29 June 2007

Amnesty Intl speaks out on the anniversary of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

One year ago today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, ruling that Bush's military tribual system was unconstitutional. Bush responded by having Congress pass the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which turned bad policy into bad law.

Yesterday, Amnesty International USA marked this anniversary with the following press release:
Amnesty International Tells President Bush to End the Military Commissions Farce and Adhere to the Rule of Law on the First Anniversary of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

(Washington, DC) -- Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA executive director, issued the following statement on the eve of the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The court ruled that President Bush did not have authority to set up the war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and found the original military commissions illegal under both military law and the Geneva conventions:

"The historic ruling by the court a year ago was the beginning of the end of President Bush's experiment in cowboy-style executive justice. Recently, the administration and congressional efforts to validate and continue this unfair practice were stopped in their tracks, again -- this time by the military judges hand-picked to preside over the extremely flawed commissions.

"When Bush officials go to Congress, help draft the legislation establishing military commissions, write the rules and the regulations, yet still cannot move a case through the system, it is a wake-up call that the scheme is a complete and utter failure.

"President Bush's desire to try non-citizens in a made-up judicial structure lacking fundamental due process protections has resulted in one questionable plea bargain, two cases where charges were dismissed and no prosecutions in the foreseeable future. And not one of those cases directly ties to the tragedy of 9/11. That's a shameful record of bringing people to justice for the crimes of that day.

"What else needs to happen for the Bush administration to understand that to bring perpetrators to account, the rule of law must be applied? It is beyond time for President Bush to acknowledge the message that the Supreme Court sent him last year - unfair trials do not survive the scrutiny of justice.

"So let's stop trying to revive a comatose commissions system and instead try detainees in the United States' entirely functional federal court system."

O'Reilly calls the kettle black

The only thing worse than sanctimonious judgmentalism is when it's accompanied by blatant hypocrisy.

In his latest column, right-wing pundit Bill O'Reilly launches a tirade against the sex-and-drugs culture of the 1967 "Summer of Love". He tells us that "thousands of young Americans spent the summer stoned and having sex with a variety of their compatriots. This led to an epidemic of overdose situations and social disease problems."

Maybe so, Bill, but they were willing participants -- unlike Andrea Mackris, whom you harrassed with unwelcome overtures about how you wanted to ply her with wine and then violate her with a loofa, a falafel, and whatnot.

Yo, Bill, you always allude to how "religious" you are. What was it that Jesus said? Oh, yeah: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

27 June 2007

Senate votes against workers' rights

Article 23 (4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to which the United States is a signatory, states that "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."

Unions protect workers from corporate tyranny. Unionization gives workers the power to bargain for fair wages and decent benefits. And, per the UDHR, unionization has been defined as a basic human right.

But the Senate doesn't care.

The Senate voted yesterday to deny that human right to the American workers.

The good news: 51 senators voted in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The bad news: 60 votes were needed for the bill to proceed at this time.

So nine senators made the difference in choosing to support corporate greed at the expense of worker rights.

>> See how your Senators voted.

>> Learn more about the Employee Free Choice Act, from American Rights at Work.

26 June 2007

David Corn reviews "SiCKO" (and you can help change the system)

Michael Moore's new movie, SiCKO, will arrive in theaters nationwide this weekend. The film takes explores how health insurance companies are out to make profits at the expense of people's well-being, and sometimes at the expense of people's lives.

David Corn has written a very interesting review of the film for The Nation. Check it out: SiCKO is Boffo

Please join me at the movie theater this weekend, get mad, and then tell Congress to pass the United States National Health Insurance Act.

25 June 2007

Amnesty Intl: Guantanamo must be closed immediately

A few days ago, I wrote about how the White House has been dragging its feet regarding possible closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

On that subject, Amnesty International has issued the following news release:
USA: Guantanamo must be closed inmediately

In reaction to the US administration's postponed meeting regarding the future of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, including the possibility of its closure, Amnesty International said:

"Yesterday's cancelled meeting about the future of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay should be rescheduled as a matter of priority. Every day that this prison camp remains open is a day too many."

"It is more than a year since President Bush first said he would like to close Guantanamo. While there are undoubtedly challenges to closing the facility, the solution in principle is simple, and the government must turn its energies to this end. It should either charge the detainees with recognizable criminal offences and bring them to trial in the ordinary civilian courts, or it should release them with full protections against further abuses. Other governments should do all they can to bring an end to this human rights scandal and actively consider accepting released detainees."

For more information, including Amnesty International's framework for the closure of the US dentention centre at Guantanamo Bay, please see:
United States of America: Justice delayed and justice denied? - Trials under the Military Commissions Act (Page 69)

A Mighty Heart: Does this movie condone torture?

