Democracy Arsenal

April 22, 2008

Human Rights, Intelligence, Terrorism

What the heck is going on down there?
Posted by Ken Gude

I fail to understand how the Bush administration could have screwed up its detainee policy so badly. Yes, their record is a long catalog of catastrophic failures, from the grossly flawed strategy in Iraq to the complete indifference during Katrina. But the issue of detaining and interrogating suspected al Qaeda terrorists is different--they cared as much or more about it as they did getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but they gave the job to a whole bunch of Brownies, and they sure have been doin' a heck uva job.

The latest evidence comes from a story in today's Washington Post and a book excerpt that ran in the Guardian last Saturday. The Post story details allegations from Guantanamo detainees that they were forcibly drugged during interrogations, transfers, and to restrain them in their cells. While it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that there was widespread use of drugs during interrogations, the most plausible explanations for the consistent accounts from detainees is that they were given chemical restraints to subdue them and those administering the drugs had no idea what they were doing.

Philippe Sands, in his new book Torture Team, portions of which were re-printed in the Guardian over the weekend, uncovered more stories of mind boggling inexperience and incompetence. Topping the list was the revelation that the source of greatest inspiration during the development of interrogations techniques at Guantanamo was none other than Jack Bauer. Yes, the guy from 24, and no, I am not kidding. The junior staff lawyer responsible for approving the list of techniques told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas."

The Bush administration believed that interrogating terrorist suspects was so important that bedrock principles which formed the basis of our military culture for decades were "obsolete". The reason why they thought it was so important was that they feared we were all going to die in another al Qaeda attack and information gained from interrogations was in some cases our first and only line of defense. But instead of bringing in experienced interrogators and knowledgeable regional and al Qaeda experts, we got Dr. Quinn and Jack Bauer. This is the nature of my confusion.

January 30, 2008

Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

In Women’s Absence, No Security for Kenya
Posted by Marie Wilson

Today, the National Council of Women of Kenya decried their exclusion from the current mediation talks being lead by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  The Council’s chair, Isabella Karanja, condemned Kenya’s disregard for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that supports women's participation in mediation.  I’ve been paying close attention to Kenya’s dramatic social and political breakdown, and I can assure you that the exclusion of women from the mediation process is not only unjust – it is a grave sentence for the Kenyan people and their nation’s future.

The country’s rapid descent into violence and relative chaos was sparked by a crack in the veneer of its successful democracy, and attributed to tribal anger and the back-and-forth of ethnic reprisals.  But the violence that Kenyans are suffering, and that we witness in disturbing daily imagery, is rooted in the nation’s lack of access to jobs and healthcare, inequalities in land and resources – all glaring disparities which are funneled into ethnic tensions.  Kenya’s current malaise will only be cured through the acknowledgement of human security as fundamental to state security.  And the issues which make up human security are the issues that women have continually championed worldwide: basic human needs like economic and environmental justice, safe streets, healthcare and education.

Kenya is not unique.  With few exceptions, women have found themselves systematically closed out of the security debate – with severe consequences for national and global security.  Which is why The White House Project, along with a myriad of other groups across the globe, have come together to permanently shift the way we think about, and enact policy, on security. 

In November of 2007, The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with The White House Project, the Council of Women World Leaders and the Women Leaders Intercultural Forum, convened the historic International Women Leaders Global Security Summit in New York, bringing together over 75 of the worlds most powerful women leaders in a Call to Action on international security.  Under the leadership of co-hosts Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, they worked together to tackle the world’s most critical security issues. And in the Summit’s aftermath, hundreds of women and men alike have signed on to this critical cause, committing their resources to uphold the bold imperative of crafting policy that holds human security to be intimately intertwined with state security.  I encourage you to join this vital effort and sign the Call to Action as well.

