Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brits Ban Death Penalty Drug

By William Fisher

After first resisting the efforts of human rights and legal advocates, the British Government has now backed down and placed an immediate ban on the export of lethal injection drugs to be used in American executions.

The well-known legal charity, Reprieve, has been campaigning to secure a ban on the export of Sodium Thiopental to the U.S. for execution purposes for the past month. Yesterday the U.K. Government’s Secretary of State of Business Innovation and Skills agreed to impose such an order. The U.S. has run short of the drug, which is used in the execution protocol

Reprieve said: Originally, Secretary Vince Cable refused to act for two reasons: “the suggestion that if Britain did not provide the drugs someone else would, and the notion that sodium thiopental was exported to the U.S. for medical purposes.”

Reprieve said, “The first reason was unworthy of a response – if something is immoral, it does not matter that someone else will commit the offence.”

The legal charity and one of the UK’s leading law firms, Leigh Day, say they “proved that no sodium thiopental was imported from Europe to the U.S. for any medicinal use, and that it would be illegal to do so under the regulations promulgated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

The charity added, “To their credit, Archimedes Pharma, which may unwittingly have been the source of the drugs used to execute prisoners, did not oppose the ban. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical company actively supported the effort to prove that the drugs were not legitimately imported into the US. “

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said, “There is urgent work to do. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – so named, notwithstanding their plan to execute a number of prisoners – expects to receive enough drugs to kill 86 people this week, perhaps as early as today, probably again from Britain. The British government must take active and urgent steps to prevent this from happening, and to make up for the delay in imposing a ban.”

But Stafford Smith had kind words for the manufacturer. “Let me congratulate Archimedes Pharma for doing the right thing as well. This should be a lesson to other companies that purport to be ethical – words are not enough. You have to take action.”

Despite the shortage of one of drugs in the execution protocol, death sentences continue in the U.S. On Monday, October 25, Jeffery Landrigan was executed in Arizona using drugs supplied by a British company, despite a plea for clemency from the judge who sentenced him to death. Reprieve said, “The Arizona consignment was sufficient for four executions, so the drugs sourced in Britain will contribute to three more deaths.”

The following week the American lawyers for Edmund Zagorski contacted Reprieve with a plea for help: Tennessee was seeking to purchase the drugs to kill Mr. Zagorski, apparently from the same British company. On Thursday, October 28, Reprieve and Leigh Day contacted the Government and asked for emergency measures to be taken to avoid British complicity in Zagorski’s execution.

On Monday, November 1, Secretary Cable responded that the British government would take no such step, relying primarily on his belief that Sodium Thiopental had medicinal uses in the U.S.

On Tuesday, November 2, therefore, Leigh Day filed a judicial review. The Government opposed an immediate and temporary export ban although to their credit the main pharmaceutical company involved, Archimedes Pharma, did not. No such order was interposed, in part because the Tennessee authorities had represented that they would secure the drugs on November 25 at the earliest.

Reprieve said, “it transpired that the Tennessee authorities had deceived everyone, and had already received the drugs on October 26. The source remains secret to date, but may well have been the UK, Reprieve said.

Ed Zagorski is scheduled to die on January 11th, 2011. He has been on death row in Tennessee for almost 27 years, and Reprieve says he has been a model prisoner. He protests his innocence, and an independent assessment from Physicians for Human Rights concluded that he had been “tortured” into implicating himself. The original trial prosecutor offered a life sentence, with eligibility for parole – evincing a clear view that the death penalty was not a necessary punishment.

Meanwhile, other desperate states sought sodium thiopental from abroad. California expects to receive enough to kill 86 prisoners this week. Oklahoma is trying to use Phenobarbital, the drug used to kill animals, at an alternative.

The 35 U.S. states that practice the death penalty have executed 1,233 prisoners since 1976. In 2010, executions will number 47, down from 52 a year earlier. Some 3,261 prisoners are currently on death row. States executing the most prisoners since 1976 were Texas (466) and Virginia (108). One hundred thirty-eight prisoners have been freed from death row, largely as a result of new DNA evidence.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More Than First Aid Needed

By William Fisher

Wikileaks spectacular paper dump of U.S. diplomatic cables may not yet have produced any bonecrushers, but many of the restricted or secret documents released to the world on Sunday have served to peel back the scabs of serious injuries inflicted by the administration of George W. Bush.