Over the weekend, I saw the new film A Mighty Heart. Overall, the movie does a fine job of portraying the days surrounding the murder of Daniel Pearl from the perspective of his then-pregnant wife, Mariane. Angelina Jolie gave a brilliant performance as Mariane Pearl. The supporting cast was strong as well.

I was very disappointed, however, in one particular scene: In the earlier parts of the Pakistani and American authorities' search for Daniel's captors, they followed trails of phone records to track down suspects. But, later on, after capturing one key suspect, they switched gears and resorted to what these days would be called "enhanced interrogation techniques". And that tactic worked. They got the names of the other bad guys.

So will the mainstream audience leave that film thinking that torture was necessary to achieve justice in this case?

23 June 2007

Americans just want passive, thought-free entertainment

Yesterday I was in my local video rental store, browsing the newer releases. I decided to rent Letters From Iwo Jima. I appreciate movies that explore the human aspects of war in a thought-provoking manner, and this one was reputed to do that. After watching it, I think it lived up to that reputation, and it lived up to all the awards it has received.

But it also taught me something else.

As I was checking out at the video store, a conversation with the store clerk confirmed what I already knew: Most Americans don't like movies that make you think.

In fact, apparently most Americans don't even want to bother reading subtitles.

As he was ringing up my movie rental order, the video store clerk advised me that the movie was in Japanese with English subtitles. I assured him that it wasn't a problem, and I went on to say that many of my favorite movies are in foreign languages with subtitles.

The clerk said that I'm "a few steps ahead" of most of his customers. He told me he had learned the hard way that it's always good to warn the customer when a movie has subtitles. A large percentage of people apparently change their minds when they hear that. And, when they aren't warned in advance, they return the movie in anger and complain about the subtitles.

Then, thinking of the various foreign-language films I've known and loved, a thought occurred to me: A person who would be annoyed by subtitles is probably a person who wouldn't really appreciate the messages that these films set out to portray. Most Americans want to just sit back and be entertained. They don't want to sit up and be invited to think.

And I believe that this attitude could at least partly explain why this country is in such a mess.

22 June 2007

Ambiguous rumblings about impending White House decision to close Gitmo

According to an article by the Associated Press, "The Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility and move its terror suspects to military prisons elsewhere."

Sounds good. After all, closure of the Guantanamo prison is something that Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been calling for for some time.

But, the article goes on to say that "President Bush's national security and legal advisers had been scheduled to discuss the move at a meeting Friday, the officials said, but after news of it broke, the White House said the meeting would not take place that day and no decision on Guantanamo Bay's status is imminent."

So they're talking about it, but not doing anything about it. Talk is cheap.

And who is throwing up the roadblocks?

Well, according to the AP article, "Cheney's office and the Justice Department have been against the step, arguing that moving "unlawful" enemy combatant suspects to the U.S. would give them undeserved legal rights."

No surprise. But it is appalling to see that Cheney and Gonzales believe that removing detainees from Gitmo would give those detainees "undeserved legal rights." Basic human rights apply to everyone, and it's not Cheney's place, nor Gonzales's place, to determine who is worthy and who is not.

Consider also the fact that we've released more people from Gitmo than we've kept there, because many are actually innocent. (Those whom we've released are the "lucky" ones. I hear stories all the time of innocent men and boys who are still trapped at Gitmo.)

Apparently, however, that doesn't matter to Cheney. And it doesn't matter to the U.S. Attorney General. They just make up the rules as they go along.

Meantime, this nation's Founding Fathers are surely spinning in their graves.

21 June 2007

Mark Fiore: Innovations in Energy

The Senate is currently working on fuel economy legislation that many believe just isn't strong enough.

So, in his newest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes an amusing but insightful look at U.S. energy policy.

Check it out: Innovations in Energy

20 June 2007

June 20 is World Refugee Day. Take action for Iraqi refugees.

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day.

On this day, please take the following action from Refugees International to help Iraqi refugees:
The displacement of Iraqis from Iraq is now the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. The UN estimates that 2 million Iraqis have fled violence in their country. Although the United States and its allies sparked the current chaos in Iraq, we are doing little to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the current exodus. These people need our help.

Please send a letter urging President Bush to address the refugee crisis. The violence in Iraq has reached a deadly tipping point and neighboring countries are being overwhelmed by the massive influx of refugees. Most refugees are unable to earn an income outside of Iraq and need help to pay for housing, education and medical care. The US government can make a difference for these people if it takes a few key steps.

Tell President Bush that he must not ignore the plight facing Iraqi refugees any longer.
>> Send a letter to President Bush.

>> Read more about Iraqi refugees.

18 June 2007

Did Rumsfeld lie to Congress about Abu Ghraib?

Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter for The New Yorker, has been writing for the past three years about the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and Donald Rumsfeld's alleged involvement in U.S. torture policy.

