Monday, December 27, 2010

Who Profits From Fear?

Not since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 has the fear and loathing of Muslims been as virulent, as widespread among Americans, and as close to morphing from hateful rhetoric into life-threatening violence.

It was against that background that TPR correspondent William Fisher sat down to discuss these key issues with Alejandro J. Beutel, government liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). MPAC is one of the principal spokespersons for Muslim-Americans and for Muslims who are being persecuted all over the world. But much of MPAC’s focus is Washington and the U.S. Government, where the organization appears to be as sophisticated and well informed as any DC lobbying outfit.

Beutel has authored several academic papers, articles and reports on topics of Islam, international security, religious liberty and democratization. He has also been quoted and featured in various media outlets such as the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, CNN, Al-Jazeera English, and MSNBC. He is the author of MPAC’s counterterrorism policy paper “Building Bridges to Strengthen America.” and a co-author of MPAC’s immigration policy paper, “Ineffective and Unjust: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System.”

Here are Fisher’s questions and Beutel’s answers, exclusively to TRP.

TPR: Over the past year, there has been a measurable spike in anti-Muslim attitudes among Americans. Why do you think this has happened and why does it represent a long-term problem for the United States and its citizens?

MPAC: Certainly the national discourse on Muslim Americans has been extremely troubling, especially within the last year. There are two primary reasons why there’s been a spike in anti-Muslim views in America.

First is sensationalism in the media. Violence and controversy – which are frequently attached to Muslims – attract viewers. It’s no surprise that Media Tenor, a media analysis group, found considerable anti-Muslim bias in American television news programming.

Second are the profiteers. Various pundits and politicians give biased commentary politically and financially benefit themselves. During the election cycles our community become a political football.

The national discussion on Muslims has become so toxic that it’s clearly had an effect on some peoples’ attitudes and behaviors. The ACLU has done some great tracking of anti-mosque activity around the country, and looking their numbers, almost three-quarters of all their cases have come within the past year.

There have been more reports of hate crimes reported in the media. What especially concerns us are the less visible things like the bullying of Muslim schoolchildren. Growing up in a post-9/11 nation, with these kinds of pressures – on top of the other issues faced by youth -- Muslim American kids and teens could grow up with a strong sense of alienation. That’s extremely detrimental if Muslim communities seek to thrive in the coming years.

TPR: You mentioned earlier that some people “financially profit” from Islamophobia. What do you mean by that?

MPAC: We have noticed that there is a small circuit of connected individuals who essentially engage in for-profit fearmongering. They claim “expertise” on Islam and Muslims, make alarmist statements to ignorant individuals, and sell their “knowledge” whether in the form of books, speaking engagements or even law enforcement training in order to make money.

It’s an extremely lucrative business that caught the attention of the Gannett News Company and the Washington Post. It’s also extremely counterproductive counterterrorism when used as training for law enforcement officials.

TPR: Still, it seems that there is a real issue with radicalization? Why are some young Muslim-Americans becoming radicalized?

MPAC: There is a challenge of extremism that needs to be dealt within Muslim American communities. However that challenge should not be overblown by the media – it gives way too much undue credit and influence to extremists.

As for why some people become extremist, there’s no one factor, nor one single pathway that determines how a person goes down that road. There are multiple, social, political and economic factors that play a big role in driving someone toward extremism. However two things are clear:

First, perceptions over political grievances are more important as a factor than some people are willing to admit. Terrorists try to tap into deep discontent over violent geo-political confrontations abroad like Iraq and Palestine-Israel as well as attacking the notion that America is a welcoming and inclusive nation to Muslims. That’s why people like Bin Ladin and Anwar Al-Awlaki tries to invoke these issues so often in their recruiting pitches.

Second, experts like Marc Sageman point out terrorists usually lack religious knowledge. Ignorance of Islam appears to be a common vulnerability that allows extremists to recruit effectively.

TPR: What can the US (government or private) do to present a true but more compelling narrative than the jihadis?

MPAC: What MPAC calls for in its counterterrorism policy paper, “Building Bridges to Strengthen America” is a division of labor. Law enforcement focuses on defeating criminal activity, communities focus on countering the extremist narratives put forth by Al-Qaeda and others.

Religious knowledge is going to be a key component to countering Al-Qaeda’s extremist narrative. However strengthening the American Muslim identity through civics education and empowerment is important. Fighting for civil rights and civil liberties and joining in coalitions to get involved in other key issues, like immigration, is also necessary. A sense of exclusion, alienation, and disempowerment are central to the recruiting narrative of Al-Qaeda. Strengthening our America’s civil rights strengthens Muslim Americans’ feelings of inclusion and empowerment. It also strengthens our national security.

Taking the ideological fight to the Internet is also important. Much of Al-Qaeda slick propaganda outreach has been via the web. We need to ensure that our “e-dawah” (electronic outreach) is able to effectively challenge extremists’ image of “jihadi cool”. Al-Qaeda and their extremist ilk are ideological dope dealers that poison young Muslims’ minds. We need to make sure that our message is clear and out there is as many places as possible.

TPR: What is your view of the investigative methods being used by the FBI and local law enforcement against Muslims?

I’m more concerned about the legal standards regulating the tactics, rather than the tactics themselves.

Informants and sting operations were effectively used in the 80s and 90s against organized crimes and terrorists like militant Neo-Nazis and violent right-wing anti-government extremists. They were successful without violating America’s rights and liberties.

Asking “are sting operations and informants bad?” is a distraction. The real issue is “how are stings and informants regulated?”

And the answer to that is they’re regulated very poorly. Since 9/11 the Attorney General guidelines governing informants and undercover operations have become loose. Particularly since 2008, they allow wholesale surveillance of entire communities without needing to demonstrate that a particular person is engaging in criminal activity. This has become extremely harmful to our communities, particularly when there are many religious leaders who want to counter extremists’ narratives.

Mainstream leaders are afraid if they try to directly engage and counter extremists’ ideology they too may become the subject of an investigation. Case in point is the Texas arrest of Hosam Maher Smadi. Normally, individuals with extremist views, like Smadi, would be identified by local community members and religious leaders would intervene to prevent him from engaging in violence. Unfortunately that community-based process got disrupted.

We’re also concerned about anecdotal reports we’ve been hearing directly and indirectly, like the case of Foad Farahi, from congregation members about being pressured to become informants for the FBI in order to avoid immigration troubles. Considering that nearly 40% of all Al-Qaeda plots threatening the United States since 9/11 have been foiled with Muslim assistance, this extremely counterproductive. Treating our communities as suspects rather than partners is harmful to national security and it’s un-American.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ICE Ignores Health of Immigration Detainees

By William Fisher

Clinical depression. Bipolar disorders. Eye surgery. Type 2 diabetes. Hypertension. Abscessed and broken teeth. Severe chest pains. Cancer-like pain.

These are some of the untreated health complaints from men and women held in detention at the behest of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the San Diego Correctional Facility (SDCF), where lack of medical care has resulted in severe complications and even death.

SDCF is an ICE facility run by Corrections Corporations of America, Inc. (CCA), the country's largest for-profit correctional services provider. In its lawsuit, the ACLU challenged medical care policies and denial of needed treatment by ICE and the Division of Immigration Health Services, which it says has led to suffering and death among detainees.

After more than two years of legal sparring, ICE officials have now agreed to provide immigration detainees with constitutionally adequate” levels of medical and mental health care. The pledge is part of an agreement settling an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit charging that deficient care at the San Diego facility caused unnecessary suffering and death.

As part of the settlement, ICE has also agreed to change its policy on medical care that had led to the denial of what ICE deemed to be "non-emergency" care, including heart surgeries and cancer biopsies.

"For the first time, ICE has committed to providing all necessary health care to immigration detainees beyond just emergency care," said cooperating attorney Elizabeth Alexander, former Director of the ACLU National Prison Project and lead counsel on the case.

The stories she tells of what happens to sick detainees are grisly. “One man was brought in with such high blood pressure that if he was not in custody, he would have been sent to an emergency room immediately, “ she told The Public Record. She added: “He was denied treatment and shortly thereafter her suffered a massive heart attack and died.”

She said he was denied treatment because the treatment he needed – a coronary artery bypass – was not considered an ‘emergency’ procedure, the only condition under which care could be provided.

Another detainee had for over a year been denied a biopsy to detect a possible cancer. He died soon afterward.

"For too long, ICE's own policies allowed it to provide detainees with nothing beyond a narrow definition of emergency. This settlement is recognition that it is unconstitutional not to provide people in government custody with all necessary health care," Alexander said.

Originally filed in June 2007 by the ACLU, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and the law firm Cooley LLP, the complaint stated that detainees at SDCF were routinely subjected to long delays before treatment, denied necessary medication for chronic illnesses and refused essential referrals prescribed by medical staff.