We are witnessing moves in the right direction, and I am heartened by the women and men around the world currently working on issues of human security.  When I was researching the new afterward to my book, Closing the Leadership Gap, I was buoyed by how far women have come in the field of security since the book’s original publication four years ago.  But there is so much further that we need to go in order to normalize women’s leadership in this area, and truly listen to the women working on the ground when we craft national policy.  From Kenya’s post-election violence to the devastation in Iraq, we need women’s voices to be an integral part of the conversation.  As the scale of violence and human insecurity continues its rapid escalation, the critical paradigm shift on security cannot wait a moment longer.

December 05, 2006

Human Rights

The New "Moral Clarity"?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

These pictures of Jose Padilla are disgusting (via Andrew). So much for the Bush administration’s “moral clarity.” For some, “morality” is apparently is so blinding that the ends always justify the means, no matter how horrific those means are. Liberals should be making the case very clearly that any administration that endorses torture is not and cannot be a moral one. It is disappointing that Democratic leaders aren’t making a bigger deal of the torture issue, the one issue which does, in fact, threaten the very moral foundations of our country more than anything else. Whatever Jose Padilla is being accused of (apparently not much), that doesn't justify making the man into a mental vegetable. We are talking about the destruction of another human being. From a recent New York Times article:

“During questioning, he often exhibits facial tics, unusual eye movements and contortions of his body,” Mr. Patel said. “The contortions are particularly poignant since he is usually manacled and bound by a belly chain when he has meetings with counsel.”

Let's also keep in mind that Padilla is a US citizen, one who is, presumably, subject to the conditions and guarantees of his Constitution. Of course, the Bush administration cares little about liberty at home, while talking a lot about it abroad (and, even then, it fails to follow up).

So liberals must say it without hesitation: we will not allow the fight against terror to cloud our moral judgment. Under no circumstance will be excuse, explain away, or justify torture. This is non-freakin'-negotiable. But maybe the Dems are afraid of saying this because they don’t want to be “soft” on national security. Well, if that’s the case, then we should be ashamed of ourselves. If this article on Padilla doesn’t provoke a sense of moral outrage in us, then we can throw our god-forsaken “morality” out the window.

In hindsight, I find it quite baffling that we impeached a president for getting a blow job. Today, we have a president who has actively supported and facilitated torture in the name of freedom and liberty, a form of hypocrisy which is an insult to every man and woman in uniform putting his or her life on the line. Which is worse? It’s not like Clinton even had sexual intercourse. The same cannot be said for quite a few current and former Republican congressmen. This is the new “moral clarity” for you. Enjoy.

October 13, 2006

Human Rights

It's Official: Congressman Shays Lives in a Parallel Universe
Posted by Shadi Hamid

So rarely have I been revolted as I was while watching this disingenuous piece of obsfucastion and denial by purported nice guy Congressman Chris Shays. Here is a man who has explained away and excused the Bush administration's open policy of facilitating torture while, in Orwellian fashion, calling it something else. See his pathetic performance here. Shays and the other torture-justifiers have chosen to turn a blind eye to some of the most egregious abuses of power our country has ever seen. It has destroyed our crediblity, but, more importantly, it has destroyed our moral sense as a nation.  Progressives should forget polls and remember principle, and start attacking the torture apologists on this issue like there's no tomorrow.

September 24, 2006

Human Rights

Libya: Murder on the Docket
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Despite the fact that the US Congress may soon be voting on a bill that many believe sanctions torture  ....Americans should ramp up their outrage for a human rights blight ongoing right now in Libya. Refresher: The USA "made friends" with Libya a few years back, ostensibly because Gadaffi opened up his notably unimpressive nuclear program to international inspection...This shocked many as it happened less than two decades after Libya blew up Pan Am 103 over Scotland.  (I'm in that group, as I lived in London at the time, and knew people on the flight)  Hopefully, the blogs can make up for the lack of attention to this dreadful situation:

"Imagine that five American nurses and a British doctor have been detained and tortured in a Libyan prison since 1999, and that a Libyan prosecutor called at the end of August for their execution… on trumped-up charges of deliberately contaminating more than 400 children with HIV in 1998. Meanwhile, the international community and its leaders sit by, spectators of a farce of a trial, leaving a handful of dedicated volunteer humanitarian lawyers and scientists to try to secure their release.