Now Hersh has apparently dug up some further evidence indicating that Rumsfeld clearly knew about the prisoner abuse before it became public, even as he lied to Congress about being unaware of it. Furthermore, the investigators were prevented from looking very high up the chain of command, and were scrutinized themselves, lest they learn or share too much.

>> Read Hersh's article in The New Yorker online: The General's Report

This is really nothing new. Hersh's latest piece just gives us some more details of what we've known all along: That the low-level American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib photos didn't make the decision on their own to abuse and torture the detainees in their custody. It had to have come from much higher up. After all, the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib bears a striking resemblance to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. You can't blame Lynndie England for our Guantanamo policies. And, of course, there were the torture memos.

But accountability in the press is one thing. We need accountability in a court of law. Will we ever see it?

17 June 2007

Court rules former detainee can sue Ashcroft and others

In the weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001, hundreds of innocent Muslims and Middle Eastern people were rounded up, detained, and mistreated by the feds. Many were held in a detention center in Brooklyn. In my work with Amnesty International, I have heard numerous stories and met family members and attorneys of several of these detainees.

Imagine the outcry if the feds had similarly rounded up white Catholics after Tim McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. What's the difference? Skin color? Native language? Xenophobia?

But last Thursday an appeals court ruled that these detainees can sue FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and others for holding and abusing them for no legitimate reason.

How far will it go? Will we see true accountability? Or will the Bushies continue citing national security as an excuse for denying fundamental human rights?

Massachusetts lawmaker speaks out on why she voted against a ban on same-sex marriage

A few days ago, I posted a short piece here in celebration of the recent vote in the Massachusetts legislature against a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Then a friend sent me a follow-up article worth sharing. It includes a statement by a lawmaker who voted against gay marriage when it first came up in Massachusetts, but has since changed her mind. As my friend pointed out in sending me the article, "it's encouraging to see that there are politicians out there who still listen to their constituents and actually think about an issue."

An excerpt:
"For me, what all this comes down to is this: Same gendered couples are taxpaying, law-abiding citizens, who are important community contributors, well-loved and well-respected by their families, friends, neighbors and employers. They deserve and are entitled to the same legal protections enjoyed by all others citizens of our state. This is the law of the Commonwealth, articulated by our Supreme Judicial Court in Goodrich v. The Department of Public Health, decided in November, 2003.

"Despite dire predictions, there has been no adverse societal impact from this decision and most people now express little concern about same gender marriage.

"Springfield and Western Massachusetts needs these families, and all our families, to help rebuild our neighborhoods and the peaceful and productive society to which I know, whatever our differences on some things, we all aspire. As a practical matter, I believe we simply cannot afford to marginalize our human resources. Most importantly, I feel strongly that no child should ever be made to feel "less than" or "second-best" nor should any of our children be exposed to a public campaign focused on adult matters of personal privacy. There is altogether too much unseemly information brought into our homes and schools already. It is in the best interests of our children that we accept fully these new families.

"I also want to address directly one of the more contentious issues in this debate: Same gender couples have been adopting children and building families here in the Commonwealth for about twenty years. In many instances, same gendered couples have adopted children with severe challenges, children no one else wanted, and they have worked miracles with them. These children would have lived lives of despair without these families. This underscores how we cannot afford to marginalize any of our people; make anyone second-class citizens. We are all precious resources to each other, and to generations yet to come."
Read the full article: One lawmaker, in her own words, who changed her vote on same-sex marriage

15 June 2007

Happy Birthday, Habeas. Take action to restore this fundamental right.

Today, June 15, marks the 792nd anniversary of the writ of habeas corpus.

Unfortunately, habeas corpus has become an endangered species in the U.S. as a result of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Let's bring habeas back.

>> Ask your Senators and Representative to support the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 to return habeas rights to people in U.S. custody.

>> Learn more about the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007.

14 June 2007

Massachusetts stands up against bigotry

It's nice to see that fairness and equality have prevailed over bigotry and intolerance in Massachusetts today.

According to an article on the Boston Globe website, "A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated today by a joint session of the Legislature by a vote of 45 to 151, eliminating any chance of getting it on the ballot in November 2008. At least 50 votes were needed to advance the measure."

Kudos to the Massachusetts legislature for choosing not to make bigotry the law of the commonwealth.

Mark Fiore: Torture 101

In his newest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes a look at the problem of torture, along with the Bush administration's general handling of prisoners in the "war on terror".

In doing so, he points out some alarming similarities between the Bush administration's methods and those of Communist regimes in the past that the U.S. government has openly criticized.

Coincidence? I don't think so. Hypocrisy? Indeed.

