Posts Tagged ‘human rights organisations’

Censorship and Kangaroo Courts: Alive and Well in Obama Administration

May 17, 2010

By Kenneth J. Theisen, The World Can’t Wait, May 14, 2010

As I have reported here before the Obama administration is using kangaroo courts known as military tribunals at the Guantánamo military base.

These “legal” proceedings have proven to be an embarrassment to the administration and in its latest move it is trying to silence the media in its reports from Gitmo.

The Pentagon has banned four reporters from future Guantánamo Military Commissions’ proceedings for reporting the name of a witness in the pre-trial hearings of Guantánamo detainee Omar Khadr. At these hearings even the government’s own witnesses have revealed some of the abuse that Omar has been subjected to in his years of incarceration in U.S. hellholes.

The identity of the witness had already been disclosed in previous news reports and an on-the-record interview he gave in 2008 to the media. The four reporters that are subject to the ban are Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail and Steven Edwards of CanWest.

Several rights groups are protesting the ban and have sent a letter of protest to the Pentagon. In the letter signed by the ACLU, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and National Institute of Military Justice they write that “this move by the Department of Defense not only runs counter to the U.S. administration’s stated commitment to transparency in government, but will also bring the military commissions into further disrepute, internationally and within the United States.”

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer had this to say about the Pentagon move, “That reporters are being punished for disclosing information that has been publicly available for years is nothing short of absurd – any gag order that covers this kind of information is not just overbroad but nonsensical. Plainly, no legitimate government interest is served by suppressing information that is already well known. We strongly urge the Defense Department to reconsider its rash, draconian and unconstitutional decision to bar these four reporters from future tribunals. If allowed to stand, this decision will discourage legitimate reporting and add yet another entry to the long list of reasons why the military commissions ought to be shut down for good.”

But transparency in government was only a campaign slogan for Obama. Since taking office his administration has been anything but transparent. Obama administration lawyers have gone to court repeatedly to cover up murders, torture, rendition, massive surveillance, and other crimes of the Bush regime, as well as crimes committed by U.S. officials since Bush left office. It has gone out of its way to deny due process to prisoners of the U.S. war of terror for fear that trials and other legal proceedings would reveal too much of the criminal activity of the government. This banning of reporters is consistent with these other actions to keep the people from knowing what the government is doing in our names. It and other moves to censor information must be exposed and opposed.

The full text of the letter sent by the rights’ groups is below:

Col. David Lapan
Director, Press Operations
1400 Defense Pentagon
Room 2E961
Washington, DC 20301-1400
May 12, 2010

Dear Colonel Lapan,

We are writing to express our serious concern about the Defense Department’s decision to ban four journalists – from The Miami Herald, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and CanWest Newspapers of Canada – from covering future military commission proceedings at Guantánamo Bay on the grounds that they had revealed the name of a witness in violation of rules governing media reporting of the commissions.

We consider that this move by the Department of Defense not only runs counter to the U.S. administration’s stated commitment to transparency in government, but will also bring the military commissions into further disrepute, internationally and within the United States.

As you know, the witness who appeared in Omar Khadr’s pre-trial hearing, identified by the prosecution as “Interrogator No. 1,” had previously been the subject of a widely publicized military court-martial in 2005 that resulted in his conviction for detainee abuse committed at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in 2002. His connection to the Khadr case had also previously been revealed from information he himself gave in an on-the-record interview to a reporter at the Toronto Star. That reporter, Michelle Shephard, who wrote a book about Omar Khadr, is now one of those being banned from future commission hearings simply for reporting the same information that had previously been widely published and disseminated.

Whatever confidence the public in the United States and around the world may maintain in these proceedings can only be eroded by a move that is perceived as being motivated by a clampdown on informed media reporting rather than the protection of classified or confidential information.

Because the proceedings are based at Guantánamo and are open only to a select number of journalists, military personnel and NGO observers, continuing access to these proceedings by knowledgeable and experienced reporters – such as the four here – is even more important than it would be in an ordinary federal trial, open to the general public.