The plaintiffs charged that the medical, mental health, dental, and vision care provided to detainees at SDCF was grossly deficient, “causing them great physical suffering and mental anguish, that amounts to punishment in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Their complaint said, “SDCF medical staff routinely ignore requests for urgent care by detainees with dangerous and painful health problems. Detainees often must submit multiple written sick call requests, over the course of several weeks or months, before they are able to see a doctor or nurse. When they are seen by medical staff, detainees typically receive superficial or inappropriate care, often by staff unqualified to provide proper care. In many cases, detainees receive nothing more than pain medication for their medical problems and are denied necessary treatments and essential diagnostic tests based on official DIHS policies that result in unnecessary pain and suffering, and create a substantial risk of serious injury or death.”

The suit charges that health care for immigration detainees around the country, and at SDCF, is premised on the often-false notion that detention is short-term.

But Attorney Alexander says, “In truth, many detainees spend months or years awaiting a final determination of their immigration case, and are forced to suffer needlessly as a result of defendants’ polices and practices. In some instances, the denial of treatment—and the physical and mental anguish that result—further detainees to waive their legal rights in immigration proceedings in order to expedite their removal from the United States and their release from detention.”

ICE’s actions “deny basic human needs, inflict unnecessary pain and suffering, and put plaintiffs at substantial risk of physical injury, illness, and premature death,” the suit charges.

The lawsuit charged that the refusal of immigration officials to provide appropriate medical care punished immigration detainees in violation of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering on federal detainees. Because SDCF holds civil immigrant detainees not serving a criminal sentence, the Fifth Amendment applies to protect their civil rights.

Among the settlement agreement's other provisions are requirements that detainees at SDCF receive health care that meets or exceeds National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards and that an additional full-time psychiatrist and four full-time psychiatric nurses be hired to ensure that detainees receive adequate mental health care.

The settlement also requires immigration officials to remove from existing policies all statements suggesting that detainees will receive only emergency medical services and to include in the same policies explicit statements mandating that detainees shall be provided medical care whenever it is necessary to address a serious medical need.

"The government has a fundamental obligation to provide decent medical care to the people it locks up. The quality of medical care provided to detainees at the San Diego Correctional Facility has been unconstitutional," said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "Immigration officials must ensure that immigration detainees do not suffer or die unnecessarily."

"This is a major step toward ending the unconstitutional and inhumane lack of treatment given to the civil immigration detainees at SDCF," said Anthony M. Stiegler, litigation partner at Cooley LLP. "It is at odds with our American values to allow people to suffer long-term health consequences or even death because authorities refuse to treat them."

The suit also focused on ICE’s policy of “failing to hire sufficient staff to care for the serious dental needs of detainees, failing to provide adequate screening and monitoring of detainees with serious mental health needs and not providing “safe and appropriate housing” for such detainees.

The suit also highlighted the policies and practices of ICE, including:

failing to maintain sick call request forms together with patient medical records and to respond to sick call requests in a timely manner;
• failing to monitor detainees with chronic conditions;
• failing to maintain an adequate system to provide prescription medication refills and to ensure continuity of treatment;
• failing to make timely referrals for specialty care;
• denying necessary medical care, including dental and vision care, in accordance with official DIHS policies;
• failing to hire sufficient staff to care for the serious dental needs of detainees; and
• failing to provide adequate screening and monitoring of detainees with serious mental health needs and to provide safe and appropriate housing for such detainees

ICE’s problems with its detention facilities go back many years – to the days before the founding of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, when ICE was still the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

The substandard and often brutal conditions in immigration detention facilities run by the INS are well documented. And immigration experts believe that very little of a material nature has changed since then.

In response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed that the government had failed to disclose eleven more deaths in immigration detention facilities.

In April, DHS officials released what they called a comprehensive list of all deaths in detention. That list included a total of 90 individuals. But the government has now admitted to a total of 104 in-custody deaths since fiscal year 2003.

But the ACLU is continuing to express doubt that they now have a complete tally of those who have died while in ICE custody.

David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, told IPS, "Even after the government's announcement yesterday we still can have no real confidence that each and every death has been accounted for.”

At the immigration detention center in Basile, Louisiana, more than 60 detainees have recently been on hunger strikes to protest conditions Authorities there retaliated by putting the hunger strikers in solitary confinement.

And the Los Angeles detention center has been another target of criticism. Civil rights groups are suing ICE in federal district court for detaining immigrants in “egregious and unsanitary conditions” in that facility.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center, and a private law firm, also charges that the unsanitary conditions have led ICE to deprive immigrants of due-process rights such as access to mail or attorneys while in detention.

The Los Angeles facility, known as “B-18,” is allowed to temporarily house detainees for no more than 12 hours. But in what the ACLU calls “a perverse distortion of its original purpose,” it says immigration officials have kept detainees for weeks by shuttling them to local jails in the evenings and on weekends, and returning them to the facility on the next business day, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleged that immigration officials often fail to notify detainees that they have the right to obtain release on bail while their cases remain pending.

The lawsuit said B-18 has not provided basic medication besides the lack of sanitary equipment. It charges that some of the facilities to which detainees are shuttled have similar gross deficiencies: Detainees are not permitted to shower in jail. Up to 50 detainees routinely share one open commode, one urinal (or two open commodes) and one sink. At some local jails, overcrowding and vents that blow extremely cold air on the bunks force detainees to sleep on mattresses on the floor. At B-18 and other jails, guards force detainees to remain inside through the entire day, and only permit them to go outside when shuttling them between detention centers. They are not permitted to have any physical recreation.

ICE's city, county and private prisons and jails also house serious criminals. The ACLU says that immigration detainees are mixed in with the general prison population, housed in penal-like facilities for months and sometimes years, with virtually no due process and often without the most basic safeguards such as hearings to assess the need for continued detention. These include asylum seekers, legal immigrants, victims of human trafficking, and immigrants with no criminal records.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that private, for-profit prison companies are preparing for a wave of new business as the economic downturn makes it increasingly difficult for federal and state government officials to build and operate their own jails.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons and several state governments have sent thousands of inmates in recent months to prisons and detention centers run by Corrections Corp. of America, Geo Group Inc. and other private operators, as a crackdown on illegal immigration, a lengthening of mandatory sentences for certain crimes and other factors have overcrowded many government facilities.

The Obama Administration’s newly appointed official supervising ICE, John Morton, has pledged to turn immigration detention into a "truly civil detention system," one focused on safely and humanely holding people accused of civil immigration violations until they are deported or released.

But many immigration experts tell The Public Record that they have as yet seen virtually nothing of the proposed reforms.

These reforms include creating offices and advisory boards to focus on medical care and the management of centers, reviewing contracts with private prisons and local jails, and installing managers at the 23 largest centers to make sure complaints are heard and problems fixed.

He said Centers would face random inspections. Community groups and immigrant advocates would be invited to offer advice and comment. And the government would stop sending parents with children to a notorious prison near Austin, Texas, as it seeks alternatives to the Bush-era tactic of putting whole families behind bars.

Congress is also expressing interest in the immigration detention issue. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would change the laws governing immigration detention and increase oversight and enforceability of detention standards.

Most immigration authorities are recommending legally binding standards governing basic levels of care and conditions inside immigration detention facilities. Simply having the government consolidate its oversight is not enough - there have to be mechanisms in place to hold the government accountable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

U.S. Senate: Double-Dip Roller-Coaster

By William Fisher

It was a bittersweet day in the US Senate Saturday.

For some, it was a day of joy and high-fives. For others, it was a day of anger, frustration and disbelief.

The anger and frustration came first, when the Senators deep-sixed a bill that would've provided a conditional path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.

Senate Democrats failed to gather the 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster on the seemingly benign DREAM Act. DREAM stands for “Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.” The House of Representatives passed this bill earlier this month.

The final vote to end debate and put the measure to a floor vote was 55-41, Three Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Robert Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana — voted with the Democrats. But five Democratic senators — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester and Max Baucus of Montana — moved to the Republican side of the aisle. Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, who had announced his opposition to the bill, was not present for the vote.

If Majority Leader Harry Reid had been able to hold his caucus together, these six Democrats would have made the difference between debate and silence.
Bottom line is that, net, the defections from the GOP were not enough to put together the 60 votes needed to break the Republican filibuster.

The DREAM Act has been rattling around Congress since 2001. It was re-introduced in a rare show of bipartisanship by Senators Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and then-Senator Chuck Hegel of Nebraska and Richard Lugar of Indiana, both Republicans.
The bill would have provided certain illegal and deportable alien students a long and windy path toward US citizenship. Eligible would have been those who graduates from US high schools, were of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. illegally as minors, and had been in the country continuously and illegally for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment.

