Over 60 years ago, in the wake of the horrors of World War II, when people with power and influence were determined to do whatever they could to prevent such barbarity from taking place again, the United Nations was established, the Geneva Conventions were rewritten, and representatives of 17 countries drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly exactly 67 years ago, on December 10, 1948. Human Rights Day itself was established 65 years ago, on December 10, 1950.
A powerful attempt to establish “a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations,” the UDHR set out, for the first time, and in 30 articles, fundamental human rights that were to be universally protected.
These include protection from torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” protection from “arbitrary arrest,” and the right to “a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” The UDHR also stated, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’m sure many of us remember where we were on December 9, 2014, when, two years after it was completed, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year, 6,700-page, $40m report into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture report was released, which I wrote about here and here.
It was a momentous occasion, for which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and everyone who worked with her to compile the report and and to publish it (or its executive summary, at least), deserve profound thanks. In dark times, in which the US system of checks and balances has gone awry, this was a bright light in the darkness. It also caused British commentators like myself to reflect on the fact that it was something that would never happen in the UK.
That said, however, the widespread sense of horror that greeted the publication of the executive summary, with its profoundly disturbing details that were unknown before — like the “rectal feeding” of prisoners for example — has not, in the six months since, led to firm action to hold accountable those who authorized and implemented the program, which is, of course, unacceptable. As I wrote at the time in my article for Al-Jazeera: Read the rest of this entry »
A month ago, I wrote a well-received article, “Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom,” looking at the problems faced by the six former Guantánamo prisoners given new homes in Uruguay in December. The six men, long cleared for release, couldn’t be safely repatriated, as four are from war-torn Syria, one is from Tunisia, where, it appears, the US is now concerned about the security situation, and the sixth is Palestinian, and the Israeli government has always prevented Palestinians held in Guantánamo from being returned home.
As I pointed out in my article, and in a follow-up interview with a Uruguayan journalist, “Strangers in a Strange Land: My Interview About the Struggles of the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo in Uruguay,” the former prisoners are struggling to adapt to a new country, in which they don’t speak the language and there is no Muslim community, and in which they are still separated from their families, over 13 years since they were first seized in Afghanistan or Pakistan by or on behalf of US forces.
Most of all, however, I believe that, while there have been murmurings in Uruguay about the men’s apparent unwillingness to work, those complaining are overlooking the fact that all six men are evidently grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their long ordeal in a experimental prison where abusive indefinite detention without charge or trial is the norm. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.
It’s a week now since the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the post-9/11 CIA torture program was published, and here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are concerned that (a) the necessary calls for accountability will fall silent as the days and weeks pass; and (b) that people will not be aware that the use of torture was not confined solely to the CIA’s “black sites,” and the specific program investigated by the Senate Committee, and that it was a key element of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 detention program — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Guantánamo, where elements of the current operations can still be defined as torture.
The Senate Committee report contains new information, of course — much of it genuinely harrowing — but journalists and researchers uncovered much of the program over the last ten years, and that body of work — some of which I referred to in my article about the torture report for Al-Jazeera last week — will continue to be of great relevance as the executive summary is analyzed, and, hopefully, as the full report is eventually made public.
Mainly, though, as I mentioned in the introduction to this article, it is crucial that the news cycle is not allowed to move on without an insistence that there be accountability. The Senate report chronicles crimes, authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, implemented by the CIA and two outside contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had worked for a military program designed to train soldiers how to resist torture if captured, but who had no real-life experience of interrogations, or any knowledge of Al-Qaeda or the individuals involved (see Vice News’ extraordinary interview with Mitchell here). Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been so busy lately with the launch of We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I haven’t had time to write anything — until now — about the United States’ recent appearance before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to explain its position on the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in its custody.
The session — which took place on November 12 and 13, and was the first US report to the Committee Against Torture since 2006, when George W. Bush was president — led to numerous criticisms in the Committee’s response, adopted on November 20; in the Guardian‘s words, of “indefinite detention without trial; force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners; the holding of asylum seekers in prison-like facilities; widespread use of solitary confinement; excessive use of force and brutality by police; shootings of unarmed black individuals; and cruel and inhumane executions.”
