Editorial from the New York Times: Bush administration officials came up with all kinds of ridiculously offensive rationalizations for torturing prisoners. It’s not torture if you don’t mean it to be. It’s not torture if you don’t nearly kill the victim. It’s not torture if the president says it’s not torture.
It was deeply distressing to watch the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sink to that standard in April when it dismissed a civil case brought by four former Guantánamo detainees never charged with any offense. The court said former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the senior military officers charged in the complaint could not be held responsible for violating the plaintiffs’ rights because at the time of their detention, between 2002 and 2004, it was not “clearly established” that torture was illegal.
The Supreme Court could have corrected that outlandish reading of the Constitution, legal precedent, and domestic and international statutes and treaties. Instead, last month, the justices abdicated their legal and moral duty and declined to review the case.
A denial of certiorari is not a ruling on the merits. But the justices surely understood that their failure to accept the case would further undermine the rule of law. [...]
From the Brookings Institution Up Front Blog: In a pair of speeches that bookended the largely neglected International Human Rights Day on December 10, President Obama and Secretary Clinton set forth a sophisticated, nuanced and, most importantly, pragmatic message on democracy and human rights. In a nutshell, the policy is: “remain true to core American principles of human freedom and dignity, restore U.S. credibility on human rights, demand that rules be followed, but above all, stay flexible in how to apply these values to realities on the ground.”
As a former Clinton administration policy advisor on democracy and human rights, I can certainly appreciate the fine line policymakers need to walk in this domain of foreign policy. As we saw during the years of the last Bush administration, a brash approach to democracy promotion can backfire, particularly when our government’s own record on protecting human rights falls so blatantly short of the standards to which we hold others. And as we saw in the first several months of this administration, a timid or ambiguous approach can embolden autocrats to dig their heels in further; it also has encouraged critics to attack the White House for abandoning human rights dissidents and for engaging in shameful exercises of self-flagellation, allegedly weakening our moral standing around the world. [...]
From the New York Times:
The Obama administration on Monday laid out a human rights agenda that recognized the limits of American authority: emphasizing the need for change within countries, defending engagement with adversaries like Myanmar and Iran and asserting that differences with big countries like China and Russia are best hashed out behind closed doors.
“We must be pragmatic and agile in pursuit of our human rights agenda, not compromising on our principles, but doing what is most likely to make them real,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a wide-ranging address at Georgetown University.
Mrs. Clinton’s remarks came a week after President Obama, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, warned that there would be consequences for countries that brutalize their own people. Together, the speeches appeared to be an attempt to answer critics who say the Obama administration has not staked out a forceful position on human rights. [...]
Mrs. Clinton also defended the administration’s reluctance to publicly chide China and Russia for human rights abuses, given the range of other strategic interests the United States has with both countries. Public opprobrium, she implied, was better left for small countries. [...]
Human-rights groups harshly criticized Mrs. Clinton for sidelining human rights issues on her first visit to China last February. Other critics have voiced frustration with the administration’s policy toward Sudan, an approach that they say offers more incentives than prods to a government whose leader has been charged with crimes against humanity because of the genocide in Darfur.
Last Thursday, a group of human rights advocates met with Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, to express their concerns.
On Monday, Mrs. Clinton said, “We must continue to press for solutions in Sudan where ongoing tensions threaten to add to the devastation wrought by genocide in Darfur.” She insisted that the administration would seek to protect ethnic minorities in Tibet and the Xinjiang region in China, as well as people who signed Charter 08, a manifesto that calls for democratic reform in China.
The CIA has cancelled a contract with US private security firm Blackwater for its operatives to load bombs onto drone aircraft in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Read more
The United States pushed Monday for more scrutiny of human rights conditions in North Korea, telling the U.N. Human Rights Council that it is now impossible to verify claims of abuses in the isolated communist state. Read more
The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.’s drone program in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas. The news comes after Philip Alston, the UN human rights investigator, questioned in late October the US use of drones, suggesting it could constitute a breach of international law. Read more
Elder Abuse Victims, Survivors and Advocates Tell Their Stories in Campaign Documentary National Premier at Capitol Hill Briefing WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A video documentary on elder abuse featuring stories of victims and survivors from across the country premiered on Capitol Hill today as part of a briefing where expert speakers urged Congressional passage of the Elder Justice Act.
Elder Abuse Victims, Survivors and Advocates Tell Their Stories in Campaign Documentary
National Premier at Capitol Hill Briefing
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A video documentary on elder abuse featuring stories of victims and survivors from across the country premiered on Capitol Hill today as part of a briefing where expert speakers urged Congressional passage of the Elder Justice Act.
From the Miami Herald:
Seriously ill immigration detainees can’t wait for the reforms announced last week by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Detained for more than five months at the Glades County Detention Center, Rosemarie has bled daily as a result of a fibroid tumor in her uterus. Early on, the facility had medical records documenting her need for surgery. Yet she remains in a solitary-confinement cell referred to as the “medical ward” without so much as a window for daylight. Rosemarie, who is from Haiti, still awaits surgery.
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center advocates on behalf of detainees like Rosemarie, who despite being confined in “civil” immigration detention often suffer treatment worse than inmates serving criminal sentences. How many other vulnerable immigrants languish in detention without adequate medical care, their lives at risk until either their cases are resolved or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) manages to fix its detention system?
ICE should release vulnerable detainees — now. It simply is not equipped to address serious medical needs. If it can’t deliver necessary medical care in a timely manner, ICE should not detain people who need such treatment.
No doubt Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano intends to improve conditions in the nation’s dysfunctional immigration jails. Her announcement last week laid out a welcome plan to create what ICE chief John Morton calls a “truly civil detention system.”
While the goal is laudable, changing facilities and penal culture will take time. Meanwhile, ICE should respond to the urgent need for fixes without delay.
From Foreign Policy in Focus:
On October 1, the Obama administration successfully pressured the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to drop its proposal to recommend that the UN Security Council endorse the findings of the Goldstone Commission report. The report, authored by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone, detailed the results of the UNHRC’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. These findings included the recommendation that both Hamas and the Israeli government bring to justice those responsible for war crimes during the three weeks of fighting in late December and early January. If they don’t, the report urges that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution.
The Obama administration has declared — in the words of U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice — that such a recommendation is “basically unacceptable.” It has insisted that any legal remedies be handled by the respected parties internally. Since neither Hamas nor the Israeli government will likely prosecute those responsible for war crimes, the administration’s action will essentially prevent these Palestinian and Israeli war criminals from ever being brought to justice.
Indeed, the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress appear to be continuing the Bush administration’s policy of ignoring and denouncing those who have the temerity to report violations of international humanitarian law by the United States or its allies. [...]