These achievements would have then given these young people the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency if they completed two years in the military or two years at a four- year institution of higher learning.

The students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period.
President Barack Obama, who promised in the 2008 presidential campaign to revamp U.S. immigration laws, called Saturday's vote "incredibly disappointing."
And looking at the faces of the young people – they called themselves the DREAMers –who had been sitting in the Senate gallery, and earlier had been for weeks aggressively lobbying Congress persons, staging marches in the nation’s Capitol and throughout the country – looking at the faces of these youngsters, one could read expressions of disbelief, anger, frustration, bewilderment.

They seemed to be asking, “Why would they do this to us? After all, we’re not terrorists. We’re Americans. For most of us, America is the only country we have ever known. Where are we supposed to go now?”

Virtually all human and civil rights groups and immigration and education experts were outspokenly supportive of the DREAM Act.

Its defeat is a major blow to President Obama and an ominous harbinger of the chances that Congress will be able to pass anything that looks remotely like comprehensive immigration reform when Republican assume control of the House of Representatives in January.

The second major vote during Saturday’s rare Senate session was on repeal of the discriminatory and controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Principal spokesman for opponents of the measure was Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a much-decorated former military officer and presidential candidate in 2008. McCain said he was deeply concerned about “troop morale and unit cohesion” if gay men and lesbians were allowed to serve openly.

He cited testimony from the various service chiefs, who said in a Congressional hearing last week that they were opposed to the repeal but would follow orders from the Commander-in-Chief and implement the policy of that was the will of the civilian leadership. Repeal has been endorsed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Today is a sad day," McCain said.

Before recommending repeal, the Defense Department carried out an extensive survey of how service members currently in uniform would feel about having openly gay or lesbian colleagues. A high proportion said it would have little or no effect on their performance. The figure was even higher among troops currently serving in units known to have gay or lesbian members.

In a historic vote, the Senate voted 56-43 to enact legislation that would repeal DADT, sending the historic bill to the president’s desk for signature. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal Act of 2010 (H.R. 2965) was passed in the House of Representatives last Wednesday.

“Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was passed into law under President Bill Clinton in 1993 and, since 1994, more than 14,000 qualified and committed service members, both men and women, have been discharged under the policy simply on the basis of their sexual orientation. Gay members of the armed forces could continue to serve only if they kept their sexual orientation a secret.

The momentum to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been building for nearly a year with President Obama calling for its repeal in his State of the Union address and some of the highest-ranking members of the military calling for the policy to end.

Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in a statement, “For nearly two decades, gay and lesbian service members have been forced to hide who they are in order to serve their country. That will soon end. The significance of this vote should not be underestimated and should serve as confirmation that we should not and cannot codify discrimination into our laws.”

She added, “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ had no place in a country where we value the equal treatment of all our citizens. We urge President Obama to swiftly sign this bill and ensure that our gay and lesbian service members can serve their country with honesty and dignity.”

Virtually all civil liberties advocates campaigned for repeal.

Their efforts – and those of a much larger and well-organized campaign favoring repeal, paid off on Saturday, when, by a vote of 63 to 33, supporters of repeal mustered the 60 votes needed to “invoke cloture” – Congress-speak for cutting off debate.

Those numbers made virtually certain that there was enough support in the Senate to bring the measure to a final vote.

In the ensuing debate, the remarks of Senators on both sides of the aisle provide some insight into the flavor of the dialogue.

“I don’t care who you love,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as the debate opened. “If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”

“This isn’t broke,” Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said of about the policy. “It is working very well.”

“In the middle of a military conflict, is not the time to do it,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia.

Speaking of the 14,000 members of the armed forces who had been forced to leave the ranks under the policy, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut and a staunch supporter of repeal, commented, “What a waste.”

"As Barry Goldwater said, 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight,' " said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada, referring to the late GOP senator from Arizona.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona.), a leading opponent of the measure, said liberals with no military experience were pushing a social agenda on troops during wartime despite reservations among the fighting forces.

And Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, “I’m not here for partisan reasons. I’m here because men and women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of this country have their lives on the line right now.”

The Senate will now send the bill to President Obama for his signature. Repeal would not take effect immediately. Some 60 days are being allowed for other procedural steps.

More importantly, the bill requires repeal to become effective only after the defense secretary determines that policies are in place to carry out the repeal “consistent with military standards for readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.”

Repeal of DADT represents a major win for the White House. The New York Times reported that activists were saying it represented an emotional moment for members of the gay community nationwide.

Votes for repeal were far more bipartisan than is customary in Washington these days. The bill's co-sponsor is Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Six other Republicans joined the Democrats to vote for repeal -- George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Mark Steven Kirk, newly elected from Illinois, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, John Ensign of Nevada, and – in a surprise move -- Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.

Only a week ago, the effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seemed to be dead and in danger of fading for at least two years with Republicans about to take control of the House. The provision eliminating the ban was initially included in a broader Pentagon policy bill, and Republican backers of repeal had refused to join in cutting off a filibuster against the underlying bill because of objections over the ability to debate the measure.

Remarks from two Senators probably best sum up the feelings on both sides of the debate:

Republican John McCain said, “There will be high fives all over the liberal bastions of America, and we’ll see the talk shows tomorrow, a bunch of people talking about how great it is. Most of them have never served in the military or maybe not even known someone in the military.”

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California, referring to individuals and organizations who had fought for repeal for many years, said, “We have come a long way because people put their fear aside and they came forward and they told their stories. They took the light and they focused it on the truth. We've come a long way because of their families who loved them and have spoken out," Boxer said. "This is America at its best, when we open our arms to equality, freedom and justice."

I suppose one would have to be a true down-in-the-weeds Congress-watcher to understand what happened in the Senate on Saturday. Here we have a seemingly benign, relatively simple, compassionate, common-sense, low-cost piece of legislation going down in flames. And crashing and burning with tens of thousands of kids who were looking to DREAM to help them chart their future. And doing so just before Christmas.

And in DADT, we have an incredibly complex piece of legislation that will doubtless present both civilian and military leadership, as well as the President, with a host of challenges. Change within the Armed Services is never easy to achieve. This particular change pits the status quo against shifting social values and standards.

As Harry Truman’s integration of the military was much harder than its supporters expected, and took far longer than its supporters expected, it finally happened. So now we all have to hope that the leaders of our military – and all of its members – will be blessed with the wisdom to manage this transition wisely.

Because it’s time to do the right thing.

Monday, December 20, 2010


By William Fisher

“Diplomatic assurances” -- promises not to torture -- are sought by a government when it is transferring a detainee to the custody of another government. In the past, such assurances have often proved worthless; they have come from countries that have a long history of brutality against prisoners.

And, according to a new report from the Columbia University law school’s Human Rights Clinic, the U.S. is continuing to follow the same protocol. The result may well be further prisoner abuse because the government’s approach to transfers lacks institutional safeguards –“transparency, judicial review and systematic monitoring.”

For that reason, many human rights experts argue that a crucial part of the “war on terror” is being waged with “blissful ignorance.”

The report – “Promises to Keep” – says the U.S. may send a terror suspect to another country with a supposed promise that the detainee will be treated humanely. “Not surprisingly, it often doesn’t work out that way. The government knows this, and yet it’s still trying to move detainees out of the country.”

The report was written by Naureen Shah, a counterterrorism policy expert and lawyer at Columbia.

At his 2009 confirmation hearing to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Leon Panetta told Congress that, “using renditions, we may very well direct individuals to third countries.” Referring to past cases where assurances were used, Panetta said: “I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely. I intend to use the State Department to assure that those assurances are, in fact, implemented and stood by those countries.”

But that is precisely the procedure that has been followed since the Clinton Administration – and which has produced some of the most heinous examples of torture and even death in detention.

The report notes that the Obama administration “initially signaled an interest in reforming its transfer and assurances practices. An interagency task force established in January 2009 recommended better monitoring and State Department involvement in evaluating assurances in all cases.” But it adds that “the government has not announced any steps to implement its recommendations.”

It notes that, “as this report went to print, the offices of Inspector General of the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense were in the process of reviewing assurances practice.”

While the government has suggested that it has wide discretion over how and when to use assurances, as well as whether to disclose that use, “it has provided next to no information about its minimum standards and
protocols for negotiating assurances, monitoring returned individuals and responding to allegations of abuse.”

“It has refused to acknowledge past breaches of assurances or provide redress to victims. In litigation, it has argued that disclosure would jeopardize US foreign policy interests and the government’s ability to negotiate assurances in future cases,” the report adds.

The report says the “strongest message” from the 2010 Wikileaks situation is that “US diplomats take protection against torture seriously but that individual efforts are not sufficient.”

