Saturday, December 10, 2005

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY – SATURDAY DECEMBER 10, 2005 “Human rights are our common heritage and their realization depends on the contributions that each and every one of us is willing to make, individually and collectively, now and in the future.”- from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the General Assembly of the UN: Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. REPORT: Human Rights Day: Fighting Torture, Protecting Civilians Ending terrorism is central to the human rights cause. Any deliberate attack on civilians is an affront to fundamental values of the human rights movement. And acts of terrorism have taken an appalling toll in 2005. In Iraq attacks on civilians have occurred nearly every day, killing thousands, while other terror attacks claimed the lives of civilians in Afghanistan, Britain, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan and Thailand. But the willingness to flout human rights to fight terrorism is not only illegal and wrong; it is counterproductive. These human rights violations generate indignation and outrage that spur terrorist recruitment, undermine the public cooperation with law enforcement officials that is essential to exposing secret terrorist cells, and cede the moral high ground for those combating the terrorist scourge AMERICA: “Integrity” Tops Web Dictionary’s Lookups But topping the list is a word that some say gives insight into the country's collective concern about its values: Integrity. The noun, formally defined as a ''firm adherence to a code'' and ''incorruptibility,'' has always been a popular one on the Springfield-based company's Web site, said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. But this year, the true meaning of integrity seemed to be of extraordinary concern. About 200,000 people sought its definition online. ''I think the American people have isolated a very important issue for our society to be dealing with,'' Morse said. ''The entire list gives us an interesting window that opens up into what people are thinking about in their lives.'' Ralph Whitehead, a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts, said it may indicate the continuing discussion about American values and morality, or perhaps that integrity itself is becoming scarce so its definition is unfamiliar. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: US Bars Access To Terror Suspects. The US has admitted for the first time that it has not given the Red Cross access to all detainees in its custody. The state department's top legal adviser, John Bellinger, made the admission but gave no details about where such prisoners were held. Correspondents say the revelation is likely to increase suspicion that the CIA has been operating secret prisons outside international oversight. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: Torture Is An American Value The Agency for International Development (AID) working with Southern Illinois University, for example, trained Vietnamese police and prison officials in the art of torture ("interrogations") under cover of "public safety." American officials believed they were teaching "better methods," often making suggestions during torture sessions conducted by Vietnamese police. Instead of the recent euphemism "illegal combatants," the United State in Vietnam claimed prisoners were "criminal" and therefore exempt from Geneva Convention protections. The use of torture as a function of terror, or its equivalent in sadistic behavior, has been historic de facto U.S. policy. Our European ancestors' shameful, sadistic treatment of the indigenous inhabitants based on an ethos of arrogance and violence has become ingrained in our values. "Manifest destiny" has rationalized as a religion the elimination or assimilation of those perceived to be blocking American progressat home or abroada belief that expansion of the nation, including subjugation of natives and others, is divinely ordained, that our "superior race" is obligated to "civilize" those who stand in the way. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: The Case Against Rumsfeld: The Victims. Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi citizen who was detained by the U.S. military at various locations in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib prison. Ali was detained for almost one year, from July 2003 to June 2004. While in custody, Ali was tortured and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment, including severe beatings to the point of unconsciousness, stabbing and mutilation, isolation while naked and hooded in a coffin-like box, mock execution and death threats. Military personnel severely beat Ali during interrogations, sometimes leaving him unconscious. U.S. forces stabbed Ali, shocked him with a small metal device, and urinated on him to humiliate and degrade him. He was repeatedly locked in a wooden coffin-like box for several days, sometimes after having been stripped naked and left with a hood tied over his head. On other occasions, Ali was kept in a “silent tent” in which he was denied sleep for days at a time. When it appeared as though he might be falling asleep, guards would drag Ali facedown along the ground and severely beat him. Ali was also repeatedly threatened and subjected to psychological intimidation while in custody. U.S. military personnel made multiple death threats against Ali, including threatening to run him and other detainees down with a large military vehicle and brandishing guns and swords and threatening to slaughter him. Soldiers also threatened to transfer Ali to Guantánamo, where he was told soldiers could kill detainees with impunity. Upon Ali’s release, an American official threatened him by telling him that if he ever reported or discussed the abuse he and others suffered in detention, the United States government would find him and he would never see his family again. Ali continues to suffer the lasting effects of injuries incurred while in United States custody. Among other things, he has severe scars on his arm from the stabbing and burning he suffered. Ali also has frequent traumatic nightmares, and episodes of shortness of breath and an involuntary gulping reflex, which he never experienced prior to his detention. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: Torture Are U.S. The first thing that popped out to me in this story is the subtext of the narrative has changed. Now we get to say that the bad guys who torture are the Egyptians, not the Americans. Our government was just using the "cultural expertise" of our ally in Eygpt to conduct the interrogation. And Egypt says, of course, they don't torture people, they just know how to interrogate people. But, you notice that one of the reasons the CIA decided to ship al-Libi off to Egypt was because they weren't getting the dirt they wanted from him. And in fact, they were pretty upset with his cooperativeness and said that he "was intentionally misleading his debriefers" while in American hands. So we need to ask: was it really Egypt that created this bad intelligence? When did al-Libi actually come up with his story about Iraq training al Qaeda? According to ABC News last month, it was after the US tried their new enhanced interrogation methods approved by the administration. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess. "The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: Military, Judicial experts urges Congress to reject limits on detainees As the Congress nears passage of a defense bill that includes provisions on the treatment of U.S.-held "combatant" detainees, as well as their rights to appear before a judge to contest their imprisonment, a group of retired military legal officers, former federal judges and leading law professors is urging lawmakers to reject an amendment that would limit such rights. Three retired senior military legal officers, 12 former federal judges and 52 leading law professors at the weekend issued letters to Congress urging rejection of the Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment to halt habeas corpus petitions from prisoners held in the U.S.-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Habeas corpus is the right of a citizen to appear before a court or judge to contest an alleged illegal imprisonment. The letters encourage hearings and additional debate over the amendment to determine the long-term legal and global effects of passing legislation that deny prisoners the opportunity to challenge their detainment. With Senate approval of the legislation, the retired military officials say, the U.S. government has taken a backward step in stripping the courts of their power and jurisdiction. The Senate also passed, by a vote of 84 to 14, the Graham-Levin-Kyl amendment, which Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said, "would create a balanced approach to the laws governing detention and prosecution of enemy combatants." Because of congressional inaction, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Rasul vs. Bush allowed foreign national enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay to be granted habeas corpus rights like American citizens, Graham has said . (So, we have a President who claims that we are bringing ‘freedom and democracy’ to the Iraqi people while our Vice-President wants the CIA to be able to legally torture and some Senators want to get rid of habeas corpus. Some freedom and democracy, eh? – Susan) THE SHAME OF AMERICA: Poland Orders Probe Into Alleged CIA Jails Poland's prime minister said Saturday he has ordered an investigation into whether the CIA ran secret prisons for terror suspects in the country -- an allegation the government repeatedly has denied. Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said a ''detailed'' probe would be conducted to ''check if there is any proof that such an event took place in our country. It is necessary to finally close the issue because it could be dangerous to Poland.'' More than a half-dozen investigations are under way into whether European countries may have hosted secret U.S.-run prisons in which al-Qaida suspects were allegedly tortured, and whether European airports and airspace were used for alleged CIA flights transporting prisoners to countries where torture is practiced. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: No Torture of Terrorist Suspects? We Can’t Guarantee It, Says Rice. The row over treatment of terrorist suspects by the US showed no signs of abating yesterday as Secretary of State Rice said she could give no guarantee that terrorism detainees would not be abused despite clear rules against torture. "Will there be abuses of policy? That's entirely possible," she said on a visit to NATO headquarters. "Just because you're a democracy it doesn't mean that you're perfect." Ms Rice has refused to answer directly whether the US keeps terrorist suspects in detention centres that violate European legal and human rights guarantees. She assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday that the US would work to rectify any mistakes it has made in its war on terror. THE SHAME OF AMERICA: The Torture Administration But it still comes as a shock to discover that American leaders will open the way for the torture of prisoners, that lawyers will invent justifications for it, that the President of the United States will strenuously resist legislation prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners--and that much of the American public will be indifferent to what is being done in its name. The American Civil Liberties Union released documents on forty-four deaths of prisoners in US custody, twenty-one of them officially classified as homicides. For example, an Iraqi prisoner died while being interrogated in 2004. He had been deprived of sleep, exposed to extreme temperatures, doused with cold water and kept hooded. The official report said hypothermia may have contributed to his death. Writing recently in The