Check out the animation: Torture 101

13 June 2007

Another innocent man, kidnapped by the CIA and tortured, tells his story

I hear about these cases all the time. But this time the Italian government served as the CIA's enabler and used Bush-like methods to abduct an innocent man, send him to Egypt for torture, and essentially ruin his life.

According to an article in Le Monde, as translated by Truthout.org, Abu Omar was eventually freed "on the condition that he keep quiet."
"As I left, I saw a document on an officer's desk," he swears. "It was a sheet divided into two parts. The first concerned me. It was written: 'freed, but mustn't open his mouth so as not to embarrass the Italian government;' the second part was a list of a dozen Arabs residing in Italy 'to send to Egypt,' probably the same way I had been sent. That's why I decided to talk."

Several words to the media. A return to prison. An officer explained to him that he "would stay there until he was forgotten."
This is beyond appalling.

Read the complete article: Kidnapped by the CIA - Tortured in Egypt

>> Take action to stop extraordinary renditions.

12 June 2007

"Instant Karma" released today! Get great music and help save Darfur

Musicians of conscience often use their art to draw attention to social issues, as we’ve seen with Live Aid, Farm Aid, Live 8, and more.

Now Amnesty International has joined forces with some of music's biggest stars to draw attention to the crisis in Darfur and end the killing there.

Yoko Ono has generously donated the rights to John Lennon's entire solo catalog, and dozens of great musicians have donated their time and talents to record covers of Lennon's music. The result: The CD Instant Karma, which was just released today. The individual songs are also available for download from iTunes.

Below is a list of the artists who participated in this project, along with the songs they cover:

• Aerosmith and The Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars - "Give Peace a Chance"
• Avril Lavigne - "Imagine"
• Ben Harper - "Beautiful Boy"
• Big & Rich - "Nobody Told Me"
• The Black Eyed Peas - "Power To the People"
• Christina Aguilera - "Mother"
• Corinne Bailey Rae - "I'm Losing You"
• The Flaming Lips - "(Just Like) Starting Over"
• Green Day - "Working Class Hero"
• Jack Johnson - "Imagine"
• Jack's Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood - "God"
• Jackson Browne - "Oh, My Love"
• Jaguares - "Gimme Some Truth"
• Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison - "Gimme Some Truth"
• Lenny Kravitz - "Cold Turkey"
• Los Lonely Boys - "Whatever Gets You Through the Night"
• Matisyahu - "Watching the Wheels"
• The Postal Service - "Grow old With Me"
• Regina Spektor - "Real Love"
• R.E.M. - "#9 Dream"
• Snow Patrol - "Isolation"
• U2 - "Instant Karma"
• Youssou N'Dour - "Jealous Guy"

>> Order a discounted copy of the CD from Amazon.com.

>> Learn more about this project, or download the singles from iTunes.

11 June 2007

Please take these two quick actions to help save the environment

Human beings have the right to a safe and clean environment, and the government and the business world have a moral obligation to protect the health and welfare of the people of this planet.

Please take a moment to take these two quick online actions to defend our environment:

1. Ask your Senators to support clean, renewable energy.

From SaveOurEnvironment.org:

The Senate is expected to vote tomorrow (Tuesday) to decide whether or not to require that at least 15% of our electricity must come from clean, renewable sources by 2020!

Please don't miss out on this chance to support clean, renewable energy and fight global warming.

Click the link above to ask your Senators to support legislation to require that at least 15% of our electricity come from clean, renewable sources (like wind and solar) by 2020 when they cast their votes tomorrow.

Americans know that renewable energy can help curb global warming, create jobs, and save consumers money. Twenty-three states have already adopted renewable energy targets as high as 25% by 2020. Now it's time for Congress to take action.

Hurry! Click the link above to send your letter today in support of clean, renewable energy!

With your help, we can tap into America's clean energy potential by requiring utilities to generate at least 15% of our electricity from renewable energy by 2020. It's a win-win solution for the environment and our economy.

2. Take action for cleaner trains and ships.

From EnvironmentalDefense.org:

Trains and ships are major sources of air pollution in the United States. The black smoke we often see billowing from these diesel powered machines can cause asthma attacks, heart disease, cancer and premature death.

Click the link above and take action today for cleaner trains and ships.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to clean up diesel locomotive engines, tug boats, barges, ferries and recreational marine engines.

Cleaner air means healthier people. When finalized and fully phased in, this proposal will dramatically reduce unhealthy soot and smog-forming pollution from each ship and train engine by 80-95%. In fact, according to EPA estimates, by 2030 these reductions could prevent nearly 1,500 premature deaths, more than 1,100 hospitalizations, about 170,000 work days lost, and one million days of restricted activity because of air pollution, each year.

The proposed rules are a solid framework to begin cleaning up hazardous diesel pollution from ships and trains. However, the clean-up process must happen faster to protect more people more quickly.