It notes that “from the trickle of cables released on Wikileaks, more details are emerging, documenting both the scrupulous efforts of individual diplomats and the specific failures of particular assurances. While more details of specific cases will certainly emerge, thus far the leaks simply reinforce the need for clear policies and broader transparency to ensure appropriate vetting and accountability.”

Several cables released in December 2010 reference the efforts by the US to transfer detainees from Guantanamo, the report says. “The cables show how the US resisted Chinese and Tunisian diplomatic pressure to repatriate their nationals because of concerns that the detainees would be mistreated.”

“The US even had to resist Chinese and Tunisian pressures on other governments not to accept their nationals for resettlement,” the report says, adding, “One cable shows the US ambassador to Tunisia acknowledging credible reports that an already repatriated Tunisian national was mistreated. The ambassador also rejects Tunisia’s claims that the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to Tunisian prisons.”

Other leaked cables reveal that US diplomats offered financial and political incentives to foreign governments to safely resettle Guantanamo detainees, including a rejected “incentive package” of USD $3 million and promises of US help in obtaining International Monetary Fund assistance, the report claims.

The potential recipient governments appeared most concerned about public reaction in their own countries or foreign policy considerations such as risking China’s ire for resettling its nationals held at Guantanamo. But “none expressed concern about judicial review or public scrutiny of the assurances.”

The report notes that leading human rights advocates have condemned the practice of relying on assurances. “According to them, assurances are inherently unreliable in countries that have already demonstrated their willingness to torture in violation of local and international law.”

But the report concludes that “whatever the doubts about their ultimate effectiveness…there are clearly better and worse ways of employing assurances: they can serve as the cynical, legalistic veneer to a conscious abdication of responsibility, or a sincere effort to diminish the likelihood of an individual’s mistreatment.”

“From the past decade, there is evidence of the cynical, the sincere and much that falls in between, where mistakes or incompetence make the motives irrelevant,” the report says.

“In their first known use after 9/11, Sweden obtained vague assurances from Egypt that it would respect the rights of two asylum seekers returned to Egypt by a team of masked US commandos. Swedish diplomats waited five weeks before checking on the detainees and, then, did so in the presence of prison officials,” the report declares.

“For the US the first government acknowledgment of assurances after 9/11 was made to deflect responsibility for the alleged torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen whom the US transferred to Syria. Years later, it emerged that the State Department had dismissed any concerns about the transfer without bothering to review the conditions.”

In the Arar case, the State Department failed to play any significant role, the report says. In summary proceedings, Arar, a Canadian citizen, was removed from the US and ultimately transferred to the custody of Syrian intelligence officials, who tortured Arar despite providing assurances to the US government.

Though the State Department denied involvement in the case, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage acknowledged that he had a “brief—only two to three minutes, and casual” conversation about Arar with then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who asked whether he had any “foreign policy objections” to removing Arar to Syria. According to Armitage, his “only concern was whether Mr. Arar was a United States citizen,” adding that “Syria was helping us with Al Qaeda.”

And in the 2006 extradition of Kulbir Singh Barapind, a Sikh separatist who feared torture by local police, by whom he had previously been tortured, the “US State Department made passing reference to an earlier case where there had been credible reports of torture.“ The Department was “unable authoritatively to confirm” whether the individuals were tortured.

“The State Department’s analysis did not address whether the police officers who previously tortured Barapind still held positions of authority or whether the central government authorities giving the assurances had the ability to supervise or control the state police. Instead, the State Department relied on the existence of Indian laws prohibiting torture—laws that were in place when Barapind was previously tortured,” the report declared.

The report said, “These examples could be treated as unfortunate gaffes committed by pressured officials operating in a difficult environment without clear instructions. Both Canada and Sweden were forced to respond robustly. A public inquiry in Canada led the government to apologize to Arar and pay CAD $10.5 million in damages. The early disclosures have led US allies to expose the practice to public debate and judicial scrutiny.”

But the United States has never publicly acknowledged fault or a need to improve, the report notes, adding:

“The US continues to maintain broad secrecy about its current practice while insisting that others trust it to respect the law and do the right thing. The US government hints publicly at improvements in internal processes while claiming that frank disclosure and judicial review—now extensive in Europe and Canada—are unnecessary and counterproductive.

Disclosing the process or text of assurances would harm diplomatic relations, according to US officials, and judicial review would undermine the ability of the US government to ‘speak with one voice,’ the report says.

Diplomatic assurances are also used in some immigration cases. In those cases, the US does not acknowledge the right of the individual to challenge the assurances, the report says.

In one immigration case, the report details, the government terminated the “deferral of removal” of Sami Khouzam, a Coptic Christian facing persecution in Egypt, on the basis of Egyptian assurances it received in 2004. But it did not inform Khouzam of the termination of his status—and his loss of protection—until May 2007, three days before he was arrested and detained in preparation for imminent removal. In 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that by failing to provide Khouzam any opportunity to challenge his removal, the government violated his due process rights.

Rigorous and systematic State Department scrutiny is a crucial safeguard, particularly in the absence of judicial review, the report suggests.

“At least since 2005, the US government has solicited assurances of humane treatment in the transfer of every individual out of Guantanamo. It has declined to repatriate detainees to home countries due to their records on torture or reports of mistreatment to previously returned detainees, including China, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. In the case of China and Tunisia, it has resisted intense diplomatic pressure by foreign diplomats to repatriate their nationals,” the report notes, but adds:

“Publicly, the government has refused to acknowledge cases of breached assurances, including its failure to ensure effective post-return monitoring, or foreclose the option of repatriating nationals to home countries with records of torture. This leaves the 33 Guantanamo detainees who have been cleared for release but who face such repatriation in limbo.”

“Even as the government seeks to negotiate their resettlement in safe third countries, in courts, it has argued that its authority to repatriate them is absolute and unfettered by judicial review, as long as it declares the transfer compatible with US policy against torture,” the report says.

In July 2010, the US Supreme Court acceded to government arguments against judicial review, refusing to block the transfers of two Algerian detainees who feared mistreatment by government authorities or extremists. UN experts Manfred Nowak and Martin Scheinin condemned the decision, saying they were “extremely worried that the lives of two Algerian detainees could be put in danger without a proper assessment of the risks they could face if returned against their will to their country of origin.”

“This could become the first involuntary transfers of Guantanamo detainees of the Obama administration,” the UN experts said. “While we appreciate the efforts of the authorities to close the Guantánamo detention facility, the risk assessment should be a meaningful and fair process, and the courts should be part of it.”

Individuals picked up by US forces in Afghanistan face abuse or prolonged detention without trial when transferred to Afghan custody or repatriated home. US transfers in Afghanistan occur in various contexts: short-term US detention and transfer to Afghan intelligence; transfers of Afghan nationals held for longer periods at US-run facilities; and possible repatriations of non-Afghan nationals.

The US International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) transfers apprehended individuals to the Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS), which is notorious for abuse. In 2007, the US joined Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark in signing an exchange of letters with the Afghan government intended to establish a common approach to these “battlefield transfers.” But the UK and Canada have both experienced problems with monitoring the treatment of transferred detainees, and there are credible reports that torture has occurred on a large scale.

As of winter 2010, the US was pursuing a bilateral agreement with the Afghan government about a new monitoring arrangement, expected to be in place within months, but the details were unknown.

USFOR-A (non-ISAF US forces) may hold individuals detained by its ISAF forces for up to 14 days. US authorities assess whether the individuals should be released, transferred to Afghan authorities or sent to the US detention facility at Parwan, which was opened in 2009 to replace the Bagram Theater Internment Facility.

At present, the report says, there are about 1,000 detainees at Parwan. “As the US prepares to transfer the Parwan facility to Afghan authorities in 2011, detainees there face the prospect of prolonged pre-trial detention and the possibility of unfair trials, given the poor condition of the Afghan criminal justice system,” the report warns, adding: “The 50 or fewer non-Afghan nationals at Parwan may be repatriated to their home countries or held in some other US facility in Afghanistan—US plans, and the role of assurances, are unknown.”

The US has also conducted renditions—transfers outside of legal process— but the frequency of these practices, their legal basis and the role of assurances is unclear. The US has conducted renditions to justice,” or kidnappings for the purpose of delivering individuals to criminal prosecution in foreign countries since before 9/11.

Former CIA official Michael Scheuer told Congress in 2007 that under the Clinton administration, the US sought assurances that each foreign government would treat captured al-Qaeda “fighters” according to “its own laws.” But according to Scheuer, “[t]here [were] no qualms at all about sending people to Cairo and kind of joking up our sleeves about what would happen to those people in Cairo—Egyptian prison.”

The US has also conducted, directed or assisted in “extraordinary renditions” -- transferring individuals without legal process for the purpose of interrogation or detention. Individuals have been held in secret US-run facilities, delivered to foreign authorities, or held in camps ostensibly run by foreign authorities but directed and funded by the US government, the report notes.

