Category "Human Rights (Torture & 'The War on Terror') "

WITNESS’ The Hub: Video In Support of Human Rights

This is a wonderful initiative from the human rights organization WITNESS. The Hub is a new website for anyone, anywhere in the world to upload, view, share, discuss and take action on human-rights related media. Part curated, part grassroots-driven, it brings under-reported and urgent human rights issues to a broad audience to inspire and catalyze action.

(Please read the important update on this program from WITNESS provided in the ‘Comments’ section below)

Secretary of Defense Says Americans Should Not See Torture Photos

November 18th, 2009 by Andy in Human Rights (Torture & 'The War on Terror')

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here

In a brief filed late Friday night, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates invoked his authority to block the release of photos depicting the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody overseas.


“We are disappointed that Secretary Gates has invoked new legislation to keep the torture photos secret,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “These photos are an important part of the historical record and they are crucial to the ongoing debate about accountability. In withholding the photos, Secretary Gates has cited national security concerns, but no democracy has ever been made stronger by suppressing information about its own misconduct.” [emphasis added]

An amendment to a Homeland Security appropriations bill passed at the end of last month grants the Department of Defense the authority to suppress certain photographs deemed harmful to national security.

Suppressing exposure of potentially criminal actions because they have been “deemed harmful to national security.” That sounds like something right out of a third world banana republic. What it more likely endangers is the ongoing maintenance of national insecurity.

“The government’s argument for suppression of the photos sets a dangerous precedent “that the government can conceal evidence of its own misconduct precisely because the evidence powerfully documents gross abuses of power and of detainees,” said Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU National Security Project. “This principal is fundamentally anti-democratic. The American public has a right to see the evidence of crimes committed in their name.”

Accountability? Responsibility? Do people really want to know? Maybe if it was packaged into some kind of “reality TV” show (literally, in this instance), perhaps it could be made marketable (since everything in our consumer society is about ‘marketability’) and amenable to distribution. “Interrogators Gone Wild” or “Troops Gone Band” or some such might be the hit the infotainment “news” networks are looking for.

Read The Complete Report

More information about the ACLU’s FOIA litigation is at:

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation, Pt.2

UnCommon Sense TV - “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation, Pt.2″ Continuation of the forum on human rights and political accountability with Judge Guzman, Peter Kornbluh and others, including questions and dialogue with the public in attendance at the University of Dayton. Other discussants include Mark Ensalaco, Director of Human Rights studies at the University of Dayton, and author of “Chile Under Pinochet: Recovering The Truth”, Bert Lockwood, of the University of Cincinnati Law School and publisher of “Human Rights Quaterly”, and Ted Orlin of Utica College of Syracuse and Director of the International Human Rights Education Consortium.

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation

UnCommon Sense TV - “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation” Exclusive coverage of a forum on human rights and political accountability held in the spring of 2005 at the University of Dayton, featuring Oscar Romero Award recipient Judge Juan Guzman Tapia. He is one of the most important figures involved in bringing former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice for his role in the years of murder and repression that took place in Chile during his reign of power in the 70’s and 80’s. Featured along with Guzman are Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst with the National Security Archives and author of “The Pinochet File”, and Marjorie Agosin, Professor of Spanish at Wellesley College and author of “The Absence of Shadows”. The event was organized and made possible through the efforts of Dr. Mark Ensalaco, director of the Human Rights Studies Program at the University of Dayton.

American Amnesia (Hypocrisy?) Regarding Torture

“Why We Can’t See the Trees or the Forest: The Torture Memos and Historical Amnesia.” A good analysis from Noam Chomsky, loaded with historical anecdotes long-lost from the American political psyche, I’m sure.

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so. For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law - a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously.


Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but “merely repositioned it,” restoring it to the American norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. “[H]is is a return to the status quo ante,” writes Nairn, “the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more U.S.-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years.”

Sometimes the American engagement in torture was even more indirect. In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that U.S. aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,… to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation. Not surprisingly, U.S. aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, commonly improved by the murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.

These studies took place before the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear.

Small wonder that President Obama advises us to look forward, not backward — a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

There is a reader who posted comments in response to this article about it having been easier during the Cold War to dismiss Chomsky as a leftist ideologue, but that today his writing seems much more reasonable and accurate. I agree. I am definitely another of those who found his analysis to be much easier to dismiss during that period than today, now that the veil of anti-communist resistance has been ripped off the festering hypocrisy that underlies American policies.

Read The Full Article

Why We Can’t Let Torture Slide

Good points from Paul Krugman on the false choice of having to either focus on the future or focus on the past.

…America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.


What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true - even if truth and justice came at a high price - that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?

For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job - which he’s supposed to do in any case - and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.


Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era - for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions - not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward - because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

To those who say we need to ‘turn the page’ and ‘move forward’, you’ve got to read the page first before you have the right to turn it.

Read The Full Article from The New York Times

Fox News Host Goes Ballistic Over Prospect America Tortured

This is actually pretty amazing on many levels…

Fox News’ Shepard Smith says “We’re America! We Don’t F**cking Torture!!!”