New Yorker, Jane Mayer described the killing of an Iraqi prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, in Abu Ghraib in 2003. His head was covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a position that led to his asphyxiation. The death was classified as a homicide. But so far no charges have been brought by the Justice Department against the man who had custody of the prisoner, a CIA officer named Mark Swanner. REPORT: Un-American & Inefficient As shocking evidence surfaces that the Central Intelligence Agency may be using torture to gather anti-terrorism information, the Bush administration has responded with a wave of ducking, dodging and double-talk. Every evasion makes it more clear that Team Bush is hell-bent on preserving torture as an option if they think we, the public, will let them get away with it. Just this week, as Secretary of State Rice toured European capitals, she fended off a storm of criticism from European politicians by insisting that Bush "doesn't condone torture" and that "we'll do everything that we can within the law to deal with terrorists." But Rice also waffled, pointedly refusing to confirm or deny the explosive allegation, reported on the front page of The Washington Post, that the CIA is running a network of secret prisons in Eastern Europe where suspected terrorists are being held incommunicado - and, perhaps, are being subjected to torture. The shameful refusal of high officials to simply outlaw the use of torture, everywhere and in all cases, seems to enjoy a significant measure of support from the American public. An Associated Press poll released this week found 38% of Americans think torture against suspected terrorists can "often" or "sometimes" be justified to obtain information about terrorism, compared with 36% who believe such torture can "never" be justified. It's easy to guess where the pro-torture sentiment comes from. Many Americans, shaken by the horrific attacks of 9/11, no doubt imagine the famous, hypothetical "ticking time bomb" emergency, in which authorities resort to torture to extract information about an impending attack from a suspected terrorist. The problem with such dramatic scenarios, repeatedly played out in various Hollywood movies and television shows, is that they have no basis in reality. When it comes to turning up vital information, there's compelling evidence that torture doesn't work. (This last bit is a definite intellectual challenge to the “faith” based community. – Susan) REPORT: Torture Degrades Us All In the first place, some U.S. government lawyers have argued that aggressive interrogation techniques do not amount to torture and are therefore permissible. These arguments take advantage of ambiguity in the legal definition of torture, which does not list prohibited acts but instead prohibits the intentional infliction of “severe pain or suffering,” by a public official, for one of four purposes: to obtain information or a confession, to punish, to intimidate or coerce, or to discriminate. This general definition invites argument about whether a particular method causes “severe”' pain and suffering, or a lesser degree of discomfort that can be expected in ordinary police interrogations. Thus the U.S. Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, contrives that the pain of torture “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Lawyers in the U.S. Departments of Defense and Justice issued equally extraordinary legal opinions approving coercive methods supposedly not causing severe pain. These techniques are known by a range of euphemisms: “counter-resistance strategies;” “stress and duress;” “professional interrogation techniques;” “highly coercive interrogation;” “cruel, inhuman, and degrading;” and—my favorite—“torture lite.” REPORT: Rice Calms European Critics of CIA Secret Prisons. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday appeared to have made her European partners satisfied by assuring them that the United States' treatment of detainees was within international law. "We are a nation of laws. The president of the United States is not going to ask American citizens to violate US law or to violate our international obligations," Rice told a press conference after the one-day NATO foreign ministers' gathering. The controversy over secret CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) prisons and US detainee policy dominated the meeting here to approve a plan for the NATO-led security force to send as many as 6,000 troops to begin patrolling the southern part of Afghanistan, relieving some of the burden on US troops. Rice told reporters that the United States did not practice or condone torture, but said she could not rule out future abuse scandals. (What Rice calls “abuse” would be “torture” to the rest of the world. So, if we are going to follow international laws, how come we don’t let the Red Cross into our prisons? – Susan) REPORT: Why I Am Marching to Guantanamo. As a U.S. citizen and as a Christian, this International Human Rights Day I am marching against torture and for humanity. When the prisoners in Guantánamo began their first hunger strike this summer, I was forced to think more seriously about how to say no to torture and yes to humanity. I had to think about the depth of powerlessness and despair as well as the intensity of will and defiance that goes into the decision to starve oneself. It is an act against biology. But refusing to eat is the prisoners' only way of drawing attention to their predicament. They have no other tools except deepening their own suffering. TAKE ACTION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Amnesty International USA TAKE ACTION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Human Rights Watch QUOTE: "While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq.... Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation, and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq." -- Captain Ian Fishback


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