Implausible? That scenario, with the medics enduring prison conditions reminiscent of the film Midnight Express,  is currently playing out in a Tripoli court, except that the nationalities of the medics are different . The nurses are from Bulgaria and the doctor is Palestinian."

These poor souls have been locked up since 1999. Their retrial has been postponed until October 31st.  Maybe Gaddafi's British educated son --who runs a charitable foundation--could call dad about a human rights at home sometime in the next 30 days?

This is a red  and a blue  issue.  Another site for background is here

March 15, 2006

Human Rights

Human Rights Council: You Say Yes, I Say No
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Today the US was virtually the lone dissenter as the UN Human Rights Council was voted into being to replace the body's discredited Human Rights Commission.  We've had plenty of posts here on the issues surrounding the composition and credibility of the Council. 

The compromise terms of reference adopted for the Council manifestly fall short of what both the US government and most human rights advocates wanted to see, particularly in terms of ensuring that the Council's membership excludes human rights violators, and those who intend to use the Council for political point-scoring rather than to advance the cause of human rights.

Here's how Ambassador John Bolton put it: 

We must not let history remember us as the architects of a council that was a ‘compromise’ and merely ‘the best we could do’ rather than one that ensured doing ‘all we could do’ to promote human rights

This is a statement that, at least a few weeks ago, most human rights NGOs would have agreed with.

Bolton also said, however, that the US intends to work with the new Council, and will agree to fund it.

So here's the question, given that the new Council is not all it could or should have been, was it right for the US to cast a protest vote reiterating its principled reservations?  After all, why should the US acquiesce in mediocrity and half-measures when it comes to something as important as human rights?

Continue reading "Human Rights Council: You Say Yes, I Say No" »

February 23, 2006

Human Rights

Bush responsibility for a weak UN Human Rights Council
Posted by Jeffrey Laurenti

Mort Halperin, in bringing to this blog the insights of Human Rights Watch's Larry Moss on the negotiations for a United Nations Human Rights Council, underscores the issues on how the Council will be only modestly improved over the 60-year-old Human Rights Commission it's intended to replace. The obvious question is why the reform is so modest.

And the bottom-line answer is: John Bolton.

Bolton, of course, is simply the personification of a broader Bush administration strategy of confrontation and steam-rollering. That strategy backfired in the reform negotiations for the September summit, as it has repeatedly in other foreign-policy debacles, and the watering down of Kofi Annan's ambitious plan to upgrade international human rights machinery is just the latest proof.

We could have had a strong Human Rights Council approved when national leaders were in town in New York in September, wrapped into a summit package that repeated previously agreed commitments on development goals, development aid, and nuclear controls. But John Bolton -- who by all accounts really reports to Dick Cheney, not the Secretary of State -- insisted on waging war against the development goals and aid targets, derailing the tentatively agreed package. That sent the poor majority of countries into immediate opposition, and wholesale deletions of proposals and commitments followed -- a "race to the bottom" in the summit declaration. And once the summit was over, the details of the Human Rights Council could only be traded off against other details of the Council -- not against assistance for the development priorities that poorer countries care most passionately about.

So, deprived of leverage, having no sweeteners to give in exchange for a body that will dispense human rights condemnations, Western negotiators have had to give way on the size of the majorities that would be required for election, on the time the Council would be in active session, on the rigor of standards for membership, etc.

Moreover, as Mort and Larry pointed out, after all the reform debate about making membership on the new Council conditional on meeting fundamental human rights standards, Bolton astonished the international community by floating a proposal to seat the five permanent members of the Security Council permanently on the Human Rights Council. That, plus the US coolness to the calls by human rights reformers and Kofi Annan for competitive electdions to the Council settled by a two-thirds majority vote, exposed the Bush administration's recognition of the glaring weakness of its own human rights record. The government that trumpets democracy promotio is now so associated worldwide with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo that it fears it cannot win an election against Sweden or Germany or Ireland for a seat on the Council.