Key human rights experts and tribunals have expressed skepticism about the reliability of assurances, and articulated circumstances under which they should not be used. “But this non-categorical approach has left the door open to experimentation, including by the UK and Canada, which, like the US, have used assurances in deportations and transfers in Afghanistan. Their experiences demonstrate both the persistent deficiencies of assurances and the feasibility of better practice by the US,” the report says.

It notes that countries have long used assurances in extradition and related contexts, albeit more commonly in the context of guarantees against imposition of the death penalty. “In the context of torture, human rights fact-finding and monitoring bodies have long sought assurances from governments that detainees they visit and interview will not later be abused in retaliation,” it says.

These practices may partially explain why key human rights experts and tribunals initially accepted and even encouraged the use of assurances against torture. For instance, in 1996, then-Special Rapportuer on Torture Nigel Rodley encouraged Canada to seek assurances if it insisted on deporting a failed asylum-seeker to Algeria, calling it “perfectly appropriate and not uncommon.” In contrast, the European Court of Human Rights rejected assurances against torture in a 1996 case, Chahal v. UK, based on a scrutinizing assessment of their reliability.

By 2004, a series of revelations about the “global spider’s web,” as European Parliament member Dick Marty put it in a 2006 report, of US-directed renditions and torture—including the role of assurances— “had recast the debate from the question of assurances’ effectiveness to whether they should be rejected on principle,” the report noted.

In 2005, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Louise Arbour indicted assurances as “threaten[ing] to empty international human rights law of its content.”

According to Arbour: “Diplomatic assurances basically create a two-class system among detainees, attempting to provide for a special bilateral protection and monitoring regime for a selected few and ignoring the systemic torture of other detainees, even though all are entitled to the equal protection of existing UN instruments.”

Arbour’s position mirrored the emerging perspective of major human rights organizations, the report says. While some advocates privately debated whether to suggest basic requirements for reliable assurances, others insisted that such a position would undermine the advocacy message that assurances should be rejected wholesale—the “reject rather than regulate” position.

Key human rights organizations continue to urge governments to abandon the concept of assurances altogether, emphasizing, as Amnesty International put it in a 2010 report, that the international human rights system is “fundamentally undermined when states seek to circumvent it with non-binding, bilateral promises not to torture.”

To date, no coalition of human rights groups has reached consensus on guidelines for assurances, nor have UN or Council of Europe bodies.

As then-Special Rapporteur on Torture Theo Van Boven emphasized in a 2004 report to the UN General Assembly, specific guarantees are critical to ensuring that diplomatic assurances are not “empty gestures.”

Van Boven recommended that safeguards “explicitly included in the assurances to be obtained” reflect international human rights norms and standards, including: prompt access to a lawyer; recording of all interrogation sessions and of the identity of all persons present; prompt and independent medical examination; and forbidding incommunicado detention or detention at undisclosed places.

Transparency in Decision-Making: Lack of transparency casts a pall on assurances-based transfers, prompting skepticism. In its most recent report on the US, the UN Committee Against Torture cited “the secrecy of [assurances] procedures including the absence of judicial scrutiny,” and called on the US to “establish and implement clear procedures for obtaining such assurances, with adequate judicial mechanisms for review.”

Iraqi Refugees in Limbo

By William Fisher

This holiday season, thousands of Iraqi refugees are living in limbo in the Middle East.

Iraqi Christians and other religious and sexual minorities, as well as U.S.- affiliated Iraqis are struggling to survive outside Iraq with limited ability to exercise their basic rights, obtain formal employment or access services such as education and heath care, according to a new report from Human Rights First, a research and advocacy organization.

The report charges that “serious reforms are needed in the U.S. resettlement program to remove unnecessarily processing delays which now leave many Iraqis refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis vulnerable and stranded in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.”

The report is entitled, “Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees and U.S. Resettlement.” Its lead author is Jesse Bernstein.

As violence and instability persist in Iraq, resettlement to other countries – including the United States – remains the only effective path for many of these refugees. These include “those who have faced persecution in Iraq because of their work with the United States, to find safety, dignity and a new home for their families,” the report says.

It adds that, while the United States has stepped up its response to Iraqi displacement over the last few years, “Lengthy delays in U.S. processing leave Iraqis slated for U.S. resettlement languishing for months – even years – in countries where they have limited opportunities to support their families and some – particularly those within Iraq – face life-threatening circumstances,” said HRF’s Bernstein.

“These persisting processing delays, including delays in processing background clearances, continue to undermine the effectiveness of the programs created by Congress – in bi-partisan legislation – to ensure that U.S.-affiliated Iraqis are brought to safety in a timely manner,” he said.

Despite the ongoing U.S. troop drawdown and its shift to a civilian-led operation in Iraq, Iraqis continue to face persecution and violence, circumstances that cause them to flee to different regions of Iraq or to seek refuge in countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Turkey, the report says.

“This serious situation requires continued high level engagement from the United States and international community. In 2010 alone, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) registered just over 31,000 Iraqi refugees. In October of this year, there were 3,000 new registrations alone in Syria and Jordan. Over 195,000 Iraqi refugees are registered with UNHCR in the region, although additional refugees are not registered,” HRF reports.

The report documents that in its interviews with Iraqis in the region, including religious minorities such as Iraqi Christians and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, “not one had hopes of returning to Iraq, and some experienced direct violence while waiting to be resettled to the United States.”

In one case, the report recounts, the son of an Iraqi translator who worked for the United States military waited 21 months in Baghdad for his resettlement approval. During his wait, he was shot due to his father’s U.S. affiliation and he received additional threats while waiting for his U.S. security check process to be completed. He finally arrived in the United States in November 2010. In another example, a child fell ill and died while awaiting security processing and his young siblings and mother were jailed by Turkish authorities because they had overstayed their visas.

The report explains that, “in recent years, the United States has played a leadership role in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and displaced persons. It has also contributed significantly to UNHCR’s Iraqi protection operations.”

But at the same time, the Departments of State and Homeland Security continue to struggle to overcome persistent problems that undermine the timeliness of U.S. resettlement efforts, including delays in the processing of inter-agency security clearances.

It notes that former US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker complained about the “bottlenecks” in security clearance processing over three years ago.

HRF’s report, based on independent research and interviews with Iraqi refugees as well as government officials and UN staff, recommends a series of reforms to address the concerns raised in the report.

The US, it says, should ensure timely and effective processing of resettlement and visa applications for Iraqi refugees, U.S.-affiliated Iraqis and other refugees – specifically:

• Reduce unnecessary delays in the security clearance process. The National Security Council should, together with the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, improve the inter-agency security clearance procedure to enable security checks for refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis to be completed accurately and without unnecessary delays within a set time period;

• Develop and implement an emergency resettlement procedure for refugees facing imminent danger. The Department of State should continue to work with other relevant federal agencies to develop and implement a formal and transparent resettlement procedure for refugees who face emergency or urgent circumstances;

• Remove other impediments that continue to delay the applications of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. The Department of State, working with other agencies, should – in addition to addressing delays in security processing – continue to take other steps to eliminate case backlogs and address inefficiencies in the current SIV visa processing procedures;

• Provide information necessary for refugees to submit meaningful Requests for Reconsideration. The Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should implement reforms to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the resettlement process, including by revising the current Notice of Ineligibility for Resettlement to provide case-specific factual and legal reasons for denial.

“By addressing the persistent delays in processing, the Obama administration will strengthen the effectiveness of the U.S. resettlement program and recommit itself to the protection of refugees,” Bernstein concluded.

US efforts to relocate Iraqi refugees have had a checkered history.
Since 2003, more than 35,000 Iraqi refugees have resettled in the U.S. The U.S. was slow to admit the refugees until Senator Kennedy initiated legislation to facilitate the process. The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, which passed in 2008, directs the Secretary of State to establish processing facilities in Iraq and countries in the region for eligible Iraqis to apply and interview for U.S. admission as refugees or as special immigrants.
In 2009, after years of delay and bureaucratic red tape, refugees from the Iraq War were finally allowed into the United States. But there is ample evidence that America opened its gates to refugees and then simply forgot about them after they arrived.

In the process, the United States was in danger of failing to meet its legal obligations to extend protection to the most vulnerable refugees, promote their long-term self-sufficiency, and support their integration.

These are among the key findings of a study carried out by a team of students at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. The students, members of Georgetown Human Rights Action, conducted the study in partnership with the Law Center’s Human Rights Institute. They interviewed Iraqi refugees in Jordan and in two cities in the U.S., Washington, D.C. and Detroit.

