blog

May 5, 2004

Torturing Hearts and Minds

U.S. soldiers who fought in Vietnam were trained to think of the North Vietnamese as “gooks.” The objectification of the non-white enemy made it more palatable to kill and abuse them. American troops and mercenaries in Iraq likewise objectified their Iraqi prisoners when they sexually abused and sadistically humiliated them in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. One U.S. official, who told the Los Angeles Times that 50-100 Iraqis died in U.S. custody last year, said, “There was a mentality that the people we’re in charge of are not humans.”

Graphic photographs, which the Defense Department finally allowed CBS to release after two weeks of keeping them under wraps, depict Americans posing, laughing, pointing or giving the thumbs-up to the mistreatment of nude Iraqis. But although the Bush administration claims these are isolated incidents, they were just the tip of the iceberg.

An Army report found “systemic and illegal abuse,” including “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses.” It lists numerous examples of physical and sexual abuse, including “sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick,” and “positioning a naked detainee on a box with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis to stimulate electric torture.”

These actions are not only offensive to human dignity; they violate the Geneva Convention, and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The United States has ratified both of these treaties, which makes them part of the Supreme Law of the U.S. under the Constitution.

Six American soldiers have been charged with crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The charges include indecent acts, ordering detainees to publicly masturbate, maltreatment, non-physical abuse, piling inmates into nude pyramids and taking pictures of them nude, battery, shoving and stepping on detainees, dereliction of duty, and ordering detainees to strike each other.

The Third Geneva Convention requires that prisoners of war be treated humanely. They must be protected from violence, intimidation, insults and public curiosity. Their honor must be respected. Even if the Iraqis were not considered prisoners of war, they could not be subjected to physical or moral coercion to obtain information from them, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in time of war. Torture and inhuman treatment constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, which are considered war crimes.

These six soldiers will not face prosecution for war crimes in the International Criminal Court, however. The court’s statute is premised on the principle of complementarity. This means that if the alleged perpetrator’s country of origin prosecutes him or her, the international court would not have jurisdiction. The U.S. military is preferring charges against the soldiers, which might satisfy that requirement. Additionally George W. Bush has denounced the International Criminal Court, presumably to insulate American soldiers and leaders from just this type of war crimes prosecution.

The Convention Against Torture prohibits the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, when inflicted, instigated or consented to by a public official or one acting in an official capacity. No exceptional circumstances, including a state of war, will justify the use of torture.

The tortured Iraqi prisoners would have a cause of action in U.S. courts under the War Crimes Act of 1996, which provides for life imprisonment for members of U.S. armed forces or U.S. nationals who commit war crimes. The Act carries the death penalty when the victim dies. There is evidence that at least one Iraqi died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib prison.

Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Chip Frederick, one of those charged, intimated that force was used during interrogations of Iraqi prisoners. He wrote, “We help getting them to talk with the way we handle them … We’ve had a very high rate with our style of getting them to break. They usually end up breaking within hours.”

Frederick claims he never had the opportunity to read the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the infliction of physical or mental torture, or any other form of coercion, on prisoners of war to secure information from them. Military intelligence officers, wrote Frederick, “encouraged us, and told us, ‘great job,’ that they were now getting positive results and information.” Frederick claims he questioned the harsh treatment of Iraqis, but “the answer I got was this is how military intelligence wants it done.” Yet Frederick referred to Iraqi men as “animals,” according to a witness in an April military court hearing in Iraq.

Frederick will not likely prevail by arguing that he was just following orders, which Lt. William Calley claimed unsuccessfully in his murder trial. Calley was prosecuted for his part in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, where hundreds of unarmed old men, women and children were killed by American soldiers. He was convicted of premeditated murder. Calley’s superior officers, however, were never charged. Many think Calley was scapegoated to save senior officers from prosecution. But he was paroled after serving only three years of his life sentence.

None of the U.S. commanding officers at the Iraqi prison has yet been prosecuted. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the Army Reserve, who was in charge of the soldiers photographed abusing the Iraqi prisoners, denies any knowledge of the mistreatment.

The well-established doctrine of command responsibility, enshrined in both the Nuremberg Tribunal and the International Criminal Court’s statute, as well as in U.S. military law, provides criminal liability for commanders whose underlings commit war crimes. Even if the superior officer did not personally carry out the criminal acts, she would be liable if she knew or should have known of the conduct, yet failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or repress the criminal behavior.

Karpinski acknowledges that she “probably should have been more aggressive” about visiting the cellblock in question. Military intelligence officers had encouraged Karpinski not to visit, and excluded the International Committee of the Red Cross from the cellblock where the atrocities occurred. Karpinski’s lawyer claims that Karpinski is being made a scapegoat for military intelligence officers. But if Karpinski were criminally charged, a military jury might find she should have known something untoward was happening when military intelligence went to great lengths to deny her access to a cellblock under her command.

Indeed, the Army report “found particularly disturbing” Karpinski’s “complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th M.P. Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers.”

The report also noted that one civilian interrogator who was a contractor [i.e., mercenary], “clearly knew his instructions” to the military police constituted physical abuse. Unfortunately, our military law has no jurisdiction over the 15,000-20,000 mercenaries serving in Iraq, one of whom allegedly raped a young male prisoner. Another Iraqi prisoner reported, “they covered all the doors with sheets. I heard the screaming … and the female soldier was taking pictures” during the alleged rape.

The treatment of Iraqi prisoners resembles the treatment of prisoners being held by the American military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Thousands of Iraqis have been incarcerated for months on suspicion of being an “imperative threat to security.” More than 600 men and boys have been held for two years at Guantanamo with no criminal charges against them.