Click the link above to send an e-mail today and encourage the EPA to expedite the clean-up process.

Colin Powell calls for closure of Gitmo and restoration of habeas corpus

General Colin Powell appeared yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press. While I didn't like the way he tapdanced around questions about WMDs and the false justifications for attacking Iraq, I did like some things he said later in the show.

When asked about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Powell called it "a major problem for America’s perception" by the rest of the world, and added, "if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo -- not tomorrow, this afternoon."

Of course, the problem with Guatanamo is about more than just the world's perception of us. What's going on at Guantanamo is just plain wrong, and it violates international human rights law.

Along those lines, Powell called for an end to Bush's military tribunal system and for a restoration of habeas corpus.

>> Read more, or watch an excerpt from the show.

But, sadly, I'm sure Bush and Cheney will continue to ignore the truth.

10 June 2007

Homophobia makes us less safe

Not only is homophobia stupid, wrong, misguided, and unfair (as I've been saying all my life), but now we learn that it can also undermine our national security and make us more vulnerable in the "war on terror".

In an op-ed in Friday's New York Times, a former Navy translator, who was kicked out of the Navy when they discovered he was gay, explains.

An excerpt:
Most of my peers knew I was gay, and that didn’t bother them. I was always accepted as a member of the team. And my experience was not anomalous: polls of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show an overwhelming majority are comfortable with gays. Many were aware of at least one gay person in their unit and had no problem with it.

"Don’t ask, don’t tell" does nothing but deprive the military of talent it needs and invade the privacy of gay service members just trying to do their jobs and live their lives. Political and military leaders who support the current law may believe that homosexual soldiers threaten unit cohesion and military readiness, but the real damage is caused by denying enlistment to patriotic Americans and wrenching qualified individuals out of effective military units. This does not serve the military or the nation well.

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since "don’t ask, don’t tell" was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

In addition to those translators, 11,000 other service members have been ousted since the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy was passed by Congress in 1993. Many held critical jobs in intelligence, medicine and counterterrorism. An untold number of closeted gay military members don’t re-enlist because of the pressure the law puts on them. This is the real cost of the ban — and, with our military so overcommitted and undermanned, it’s too high to pay.
Read the full article: Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate

09 June 2007

Habeas corpus: Good news, some questions, and a call to action

Yesterday, the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act (S.185) passed a vote by the Senate Judiary Committee.

This is good news, and a nice first step towards reversing the damage caused by the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

My questions are these:

First, the bill passed by a vote of 11-8. What are those 8 senators who voted against the bill thinking? Habeas corpus is one of the most fundamental principals of constitutional governance and international human rights law. Their voting against it makes it appear that their loyalty to the Bush administration trumps their respect for human rights.

Second, assuming that this bill passes through Congress, will Bush veto it? If so, will Congress have the backbone to override the veto?

Take action:

We can't just sit back and watch. We must do everything we can to push for passage of this very important legislation, and we need to get as many Senators and Representatives on board with this as possible, to ensure enough votes to override a possible Bush veto.

Please contact your Senators and Representative and ask them to support S.185 and its companion bill in the House, H.R. 1416.

08 June 2007

Mark Fiore on immigration

This morning's big headline in much of the media is that the Bush-backed immigration bill failed in the Senate yesterday.

Meantime, political cartoonist Mark Fiore devotes his newest animation to exploring the hypocrisy of the anti-immigration movement. It's well worth watching. Check it out: Hordes Redux

07 June 2007

What about all the other prisoners with medical situations?

So Paris Hilton is already out of jail because of an unspecified "medical situation". She'll serve the remainder of her sentence under comfy, cushy house arrest.

My question is this: What about all the other people in prisons across this country who have medical situations, many of whom are not receiving proper medical attention? I hear about such cases all the time. I don't hear about them being sent home.

If you're rich and famous, are you above the law?

Human rights groups name 39 CIA "disappeared" detainees

Amnesty International and five other human rights groups have just released a report that names 39 individuals who "are believed to have been held in secret US custody and whose current whereabouts remain unknown."

The report also names some relatives of suspects, including children as young as seven, "who were themselves detained in secret prisons."

Below is the text of a press release issued today by Amnesty International, followed by a link to the actual report online.
Leading human rights groups name 39 CIA "disappeared" detainees

Three groups file lawsuit seeking information about "ghost" detention

Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law, Human Rights Watch, and Reprieve

(London and New York, 7 June 2007) -- In the most comprehensive accounting to date, six leading human rights organizations today published the names and details of 39 people who are believed to have been held in secret US custody and whose current whereabouts remain unknown. The briefing paper also names relatives of suspects who were themselves detained in secret prisons, including children as young as seven.