Their report says, “Across the United States, many resettled Iraqi refugees are wondering how, after fleeing persecution at home to seek refuge in (Jordan) a country that barely tolerated them, they have found themselves in ‘the land of opportunity’ with little hope of achieving a secure and decent life.”

It charges that recently resettled Iraqi refugees “face odds so heavily stacked against them that most end up jobless, some even homeless” and cites the experience of one Iraqi widow who lives with her three young children in a shelter.

“I left Iraq to find security,” the refugee says. “But what kind of security is it to live in a homeless shelter?”

The report applauds the advocates who “worked tirelessly to encourage the U.S. government to accept Iraqis who were forced to flee a war initiated by the United States,” but notes that “few have studied what happens to those refugees after they arrive here.”

Acknowledging that resettlement is one of three “durable solutions” for refugees, the report says there has been “scarce focus on just how durable the U.S. resettlement system actually is.”

It says that the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) “is unique in giving new life and opportunity to millions of refugees, accepting many times more than the rest of the world combined.” But it cautions that as these new refugees from Iraq arrive in increasing numbers, and “as the U.S. economy continues to offer little prospect for those seeking work, there is an urgent need to diagnose the ills of refugee resettlement before they become incurable.”

The project sought to determine the extent to which Iraqi refugees have been afforded protection and a durable solution through the USRAP. Throughout their report, “long-term self-sufficiency” and “long-term integration” are the terms used to describe both the goal of the USRAP and the standard against which it is measured.

The report says, “If the United States is to meet its own aims and serve as a guarantor of security for those it welcomes to its shores, it is imperative that U.S. policies be based on respect for these legal norms.”

The report recommends that refugee resettlement should be decoupled from U.S. anti-poverty programs and tailored to the unique needs and experiences of refugees.

It suggests that refugee assistance be increased from eight to eighteen months, and programs designed to promote the long-term self-sufficiency and integration of refugees should be better funded.

Stronger emphasis should be placed on the core barriers to self-sufficiency and integration, including lack of English language skills, lack of transportation, and lack of opportunities for education and recertification.

It also recommends that funding for employment and social services should be tailored to estimates of incoming refugee arrivals and secondary migration, as well as the unique needs of these particular groups. Funding should not be based on the number of past refugee arrivals.

Finally, the report says, “All actors within the USRAP must improve planning and information sharing capabilities. Planning should anticipate and prepare for the unique needs of each refugee group prior to arrival. In order to tailor services for refugees, actors must take into account important information on refugees collected in the resettlement process, such as health status and professional background.”

The United Nations estimates that there are currently 4.7 million Iraqi external and internal refugees. Until 2007, the numbers admitted to the U.S. were in the low hundreds. Then, under pressure from advocacy groups and increased reporting on the plight of Iraqi refugees, the U.S. began resettling more Iraqis. In the fall of
2007, Congress passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, providing admission for Iraqis that worked for the U.S. or its contractors in Iraq, and allowing in-country processing for at-risk Iraqis.

In 2008, the United States appointed two Senior Coordinators for Iraqi Refugees, one at the Department of State (DOS) and one at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to strengthen the American humanitarian commitment to refugees with a particular emphasis on resettlement. In FY 2008, the U.S. resettled 13,822 Iraqi refugees. As of August 31, 2009, the U.S. had resettled 16,965, totaling approximately 33,000 since the start of the 2003 war.


By William Fisher

Three prominent civil liberties advocates are suing the government to obtain records documenting tens of thousands of incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.

The Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Connecticut are charging that military sexual trauma (MST) results from these kinds of acts, which they say occur nearly twice as often within military ranks as they do within civilian society.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut against the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs because the government failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

"The government's refusal to even take the first step of providing comprehensive and accurate information about the sexual trauma inflicted upon our women and men in uniform, and the treatment and benefits MST survivors receive after service, is all too telling," said Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and Executive Director of SWAN.

"The DOD and VA should put the interests of service members first and expose information on the extent of sexual trauma in the military to the sanitizing light of day," she added.

The lawsuit is to "obtain the release of records on a matter of public concern, namely, the prevalence of MST within the armed services, the policies of the DOD and VA regarding MST and other related disabilities, and the nature of each agency's response to MST."

Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, told The Public Record, "The known statistics on military sexual trauma suggest that sexual abuse is all too prevalent in our military. But we know that many service members who suffer from abuse are not receiving the treatment they need. The truth about the extent of this abuse and what has been done to address it must be made known."
MST is particularly widespread among servicewomen, many of whom struggle to return to civilian life after suffering sexual assault or harassment while serving. While the number of homeless veterans has declined over the past 10 years, the number of homeless women veterans has doubled. In fact, 40 percent of homeless women veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the armed forces.

In 2009, the DOD estimated there were some 3,200 cases of MST. Lawyer Park suggested this was a significant under-count.

Survivors' VA disability claims are often rejected because they cannot prove an initial assault or rape, even if the veteran has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a VA military sexual trauma counselor.

"The government is failing to care for the overwhelming number of women who so desperately need help coping with something as devastating as rape, sexual assault and harassment," said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "These women have already put their lives on the line by serving their country. The least that the government can do is disclose the scope of the problem."

The ACLU’s Park was asked why the military doesn’t want to disclose this information?

“The Defense Department (DOD) has acknowledged that the statistics are shocking. But since so much of this abuse goes unreported, there has been no systematic effort to collect data that would suggest the size of the problem,” she said, adding:

“Nor has there been and systematic effort to reform the system. The government just doesn’t want the adverse publicity that would result if the scope and true cost of this problem were publicly known.”

She said documents obtained would be made public. They would also be shared with DOD the Veterans Administration. “The VA needs these records to develop policies for collecting and maintain records and crafting fact-based treatment plans” for victims of MST.”


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bloggers Under Fire

By William Fisher

Last April, writer and historian Barbara Goldsmith announced that Nay Phone Latt was the winner of the 2010 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith “Freedom to Write” award, which honors international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression.

But Nay Phone Latt wasn’t there to receive his award. Like Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who last week received the Nobel Prize in absentia, the prominent Burmese poet and human rights advocate was back home in his native Mynamar, serving a 12-year sentence for distributing news and views via his blog.

Nay Phone Latt was arrested on January 29, 2008, following the monks’ protests in Rangoon and elsewhere in the country

“He represents a younger generation of Burmese who are longing for freedom and willing to pay the cost of speaking out in its defense,” said Kwame Anthony Appiah, president of PEN American Center.

“That he is a blogger reflects the global truth that Internet censorship is one of the great threats to free expression today.”

Nay Phone Latt’s treatment is emblematic of a deadly virus sweeping across the world and spreading its pathogens any place where an authoritarian, totalitarian government holds power. These despots have quickly learned the contemporary Internet social networking techniques used by their subjects – and have moved in with a heavy hand to suppress these free expressions.

Despite its faux non-military trappings, Mynamar certainly qualifies, but then so do scores of other countries – most of them America’s “allies” and recipients of large sums of money and aid to help us wage “the global war on terror.”

The war on bloggers and other social networkers is probably fiercest in the Middle East, but a host of other countries participate with similar sinister gusto.

For example, in Iran, the world’s youngest detained blogger, 18-year-old Navid Mohebbi, is currently being tried behind closed doors before a revolutionary court in the northern city of Amol. His lawyer is not being allowed to attend the trial, which began on 14 November.

Mohebbi is facing the possibility of a long prison sentence, accused of “activities contrary to national security” and “insulting the Islamic Republic’s founder and current means of foreign media.” He has also been accused of being member of the “One Million Signatures” movement, a campaign to collect signatures to a petition for changes to laws that discriminate against women.

Mohebbi is but one of many bloggers being persecuted in Iran. For example, another Blogger was sentenced to 14 years in prison for membership in the banned “One Million Signatures” campaign.

He was also charged with acting against national security, propaganda against the state through connection with foreign media, and insulting Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei.

A week after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told heads of state gathered for the U.N. General Assembly in New York that his government does not jail its citizens for expressing their opinions, Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced Hossein Derakhshan, an internationally known Iranian-Canadian blogger, to 19 and a half years in prison.

The list of writers, journalists, and bloggers currently in prison in Iran includes some of Iran’s most distinguished journalists, some of the country’s leading bloggers, and Kian Tajbakhsh, an Iranian-American scholar and social planner who was sentenced in August 2009 to 15 years in prison following a mass trial of 140 activists, intellectuals, and writers accused of fomenting a “velvet revolution.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists this month announced that the 47 journalists now in prison in Iran are more than any other country on earth has imprisoned at any one time since 1996.

Egypt, where I used to live, is still ruled by the aging authoritarian Hosni Mubarak under a “temporary” Emergency Law that is now 30 years old. There, a military court has sent a man to jail for starting a Facebook group to advise would-be army recruits, his lawyer said.