You know, when the right starts to eat it’s own over this, you know something is going on. It is also quite likely a sign that this issue isn’t close to going away anytime soon. It may well be months and months, maybe even into years for it to fester into something that will result in actual sweeping transformation of the mechanisms of accountability in the world of governance in our society. But it will happen.

Watch The Video (Special thanks to Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog for the posting)

Spain Investigates What America Should

As an American I find this embarrassing. We have become so derelict in our legal and moral responsibilities that we have to leave it to the Spanish to take the lead in enforcing what are not only international laws but American laws (to say nothing of principles), which unequivocally ban the use of torture in any circumstance and for any reason.

I guess it is no surprise, though, that the Spanish are taking the lead on this considering their groundbreaking role in enforcing international human rights law with the precedent-setting criminal indictments submitted by Spanish courts back in the late 90’s for the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Though they didn’t get him at the time, they certainly raised the bar of accountability which is now coming into play on issues like this.

A Spanish court has initiated criminal proceedings against six former officials of the Bush administration. John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith may face charges in Spain for authorizing torture at Guantánamo Bay….

Does Spain have the authority to prosecute Americans for crimes that didn’t take place on Spanish soil?

The answer is yes. It’s called “universal jurisdiction.” Universal jurisdiction is a well-established theory that countries, including the United States, have used for many years to investigate and prosecute foreign nationals for crimes that shock the conscience of the global community. It provides a critical legal tool to hold accountable those who commit crimes against the law of nations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Without universal jurisdiction, many of the most notorious criminals would go free. Countries that have used this as a basis to prosecute the most serious of crimes should be commended for their courage. They help to create a just world in which we all seek to live.

Israel used universal jurisdiction to prosecute, convict and execute Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the Holocaust, even they had no direct relationship with Israel.

A federal court in Miami recently convicted Chuckie Taylor, son of the former Liberian president, of torture that occurred in Liberia. A U.S. court sentenced Taylor to 97 years in prison in January.


When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture, it promised to extradite or prosecute those who commit, or are complicit in, the commission of torture.

And before some readers get in a snit about this being a subversion of American sovereignty by those pinkos at the U.N., keep in mind it was the United States which helped establish the very notion of universal jurisdiction way back in 1789 with the Alien Tort Claims Act.

Read the full article in The San Francisco Chronicle

Spain May Open Torture Investigation of Former Bush Officials

Lady Justitia will only be played and spurned so long before she will claim her due…

A top Spanish court has moved toward starting a probe of six former Bush administration officials including ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in connection with alleged torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay,The New York Times said on Saturday.

The criminal investigation would focus on whether they violated international law by providing a legalistic justification for torture at the U.S. detention camp in Cuba, the Times said.

The paper said the National Court in Madrid had assigned the case to judge Baltasar Garzon, known for ordering the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet .


Gonzalo Boye, a Madrid lawyer who filed the complaint, said the six Americans had well-documented roles in approving illegal interrogation techniques, redefining torture and abandoning the definition set by the 1984 Torture Convention, the newspaper said.

The groundbreaking work done by Human Rights advocates in holding Pinochet to account for his crimes was instrumental in raising the bar on the application of international codes of justice against former heads of state. These figures used to pretty much operate globally with immunity for their actions. Today, the story is changing, and if Americans are going to envision themselves as champions of the rule of law trumping the rule by men, then holding men accountable to those laws is an imperative act. Do we need to leave it to the Spanish to administer justice that we ourselves should be responsible for?

Read The Full Report

Torture Report Could Spell Big Trouble For Bush Lawyers

February 19th, 2009 by Andy in Human Rights (Torture & 'The War on Terror')


And, if there is a justice in the world, there should be big trouble for those who ordered these criminal acts. None of this is even beginning to touch some of the even bigger issues about ordering unwarranted invasions of other nations and the like, actions defined under Article 6 of Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, which we created in order to charge and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and whose violation thereof warranted the execution of those responsible.

An internal Justice Department report on the conduct of senior lawyers who approved waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics is causing anxiety among former Bush administration officials. H. Marshall Jarrett, chief of the department’s ethics watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), confirmed last year he was investigating whether the legal advice in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials - Jay Bybee and John Yoo - as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)


But the OPR probe began after Jack Goldsmith, a Bush appointee who took over OLC in 2003, protested the legal arguments made in the memos. Goldsmith resigned the following year after withdrawing the memos, and later wrote that he was “astonished” by the “deeply flawed” and “sloppily reasoned” legal analysis in the memos by Yoo and Bybee, including their assertion (challenged by many scholars) that the president could unilaterally disregard a law passed by Congress banning torture.

Read The Full Report

Marjorie Cohn weighs in on the issue with her piece Prosecute War Criminals and Their Lawyers, which points out that the U.S. is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, which compels us to investigate and prosecute anyone accused of any act of torture within our jurisdiction (and actually we have the right to do it for those who committed these outside U.S. national territories as well).

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