Some prisoners released from Guantanamo reported interrogations “like torture,” the use of drugs “that made us senseless,” being tied to a post and having rubber bullets fired at them, and being made to kneel cruciform in the sun until they collapsed. Retired federal Judge John G. Gibbons, representing those still held at Guantanamo, told the Supreme Court two weeks ago that Guantanamo is a “lawless enclave” – much like the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Parallels between Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are not coincidental. Karpinski reported that a team of military intelligence officers from the Guantanamo prison arrived at Abu Ghraib a month before the photographed abuses. “Their main and specific mission,” she said, “was to get the interrogators – give them new techniques to get more information from detainees.”

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said last year that the Guantanamo prisoners are entitled to challenge their detention in U.S. courts, was concerned at the government’s assertion that the prisoners should have no judicial recourse even if they were claiming the government subjected them to acts of torture or summary execution. “To our knowledge,” the Ninth Circuit wrote, “prior to the current detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, the U.S. government has never before asserted such a grave and startling proposition.”

As increasing numbers of people continue to die in the occupied territory of Iraq, outrage in the Arab world is growing. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, however, “was not too concerned” about whether the allegations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison undermined U.S. credibility and standing with the Arab countries.

The utter disdain the Bush administration has shown for the human rights of its prisoners and the rule of law belies Bush’s claims that he stands for human dignity and freedom. The U.S. government aimed to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people as it rained bombs down on them. It will be no more successful at winning the hearts of minds of the Iraqis, as it bombards Fallujah to avenge the deaths of four mercenaries, and its troops and mercenaries torture Iraqi prisoners.

March 17, 2004

Spain, the EU and the US—War on Terror or War on Liberties?

Once again, the eyes of the world are focused on a brutal and devastating terrorist attack on innocent civilians, this time in Spain. But instead of demanding tougher anti-terrorism laws, the Spaniards on Sunday voted out the center-right government that supported the Iraq war. The Spanish people, who had overwhelmingly opposed the war, were evidently moved by Al Qaeda’s statement that the attack was “a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies.”

As the Spanish national elections approached last week, the center-right government had tried to lay blame for the vicious rail attack on the Basque separatist movement ETA, hoping that the people would respond by voting for the existing government. But when the evidence pointed to Al Qaeda, the Spanish people unseated the old government, and replaced it with the Socialists.

On Sunday, the New York Times analyzed Spain’s readiness to sign onto George W. Bush’s war on terror: “Spain, like Britain, embraced the American approach, principally in order to place its fight against ETA in the context of a global war on terrorism.” The soon-to-be Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero recognizes this well. “This [former] government,” he told journalists, “doesn’t serve Spaniards any more, it only serves the interests of Bush.”

Spain was one of the few European countries that stood by Bush in his war on Iraq. After September 11, 2001, under the guise of the “war on terror,” the Bush administration had launched a war on civil liberties. Although unable to convince most European countries to participate in its Iraq war, Washington successfully pressured the European Union to enact a framework law on terrorism reminiscent of the repressive anti-terrorist legislation in the United States.

At the end of February, I participated in a colloquium in Brussels on the struggle against terrorism and the protection of fundamental rights. Invited by the Belgian Progress Lawyers Network, I was tasked with explaining the post-September 11 anti-terrorism laws in the United States to a large gathering of European lawyers.

Three days before the colloquium, United States Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige called the largest teachers union in the U.S. a “terrorist organization.” This characterization alarmed the lawyers at the colloquium, who fear that their own anti-terrorism laws will be used to suppress labor struggles.

As lawyers and law professors from country after country rose to speak about their anti-terrorism laws, I felt an ominous deja-vu. The geography was different but the themes were familiar: vague laws that criminalize dissent, authorize preventive detention, and blur the separation of powers.

Many of the new anti-terrorism laws in Europe, as in the United States, were in the works before September 11. The 342-page Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, or USA Patriot Act, rushed through Congress a month after September 11, contains detailed provisions that had to have been a long time in the drafting. Similarly, my European colleagues explained that their governments, looking for ways to criminalize trade union activity throughout the 1990s, took advantage of the September 11 attacks to pass laws that will facilitate attacks on labor.

In June 2002, the European Union enacted a framework decision on combating terrorism. It establishes a joint definition of “terrorism” that member states are expected to insert in their national legislation. This definition is so broad, it proscribes many social, political and labor movements. It says that committing or threatening to (a) cause extensive damage to a government or public facility, transport system, infrastructure facility, or private property likely to result in major economic loss, which may damage a government or international organization, constitutes a terrorist offense, when committed with the intent either (a) to compel the organization to perform or abstain from any act, or (b) to seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structure of a country or international organization. A general strike or a large demonstration against the World Trade Organization, where property is damaged and considerable expense is incurred to mobilize a police force, could be punished as terrorism under this definition.

The framework decision contains a clause that aims to protect civil liberties: “Nothing in this Framework Decision may be interpreted as being intended to reduce or restrict fundamental rights or freedoms such as the right to strike, freedom of assembly, of association or of expression, including the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions with others for the protection of his or her interests and the related right to demonstrate.” But the European lawyers at the colloquium were of the mind that this disclaimer merely provides lip service to the protection of basic civil rights. They pointed out that the Nazi occupiers attached the word “terrorist” to the political prisoners interned at the Breendonk concentration camp near Brussels, and Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist before he was released from prison and elected president of the newly liberated South Africa.

Six European Union member states have enacted specific legislation to comply with the framework decision. All consider the destabilization of political or economic power an element of terrorist crime. Other member states are using their existing laws on criminal conspiracy to punish not just participation in terrorist acts, but also simply being a member of prohibited organizations.