Ahmed Hassan Bassyouni, 30, was blogging advice on how to enter the armed services and to prepare the necessary papers, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

They accused him of “spreading military secrets over the Internet without permission." He was sentenced to six months in prison and been fined 500 pounds (85 dollars/65 euros).

Amnesty International declared Bassyouni a "prisoner of conscience" ahead of his court martial on charges that he revealed "military secrets" by publishing information about military service already available in the public domain.

"The Egyptian authorities must end the practice of trying civilians before military courts. This is an abuse of the Egyptian judicial system and the right to a fair trial," Amnesty said.

In Kuwait, lawyer and blogger Mohammad Abdul Qadir Al Jasem was sentenced to one in year in prison after he was found guilty of defaming Kuwait's Prime Minister, Shaikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Subah.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Syria has detained a teen blogger -- a 19-year-old high school student -- for nine months without charge.

The group charges this is “typical of the cruel, arbitrary behavior of Syria's security services. A government that thinks it can get away with trampling the rights of its citizens has lost all connection to its people,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

Since her arrest, the security services have not allowed her family
to communicate with her and have not offered any explanation for the arrest.
Saudi Arabia's most popular blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, has been detained for questioning, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed. It was the first known arrest of an online critic in the kingdom, though the Saudi government has waged an all-out battle against “internet treason” for some years. It operates some of the world’s most sophisticated information technology to block dozens of web sites.

Farhan, 32, who used his blog to criticize corruption and call for political reform, was detained "for violating rules not related to state security," according to the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, responding to repeated requests for comment with a brief cellphone text message.

Farhan went to considerable trouble to thank the hundreds of people throughout the world who had shown interest in his plight.

He said: “My government put me in a solitary confinement for 137 days. My cell was 2×3 meters. I never saw anybody except the interrogators once every couple of weeks. The rest of the days I was alone. They didn’t allow me to watch T.V, listen to radio, read any books or magazine or newspaper. I was not allowed to have a pen and a paper to write. I never saw the sun. I was completely cut off the world. All I had is our holy book (Quran) and prayer rug. So, I had a lot of time to think about my life.”

In Iraq, which the U.S. is fond of saying that it has “made safe for democracy,” a 33-year-old female blogger, a medical doctor, was arrested, imprisoned and subjected to torture because of her writing on a blog.

The Iraqi Government, which had previously denied the existence of Dr. Hanan Al-Mashhadani (aka Hiba Al-Shammari), finally allowed a telephone conversation between her and her lawyer, Karim Ahmed Al-Asadi.

The charges revolve around the “Terrorism Act” – an act that has been known to take the shape and form of its implementing parties. They include:

Supporting terrorism through written articles described as "confidential"; encouraging terrorist attacks on police and army by terrorist elements; prejudicing symbolic national and religious figures; impersonating the character of an existing Iraqi writer (although they have not disclosed who that writer might be).

Dr. Hanan says she was subjected to harsh treatment and verbal assault, and that she was in solitary confinement and given poor food.

Other parts of the world are equally guilty. For example:

The Azerbaijani government has jailed two bloggers who have been detained since July 2009 as the result of a staged fight designed to frame them, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Today's ruling is yet another setback for freedom of expression in Azerbaijan," said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus researcher for Human Rights Watch. "The case is blatantly part of a pattern of prosecutions in which the authorities have brought trumped-up charges against outspoken journalists and activists in Azerbaijan."

In Cuba, recent releases of political prisoners notwithstanding, the authorities are using brute force to try to silence Yoani Sánchez’s only weapon: her ideas.

On November 6, Sánchez, Cuba’s most prominent blogger, together with blogger Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo, were abducted by three men.

Sánchez and Pardo were forced into an unmarked vehicle, beaten, and threatened by their captors before being released onto the street.

In Malaysia in 2008, a Malaysian blogger was arrested. The reason, as the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Ismail Omar, put it: “This arrest was made after our investigations showed that he (Raja Petra) did certain things which could cause unrest among the citizens of various races in this country.”

Raja Petra was sentenced to two years jail under Malaysia’s draconian internal security act (ISA).

There is enough anecdotal evidence, such as that above, to strongly suggest that the harassment and persecution of social networkers – be they bloggers, or users of Facebook, My Space, Twitter, or other media – is increasing exponentially abroad as it is here at home. And this trendline is unlikely to reverse course any time soon.

If we had any doubts, they should have been quelled by the way social media told us all we’d ever need to know about the Iranian uprising, with citizen journalists taking to the streets following that country’s fraudulent election.

On the side of the angels in all these any many more countries is a phalanx of informed, articulate, smart, and very courageous human rights groups. They, like those they represent, work under the most miserable conditions – subject to unannounced raids on their offices, arrests without warrants, beatings at police stations, and all the other nefarious tools that authoritarian leaders have learned to use to well.

So now come the inevitable questions: Does the United States, by virtue of its place among nations and what we like to think of as our advanced morality, have an obligation to try to make things better? And, if so, what actions can we take that won’t do more harm than good to human rights defenders on the ground? People whose only crime is speaking out?

Well, thankfully, we’ve given up regime change and preemptive invasions. That was more a pragmatic than an ideological decision: those strategies simply didn’t work.

We’ve also pretty much given up on running so-called pro-democracy programs in these countries. The local organizations that participate with us in these programs often become the targets of government harassment; sometimes the organizations themselves ask us not to designate them for funds, lest they be accused by their government of illegally taking foreign grants or, worse yet, being under U.S. control. As Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel laureate said, “Being seen to take program money from the U.S. is perceived as our being in the pockets of the Americans.”

Still, there are a few things we can do, although they will actually satisfy no one.

Our government can insist in making these subjects front-and-center on our agenda in the normal course of diplomacy. Again and again. Our president can use his bully pulpit much more forcefully and frequently to call out the worst of the miscreants.

And, lest we forget, to most nations of the world we are the Walmart of military hardware and economic aid. We used to think that it was banal – somehow beneath us – to be seen to be gaining from that role. But there are many ways to use this leverage.

However we choose to affirm the centrality of the human rights issue, those who profit from our beneficence need to understand that we won’t write blank checks. And we need to leave the dictators and despots we assist in no doubt whatever that respect for human rights is central to our way of governing – and that our patience is not infinite.

One of the most effective ways is to lead by example. We could set one such example by disavowing both direct and indirect interference with the freedom of the Internet, so that the rule of law – and not the politics of secrecy -- can determine the ultimate fate of Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

But the responsibility is not limited to the government. Businesses, both here and abroad, also have substantial influence, albeit of a different variety. For example, a management team with a vision has the possibility of transforming a factory or a farm or an office into a living laboratory for participative democracy. Most firms that give their employees a real voice in company affairs are surprised that the practice is not only good for morale, it’s also good business.

But as I said, these solutions will satisfy no one. They particularly won’t satisfy a lot of Americans, who have a short attention span and want positive results quickly. Those folks need to understand that building responsible government and effective institutions is never quick. It’s always slow and messy.

But it’s what we can do.

If you feel there’s more we can do, I’d be very happy to hear from you. Leave me a message.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Access to Justice: We're Failing!

By William Fisher

Indigent defendants on death row, prisoners suffering abuses, immigrants in unfair deportation proceedings, torture victims, domestic violence survivors and victims of racial discrimination -- all these groups of people are consistently being denied access to justice while those responsible for the abuses are protected, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Access to the courts and effective remedies for victims of civil and human rights violations have been severely curbed over the last decade, the report charges.
Jamil Dakwar, Director of ACLU Human Rights Program, told IPS, “Access to justice is a fundamental human right and bedrock tenet of American democratic system - it was even codified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.S. championed 62 years ago.”

He added, “Unfortunately, access to the courts and effective remedy been severely curtailed over the last decade, especially for those who need it most. It is time for our government and judiciary to recommit to respecting and promoting this essential right.”

According to the report, "Slamming the Courthouse Doors," the "actions of the executive, federal legislative, and judicial branches of the United States government have seriously restricted access to justice for victims of civil liberties and human rights violations, and have limited the availability of effective (or, in some cases, any) remedies for these violations.”

The report details how victims of human rights abuses are denied access to justice. For example, individuals convicted of capital crimes who seek to present newly found evidence of their innocence or claims of serious constitutional violations being denied recourse in the courts because of federal legislation and recent court decisions, the report says.

It charges that victims of rape, assault, religious rights violations and other serious abuses in prison are having their claims thrown out of court because of a restrictive federal law.

Immigrants who may have legitimate claims to remain in the U.S. are unknowingly waiving their opportunity to pursue these claims and are being swiftly deported because of unfair procedures, the report charges.

It says that torture victims, including survivors of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) "extraordinary rendition" program, “are being denied their day in court because the government has misused the ‘state secrets’ privilege to shield their torturers from liability.”