In a related action, three of the groups filed a lawsuit in US federal court under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking the disclosure of information concerning "disappeared" detainees.

The 21-page briefing paper, Off the Record: U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the "War on Terror", includes detailed information about four people named as "disappeared" prisoners for the first time. The full list of people includes nationals from countries including Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan and Spain. They are believed to have been arrested in countries including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, and transferred to secret US detention centres.

The list -- drafted by Amnesty International (AI), Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law (CHRGJ), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Reprieve -- draws together information from government and media sources, as well as from interviews with former prisoners and other witnesses.

Off the Record highlights aspects of the CIA detention programme that the US government has actively tried to conceal, such as the locations where prisoners may have been held, the mistreatment they endured, and the countries to which they may have been transferred.

It reveals how suspects' relatives, including wives and children as young as seven, have been held in secret detention. In September 2002 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's two young sons, aged seven and nine, were arrested. According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention centre for at least four months while US agents questioned the children about their father's whereabouts.

Similarly, when Tanzanian national Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was seized in Gujarat, Pakistan, in July 2004, his Uzbek wife was detained with him.

The human rights groups are calling on the US government to put a permanent end to the CIA's secret detention and interrogation programme, and to disclose the identities, fate, and whereabouts of all detainees currently or previously held at secret facilities operated or overseen by the US government as part of the "war on terror".

In a related action, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), CCR and the International Human Rights Clinic of NYU School of Law today filed a lawsuit in US federal court under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking disclosure of information concerning "disappeared" detainees, including "ghost" and unregistered prisoners. AIUSA, CCR and the NYU International Human Rights Clinic filed FOIA requests with several US government agencies, including the Departments of Justice and Defense, and the CIA. These FOIA requests sought information about individuals who are -- or have been -- held by, or with the involvement of, the US government, where there is no public record of the detentions. Though a few departments produced documents containing little relevant information, no agency provided a list of secretly-held detainees or an assessment of the legality of the secret programme.

The documents that the groups are seeking are known to exist. President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged the existence of CIA-operated secret prisons in September 2006; 14 detainees from these facilities were transferred to Guantánamo, and the US Department of Justice has issued an analysis concluding that the secret detention programme is legal.

Yet information about the location of the prisons, identity of the prisoners, and the types of interrogation methods used has never been publicly revealed. This prevents scrutiny by the public or the courts, and leaves detainees vulnerable to abuses that include torture and other ill-treatment.

The secrecy surrounding the programme also means that no one outside the US government knows exactly how many prisoners have been detained and how many remain "disappeared". The transfer in April 2007 of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi from CIA custody to Guantánamo indicates that the programme continues to operate, although some prisoners may have been transferred to prisons in other countries, possibly as a form of proxy detention. Off the Record indicates that some missing detainees may have been moved to countries where they face the risk of torture and where they continue to be held secretly, without charge or trial.

Interviews with prisoners who have been released from secret CIA prisons indicate that low-level detainees have frequently been arrested far from any battlefield, and held in isolation for years without legal recourse or contact with their families or outside agencies. Those who have been released have received no acknowledgment of their detention or any legal or financial redress.


Clive Stafford Smith, Legal Director of Reprieve, said: "It's time for the US government to come clean: these 39 people have been missing for years, and the evidence shows they were in US custody at some point. Where are they and what has been done to them?"

Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Director at Human Rights Watch, said: "What we're asking is where are these 39 people now, and what's happened to them since they ‘disappeared'? It is already a serious abuse to hold them in secret CIA prisons. Now we fear they may have been transferred to countries where they face further secret detention and abuse."

Professor Meg Satterthwaite, Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, said: "Since the end of Latin America's dirty wars, the world has rejected the use of 'disappearances' as a fundamental violation of international law. Despite this universal condemnation, our research shows that the United States has tried to vanish both the people on this list, and the rule of law. The United States cannot ignore human rights by hiding detainees in shadowy black sites. Enforced disappearances are illegal, regardless of who carries them out."

Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said: "Our client Majid Khan was subjected to torture and abuse while in secret CIA detention for three years. His family didn't know if he was alive, let alone where he was. The only reason to make someone disappear is to be able to operate outside the law and hidden from public view. Ghost detention is incompatible with basic respect for human rights and the rule of law. The US government must cease this shameful practice at once."

Moazzam Begg, Spokesman for Cageprisoners and former Guantánamo detainee, said: "Representing individuals detained by the world's most powerful democracy has become more of an exercise in chasing ghosts than it is about providing justice. Concepts such as habeas corpus bear no meaning to those being detained in black sites or darker more sinister holes. For many of those detained, simply gaining the right to speak the truth unhindered by the need to escape the signing of a false confession means more than the fact they have been detained."