In December 2003, the Belgian Parliament enacted an anti-terrorism law to comply with the framework decision. Under its terms, someone painting graffiti in an urban environment can be considered a terrorist, if the public prosecutor and judge decide that the destruction of property was undertaken with the purpose of “destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country” and it caused “considerable economic damage.”

The United Kingdom passed the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks. A person can be indefinitely detained if the Home Secretary issues a certificate stating he has (a) a reasonable belief that a person’s presence in the United Kingdom is a risk to national security, and (b) a reasonable suspicion that the person is a terrorist. “Terrorism” in the United Kingdom encompasses the use or threat, “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause,” of action “designed to influence a government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public,” which involves serious violence against any person or serious damage to property, endangers the life of any person, or “creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously disrupt an electronic system.”

The law professors from the United Kingdom felt that this definition is so broad, it is unworkable, and blurs the line between protest and terrorist groups.

In Italy, the anti-terrorism law provides for five to ten years imprisonment for simply participating in organizations that “aim to commit violent actions with subversive purposes against the democratic order.” An Italian lawyer complained that the provision does not define “subversive purpose” or delineate what level of participation is required to run afoul of this statute. He said the Italian law harkens back to the Fascist code on terrorism. Likewise, some pointed out that the Spanish definition of terrorism is the same as the one in effect during Franco’s regime.

Two hundred European lawyers, magistrates and jurists signed a statement complaining that the European framework decision threatens democratic rights. Last year, members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission expressed concern at the “broad use of the word terrorism” and the “increasing attack on human rights” in the struggle against terrorism.

Lawyers at the colloquium observed that in Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom, the executive branch had enacted anti-terrorist laws, which place all power in the executive, blurring the separation of powers.

Many also expressed concern at the absence of guarantees that the privacy of databases shared by European countries with the United States would be protected. A British lawyer observed that providing sophisticated security devices will be quite profitable; he called it the “security-industrial complex.”

Some pointed out that whereas the European Union defines terrorism as a crime, the United States sees terrorism as an act of war. International state terrorism, or regime change (such as the United States’ war on Iraq), however, is conveniently excluded from the definitions of terrorism.

Most people in Europe opposed the war on Iraq, and they do not see a war on civil liberties as an effective antidote to terrorism. David, a young Spaniard, told the New York Times why he changed his vote to Socialist: “Maybe the Socialists will get our troops out of Iraq, and Al Qaeda will forget about Spain, so we will be less frightened.”

During the election campaign, Zapatero vowed to change the government’s policy toward ETA, saying, “We have to sell the idea that Spain can be more democratic and that it can understand the needs of the Basque country.” He understands that long as poverty, repression and imperialism are the norm, terrorism will be the frightening response.

February 17, 2004

Drake Gate: A Victory for Free Speech

Apparently for the first time since the dark days of J. Edgar Hoover, the government has tried to use the grand jury to harass and intimidate anti-war protestors. Drake University and four peace activists were recently subpoenaed to produce records about the National Lawyers Guild before a federal grand jury in Iowa. But in response to the Guild’s opposition and widespread outrage throughout the country, the subpoenas were withdrawn on February 10. This is a major victory for the National Lawyers Guild and the peace movement.

The subpoenas constitute a flagrant attack on constitutionally protected speech and association. They signal George W. Bush’s strategy to make national security a centerpiece of his election campaign, and send a blunt message that dissent will not be tolerated. Bush also likely seeks to intimidate Democrats and shore up his Republican base in Iowa, which he lost in the 2000 election by a slim margin.

Served on February 3 by a Polk County deputy sheriff who works with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, the subpoenas ordered Drake University to turn over documents relating to a November National Lawyers Guild conference. The conference presented nonviolence training for people planning to demonstrate the next day at an anti-war rally at the Iowa National Guard headquarters. Twelve protestors were arrested at the peaceful rally titled, “Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!”

These subpoenas requested the agenda and purpose of the meeting, the identities of attendees and Guild officers, and observations of campus security. The individuals served with subpoenas include the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House, and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said that the sole intent of the subpoenas was to gather information about a solitary demonstrator who scaled a fence on federal property on a different day than the anti-war conference/training. Why then did the government issue five subpoenas calling for information about peaceful activists and the National Lawyers Guild? Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was right when he said, “I don’t like the smell of it…It reminds me too much of Vietnam when war protestors were rounded up, when grand juries were convened to investigate people who were protesting the war.”

The gag order slapped on Drake employees before the subpoenas were withdrawn confirms the government’s intention to conduct its witch hunt in secrecy. John Ashcroft, traveling the country to drum up support for the USA PATRIOT Act, claimed it was not intended to authorize political surveillance of lawful dissent. Yet the Act lowered standards for government surveillance and created a crime of “domestic terrorism,” which Ashcroft will likely use to target other organizations that criticize government policies.

This is not the first time the National Lawyers Guild’s support of activism has made it a government target. In the 1950s, Guild members were subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee for defending people accused of associating with communists during the McCarthy era.

Years later, the Guild filed a lawsuit against the FBI for unlawful surveillance. The FBI had put agents in Guild meetings, wiretapped lawyers’ offices and homes, and built dossiers on those perceived as critical of governmental policies. In 1989, the FBI finally admitted it had tried to disrupt the Guild even though it had no proof the Guild was a subversive organization.

After the Iowa subpoenas were withdrawn, Guild President Michael Avery said, “The government was forced to back down in this case and it shows that people can and should stand up to the government when it is abusing its powers … the American people cherish their right of free expression and the right of political groups to dissent from government policies.”