For example, the documents reveal that American officials, including the U.S. ambassador, sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan.

In one of the cables, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William R. Timken Jr., reports on a meeting to caution German officials against trying to enforce an arrest warrant against CIA officers implicated in the kidnapping of a German citizen with the same name as a suspected terrorist.

A senior American diplomat tells a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”

Observers are characterizing that as the thinnest of veiled threats.

The German victim of mistaken identity is Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen. In a lawsuit brought by El-Masry, he alleged that he was kidnapped in 2004, “rendered” to Albania and then to Afghanistan , where he was falsely held by the CIA for several months (which the CIA acknowledges) and was beaten, drugged, and subjected to various other inhumane activity while in captivity.

He was ultimately released by the CIA on a deserted road in Macedonia in the dead of night with no charge ever being brought against him by the United States government or anyone else.

In 2005, the ACLU sued former CIA Director George Tenet and three U.S.-based aviation corporations that owned or operated the aircraft used by the CIA to render El-Masri to Afghanistan. The lawsuit charged Tenet and others with violating the U.S. Constitution and universal human rights laws.

In May 2006, El-Masri ‘s court case was dismissed based on invocation of the “state secrets privilege,” by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The U.S. District Court dismissed his case because, according to the court, the
simple fact of holding proceedings would jeopardize state secrets, as claimed by the CIA. On March 2, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision.

On October 9, 2007, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Fourth Circuit's decision, letting the doctrine of state secrets privilege stand.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Government Secrecy Project of the American Federal of Scientists, told IPS, "There are innocent individuals who have been swept up in U.S. Government counterterrorism operations, wrongly detained, 'rendered' surreptitiously to foreign countries, subjected to extreme physical and mental stress, or otherwise wronged."

He added, "In some cases, like those of persons such as Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri, efforts to seek legal remedies have been blocked by the Government's invocation of the state secrets privilege. As a result, the alleged abuses committed in such cases remain unresolved, and there is no way for the affected individuals to be made whole."

Thwarted by U.S. Courts, El-Masri took his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR accepted a petition filed by the ACLU. It asks the IACHR to declare that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “extraordinary rendition” program violates the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, to find the U.S. responsible for violating El-Masri's rights under that declaration, and to recommend that the U.S. publicly acknowledge and apologize for its role in El-Masri's forcible disappearance, detention and torture.

At that time, Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, told IPS, "This petition gives the U.S. yet another opportunity to account for one of the most heinous practices of the George W. Bush administration.”

“Our government kidnapped an innocent man; tortured him and then, adding insult to injury, denied him his day in court through bogus claims of harm to national security. President Obama has often stated that he wants to look forward, not backward. Engagement in this Commission process will be a means of putting those words into action and revealing the truth to El-Masri and the American people, he said."

He added, "The State Department should fully engage in this process and comprehensively address the gross violation of El-Masri's human rights, including his forcible disappearance and torture. To date, the United States hasn't so much as acknowledged its involvement in El-Masri's extraordinary rendition."

In March 2007, a federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit because of the government's assertion of the "state secrets" privilege. The U.S. Supreme Court let that decision stand when it refused to hear the case in October 2007.

"The United States, which has historically been a leader in ensuring access to justice for human rights violations around the world, has effectively closed the courtroom door to all victims of the Bush administration's torture regime," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

The Wikileaks dump revealed a 2007 State Department document showing that the U.S. “warned” the German government against making any moves to secure the arrests of the CIA agents responsible for the kidnapping, saying any such move would have “repercussions” to the relationship between the two nations.

German officials, according to the document, conceded that they understood the possible diplomatic consequences but also warned hat given the outcry from the German media their options were limited. The US admonished them to consider the “political context” of the kidnapping of the innocent man.

Despite the warnings the German government did issue Interpol arrest warrants for CIA officials involved in the kidnapping, though they dropped them a few months later.

The Wiki cable shows a discussion between the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission – one step below the Ambassador -- with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel. The cable says: “The DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case.