Claudio Cordone, Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International, said: "The duty of governments to protect people from acts of terrorism is not in question. But seizing men, women and even children, and placing people in secret locations deprived of the most basic safeguards for any detainees most definitely is. The US Administration must end this illegal and morally repugnant practice once and for all."
Read the report: Off the Record: U.S. Responsibility for Enforced Disappearances in the "War on Terror"

Torture finally gets discredited in the mainstream media

For years I've been writing about how torture does not work. Not only is torture morally reprehensible and illegal, it has also been proven ineffective in producing actionable intelligence.

But, until now, the mainstream media (and therefore the general American couch-sitting public) haven't adequately explored the issue. Aside from showing us a few of the tamer Abu Ghraib photos a couple of years ago, cable news and the corporate press didn't really go there. There was no real analysis.

Hopefully that is changing, and hopefully this new article from Newsweek is a positive sign in that regard.

An excerpt:
For two years now, a group of experts on interrogation has been helping intelligence agencies formulate new rules for grilling terrorism suspects. Comprising psychologists and other specialists, the group has completed one long report and is working on another. Both volumes describe the techniques the United States has used on Iraqi and Al Qaeda suspects since the attacks of September 11, 2001, as outdated and often ineffective.
So there you go. In other words, we're torturing people for nothing. Why?

Read the complete Newsweek article: The Art of Interrogation

06 June 2007

Eyes on Darfur: Amnesty International using satellite cameras to monitor the crisis in Darfur

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed since the Darfur conflict erupted in western Sudan in February 2003, and many more have been displaced. Systematic human rights abuses have occurred, including killing, torture, rape, looting, and destroying of property by the Sudanese government and government-backed Janjawid militia.

Now Amnesty International (AI) is going high-tech to monitor and broadcast the conditions there.

The following press release, issued today by AI, provides the details, including links:

Amnesty International Adopts Powerful Technology in Camapign to Protect Civilians in Darfur -- Satellite Cameras to Monitor Events on the Ground

(New York) - Amnesty International is using satellite cameras to monitor highly vulnerable villages in war-torn Darfur, Sudan. The human rights organization is inviting ordinary people worldwide to monitor 12 villages by visiting the Eyes on Darfur project website (www.eyesondarfur.org) and put the Sudanese Government on notice that these and other areas in the region are being watched around the clock.

"Despite four years of outrage over the death and destruction in Darfur, the Sudanese government has refused worldwide demands and a U.N. resolution to send peacekeepers to the region," said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "Darfur needs peacekeepers to stop the human rights violations. In the meantime, we are taking advantage of satellite technology to tell President al-Bashir that we will be watching closely to expose new violations. Our goal is to continue to put pressure on Sudan to allow the peacekeepers to deploy and to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable civilians on the ground in Darfur."


According to [Ariela Blätter, director of the Crisis Prevention and Response Center for Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)], new images of the same villages are being added currently within days of each other. This time frame offers the potential for spotting new destruction. Amnesty International worked with noted researchers to identify vulnerable areas based on proximity to important resources like water supplies, threats by militias or nearby attacks.

Amnesty International worked closely on the project with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which offered expertise on satellite imagery and other cutting edge geospatial technologies. The images from commercial satellites can reveal visual information about conditions on the ground for objects as small as two feet across. According to Lars Bromley, project director for the AAAS Science and Human Rights Project who advised Blätter on technical matters, the photos could show destroyed huts, massing soldiers or fleeing refugees.

Amnesty International has been at the forefront of efforts to wed human rights work with satellite technology. For example, Amnesty, the AAAS and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights joined in a ground-breaking project in 2006 to document the destruction of a settlement by the Zimbabwean government. The groups presented evidence that the government destroyed entire settlements, including the informal settlement of Porta Farm, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.

Eyes on Darfur also includes an archival feature, which shows destroyed villages since the conflict began in 2003 and includes expert testimony. For example, an image of the village of Donkey Dereis in south Darfur taken in 2004 shows an intact landscape with hundreds of huts. Two years later, a satellite image shows the near total destruction of the villages -- 1,171 homes gone and the landscape overgrown with vegetation.

Eyes on Darfur adds a new component to Amnesty International's global campaign to stop the human rights violations in Darfur. In 2003 and 2004, Amnesty International supplied some of the earliest documentation ? eyewitness testimony from the ground ? that warned of the impending humanitarian and human rights catastrophe. A critical mission in 2004 focused world attention and galvanized opinion about the brutal conditions in the country. Amnesty International's exposure of horrific violence -- the torching of villages and the campaign of sexual violence against women and girls -- built awareness worldwide of the brutality.