We urge the Department of Defense to reconsider what we believe is an ill-advised decision to exclude these reporters.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International
American Civil Liberties Union
National Institute of Military Justice

cc: Douglas Wilson, Asst. Sec. of Defense for Public Affairs
Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations
Vice Adm. Bruce McDonald, Convening Authority, Military Commissions

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Garzon who pursued Spain’s fascist assassins finds himself on trial

April 25, 2010

Powerful enemies are attempting to unseat the ‘superjudge’ who tried to bring the death squads of Franco’s dictatorship to book

Giles Tremlett in  Madrid, The Observer/UK, April 25, 2010
Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon participat

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, who dared to investigate the atrocities of the Franco dictatorship. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

The crowd gathered outside Madrid’s national court was loud and angry. “The world has been turned upside down,” they cried. “The fascists are judging the judge!” Some carried photographs of long-dead relatives, killed by rightwing death squads in Spain‘s brutal civil war in the 1930s. Others bore placards bearing the name of the hero they wanted to save, the controversial “superjudge” Baltasar Garzón.

Pedro Romero de Castilla carried a picture of his grandfather, Wenceslao – a former stationmaster taken away from his home in the western city of Mérida and shot by a death squad at the service of Generalísimo Francisco Franco‘s rightwing military rebels 74 years ago. The family have never found his body.

Continues >>

CIA working with Palestinian security agents

December 18, 2009

US agency co-operating with Palestinian counterparts who allegedly torture Hamas supporters in West Bank

Ian Cobain in Ramallah, The Guardian/UK, Dec 17, 2009

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a protest in the West Bank.Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a protest against the controversial Israeli barrier in the West Bank. Photograph: Fadi Arouri/Reuters

Palestinian security agents who have been detaining and allegedly torturing supporters of the Islamist organisation Hamas in the West Bank have been working closely with the CIA, the Guardian has learned.

Less than a year after Barack Obama signed an executive order that prohibited torture and provided for the lawful interrogation of detainees in US custody, evidence is emerging the CIA is co-operating with security agents whose continuing use of torture has been widely documented by human rights groups.

Continued >>

Israeli intellectuals seek inquiry into war in Gaza Strip

July 24, 2009

Morning Star Online,July 23, 2009

Prominent Israeli intellectuals have signed a petition calling on Tel Aviv to launch an independent probe into last winter’s brutal Gaza offensive.

The signatories included authors David Grossman and Amos Oz, the organisation Rabbis for Human Rights as well as former Meretz party MP Yossi Sarid and 25 academics, actors, musicians and public figures.

It reads: “We, citizens of the state of Israel, whose army is the IDF, demand to know the truth regarding the fighting carried out in our names, our money and at the price of danger to the lives of our loved ones.”

The petition follows the publication last week of statements from 30 Israeli soldiers who took part in Operation Cast Lead.

The soldiers confirmed that the Israeli Defence Force had a “shoot first” policy, used white phosphorus smoke bombs in built-up residential areas and forced Palestinian civilians to act as “human shields.”

The petition noted that the testimonies made the Israeli military’s official stance, that it is the “most moral army in the world,” appear “detached from reality.”

RIGHTS-US: Calls for Torture Inquiry Aren’t Going Away

April 30, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Apr 29 (IPS) – A coalition of 19 human rights, faith-based and justice organisations is calling on President Barack Obama to investigate torture they charge was sanctioned by the administration of former President George W. Bush.

The group, led by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), is proposing both a special prosecutor and an “independent, non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in the period since September 11, 2001.”

The campaign’s call for accountability comes just days after the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on interrogation and torture and the Justice Department legal memos sanctioning torture and inhumane treatment.

Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “NRCAT supports both the establishment of an independent, non-partisan commission of inquiry to investigate the use of torture and a Department of Justice investigation for criminal culpability of those who authorised or carried out acts of torture. Each process is important and can be pursued independently.”

He added, “A commission will help us understand how the illegal interrogation policies came into effect and how they were implemented so that we can ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent future administrations from following the same path.”

“A criminal investigation will send the clear message that government officials cannot violate laws against torture without facing serious criminal sanctions. If we hope to end the practice of torture by agents of the United States once and for all, we must pursue both avenues.”

The coalition proposes a commission, “comparable in stature to the 9/11 commission,” to “look into the facts and circumstances of such abuses, report on lessons learned and recommend measures that would prevent any future abuses.”

The group’s online petition says that a commission is “necessary to reaffirm America’s commitment to the Constitution, international treaty obligations and human rights. The report issued by the commission will strengthen U.S. national security and help to re-establish America’s standing in the world.”

Organisations endorsing the effort include Amnesty International USA, the Constitution Project, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Institute, and Physicians for Human Rights.

NRCAT and its partner organisations say they have “worked together to end U.S.-sponsored torture. During 2008, the religious community advocated for a Presidential Executive Order ending torture. It happened. On January 22, President Obama issued an Executive Order halting torture.”

