ACTION ALERT: Say ‘No’ to US Torture Camps

September 18th, 2006 - by admin

Reuters & The Observer & Human Rights First – 2006-09-18 22:02:46

EU Condemns Secret CIA Prisons
Ingrid Melander / Reuters

BRUSSELS (September 15, 2006) — The European Union condemned on Friday the detention of terrorism suspects by the United States in secret overseas prisons, whose existence US President George Bush first acknowledged last week.

European nations had held back from criticizing Washington over the matter after it first emerged in media reports last year, and said last December they were satisfied with US statements denying any wrongdoing.

“The existence of secret detention facilities where detained persons are kept in a legal vacuum is not in conformity with international humanitarian law and international criminal law,” Finnish Foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja told a news conference after the bloc’s 25 ministers discussed Bush’s comments.

“We reiterate that in combating terrorism, human rights and humanitarian standards have to be maintained,” said Tuomioja, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA held high-level terrorism suspects, including alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in secret overseas locations.

He strongly defended the secret detention and questioning of terrorism suspects and said the CIA treated them humanely and did not torture. The detention program, disclosed last year by The Washington Post, provoked an international outcry.

“Secret prisons are illegal, immoral, and counter-productive in any strategy to win hearts and minds,” EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries said in a statement on Friday.

Bush announced last week Mohammed and 13 others were transferred recently to the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center run by the Pentagon to be prosecuted in the future.

“We acknowledge the intention of the U.S. administration to treat all detainees in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva convention,” Tuomioja said.

On Thursday a Senate panel rejected Bush’s pleas that new legislation on foreign terrorists allow CIA interrogators to use tough interrogation methods.

Instead, the Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed an alternative bill by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain that would better protect the rights of foreign terrorism suspects.

Bush has not revealed the location of secret overseas jails, but EU member Poland and candidate country Romania have been accused of hosting such jails by an investigator for Europe’s human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Stanislaw Komorowski, issued a fresh denial on Friday. “The prisons did not exist in Poland and there is no need to return to the issue,” he told reporters in Brussels.

Spanish Foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told EU lawmakers investigating the CIA abuses on Thursday that Spain may have been a stopover for secret CIA flights but that there is no evidence that violations of international law were committed on its soil.

(additional reporting by Marcin Grajewski)

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Britain Warns US on Terror
Mark Townsend and Jamie Doward / The Observer

LONDON (September 17, 2006) — Britain’s alliance with the US in the so-called war on terror was under strain last night after the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, warned the Bush administration that it risked international condemnation if its detention of al-Qaeda suspects was in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Last Friday, the US President signalled his intention to effectively redefine the convention by urging Congress to back his proposals to allow harsher treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In a hard-hitting speech last night, its impact rendered all the more powerful by the fact the government’s most senior lawyer has made it on American soil, Goldsmith suggested such a move would be seen as unacceptable in the eyes of the international community. In a speech to American lawyers in Chicago, he suggested conditions in Guantanamo risked breaching fundamental human rights laws.

A copy of his speech, seen by The Observer, states: ‘Given the political discussions about this issue at the moment, I must be careful what I say. I will say only this today: that this [the Geneva Convention] is an international standard of very considerable importance and its content must be the same for all nations… These are standards which must apply to all those detained in what has been termed the “war on terror”.’

Goldsmith told his audience that Article 3 of the Geneva Convention ‘sets standards for the treatment of people such as those detained in combat and prohibits among other things outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.’

Attempts by Bush to redefine Common Article 3 so that it would incorporate controversial proposals for tougher interrogation techniques, have been criticised by the former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who said it would erode the moral basis of the ‘war on terror’.

Tomorrow Goldsmith will meet his US counterpart, Alberto Gonzales, to discuss Guantanamo and the Bush administration’s approach to international law. It has emerged that as long as three years ago, Goldsmith privately relayed his concerns concerning the legality of Guantanamo.

Bush has urged Congress to back his controversial proposals for treatment of Guantanamo detainees, claiming they were essential to protect the US against attack. But last week senior Republican senators dealt the President a significant blow over the treatment of terror suspects when they blocked his plan for tough interrogation techniques.

Goldsmith’s comments, made with the tacit support of Downing Street, will be widely interpreted as an attempt by Britain to put some distance between this country and the US over the controversial issue of Guantanamo, which Goldsmith described as ‘a symbol of injustice, a recruiting agent for terrorists’.

The UK government is increasingly concerned over the Bush administration’s practice of taking terror suspects hooded and shackled in the middle of the night for detention at Guantanamo.

The Washington Post recently revealed how men were covertly gathered from locations across the world and flown to CIA facilities hidden throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.

It is alleged that the Bush administration opted to conceal as many as 100 al-Qaeda suspects from the world and to shield the agency’s interrogation tactics from public scrutiny.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Human Rights First to Congress:
Reject Administration’s Military Commissions Proposal

Bill Retreats from Core Principles of Geneva Conventions and Creates Confusion and Invites Abuse

Human Rights First urges Congress to reject the proposed Military Commission Act of 2006, which would put the United States in violation of core principles of the Geneva Conventions. The bill, currently being debated in both houses of Congress, contains many troubling provisions.

Key among these is one that would violate the Geneva Conventions requirement that all detainees be treated humanely. The bill would replace the absolute prohibition on cruel and inhuman treatment with a “flexible” standard whose meaning is less certain than the present rule and would permit abuses depending on the circumstances.

