Human Rights

October 2, 2005

As our country severed its dependency on the Mother Country, Great Britain, the founding fathers gave the responsibility of declaring our independence and explaining why to a small committee which included Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. Jefferson did the actual writing but Franklin made a few key suggestions, which were included in the finished version.

We know this now famous document as the Declaration of Independence. In it are a lot of very valid complaints about King George, but there are two short sentences that command our attention. They rank in human history with the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, and the Golden Rule.

They go like this: "We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These sentences are what the Constitution was written to foster and protect. Now, 235 years later, we have yet to fulfill this historical promise.

June 26, 2005

Human Rights Watch

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld,

We are writing to you as the executive directors of Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists to express our ongoing concern about the U.S. military's failure to develop and implement adequate procedures at military checkpoints in Iraq. More than two years after the March 2003 invasion, flawed checkpoint procedures continue to unnecessarily endanger the lives of civilians and U.S. service members.

While the exact number of civilians killed or wounded at checkpoints in Iraq is not known, an October 2003 report by Human Rights Watch, titled "Hearts and Minds," suggests the scope of the problem. Of the 18 deaths the report documented as resulting from actions by U.S. soldiers, between May and September 2003, 11 came at checkpoints.

May 29, 2005

Human Rights Watch

(NEW YORK, May 19, 2005)—U.S. interrogators have repeatedly sought to offend the religious beliefs of Muslim detainees as part of their interrogation strategy, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that the dispute over the retracted allegations in Newsweek that U.S. interrogators had desecrated a Koran at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has overshadowed the fact that religious humiliation of detainees at Guantánamo and elsewhere has been widespread.

"In detention centers around the world, the United States has been humiliating Muslim prisoners by offending their religious beliefs," said Reed Brody, special counsel for Human Rights Watch.

May 15, 2005

Human Rights Watch

NEW YORK, May 12, 2005 — Western governments are undermining the global ban on torture by transferring suspects to countries known for routinely torturing prisoners, Human Rights Watch and seven partner organizations said today in a joint statement.

In the statement, issued as the United Nations Committee Against Torture meets in Geneva, the groups called on governments to cease reliance on diplomatic assurances — empty promises of humane treatment upon return, sought only from governments with well-known records of torture — as a safeguard against torture and ill-treatment.

The eight nongovernmental groups further urged the international community to make clear that the use of diplomatic assurances in the face of risk of torture violates the absolute prohibition in international law against torture and ill-treatment. This prohibition includes the obligation not to transfer people to places where they face a risk of such abusive treatment (the nonrefoulement obligation). No exceptions are allowed, even in time of war or public emergency.

May 1, 2005

A local group of activistas recently helped facilitiate a relief campaign for a Pastors for Peace Caravan under the theme: "Connecting Communities in the Struggle for Social and Economic Justice." The cadre of compassionate citizens gathered computers and educational supplies, toys, medicine and medical supplies, and also collected money to buy food for displaced indigenous peoples in Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico.

Long-bearded local Ned Powell, who has driven the truck down in past years, spent April driving a route that made seven stops in the U.S. before reaching the border. Bloomington was the beginning of Route B, one of five such routes traversing the U.S. on the way to Mexico.

Powell described his experiences delivering aid:

"My last Caravan to Chiapas had been four years ago when Presidente Zedillo was in power. We were followed for over a thousand miles, photographed and videotaped, and were stopped 29 times at military checkpoints.

May 1, 2005

Human Rights Watch

(New York, April 27, 2005)— The crimes at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger pattern of abuses against Muslim detainees around the world, Human Rights Watch said on the eve of the April 28 anniversary of the first pictures of U.S. soldiers brutalizing prisoners at the Iraqi jail.

Human Rights Watch released a summary (below) of evidence of U.S. abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as of the programs of secret CIA detention, "extraordinary renditions," and "reverse renditions."

"Abu Ghraib was only the tip of the iceberg," said Reed Brody, special counsel for Human Rights Watch. "It's now clear that abuse of detainees has happened all over—from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to a lot of third-country dungeons where the United States has sent prisoners. And probably quite a few other places we don't even know about."

March 20, 2005

Human Rights Watch

The torture scandal shows no signs of abating. Almost every day, new allegations surface about mistreatment of detainees in US military and CIA custody. Last week Iraqi and Afghan plaintiffs filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld alleging that they suffered torture while in American custody in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Washington Post broke a major story about a death-by-torture in a secret CIA-run prison north of Kabul.

But while media coverage of the scandal isn't subsiding, neither is public furor escalating. The Defense Department and the CIA continue to quietly direct attention away from some of the more sensitive abuse cases--the 2003 killings of several "ghost" detainees by personnel in Iraq, for instance--by putting accused military personnel before nonjudicial punishment boards, closed to the public, and hiding CIA involvement behind classified-evidence shields.

The Administration has shrugged off the Rumsfeld suit and the CIA scandal in typical fashion, cataloguing its past investigations and promising that all new allegations will be thoroughly investigated.

February 13, 2005

Human Rights Watch

During her tour of Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given assurances that a military attack by the United States on Iran ''is simply not on the agenda at this point.'' But notwithstanding Ms. Rice's disavowal, recent statements by the Bush administration, starting with President Bush's State of the Union address and Vice President Dick Cheney's comments about a possible Israeli military attack on Iran, are reminiscent of the rhetoric in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And Ms. Rice herself made clear that ''the Iranian regime's human rights behavior and its behavior toward its own population is something to be loathed.''

American policy toward the Middle East, and Iran in particular, is often couched in the language of promoting human rights. No one would deny the importance of that goal. But for human rights defenders in Iran, the possibility of a foreign military attack on their country represents an utter disaster for their cause.

The situation for human rights in Iran is far from ideal. Security forces harass, imprison and even torture human rights defenders and civil society activists. The authorities attack journalists and writers for expressing their opinions and regularly shut down newspapers. Political prisoners languish in jails. Superfluous judicial summonses are routinely used to intimidate critics, and arbitrary detentions are common.

January 16, 2005

It was a dubious distinction for Indiana. Last month, the day after news that International Red Cross inspectors reported that detainees at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo were subjected to torture, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at a news conference before a scheduled speech to the Economic Club of Indianapolis. Myers denied the U.S. has engaged in torture. The general said, "Let's not forget the kind of people we have down there (in Guantanamo). These are the people that don't know any moral values."

Moral values? There was more than a little irony in the nation's top military official invoking moral superiority. President Bush's team has little concern about either adherence to the rule of law or the avoidance of hypocrisy. As has been too often the case in its prosecution of the war on terror, the Bush administration hurls stones at enemies while taking shelter in a glass house created by its own dubious morality and credibility.

January 16, 2005

Human Rights Watch

WASHINGTON D.C. — The worldwide system for protecting human rights was significantly weakened in 2004 by the crisis in Darfur and the Abu Ghraib scandal, Human Rights Watch said in releasing its annual world survey today.

While the two threats are not equivalent, the vitality of global human rights depends on a firm response to each—on stopping the Sudanese government's slaughter in Darfur and on fully investigating and prosecuting all those responsible for torture and mistreatment in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

"The U.S. government is less and less able to push for justice abroad, because it's unwilling to see justice done at home," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

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