The coalition says the task now is “to make sure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again. To accomplish this goal, our nation needs to put safeguards in place to prevent its recurrence. We will better understand what safeguards are needed if we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened – who was tortured, why they were tortured, and who ordered the torture. As a nation we need the answers to those questions.”

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the coalition also urges the appointment of a special counsel to investigate criminal acts relating to the confinement and interrogation of detainees since Sep. 11, 2001.

The letter notes that excerpts of a recently released report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded that detainees “had been subjected to torture – a crime under both domestic and international law.”

It says, “The ICRC report, which describes conduct of shocking brutality, shows that a limited investigation is simply insufficient in this case. Government officials, from the lowest CIA officer, to the highest levels of the Executive Branch may be criminally culpable for the use of torture.”

“Because such an investigation will include a review of the conduct of very top officials of the previous administration, and because the appearance of absolute impartiality in determining whether and whom to prosecute is critical to the public’s support and understanding of such prosecutions and the laws at issue, we believe it is both wise and necessary for you to refer this investigation to a Special Counsel.”

NRCAT twice asked former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special counsel to investigate both the destruction of the CIA videotapes that documented the use of “harsh” interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists and whether such techniques violated U.S. and international law.

“While an investigation was initiated into the destruction of the tapes, the investigator, John Durham, was not given the independent status of Special Counsel. Further, Attorney Durham’s investigation was limited to the destruction of the tapes; he apparently does not have the authority to investigate the lawfulness of the interrogation conduct depicted on said tapes,” the group said.

“A full, independent and public investigation into possible violations of U.S. law by high-ranking government officials in the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is necessary.”

“The American people need to know how detainees have been treated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere around the world. And they need to know that every measure has been taken to ensure that no violations of U.S. law with respect to torture and ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’ will be permitted in the future. An independent investigation is a necessary part of achieving this goal,” the group said.

SRI LANKA: U.N. Urged to Intervene to Protect Civilians

February 28, 2009

By Haider Rizvi | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 (IPS) – The fast deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka – caused by the lingering armed conflict between the government and rebel forces – demands immediate action on the part of the U.N., a leading international human rights organisation said Friday.

The call for U.N. help comes as tens of thousands of civilians in Sri Lanka’s northern region have been caught up in a fresh round of fighting between Sinhalese majority-led armed forces and minority Tamil militants seeking freedom from the centre.

“The escalating humanitarian situation there needs an urgent Security Council response,” said Anna Neistat of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, which works closely with U.N. rights bodies.

During a recent two-week trip to the conflict zone in the north of Sri Lanka, Neistat observed that many civilians were forced to flee areas controlled by Tamil fighters, only to get trapped in military camps run by the government.

Her statement came just a few hours after the top U.N. humanitarian official, John Holmes, briefed the 15-member U.N. Security Council about how much pain and suffering the Sri Lankan civilians were enduring as a result of the armed conflict.

In his visit to the north, Holmes urged combatants on both sides to make greater efforts to stop the rising toll of civilian casualties and to protect the people trapped in areas held by rebel fighters.

According to U.N. reports, thousands of Sri Lankans are fleeing Vanni, where government forces are in the midst of a fierce armed offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The U.N. emergency relief fund has targeted 10 million dollars to assist civilians who have fallen victim to the fresh round of fighting between the army and the LTTE militants.

“I am desperately concerned about this humanitarian situation,” said Holmes at the end of his three-day visit to Sri Lanka to assess the humanitarian situation.

According to the U.N., due to the conflict tens of thousands of people in the north have been deprived of food and medical assistance. During his visit, Holmes urged rebels to let civilians move freely and pressed the government to ensure a “peaceful, orderly and humane end” to the conflict.

Sri Lanka has been mired in ethnic violence between the Sinhalese-dominated national army and the LTTE rebels for more than three decades. The armed conflict has taken tens of thousands of lives, and is considered one of the deadliest in the world.

Last month, government forces captured a major stronghold of the Tamil rebels. President Mahinda Rajapakse called it an unparalleled victory and said he wanted the rebels to surrender.

A ceasefire between the government and the rebel forces in late 2002 raised hopes for a lasting settlement. But peace talks stalled and monitors reported open violations of the truce by the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The current round of fighting, which started last December, has trapped some 250,000 civilians in the conflict zone, with more than 30,000 already seeking shelter outside their native towns and villages.

Holmes said during his visit he found that most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) were mentally and physically exhausted after weeks of sheltering in makeshift bunkers, but that their basic needs were met.

HRW and other human rights organisations say they want the U.N. Security Council to address the situation in Sri Lanka in accordance with international humanitarian law “without any delay.”