The Committee was also concerned about the US record on torture, expressing “its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes” — concerns expressed in a 2010 UN report about secret detention on which I was the lead author (and also see here, here and here) — and reminded the US about “the absolute prohibition of torture reflected in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention [Against Torture], stating that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.'” The Committee also called for the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee torture report — or, more accurately, its executive summary — to be issued without further delay. Read the rest of this entry »
For the first time since his return to Canada from Guantánamo in September 2012, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner of the US, has been downgraded from a high-security risk to a medium-security risk. The move punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual.
This lamentable rhetoric is the product of three particular factors: racism and/or Islamophobia; a hypocritical refusal to recognize the rights of child prisoners, despite a Supreme Court judgment that was severely critical of the government; and a deliberate refusal to recognise that Khadr’s plea deal at a military commission trial in Guantánamo had nothing to do with justice and guilt, and was agreed to solely to secure his release from Guantánamo, and his return home to Canada, where he was born 27 years ago.
Khadr was just 15 years old when he was seized by US forces, in a severely wounded state, after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. According to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which came into force in February 2002, and which both the US and Canada then ratified, juvenile prisoners — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — “require special protection.” The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.” Read the rest of this entry »
As we approach the 12th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (on January 11, 2014), it remains profoundly unacceptable that, of the remaining 164 prisoners, 84 were cleared for release nearly four years ago, in January 2010, by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.
These men are still held because of legislative obstacles raised by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act, which are designed to prevent prisoners from being released, and because President Obama has been unwilling to spend political capital challenging Congress or bypassing lawmakers using a waiver in the NDAA.
In the cases of two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, an additional complication, until recently, was that they are Yemeni citizens, and after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a NIgerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit in December 2009, President Obama imposed a ban on releasing Yemenis from Guantánamo, which he only lifted in May this year, in a major speech on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, what a lovely place Britain is these days. For the last two weeks, Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, has been visiting the UK to “monitor and promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing,” visiting London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, where, as a UN press release explained, “she met with government officials working on housing issues, various human rights commissions, academics and civil society.” She “also carried out site visits, where she heard first-hand testimonies and discussed with individuals, campaigners and local community organisations.”
However, when she dared to criticise the deteriorating state of Britain’s social housing provision, and to call for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped, she was laid into by senior Tories, and by the right-wing media, in a series of vile and hysterical outbursts that ought to be a disgrace to any country that claims to be civilised.
The “bedroom tax” is a widely reviled policy dreamed up by the millionaires in the Tories’ cabinet, which provides financial penalties for people living in social housing and in receipt of benefits who are deemed to have a spare room. It is forcing many people to move from homes they have lived in for decades, even though there are very few smaller properties to which they can move. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow (Wednesday June 26) is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the 10th anniversary of the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force.
I have been marking this day since 2007 — also see my reports from 2009, 2010 (and here), 2011 and 2012 — and this year I note that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Member States “to step up efforts to assist all those who have suffered from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
He added, “This year is also the 25th anniversary of the Committee against Torture. This body — along with other UN human rights mechanisms such as the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture — is vital to strengthening a victim-oriented approach that also includes a gender perspective. This effort was further strengthened by the adoption this year of a UN Human Rights Council resolution focussing on the rehabilitation of torture victims.”
He also stated, “I urge all Member States to accede to and fully implement the Convention against Torture and support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Let us work together to end torture throughout the world and ensure that countries provide reparation for victims.” Read the rest of this entry »
Since the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo began, four months ago, it has been reassuring to see international organizations, the mainstream media and nearly a million members of the public (through various petitions) queuing up to criticize President Obama, and to urge him to address the reasons for the hunger strike, to resume the release of prisoners — especially of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force he established in 2009, and to revive his long-abandoned promise to close the prison once and for all.
It took the desperation of the prisoners to reach this point, even though their abandonment by all three branches of the US government has been evident since 2010, when President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison within a year, when Congress ramped up its opposition to the President’s plans, and when judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. passed rulings that prevented any prisoner from being released through the courts, by rewriting the rules governing their habeas corpus petitions, and ordering the judges examining their habeas petitions to regard every claim put forward by the government — however ludicrous — as accurate.
Once the news of the hunger strike began to seep out of Guantánamo, the pressure on President Obama led to him finally addressing the problems highlighted by the many critics of his inaction, first in a news conference at the White House, and then, on May 23, in a major speech on national security issues at the National Defense University, in which he said, “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.” Read the rest of this entry »
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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