever an innocent Ferguson protestor has his or her human rights violated by those whom we pay to protect us from such things.

11 August 2014

Amnesty releases new report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan

Today, Amnesty International released a new report on "failures of accountability for civilian casualties caused by international military operations in Afghanistan."

Says Amnesty: "Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 by international forces, and thousands more have been injured. This report examines the record of accountability for civilian deaths caused by international military operations in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013. In particular, it focuses on the performance of the US government in investigating possible war crimes and in prosecuting those suspected of criminal responsibility for such crimes. Its overall finding is that the record is poor."

According to the Geneva Conventions, civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed combat. Unfortunately, that standard is too often ignored. And, too often, the violators get away with their war crimes.

Please help me spread the word. The more people know, the more they will fight back. Hopefully.

>> Download the report. (PDF)

04 August 2014

More evidence that Texas executed an innocent man

I've written before about the likelihood that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by Texas in 2004 for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters, was actually not guilty. A posthumous forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

Now there is even more reason to believe that Willingham's conviction was based on faulty "evidence". According to the Washington Post, a former witness in the Willingham trial, who had claimed that Willingham had confessed to him in prison, now says that he lied in order to get a lighter sentence for himself.

The arson issue was reason enough to give Willingham the benefit of the doubt. This new revelation sheds an even harsher light on the injustices in our so-called justice system.

And Texas likely killed an innocent man. An irreversible punishment. Oops!

I can think of no better reason to oppose the death penalty.

24 July 2014

'An eye for an eye' is a problem

Last night, there was another botched execution - this one in Arizona. It took Joseph Wood almost two hours to die, during which time he was reportedly gasping and snorting while strapped to the gurney with the fatal drugs flowing into his veins.

This comes just three months after another botched execution. In Texas in April, Clayton Lockett died after reportedly writhing and groaning for 43 minutes.

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishments, including torture. I am not a doctor, but it sure seems as though Wood and Lockett may have been slowly tortured to death. In any case, we don't know for certain how much pain they experienced. And that unknown seems like reason enough to immediately abolish lethal injection.

But some people seem to think that torturing the torturer is the fair thing to do.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said in an official statement regarding last night's Joseph Wood execution that "[t]his is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims - and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family."

That's the old "eye for an eye" attitude. Wood made people suffer, so he deserves to suffer at least equally. But we as a society should be above the level of the criminal.

And, surprisingly, I got a similar pro-death reaction from a Facebook friend who (unlike Gov. Brewer) is otherwise fairly progressive. She saw it as possible karmic payback. But it's not up to us human beings to dole out karmic justice. It is, by definition, best left to some higher force in the universe. Because we humans are so fallible.

As Mohandas Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

23 July 2014

Tomorrow, 7/24: Day of Action for Gaza!

The Israeli military continues its attacks on Gaza, and innocent Palestinian men, women, and children continue to die.

NPR reported today that the Palestinian death toll had risen to 649 in the 16 days since the assault began, most of them civilians. By comparison, only 29 Israelis have died in the conflict, most of them soldiers. In other words, it's a very lopsided massacre. And civilians are supposed to be off-limits in armed conflict, per international law.

We must raise our voices and do something about this.

So, on Thursday, July 24, activists and concerned Americans across the nation will participate in an urgent National Day of Action for Gaza.

Please join us.

What you can do:

Sign on and tell Congress to push for a ceasefire now!

• Use social media to spread the word and share the petition to Congress.

Find a protest near you.

• Get more ideas at Code Pink's Pink Tank.

21 July 2014

Obama signs order to protect LGBT federal employees and contractors

Today, in another step forward towards equality for all, President Obama signed an executive order that guarantees workplace protections for LGBT employees of the federal government and federal contractors.

Then he urged Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination by any employer with at least 15 employees. Of course, that bill has gotten nowhere in the House, even after passing the Senate last November by a bipartisan vote of 64-32.

It shouldn't be an issue at all. This is 21st century America. Non-discrimination should be a no-brainer.

But let's be grateful for each small piece of progress. Kudos to President Obama for taking this step today.

20 July 2014

Israel uses shrapnel bombs in Gaza, violates international law

According to the European Institute for International Law and International Relations (EIILIR), a Norwegian surgeon told the French newspaper l'Humanité that "Israel is using Dense Inert Metal Explosive bombs in Gaza, violating the Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Israel is party."

Dr. Erik Fosse, on a humanitarian mission, said these bombs "have a shrapnel effect on civilians," and their use may amount to a war crime.

According to the EIILIR, "Dense Inert Metal Explosive are a mix of explosive material and small particles of chemically inert material, for instance tungsten. The metal is mixed in very small particles (1 – 2 mm) or in powder, and thus the micro-shrapnel can slice through soft tissue and bone. The mix, in a carbon fibre casing, has a very potent shrapnel effect in a small radius : the probability of killing people within a small radius is increased, and survivors may have to be amputated (esp. of the lower limbs), because the shrapnel cannot be detected through x-ray in the bodies of the victims and the injury cannot be cured. The tungsten powder « dissolves » in the body, and any minor injury interferes with the clotting process, leading to profuse bleeding."

And, to add insult to injury (literally), Israel dismisses these casualties as mere "collateral damage".