The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and [Foreign Minister] Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.”

The cable went on to say: “The DCM emphasized that this was not the case and that issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship. He reminded Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.”

Politically speaking, said Nikel, “Germany would have to examine the implications for relations with the U.S. At the same time, he noted our political differences about how the global war on terrorism should be waged, for example on the appropriateness of the Guantanamo facility and the alleged use of renditions.”

Nikel also cited intense pressure from the Bundestag and the German media. The German federal Government must consider the "entire political context," said Nikel. He assured the DCM that the [Chancellor’s office] is well aware of the bilateral political implications of the case, but added that this case "will not be easy."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mobilizing to Beat The Dream Act

By William Fisher

Democratic lawmakers will attempt to summon up their waning power by using the so-called “lame duck” session of Congress to pass what will likely be the closest they will get to comprehensive immigration reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will shepherd remaining members of their dwindling flock to pass The DREAM Act, which provides a six-year conditional path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents before they were 16 years of age. In order to qualify, an illegal immigrant has either to obtain a college degree or serve two years in the military.

Despite heavy support from immigration, civil rights, business and labor groups, some conservative Republican legislators – including some who were original co-sponsors of the legislation -- are continuing to brand the measure as “amnesty.”

Supporters of the bill say this is merely an attempt to scare the American public.

The measure’s critics contend that defeating the act must be, in the words of Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, “ a top priority before it provides an uncontrollable citizenship path to thousands of illegal immigrants.”

The right-wing publication Newsmax writes, “On the surface, the act would provide a road to citizenship for students who are illegal immigrants.” But it quotes the conservative Rep. King as saying “it would allow students to sponsor their extended families on that path.”

“We calculated that a single individual could bring in 357 people on a family reunification plan before we ran out of room on our spreadsheet,” King says.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be able to push the act through the lame-duck session of Congress, King told Newsmax. But Republicans should be able to use the filibuster to kill it in the Senate, he says.

“This is an out-of-control immigration path,” King says. “We need to fence that in and limit it to direct family members.”

King also intends to introduce a bill next year making clear that babies born to illegal mothers in the United States aren’t American citizens because they aren’t subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

A "lame duck" session of Congress in the U.S. occurs whenever one Congress meets after its successor is elected, but before the successor's term begins. The old Congress returned to work November 15 for a week, then recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday. They will return to work on Monday. Representatives and Senators elected or reelected in the mid-term elections just concluded will not take office until January 2011.

Meanwhile, efforts to shore up support for the legislation continue to strengthen.

The measure now has the support of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and a wide range of organizations and individuals concerned with the political, economic and social implications of immigration reform.

“I supported the DREAM Act when I was governor. I support it now…It seems to me that that DREAM Act is a good piece of legislation and a good idea,” Napolitano told Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin in congressional testimony.

Travis Packer, a Policy Research Assistant with the American Immigration Council, says the “tired effort to pit immigrants against native born is not only destructive, but has no basis in fact. It also ignores the economic benefits that come from legalizing a group of talented, hard working individuals who want nothing more than to contribute to America and repay the country for the opportunities they’ve been given.”

“It’s hard to imagine, given the economic data and bipartisan support, how these hardliners can justify twisting the DREAM Act into a rhetorical ball of fear,” he says, adding:

“The people who qualify for the amnesty are those who did not choose to be illegal immigrants. In essence, as illegal immigrants these are people without a country. All their lifelong friends are from the U.S., and they know nobody - and perhaps don't even speak the language - of their motherland. In addition, by adding people with degrees to the country, it will help us advance.”

Packer has assembled a litany of what he terms the myths that have become associated with the DREAM Act. He says, “The most egregious of them is the allegation that the DREAM Act “rewards” undocumented youth—who, by the way, had no choice in coming to the United States.”

He says other myths include:

The DREAM Act’s passage would somehow cheat native-born students out of opportunities. It will spur more illegal immigration because it rewards undocumented youth. It uses taxpayer dollars for scholarships and grants to undocumented students. It legalizes criminals and gang members and lets people who have already been ordered deported avoid the law.