The National Lawyers Guild is calling for congressional hearings to determine the extent to which the government is gathering information on student political groups. In the face of Bush’s request that Congress make the PATRIOT Act permanent, we call on Congress to sunset the PATRIOT Act now.

Government Withdrawal of Drake Protest Subpoenas as Targeting National Lawyers Guild is Victory for Free Speech

Apparently for the first time since the dark days of J. Edgar Hoover, the government has tried to use the grand jury to harass and intimidate anti-war protestors. Drake University and four peace activists were recently subpoenaed to produce records about the National Lawyers Guild before a federal grand jury in Iowa. But in response to the Guild’s opposition and widespread outrage throughout the country, the subpoenas were withdrawn on February 10. This is a major victory for the National Lawyers Guild and the peace movement.

The subpoenas constitute a flagrant attack on constitutionally protected speech and association. They signal George W. Bush’s strategy to make national security a centerpiece of his election campaign, and send a blunt message that dissent will not be tolerated. Bush also likely seeks to intimidate Democrats and shore up his Republican base in Iowa, which he lost in the 2000 election by a slim margin.

Served on February 3 by a Polk County deputy sheriff who works with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, the subpoenas ordered Drake University to turn over documents relating to a November National Lawyers Guild conference. The conference presented nonviolence training for people planning to demonstrate the next day at an anti-war rally at the Iowa National Guard headquarters. Twelve protestors were arrested at the peaceful rally titled, “Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!”

These subpoenas requested the agenda and purpose of the meeting, the identities of attendees and Guild officers, and observations of campus security. The individuals served with subpoenas include the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House, and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said that the sole intent of the subpoenas was to gather information about a solitary demonstrator who scaled a fence on federal property on a different day than the anti-war conference/training. Why then did the government issue five subpoenas calling for information about peaceful activists and the National Lawyers Guild? Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was right when he said, “I don’t like the smell of it…It reminds me too much of Vietnam when war protestors were rounded up, when grand juries were convened to investigate people who were protesting the war.”

The gag order slapped on Drake employees before the subpoenas were withdrawn confirms the government’s intention to conduct its witch hunt in secrecy. John Ashcroft, traveling the country to drum up support for the USA PATRIOT Act, claimed it was not intended to authorize political surveillance of lawful dissent. Yet the Act lowered standards for government surveillance and created a crime of “domestic terrorism,” which Ashcroft will likely use to target other organizations that criticize government policies.

This is not the first time the National Lawyers Guild’s support of activism has made it a government target. In the 1950s, Guild members were subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee for defending people accused of associating with communists during the McCarthy era.

Years later, the Guild filed a lawsuit against the FBI for unlawful surveillance. The FBI had put agents in Guild meetings, wiretapped lawyers’ offices and homes, and built dossiers on those perceived as critical of governmental policies. In 1989, the FBI finally admitted it had tried to disrupt the Guild even though it had no proof the Guild was a subversive organization.

After the Iowa subpoenas were withdrawn, Guild President Michael Avery said, “The government was forced to back down in this case and it shows that people can and should stand up to the government when it is abusing its powers … the American people cherish their right of free expression and the right of political groups to dissent from government policies.”

The National Lawyers Guild is calling for congressional hearings to determine the extent to which the government is gathering information on student political groups. In the face of Bush’s request that Congress make the PATRIOT Act permanent, we call on Congress to sunset the PATRIOT Act now.

January 16, 2004

The Concentration Camp at Guantánamo: Wrong Treatment in the Wrong Place

Anyone who has traveled to Cuba or listened to mariachis sing in myriad Latin restaurants is familiar with the lovely song, Guantanamera – the little girl from Guantánamo. Based on a poem by Jose Marti, the father of Cuban independence, the song is narrated by “an honest man from where the palm tree grows,” who speaks of the beauty of Cuba. In stark contrast, the post 9/11 Guantánamo Bay is home to a veritable “concentration camp,” in the words of the Cuban government, the National Lawyers Guild, and the American Association of Jurists.

More than 600 prisoners have been incarcerated there for nearly two years. They are kept in small cages, with no charges against them, without access to the courts to challenge their confinement.

The United States government illegally occupies that part of Cuba’s territory. It is held under a lease negotiated between Cuba and the U.S., which gave the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay “exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose.” Nowhere does Cuba give the United States the right to utilize this land as a prison or a concentration camp.

President Fidel Castro, who calls the Guantánamo base “a dagger plunged into the heart of Cuban soil,” refuses to cash the rent checks the U.S. government sends annually. He says: “An elemental sense of dignity and absolute disagreement with what happens in that portion of our national territory has prevented Cuba from cashing those checks.” The United States, according to President Castro, has transformed Guantánamo base into a “horrible prison, one that bears no difference with the Nazi concentration camps.” In December, Cuba’s National Assembly decried the Guantánamo “concentration camp,” saying: “In the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base, hundreds of foreign prisoners are subjected to indescribable abuses.”

Indeed, nearly half the prisoners are interrogated each week in sessions lasting up to 16 hours. A prisoner released in May told Amnesty International that the interrogations “were like torture.” Australian lawyer Richard Bourke asserted on ABC Radio that prisoners had been subjected to “good old-fashioned torture, as people would have understood it in the Dark Ages.” He reported: “One of the detainees had described being taken out and tied to a post and having rubber bullets fired at them. They were being made to kneel cruciform in the sun until they collapsed.”