This month, AIUSA launches the CD "Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur," a collection of iconic John Lennon songs recorded by best-selling artists to support its efforts on Darfur and inspire a new generation of human rights activists through music. To learn more about the project, go to www.instantkarma.org

American priorities

Just thinking:

What does it say about this country when more people seem to be interested in Paris Hilton's prison sentence than Scooter Libby's?

05 June 2007

Amnesty comments on yesterday's tribunal ruling: A fair trial is not possible at Gitmo

Bush's system of military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay is blowing up. They've been making up the rules as they go along. Not only is that wrong in itself, but the Bush-hacked system is obviously not working. And, unfortunately, our detainees remain in legal limbo and will continue to pay the price for Bush's lawlessness.

According to a Reuters article yesterday, "The U.S. war crimes tribunals at Guantanamo came to a screeching halt on Monday when a military judge dropped all the charges against a young Canadian in a ruling that could preclude trying any of the 380 prisoners." The judge said that "the military tribunal lacked jurisdiction over Canadian Omar Khadr because he did not meet the definition of those subject to trial under a law the U.S. Congress drafted last year."

A similar ruling just came down also regarding Osama bin Laden's ex-driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan.

Now I don't think that we should let suspected terrorists go free. But we already know that many former detainees were actually innocent of any terrorist ties and therefore released. And we know that many of the remaining detainees are likely innocent as well. The problem is that we might never know. Under Bush's rules, they cannot get a fair trial.

While some have called yesterday's rulings a "stunning defeat" of the Bush administration's system of military tribunals, these guys continue to sit in legal limbo indefinitely, with little hope for due process.

In response to the Khadr ruling yesterday, Jumana Musa, Amnesty International's legal observer at the military commission hearings in Guantanamo Bay for the last two years, issued the following statement:
"Today's ruling is the most significant setback since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the original military commissions. It also signals that these commissions need to be scrapped and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay must be closed now. The judge's decision clearly indicates that a fair trial is not possible within a system that is being developed as it proceeds. It raises more questions about the Bush administration and Congress' wisdom and logic in rushing to patch together a new system of justice, when there are fully functioning federal courts that can not only offer fair trials but also come with established procedure."
For more information, check out this Amnesty report on the subject: Justice delayed and justice denied? Trials under the Military Commissions Act

Ironically, Bush keeps talking about the rule of law. But actions speak much louder than words.

Libby, Cheney, Bush, and Nixon: A Watergate figure speaks out on the problem with pardons

Today, former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is scheduled for sentencing. He was convicted earlier this year of lying and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Ever since Libby's conviction, there has been much speculation about whether President Bush will pardon him. John Dean, who served as White House Counsel during the Watergate scandal, knows first-hand the kinds of issues involved in presidential scandals and pardons. I met John Dean last year, and he shared with me his views on the Bush administration. Mr. Dean had thought that Nixon had written the book on how low an administration could go. But, he said, Bush and Cheney have taken that book and added several more chapters.

Now John Dean shares some interesting insights into the Libby situation and the possibility of a pardon. Check it out: The Bush Administration's Dilemma Regarding a Possible Libby Pardon

03 June 2007

June 26: Come to Washington to help restore habeas corpus

Over the past six years, the Bush administration has been using the so-called "war on terror" to chip away at our Constitutional rights and the rule of law. It's time to let our elected officials know that we've had enough.

On Tuesday, June 26th, join activists from throughout the country in Washington, DC for a day of events - including a rally and lobby day at the US Capitol in the Upper Senate Park - to call on Congress to restore habeas corpus, end torture, and protect fundamental freedoms.

Free buses are scheduled to provide transportation to this event from cities all around the eastern and midwestern U.S.

If you work on Tuesdays, now is the time to schedule a personal day off. This is too important to miss, and we need to make a huge impact.

For more information, or to sign up for a bus, go to: www.juneaction.org

This action is co-sponsored by Amnesty International USA in coordination with the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.

01 June 2007

The Bush administration is developing secret new torture guidelines

It's bad enough that the U.S. has been torturing terror suspects. It's wrong on so many levels: It's illegal; it doesn't work; it puts our own soldiers at greater risk of the same treatment if they are captured; and it's morally reprehensible. (My favorite bumper sticker: "Who would Jesus torture?")

But now the White House is taking it a step further.

According to an article in the New York Times, the Bushies are putting the finishing touches on some secret new rules governing interrogations. And critics are calling these new rules "immoral" and drawing comparisons to Nazi war crimes.

Some people are too quick to draw comparisons to Hitler and Nazi Germany whenever they want to dramatically condemn immoral acts. But, in this case, pundits are pointing out alarming similarities in the use of torture between the Bush regime and Hitler's.

So this is what America has become.

For a good (albeit disturbing) overview of the issue from the Christian Science Monitor, click here.

Take action:

For a variety of actions you can take online to help stop torture around the world, click here.