Packer says, “Clearly, these myths are being spun in an effort to scare Americans into opposing this piece of humanitarian legislation as well as a larger immigration overhaul in the future. The truth is that the DREAM Act has long been supported by both Republicans and Democrats alike—not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good economic sense for all Americans.”

The Act has won the support of Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She says, “I supported the Dream Act when I was governor. I support it now…It seems to me that the Dream Act is a good piece of legislation and a good idea.”

Alejandro J. Beutel, Government Liaison for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), told IPS, “Passing the DREAM Act is in our nation's best moral and economic interests. Doing so will ensure America remains the world's shining beacon of individual liberty and prosperity."

And, according to the Economist newspaper, “The DREAM Act sends the message that although American immigration law in effect tries to make water run uphill, we are not monsters. It says that we will not hobble the prospects of young people raised and schooled in America just because we were so perverse to demand that their parents wait in a line before a door that never opens.”

The Act “signals that we were once a nation of immigrants, and even if we have become too fearful and small to properly honor that noble legacy, America in some small way remains a land of opportunity,” the magazine wrote.

In a related development, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled last week that students who attend at least three years of high school in California and graduate are eligible for in-state tuition rates at California public colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status. The court found that federal law did not bar California from offering tuition equality to students. California is one of 10 states with similar laws on the books.

DREAM Act supporters say the legislation would clarify what the California Supreme Court recognized: that federal law does not bar states from making the policy choice to afford students equal access to education.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Egypt’s Flawed Election

By William Fisher

Egypt’s authoritarian government ramped up its crackdown on journalists and opposition politicians ahead of the November 28 parliamentary elections and rebuffed a U.S. call for international observers to monitor “free and fair” balloting.

At the same time, the U.S. and its principal Middle East ally appeared to be headed for a rhetorical brawl over Egypt’s alleged religious discrimination.

“Egypt is capable of monitoring the upcoming polls to prove to the entire world we are able to manage completely impartial elections,” Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told journalists.

He dismissed as interference, calls to allow foreign observers to monitor the country's parliamentary elections next week, an official said.

According to press reports, “It is as if the United States has turned into a caretaker of how Egyptian society should conduct its own politics.”

“The National Democratic Party (NDP) and legal opposition groups reject any such interference," said Sawfat al-Sharif, the secretary-general of the NDP.

Some 250 candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) party have been arrested and many detained. The MB, whose candidates must run as “independents” because the MB is not recognized as a political party, h controls about 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament. It claims that some political parties have done deals with the NDP to exclude Brotherhood candidates from the elections.

The program of Mubarak's ruling party includes such objectives as combating poverty and corruption, raising the standard of living, working towards social justice and strengthening national security. Critics charge that the 82-year-old president has announced similar goals each time there is an election, but claim that it is difficult to see any major changes taking place.

The NDP is expected to maintain majority control in the 518-seat People's Assembly for the new, five-year term. Mubarak is expected to run again for the presidency next year.

The U.S. has been seen by some observers as slow to speak out forcefully regarding the election. But last week State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters, "The United States remains committed to supporting free and impartial elections in Egypt," holding the Egyptian government to its own commitment to "fair and transparent elections."

Crowley called on Egypt to ensure peaceful political gatherings, unhindered voter education and participation campaigns, as well as balanced media coverage for all candidates.

But in Egypt, some election observers found it significant that these announcements came from relatively mid-level personnel rather than U.S. President Barack Obama.
Michele Dunne, a former State Department Middle East specialist and analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the elections pose major challenges.

"The signs are not very positive for having free elections. There have been a lot of steps that the Egyptian government has taken recently to cut down the size of opposition, to diminish the number of opposition candidates who can run, to encumber their freedom to campaign, to control media coverage of the elections and prevent the opposition from using technological means like text messages and so forth to mobilize for the elections," she said.

Meanwhile, government security apparatus continued its political persecution of journalists and Egypt and the U.S. appeared headed for a confrontation regarding religious discrimination.

An Egyptian criminal court began the trial of an opposition journalist accused of libeling Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit. The minister had filed a complaint alleging that he was insulted in an article in the independent daily Shorouk last May.