Shortly after September 11, the Cuban government did not oppose housing the U.S. prisoners at Guantánamo: “Although the transfer of foreign war prisoners by the United States government to one of its military facilities – located in a portion of our land over which we have no jurisdiction, as we have been deprived of it – does not abide by the provisions that regulated its inception, we shall not set any obstacles to the development of the operation.”

Cuba, which boasts one of the most advanced medical systems in the world, offered to provide medical services and sanitation programs for the Guantánamo prisoners. The Cuban government, in its January 2002 statement, expressed satisfaction at “the public statements made by the U.S. authorities in the sense that prisoners will be accorded an adequate and humane treatment that may be monitored by the International Red Cross.”

But the Red Cross, which recently concluded a two-month visit to the Guantánamo camp, “observed a worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of them.” The Red Cross reported that “the US authorities have placed the internees in Guantánamo beyond the law. This means that, after more than eighteen months of captivity, the internees still have no idea about their fate, and no means of recourse through any legal mechanism.” Indeed, The New York Times reported 32 suicides in 18 months and several detainees being treated for clinical depression as a direct result of the uncertainties of their situations.

The Bush administration has denied these prisoners access to U.S. courts to challenge their detention, disingenuously claiming that the U.S. is not sovereign over Guantánamo Bay. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which decided last month that U.S. courts do have jurisdiction to hear the prisoners’ complaints, said that by employing Guantánamo as a prison camp, “our government has purposely acted in a manner directly inconsistent with the terms of the Lease and the continuing Treaty, [which] … limit U.S. use of the territory to a naval base and coaling station.”

However, the appellate court was perhaps most alarmed at the government’s assertion during oral argument that these prisoners would have no judicial recourse even if they were claiming the government subjected them to acts of torture or summary execution. The Ninth Circuit said: “To our knowledge, prior to the current detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, the U.S. government has never before asserted such a grave and startling proposition.” The court said this was “a position so extreme that it raises the gravest concerns under both American and international law.” During its present term the Supreme Court will decide whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction over these prisoners.

An editorial in The New York Times described the Guantánamo situation as a “scandal,” saying: “Whoever they are, their treatment should be a demonstration of America’s commitment to justice, not the blot on its honor that Guantánamo has become.” The United States government must immediately close its concentration camp, and release or try the prisoners in accordance with international norms. It should return Guantánamo Bay to its rightful owner, the Republic of Cuba.

December 22, 2003

UN Should Convene Hybrid Court to Try Saddam

Will Saddam Hussein really “face the justice he denied to millions,” as promised by George W. Bush the morning after Hussein’s arrest? Although President Bush has said Hussein will receive a public trial with Iraqi participation, he refuses to identify the venue, perhaps because his advisers are still undecided about the politically propitious course to take.

There is no doubt, however, that Bush will determine where, when and how Hussein is tried, and probably ultimately, executed. We can also expect the timing of the “justice” Hussein receives to be pegged to the U.S. election next November.

A public trial for Hussein, while providing cathartic effect for many Iraqis, poses certain risks for Bush. In defending himself against charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Hussein would bring up the United States’ support of his government while he was gassing the Kurds and the Iranians.

Indeed, Hussein received these chemical weapons from U.S. corporations with the blessing of the U.S. government. Shucks, Hussein may even subpoena Donald Rumsfeld to question him about his 1983 visit with Hussein, after which U.S. intelligence was provided to Hussein while Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran.

The question is whether Hussein will be tried in an Iraqi tribunal, a U.S. military commission, or a tribunal set up by the United Nations with international and Iraqi participation. As Bush and his people ponder how Hussein is likely to embarrass them, we may see them backtrack from the promise that the proceeding will be public.

Bush’s preferred venue may well be one of his new military commissions. People who appear before them will enjoy only the rights Bush or Rumsfeld decide they should have. The accused can be tried in secret with the use of secret evidence, with limitations on his choice of counsel, and he can be executed with no judicial review. He would, however, have the right to appeal to Bush.

The new Iraqi criminal tribunal statute, which was enacted on Dec. 10, was established with $75 million of U.S. money by the United States’ handpicked Iraqi Governing Council, and approved by the Pentagon and the State Department. It will have jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as some offenses under Iraqi law.

Although it has the power to hire international experts as advisors, all judges would be Iraqis, who have scant experience trying complex war crimes cases.

Neither the International Criminal Court nor the Yugoslav or Rwanda tribunals allow for the death penalty; yet, the new Iraqi court would probably permit capital punishment. Moreover, its decisions would be tainted because it was created while Iraq was under occupation.

Bush has consistently thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, which was developed over a 50-year period by international legal experts and scholars to try the most heinous crimes. It would have jurisdiction only over crimes committed after it came into effect in July 2002. But Bush has said Hussein will be charged with crimes committed since his Baathist Party came into power in 1968.

Thus, the International Criminal Court could not be used to try these charges.

Hussein should be tried in a special hybrid tribunal established by the U.N. Security Council, like the one in Sierra Leone. It would utilize international standards of due process and have significant Iraqi participation.

Major Nazi leaders were tried and convicted in public proceedings in which the defendants were able to hear the evidence against them. But, U.S. leaders were never held accountable for incinerating 100,000 Japanese civilians with the atomic bomb. This “victors’ justice” is likely to repeat itself in the trial of Hussein. Bush and his advisers will not be tried for their war of aggression against the people of Iraq.

December 16, 2003

Capture of Saddam Hussein: Pyrrhic Victory?

The “capture” of Saddam Hussein is being hailed as a great victory for President Bush. After all, who needs to worry about the missing weapons of mass destruction or the lack of ties between Hussein and the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, now that we’ve caught the “Butcher of Baghdad”?