“People who flee abuses by the Tamil Tigers should not have to fear abuses by the government forces,” said Neistat. “But so long as international agencies are kept away from the screening process, they will have reason to be afraid.”

Considering the fact that a number of journalists have been killed in recent weeks and months, she may be right. The London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International claims that at least 10 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006. Many of the killings have been linked by observers to the military and other law-enforcement agencies in Colombo.

In its annual press freedom index last year, the media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) ranked Sri Lanka 165 out of 173 countries.

Some reports from the region suggest that the Indian government is trying to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to end its military operations in Tamil-dominated area, but whether it will be successful remains unclear.

Diplomatic observers who are knowledgeable about Sri Lanka’s internal conflict say that, at the moment, they do not expect that the U.N. Security Council is ready to send a peacekeeping force to that country.

Israel and the white heat of justice

January 23, 2009

A political solution for Gaza must not preclude the investigation of war crimes, including Israel’s use of white phosphorus


<Link to this video

Amnesty International has now joined the United Nations and Human Rights Watch in accusing the Israeli government of breaking international law outlawing the use of white phosphorus shells in the middle of highly populated areas of Gaza. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, has condemned Israeli attacks on UN humanitarian centres in Gaza as “outrageous” and has called for an independent, international inquiry.

Meanwhile a senior minister in the Israeli government has been quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying that when the full extent of the destruction brought on Gaza becomes known “I will not be taking my holidays in Amsterdam”. This possibly “humorous” observation referred to the possibility that leaders of the Israeli government may yet be arraigned before the International Criminal Court in The Hague – or a similar tribunal – to answer charges of war crimes.

Indeed some 300 human rights organisations have already prepared an initial 37-page dossier to be presented to the court. At the same time, in a move which could be equally damaging to the international standing of the Israeli government, a number of United Nations humanitarian agencies have insisted that there must be an independent, internationally approved, legal inquiry into the prima facie evidence of crimes committed. It is clear now that Israeli shelling and missile attacks – including those on UN facilities used as shelters for civilians during the war – have taken many hundreds of innocent civilian lives.

There is one obvious problem with taking steps to ensure that those responsible for the horrific massacres of civilians in Gaza are held accountable for their actions: Israel is not a member state of the ICC. The initial reaction of the ICC has been that it is therefore not open to the court to examine these charges. According to some senior French jurists, however, it should still be possible for the ICC to pursue named individuals for alleged crimes committed in Gaza.

There is also a precedent for the ICC to be asked by the United Nations to conduct such a trial – namely the current hearings into crimes against humanity allegedly committed by forces under the control of the government of Sudan in Darfur. It may be possible for the UN to establish a specific war crimes tribunal to hear the charges arising out of the actions of the Israeli forces in Gaza. After all, something very similar happened after the atrocities committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Rwanda genocide.

The Israeli government has denied that it was responsible for any war crimes committed during the course of its three-week campaign in Gaza. Interestingly, however, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert has expressed “remorse” for what happened to the civilian population of Gaza. One obvious question is: what does he feel guilty about? Some Israelis may also argue that Hamas has also committed crimes worthy of international condemnation. But, of course, it open to them to present such a legal dossier to the ICC authorities in the Netherlands.

Obviously, a UN mandate for a legal inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes would only come about if the Obama administration decides not to use its veto in the UN Security Council. But by allowing a legal investigation to proceed, the US would send the clearest possible signal that it intends to exercise far greater even-handedness between Israel and the Palestinians than it has ever done in the past. Moreover, the incoming administration is under growing pressure to sanction an inquiry into possible criminal action by the Bush administration in its use of torture.

No doubt, the British government, among others, will say that the priority of the international community must be to underpin the current ceasefire with a permanent peace agreement which provides for a two-state solution. But there is no reason why the push for a permanent agreement should exclude the rule of law from operating without inhibition. After all, this was the case in the former Yugoslavia.

According to Israeli opinion polls, the present coalition government is heading for defeat in the general election in three weeks’ time. The responsibility for negotiating a permanent peace settlement is likely to fall to an even more right-wing government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu.

That said, an inspiring feature of the feature of the worldwide demonstrations against Israel’s Gaza offensive has been the prominent role played by Jews and Jewish organisations in the protests. Organisations like Jews for Justice for Palestinians, along with a small but heroic opposition to the massacres in Israel itself. Israeli human rights activists have also now launched a website to identify alleged Israeli war criminals and assist their transfer to the jurisdiction of the ICC.


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