It also notes that victims of domestic violence are being denied the opportunity to seek civil remedy under the Violence Against Women Act because of recent court decisions.

The report also includes detailed recommendations and measures for the U.S. government to take “in order to live up to the promise of equal justice for all and comply with international human rights obligations and commitments to guarantee access to justice and effective remedies.”

For example, federal legislation, most prominently the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and Supreme Court decisions, has greatly limited access to federal review of state court death penalty convictions, the report says.

It charges that indigent capital defendants are often defended by appointed attorneys who are overworked, underpaid, lacking critical resources, incompetent, or inexperienced in trying death penalty cases.

The report says prisoners seeking a remedy for injuries inflicted by prison staff and others, or seeking the protection of the courts against dangerous or unhealthy conditions of confinement, also have been denied any remedy and have had their cases thrown out of court.

Similarly, victims of torture and “extraordinary rendition” have been denied their day in court. The Administration of President Barrack Obama has sought to extinguish lawsuits brought by torture survivors through use of “judicially-created doctrines such as the so-called ‘state secrets’ privilege and qualified immunity to dismiss civil suits alleging torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, forced disappearance, and arbitrary detention, without consideration on the merits,” the report says.

It charges that by invoking the “state secrets” privilege, the Obama Administration can not only restrict discovery but can quash an entire lawsuit -- without demonstrating the validity of their claim to a judge.

Immigrants also are systematically denied access to justice, as they face monumental obstacles to obtaining review of removal orders. The U.S. government has claimed that there is no right to judicial review of diplomatic assurances when it has sought to transfer individuals to countries known to employ torture. Federal immigration officials also have used a procedure known as stipulated removal to deport non -- U.S. citizens without a hearing before an immigration judge.

“There is a lack of meaningful safeguards to ensure people with mental disabilities facing possible deportation from the United States are afforded fair hearings. As a result, legal permanent residents and asylum seekers with a lawful basis for remaining in the United States may have been unfairly deported from the country because their mental disabilities made it impossible for them to effectively present their claims in court,” the report says.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court cases have also sharply limited the ability of individuals to bring legal action for rights violations. Rights available to women victims of domestic violence have been curtailed, with the Court striking down a civil remedy under the Violence Against Women Act and finding no constitutional violation for police failure to enforce a mandatory judicial protective order.

The ACLU’s recommendations include the following:

Habeas review in death penalty cases: Congress should amend the habeas-related provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) so that federal courts are more accessible to prisoners asserting claims of constitutional violations.

Indigent defense for capital cases: Create and adequately fund state defender organizations that are independent of the judiciary and that have sufficient resources to provide quality representation to indigent capital defendants at the trial, appeal and post-conviction levels. Require states to ensure that capital defense lawyers have adequate time, compensation and resources for their work.

Prisoners’ right to remedy: Congress should act immediately to ensure the Prison Abuse Remedies Act of 2009, (H.R. 4335, PARA). PARA reinstates the ability of prisoners to challenge conditions of confinement that violate their rights by repealing the “physical injury” requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

State secrets: Congress should pass legislation that creates procedures to prevent the abuse of the state secrets privilege and protect the rights of those seeking redress through our court

Diplomatic assurances: The Obama Administration should prohibit the reliance on “diplomatic assurances” to deport or otherwise transfer persons from the United States.

Racial profiling: Congress should enact the End Racial Profiling Act, which would ban racial profiling and provide for government monitoring and documentation of racial profiling.

Frances Boyle, a legal expert familiar with the report, told IPS, “Because of the deliberate US Federal Court-Packing Scheme undertaken by the Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. administrations, today about 60% of U.S. Federal Judges at all levels -- up to and including the US Supreme Court -- have been members of the Federalist Society, and/or were vetted by the Federalist Society.”

Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois, described this organization as “right wing, racist, bigoted, reactionary, elitist, sexist, warmongering and totalitarian.”

For example, he said, almost all of the lawyers involved in the Bush Jr. administration’s torture scandal were and still are members of the Federalist Society. So it is no surprise that the doors of US Federal Courts have been shut closed to the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden of American Society by Federalist Society Judges and Justices.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wikileaks: Yemen Diverted U.S. Aid

By William Fisher

Yemen is diverting U.S. military counterterrorism assistance to an abusive military campaign unrelated to terrorist threats, a prominent human rights group has learned from Wikileaks.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks this month stated that Yemen in 2009 repeatedly diverted US-supported Yemeni counterterrorism forces and possibly US-supplied military vehicles to assist the government’s fight against northern Huthi rebels.

In the cables, US diplomats complain that their requests for Yemen to halt such diversions were having little effect. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous possible violations of the laws of war by government as well as rebel forces in the Huthi conflict.

HWR said the US should also investigate reported Saudi use of US-supplied
military hardware in the Yemeni-Huthi conflict.

The leaked cables also confirm that the US, not the Yemeni government, carried out missile strikes in December 2009 in the south of the country, including one that killed 42 local residents.

Letta Tayler, terrorism and counterterrorism researcher for HRW, told IPS, “Instead of using U.S. taxpayers’ dollars for the fight against al Quaida,” Yemeni authorities diverted this support from that critical fight to potentially abusive operations against Huthi rebels.”

She added, “The U.S. should not tolerate the misuse of such resources because it could implicate the U.S. in Yemen’s abusive practices. Tolerating such misuse of military assistance for Yemen’s domestic political struggles could implicate the US in these abusive practices.”

HRW called on the U.S. Government to investigate Yemen’s apparent diversion of US counterterrorism assistance and suspend such aid unless the
misuse has stopped.

The Obama administration and the US Congress also should investigate
reported Saudi use of US-supplied ammunition in Yemen and US missile strikes in Yemen, including a 2009 attack that killed several dozen local residents.

US military assistance to Yemen more than doubled from US$67 million to $150 million in 2010 and is expected to increase to $250 million in 2011 in response to efforts by Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to carry out attacks abroad. Since 2002, the US has spent more than $115 million on Yemeni counterterrorism forces, including the elite Counter-Terrorism Unit that US diplomats say in cables was deployed to attack
northern rebel forces.

Human Rights Watch’s April 2010 report on the Huthi-government armed conflict in northern Yemen, “All Quiet on the Northern Front,” documents credible allegations that Yemeni government forces indiscriminately shelled and bombed civilian areas in its fight against the Huthis, causing civilian
casualties, and used child soldiers. Those practices violate the laws of war. It also found violations by Huthi forces.

US investigations should include an assessment of steps that US embassy officials in 2009 said that they would take to address shortcomings in their “End-Use Monitoring Agreement,” - a pact that allows the US to check if Yemen misused or illicitly transferred any US security assistance.

The US government should take an equally hard look at its own military’s conduct in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said. One diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks from December 2009 recounts how Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh promised US Gen. David H. Petraeus that he would continue to falsely claim that US missile strikes against suspected AQAP targets were Yemeni operations.

Those strikes included a December 17 cruise missile attack in the southern province of Abyan that killed at least 42 people, the majority of them women and children. The Abyan strike reportedly used cluster munitions, weapons that are banned by more than 100 countries because they are unable to distinguish between military and civilian people and objects.

US officials have refused to publicly confirm media reports that the US military carried out the airstrike.

“The US should immediately conduct an impartial review of the Abyan strike to ensure compliance with international law, including the prohibition against indiscriminate attacks that harm civilians,” Tayler said. “The Obama administration has yet to clarify the legal basis for such strikes.”

Additional US cables that Wikileaks made public show that Saudi Arabia, which was a party to the Yemeni-Huthi conflict at least from November 2009 until early February 2010, sought ammunition from the US specifically for use in its military engagement against Huthi forces.

A cable from the US embassy in Riyadh dated December 30, 2009, described that the US responded “with alacrity” to the request and supplied ammunition.

The Saudi deputy minister of defense, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, on November 10, 2009, announced Saudi Arabia was establishing a 10-kilometer buffer zone inside Yemen. A Saudi official characterized the zone as “no place for civilians,” raising concerns that civilian immunity would not be respected.

Human Rights Watch in “All Quiet on the Northern Front?” reported that Huthi rebels had claimed that on December 13, 2009, multiple Saudi airstrikes had hit a public market in Bani Mu’in in Razih district in Sa’da governorate, allegedly killing 70 civilians and injuring hundreds more.

A US embassy cable from Riyadh dated February 7, 2010, voiced concern that Saudi strikes hit a “Yemeni medical clinic,” which Prince Khaled seemed to acknowledge, claiming it was used by Huthi forces. Based on Prince Khaled’s assurances that Saudi forces would take care to avoid civilian objects, the US ambassador recommended that the US also supply satellite imagery of the conflict to Saudi Arabia.