Bush is likely to gain some political mileage from Hussein’s arrest. But the terrorism Bush’s war has unleashed in Iraq is likely to continue or increase, and Hussein can no longer be blamed for it now that he’s in custody.

The media have treated us to wall-to-wall coverage of Hussein’s arrest — including shots of a doctor looking into Hussein’s mouth as he grimaces. This violates the Geneva Convention, which forbids subjecting prisoners to humiliation and public ridicule. We have not, however, been reminded that Hussein was one of the United States’ main allies in the 1980s when he used chemical weapons given to him by the United States.

Will Hussein really “face the justice he denied to millions,” as promised by Bush the morning after Hussein’s arrest? The new Iraqi criminal tribunal statute under which Hussein will likely be tried was established with $75 million of U.S. money by the administration’s handpicked Iraqi Governing Council and approved by the Pentagon and the State Department. It is the first criminal tribunal that has no international or U.N. involvement. Its decisions will also be tainted because it was created while Iraq was under occupation.

Bush has once again thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, which was developed during a 50-year period by international legal experts and scholars to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. None of the three existing tribunals — the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals — allow for the death penalty; yet, the new Iraqi court may well permit capital punishment. Will Hussein be executed right before the U.S. election next November?

Moreover, Iraq must afford defendants the fair trial rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iraq has ratified. It requires that the accused be brought promptly before a judge, informed of the charges against him, and be afforded a speedy, public and fair trial with the presumption of innocence, counsel of his choice and the privilege against self-incrimination. The United States, which has also ratified this covenant, has denied all of these rights to the prisoners at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp.

Fortuitously, Hussein’s arrest came right after the Bush administration was put on the defensive by the revelation that Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, overcharged U.S. taxpayers $61 million for delivering oil to Iraq. The arrest of Hussein is also likely to deflect criticism from Bush’s preferential awarding of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts to countries that backed his war on Iraq, in violation of the rules of the World Trade Organization.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this media spectacle is that it distracts us from the hell our troops are facing for no good reason in Iraq. Not only has the Bush administration denied us the right to mourn with the families of dead soldiers as the caskets return shielded from media cameras, it has withheld some Purple Hearts so the hundreds of wounded cannot be accurately tallied.

Notwithstanding the arrest of Hussein, we must call on our government to turn the administration of Iraq over to the United Nations and bring our troops home immediately.

October 15, 2003

Bush Gunning for Regime Change in Cuba

In a brazen move to solidify his electoral support among Cuban-Americans in Florida, George W. Bush is gunning for another “regime change.” Last week, Bush announced the formation of a commission to “plan” for a Cuban change in government.

No country has the right to change the regime of another. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of the supreme law of the land under our Constitution, recognizes self-determination as a human right and guarantees all peoples the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

One need only look at the mess Bush has created in Iraq to understand the wisdom of this principle. Iraq is completely destabilized, the infrastructure has been demolished, thousands are without work, water, electricity and medical care. Many say they were better off under the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein. That choice was up to the Iraqis, not the United States.

What if Sweden decided that the United States needed a regime change, because of the high number of people living below the poverty level, without jobs or health care, the police brutality on our streets and in our prisons, the execution of innocent people, and the indefinite detention and inhumane treatment of 600 people in Guantanamo for nearly two years? Would Sweden have the right to impose “regime change” on the United States?

Since Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution in 1959, every U.S. President from Dwight D. Eisenhower through George W. Bush has maintained a cruel economic embargo–now a blockade–against Cuba. The embargo began as a means to foment unrest among Cubans in the hopes they would overthrow the Castro government. More recently, it has been maintained as a vehicle to pander to the anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in Florida who wield tremendous political clout in the U.S. electoral system.

The Association for World Health found that the embargo had “caused a significant rise in suffering–and even deaths in Cuba.” The Cuban people are denied access to half the new medicines on the world market, and are unable to buy some life-saving medical supplies because the U.S. punishes countries which trade with Cuba. Fatal heart attacks have increased because the U.S. pacemaker monopoly refuses to sell to Cuba.

In spite of the punishing blockade against it, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas and one of the highest in the world. The life expectancy in Cuba is the longest in Latin America and one of the longest in the world. Cuba’s universal health care system puts ours to shame.

To further its political agenda, our government is in denial about the advances Cuba has made in rates of literacy, health care, and low infant mortality.

Cuba is not a threat to the United States. Yet, Bush is opportunistically setting the stage for a regime change in Cuba. The people of Cuba have the right to determine their own system of government, free from the “plans” of George W. Bush.

September 24, 2003

Bush & Co. Fear Prosecution in the International Criminal Court

Overcoming Impunity with the International Criminal Court

Non-governmental organizations and individuals from sixty-six different countries have filed 499 “communications” – or complaints – with the International Criminal Court (ICC), between July 2002 and July 2003. Many of them urge the ICC to investigate the United States conduct in the war on Iraq. The primary charge is that the U.S. committed an act of aggression against Iraq. The ICC has jurisdiction to punish the crime of aggression. However, this crime remains undefined in the ICC’s statute due to disputes among the states parties about how to define it.

The United States is not a party to the ICC treaty. The Bush administration has vigorously opposed it, for fear that U.S. military officials and personnel could be subject to “politically-motivated” prosecutions for war crimes.