“Plain and simple, this bill is an invitation to more Abu Ghraibs,” said Elisa Massimino, the Washington Director of Human Rights First. “These provisions fly in the face of the President’s assertion that detainees will be treated humanely. Such a retreat will only serve to put captured Americans at risk now and in future conflicts.”

The bill would reinterpret US obligations under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It will introduce, for the first time, a sliding scale definition of cruel treatment. This invites coercive interrogations, a risk that is compounded when detainees are held in secret.

A retreat from the Geneva Conventions standard will create confusion among US personnel about the rules for treatment of detainees, and will be viewed here and around the world as a renunciation by the United States of its long-standing commitment to humane treatment.

“The Administration is asking Congress to redefine the prohibition against inhumane treatment, opening the door to the same abusive techniques that were authorized before, and rejected by Congress and the courts,” said Ms. Massimino. “This is not the way to win the battle of ideas that is at the heart of US efforts to combat extremist violence.” she said.

Human Rights First is troubled by other provisions in the bill, and in particular, the bill’s vague and overly broad definition of enemy combatants, its narrow definition of what constitutes a war crime and the elimination of significant aspects of judicial oversight.

The bill revives faults recently found by the US Supreme Court in the Administration’s previous Military Commission scheme. If it becomes law, it would guarantee long delays in trials while legal challenges are being resolved, rather than the swift justice that the Administration says is needed.

Overbroad Definition of Enemy Combatants – The Military Commission Act of 2006 defines “enemy combatant” so broadly that it effectively would authorize the Administration to apprehend and detain indefinitely people who have no real connection to armed conflict. To detain such persons according to wartime rules, while denying them the right to challenge their detention in court, is a violation of US obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws.

Retroactive Repudiation of Geneva Convention Obligations and Immunization for Prior Abuses – Last week the US Army released its revised Field Manual on Interrogations. Consistent with the military’s tradition, it clearly and explicitly bars interrogation techniques such as water-boarding (simulated drowning), forced hypothermia and other cruel and abusive interrogation techniques.

In releasing this manual, Lt. General John Kimmons, the Army’s Deputy Chief of staff for Intelligence said “no good is going to come from abusive practices.”

Yet, in sharp contrast, the Administration’s bill proposes both limiting the scope of U.S. obligations under Common Article 3 and scaling back criminal liability for the kinds of conduct the Pentagon just rejected, opening the door again to abusive practices, including by the CIA in its secret prisons.

“Common Article 3 is vital to the safety of US personnel” said Ms. Massimino. “If the Administration’s proposal is adopted, the US will forfeit the moral authority to challenge the inhumane treatment of American prisoners in the future,” she said.

Elimination of Judicial Oversight – The Administration’s proposal also removes the federal courts from playing any meaningful oversight role in matters related to detention, interrogation and trials of enemy combatants. It fundamentally alters the role of the courts, denying detainees the opportunity to petition for habeas corpus or any other judicial relief.

Under the proposed system, any non-citizen designated as an unlawful enemy combatant could be held indefinitely without due process of law, with no means of redress if for torture or other abusive treatment.

Elimination of judicial oversight is particularly disconcerting in light of the Administration’s proposals, also in this bill, to admit coerced evidence and prohibit those accused of national security crimes of having access to all the evidence being used to convict them. This latter provision has drawn intense opposition from senior military lawyers.

Under the Administration’s proposal, a detainee could face conviction and even execution on the basis of secondhand information, which he or she has had no opportunity to hear, let alone to challenge.

The Senate Must Say ‘No’ to Torture
Human Rights First

Right now there is a showdown in the Senate — between those who would open the door to detainee abuse and those trying to maintain long-held standards of humane treatment.

This battle is rapidly coming to a head, as the Senate debates a proposal from the White House that would redefine the Geneva Conventions so as to downgrade the baseline standard for humane treatment. We cannot let this happen. We urgently need you to call your Senators today!

This week 31 retired military leaders — including two former Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Secretary of State, General Colin L. Powell – spoke out strongly against this provision in the legislation, warning against the real risks it poses to our own service members.

In a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee (read it here), 29 retired admirals and generals and former Pentagon officials wrote, “If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized … we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American prisoners.”

• Join these top military officials in helping us protect the Geneva Conventions, our troops abroad, and our nation’s reputation.

• Call Senator Feinstein at (202) 224-3841.
• Call Senator Boxer at (202) 224-3553.

Your calls truly will make a difference — if you plan to speak out to help end torture in America’s name, TODAY IS THE DAY.

When you get a staff member on the line, feel free to use any of the bullet points below to state your point:

• As a constituent, I urge my Senator to reject the White House’s proposal, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which would dangerously redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

• This legislation would not only open the door to prisoner abuse, it would violate the core principles of the longstanding Geneva Conventions.

• I stand with the 31 retired military leaders and former Department of Defense officials who insist that the safety and protection of US troops should be the highest priority. By decriminalizing detainee abuse, we are inviting other nations to do the same, putting our service members at risk.

• After you’ve made your calls, please reply to this email to help us keep track of how much public pressure we’re building.

The opposition is quickly growing! In a letter sent today to Senator John McCain, former US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Vessey said: “If such legislation is being considered, I fear that it may weaken America in two respects. First, it would undermine the moral basis which has generally guided our conduct in war throughout our history. Second, it could give opponents a legal argument for the mistreatment of Americans being held prisoner in times of war.”

General Colin L. Powell, in his own letter to Senator McCain, similarly urged against adopting administration’s proposal, stating that “[t]he world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.”

There is so much at stake — and you can make such a difference.

We are so grateful for your support,

Jill Savitt. Director of Campaigns, Human Rights First