Thus goes American "leadership" in the first decade of the 21st century.

February 22, 2006

Human Rights

The UN Human Rights Council
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

Lawrence C. Moss, who is representing Human Rights Watch in the negotiations to create a new UN Human Rights Council, has written the following piece about the ongoing negotiations:

There are many officials of good will in the Bush Administration who do want, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told congressional hearings last week, to create a new UN Human Rights Council (HRC) which would be a substantial improvement on the existing Commission on Human Rights.  However, it is hard to see how that objective has been furthered by the stance taken by the United States in the negotiations in New York.

As its solution to the problem of improving the membership of the new body and preventing the election of inappropriate countries, the US has clung single-mindedly to a proposal to bar the election to the HRC of countries currently under sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council for human-rights related reasons.  As Secretary Rice acknowledged, this proposal has proven highly unpopular.  Many UN member states were reluctant to give the already very powerful Security Council new power to bar countries from serving on the HRC, and observed that the five permanent members of the Security Council (the “P-5”) would never be under sanctions and thus barred.  This concern was exacerbated by US Ambassador John Bolton’s proposal, to presume the P-5 will always be entitled to serve on the Council.  As this proposal would award permanent seats to China and Russia, however poor their human rights records might be or one day become,  it only made the US look hypocritical.

Continue reading "The UN Human Rights Council" »

February 20, 2006

Human Rights

Shoot to kill in Chicago
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

Does the president have the right to order the military to shoot a citizen on the streets of Chicago? Could a judge order him not to?  Could Congress pass a law prohibiting such shootings that President Bush would feel that he had to obey?

Regretfully, we have come to the point where these are no longer hypothetical questions.

After all, the legal theory put forward by the administration to justify warrantless surveillance, torture, and detention of "combatants" does not seem to have any limits, and the president did order the military to seize a citizen in Chicago and lock him in a military prison without any right of judicial review and in violation of an explicit law banning such detentions. When the case finally got to court the government transferred Mr. Padilla to a regular prison in the hope of avoiding review.  (The Supreme Court is still considering the case.)

Attorney General Gonzales, at the recent Judiciary Committee hearing, declined to provide a direct answer on this question, saying it was not part of the warrantless surveillance program that he was discussing.  He seemed to admit that there were other "programs" that he was not discussing, so this provided little comfort.  Moreover, another official in a closed session apparantly did concede what is obvious to any careful reader of the administration's statements, namely, that there is no way to distinguish the right to order assasinations from other powers that the President has claimed.

Continue reading "Shoot to kill in Chicago" »

January 26, 2006

Human Rights

the US and Iran: anti-gay collaborators
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Even if they can't agree on nuclear power, seems the US and Iran are in harmony when it comes to discriminating against gay people (along with the Sudan). Three cheers for Representative Tom Lantos (CA)--co Chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus for revealing this incident in this letter to Ambassador Bolton:

Dear Ambassador Bolton:

I am writing to express my shock and bewilderment in learning of a very harmful and hurtful action taken earlier this week by your staff at the U.S. mission to the UN in New York.  As you may now know, U.S. representatives on the Non-Governmental Organization Committee to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on Monday supported a hateful anti-human rights motion brought by the Iranian and Sudanese regimes to dismiss the application of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and the Danish national gay and lesbian organization Landsforeningen for Bosser og Lesbiske for consultative status to ECOSOC.

I sincerely hope that the U.S. vote on this issue was a technical error or the unfortunate result of an undisciplined U.S. officer operating on his or her own without instructions.  In any case, I am asking you to clearly and publicly disavow and explain this anti-human rights vote before it does any long-term damage to U.S. moral authority at the UN.  I would also like to discuss with you, at length, any possible breakdown in State Department procedures that may have led to this most unfortunate U.S. action.

Continue reading "the US and Iran: anti-gay collaborators" »

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