In an unprecedented move last year, George W. Bush removed Bill Clinton’s signature from the treaty. A few months later, Bush signed into law the American Serviceman’s Protection Act, which restricts U.S. cooperation with the ICC and prohibits military assistance to states parties to the treaty unless they sign bilateral immunity agreements with the U.S. States which sign these “Article 98” agreements – referring to the section of the ICC statute that addresses treaties between countries – pledge not to hand over U.S. nationals to the ICC. The United States has reportedly extracted these agreements from 60 countries – primarily small nations, or fragile democracies with weak economies. And the U.S. has withdrawn military aid from 35 nations that refused to be coerced into signing Article 98 agreements.

The U.S. has also demanded express immunity from ICC prosecution for American nationals. This demand delayed the passage of several peacekeeping resolutions in the Security Council. But in 2002, the Security Council capitulated when it unanimously passed Resolution 1422, which called for one year of immunity for peacekeepers from countries not party to the ICC statute, and provided that immunity could be renewed in subsequent years. The resolution was renewed in June. But this time, the U.S. was unable to achieve unanimity. France, Germany and Syria abstained from the vote.

Ninety-one countries have signed on as parties to the ICC treaty. So why has the Bush administration resisted it so vehemently? Bush’s handlers were likely prescient about how the world would react to the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq, which was not executed with Security Council approval or in lawful self-defense. They evidently knew they and their boss might be vulnerable to prosecutions for the unlawful killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the destruction of the civilian infrastructure, and the use of weapons of mass destruction – cluster bombs and depleted uranium – by “coalition forces.”

A Preemptive War is a War of Aggression

The United States has sought to ensure the ICC’s legal processes do not jeopardize its role as global superpower by subjecting U.S. leaders to prosecution. It has consistently resisted definitions and jurisdictional provisions that may challenge U.S. impunity for wars of aggression.

Many ICC parties favor a definition of aggression set out in 1974 in General Assembly Resolution 3314, passed in the wake of Vietnam: “Aggression is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this definition.”

Bush’s new doctrine of “preemptive war” is a license to prosecute wars of aggression. It runs directly counter to the United Nations Charter’s prohibition on the use of armed force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. A preemptive war is a war of aggression. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” falls squarely into this category.

More than 50 years ago, Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Tribunal, wrote: “No political or economic situation can justify” the crime of aggression. He added: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” An impartial international criminal tribunal is necessary to prevent “victor’s justice,” where only the vanquished are subject to prosecution.

Universal Jurisdiction for International Crimes

Under the treaty, the ICC can take jurisdiction over a national of even a non-party state if he or she commits a crime in a state party’s territory. The U.S. vehemently objects to this. But it’s nothing new. Under well-established principles of international law, the core crimes prosecuted in the ICC – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression – are crimes of universal jurisdiction.

That means that an alleged perpetrator can – and always could – be arrested anywhere. Indeed, the United States itself has asserted jurisdiction over foreign nationals in anti-terrorism, anti-narcotic trafficking, torture and war crimes cases. Even Resolution 1422 notes that states not party to the ICC statute “will continue to fulfill their responsibilities in their national jurisdiction in relation to international crimes.”

However, the U.S. has not fulfilled its responsibilities to seek justice for international crimes. It has refused to extradite four terrorists – right-wing Cuban exiles trained by the CIA – who were convicted more than 20 years ago in Venezuela for blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976. The U.S. similarly refuses to extradite John Hull, an American CIA operative indicted in Costa Rica for the 1984 bombing of a press conference which killed five journalists in a Nicaraguan border town. It has also refused to extradite former military officer Emmanuel Constant for trial in Haiti. Constant, who worked closely with the CIA, is believed to be responsible for the murder of more than 5000 people under the Haitian dictatorship in the early 1990s.

The ICC statute adds a special safeguard to the venerable principle of universal jurisdiction. It promises the ICC will only prosecute when the alleged perpetrator’s native country cannot, or will not, prosecute one of its nationals. The U.S. should not then fear ICC prosecution, especially in light of the Article 98 agreements it coerced – and continues to coerce – from a multitude of countries. Unfortunately, however, these agreements contain no guarantee that an American national accused of an international crime would be tried if handed over to the U.S.

In June, Belgium indicted Bush, Tony Blair, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, and Condoleezza Rice for war crimes during the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, which predated the effective date of the ICC. The indictment was issued under Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law, which gave Belgian courts the right to judge anyone accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, regardless of where the crimes were committed. Four Rwandans have been convicted in 2001 under Belgium’s law for their participation in the 1994 genocide which left more than one million dead.

The government of Belgium, fearing a backlash, decided to refer the cases against Blair, Bush and the others to London and Washington, making trials unlikely. Even so, Donald Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO out of Brussels unless Belgium changed its universal jurisdiction law. Belgium capitulated, and its Court of Cassation has asked for the dismissal of the war crimes indictments.

Belgium isn’t alone in indicting Bush and Blair for war crimes. In July, Greece’s Athens Bar Association filed a complaint in the ICC against the two for crimes against humanity and war crimes, this time in connection with their war on Iraq. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began after July 2002, the effective date of the ICC.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred before the ICC went into effect. Two years later, a Spanish judge charged Osama bin Laden and nine alleged Al Qaeda members with terrorism and murder under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

U.S. Undermines War Against Terrorism

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentine Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, has decided to begin the work of the Court by investigating possible genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for the recruitment and use of children as soldiers and sex slaves in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Moreno-Ocampo’s selection of the Congo for his maiden investigation was made partly with an eye to the credibility of the ICC because, he says, “the Congo was a clear case.”

But, John Shattuck, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, wrote in the Washington Post in September that the United States has “so far played a passive and sometimes negative role in the region.” Just two days after the Security Council adopted a resolution on July 28 which imposed an embargo on “the direct or indirect supply” of arms or assistance to “armed groups and militias operating in the territory,” the U.S. lifted its own embargo on weapons sales to Rwanda, which has armed its clients in eastern Congo.

Moreno-Ocampo, who has described the genocide in Congo as the “most important case since the Second World War,” plans to investigate businesses in 29 countries, including the United States, suspected of financing ethnic violence in Congo.

Ironically the Chief Prosecutor, an attorney with extensive experience investigating atrocities and prosecuting officials in Argentina, says that the United States’ refusal to work with the ICC will undermine the International Criminal Court’s role in the U.S. efforts to fight terrorism.

August 29, 2003

The Thin Blue Line: How the US Occupation of Iraq Imperils International Law

The day after the truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan remarked, “The blue flag has never been so viciously assaulted as it was yesterday.” Whether executed by remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, or foreign jihadis, or both working in concert, the attack was the result of a steady evisceration of the United Nations and international law by the United States.

“Preemptive War” Violates the U.N. Charter

One year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush invoked that tragedy to announce his new national security strategy of “preemptive war.” Citing Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and warning that Hussein would likely share them with al-Qaeda terrorists, Bush built his case for waging war on Iraq.

It was clear to the millions of people who marched in the streets before the war began, and it is now evident to most people, that there was no danger to “preempt” in Iraq. Severely weakened by the first Gulf War, 12 years of punishing sanctions, and intrusive weapons inspections, Hussein’s military forces mounted little resistance to the U.S.-U.K.’s “almost biblical force” against the Iraqi people.

Moreover, Bush’s preemption doctrine violates the Charter of the United Nations, which specifies that only the Security Council can sanction the use of force and it can only be used in self-defense. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was not undertaken in self-defense and it was never authorized by the Security Council.

The Security Council Stands Up to Bush…Sort Of

In spite of the Bush administration’s threats and bribes in its attempts to secure the passage of a resolution putting the U.N.’s imprimatur on an armed invasion of Iraq, the Security Council held firm. Bush then cobbled together prior Council resolutions, none of which authorized force in Iraq, to justify his illegal war.

But the Security Council did not condemn the invasion. And the Council legitimized the U.S. and the U.K. as the occupying “Authority” of Iraq when it passed Resolution 1483.

The resolution also provided for the appointment of a U.N. Special Representative to coordinate, in conjunction with “the Authority,” humanitarian assistance and reconstruction activities in Iraq. In effect, the Special Representative would function in a secondary capacity; the occupying power maintained ultimate authority over the occupation and the awarding of the lucrative reconstruction contracts.

Kofi Annan appointed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, as Special Representative. Mr. Vieira de Mello was one of the 23 people killed in the bombing of the Baghdad U.N. headquarters last week.

On Monday, the U.S. blocked the adoption of a Security Council resolution which would enhance the protection of U.N. and other humanitarian aid workers, because it called for the prosecution of war criminals in the International Criminal Court. The Council then adopted the resolution without reference to the ICC.

Bush removed the United States’ signature from the ICC’s statute last year out of fear that he and other officials could be prosecuted for war crimes, even though the ICC would only act if the national courts were unwilling to do so. The U.S. also pushed a resolution through the Security Council which provides immunity from jurisdiction to peacekeepers from countries which have not ratified the ICC’s statute.

The U.S. has extracted immunity agreements from 37 countries and cut off military assistance to 35 others who refuse to sign such accords. This defiance by the U.S. further undercuts the international rule of law.

Why Was the United Nations Targeted?

In the wake of the worst attack on the U.N. in its 58-year history, people are asking why the world’s premier peacekeeping organization was targeted. There is understandable resentment against the United States for the devastating bombings and military attacks against the people of Iraq. The occupiers have been unable to deliver safe streets, clean water, electricity and jobs, and they have conducted heavy-handed searches during the occupation.

The U.N. is in Baghdad, in the words of Mr. Vieira de Mello, “to assist the Iraqi people and those responsible for the administration of this land to achieve freedom, the possibility of managing their own destiny and determining their own future.”

Sergio Vieira de Mello sympathized with the Iraqi people. “It must be one of the most humiliating periods in their history,” he observed. “Who would like to see their country occupied?”

But, to many in the Arab world, the United States and the United Nations are indistinguishable. They see the U.N. as a tool of the U.S.

Mohammed Hindawi, an engineer in Cairo, said, “The U.N. did nothing for the Iraqis during the war. They arrived in Baghdad when the coast was clear. People expected the U.N.’s support, and they didn’t get it. It’s payback time.”

Mohsen Farouk, a carpenter in Cairo, noted, “It was just a matter of time. The U.N. is just a puppet of the U.S., and anyone who is angry with the U.S. is likely to consider the U.N. a target.”

The people responsible for the attack on the U.N. are also likely mindful of the devastation wreaked upon Iraqis by 12 years of sanctions.

Following the first Gulf War, the United States manipulated the Security Council into imposing a harsh regime of economic sanctions, which have led to the deaths of an estimated one million Iraqis.

Give U.N. Authority in Iraq

The Bush administration is lobbying for a new Security Council resolution which would urge other countries to send troops to help stabilize Iraq. The U.S., however, would maintain military control over all forces. Such a resolution would, in the words of The New York Times, provide “United Nations cover to the American operation.”

“Operation Iraqi Freedom” has opened a Pandora’s Box of terrorism in Iraq. The only hope for restoring peace and security is for the United States to step aside and allow the United Nations to take over the reconstruction. If the U.S. continues to insist on unilateral authority in Iraq, it will be sucked deeper into a quagmire from which there is no exit. And it will further weaken the U.N. and international law.