In other journalism-related developments:

An Egyptian citizen, Usama Mishref, was detained in Saudi Arabia. Mishref is the coordinator of the Saudi branch of an Egyptian group, the National Assembly for Change, which supports a presidential run for Mohamed El Baradei, retired chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mishref was on his way from Riyadh to Mecca to launch the campaign "You Are The Only Way Out" in support of democratic reform in Egypt. He had posted a video on YouTube urging Egyptians not to be afraid of the security police and to support demands for change and democratic reform in Egypt.

Reporters Without Borders condemned blogger Ahmed Hassan Basiouny’s trial by court martial, and called for the immediate withdrawal of the charges against him. He is the second blogger to face a court martial in Egypt.

Basiouny is being prosecuted for creating a Facebook page in 2009 that offered advice and information to young people thinking of enlisting in the Egyptian army. He is charged with disseminating defense secrets online and “disclosing information about the Egyptian armed forces.”

And Amnesty International issued a new report, 'Shouting slogans into the wind': Human rights concerns ahead of the parliamentary elections’. It said, “The rise in the number of voices calling for reform has been met with increasing repression by the authorities, using the very emergency powers that many Egyptians have been urging them to abolish. Many such critics, in fact, have faced arrest, detention, prosecution on trumped-up criminal charges and unfair trials.”

In developments relating to alleged religious discrimination in Egypt, the State Department released its annual report on religious freedom in the world and outlined several problematic areas in Egypt. The report described ways in which religious minorities like Coptic Christians, Shia, and Baha'i face unfair institutional and legal difficulties in addition to individual discrimination.

"The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year," the 2010 report said.

Meanwhile, 10 houses owned by Copts in the village of Al-Nawahid in Qena province, some 465 kilometers south of Cairo, were burned down when rumors circulated that a Coptic resident was having an affair with a Muslim woman.

Last year in Qena, a Coptic man was accused of kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl. The alleged assault led to widespread protests by the Muslim community and increased tensions between the two religious groups, which culminated in the murder of six Copts and one Muslim security guard at a church on Jan. 6.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 80 million. Copts and Muslims generally live in peace, though tension and violence occasionally flare.

Human rights groups say attacks on Copts are on the rise, underscoring the government's failure to address chronic sectarian strains in a society where religious radicalism is gaining ground.

On Saturday, the government dismissed the complaints from the United States. It said Washington has no right to hand down judgments.

"The report is rejected on principle because it has been issued by a party which has no right to make such an evaluation," the foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement in reaction to the State Department’s report. The government insists Christians enjoy the same rights as Muslims.

ICE Deporting the Wrong People

By William Fisher

While U.S. immigration authorities are “understandably eager to trumpet the overall number” of people they deport, close to one in three deportations recommended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is being rejected by Immigration Courts, according to an analysis of case-by-case government data.

During the last three months of FY 2010, the rejection rate of ICE requests for deportation was nearly one out of three or 31 percent. This turndown rate is up from what it was — one out of every four — 12 months earlier.

For all of FY 2010, some courts turned down ICE removal requests more than half of the time. Among them were the Immigration Courts in New York City (70% turned down), Oregon (63% turned down), Los Angeles (63% turned down), Miami (59% turned down) and Philadelphia (55% turned down). In criminal prosecutions, the typical conviction rate in recent years for immigration cases is 96 percent.

These findings are based on analysis of recent information obtained by the Transactional Clearing House at Syracuse University (TRAC) under the Freedom of Information Act.

The TRAC analysis says that the poor targeting of government removal efforts documented by the Immigration Court data shows that “scarce resources such as the investigative time of ICE agents are being wasted and that the ability of the government to deport those who should be removed from the country therefore has been reduced.”

Attorney Alison Parker, who directs the U.S. domestic civil rights program for Human Rights Watch, told IPS, “ICE is under huge pressure to show that it is deporting the undocumented. As a result it is casting its net far too wide. Secondly, the current law allows ICE to go after everyone – from turnstile-jumpers to serial killers. There are far too many turnstile-jumpers being deported. ICE should concentrate its resources on people who have committed serious crimes.”

The analysis shows that in the fiscal year 2006-2010 period, unsuccessful ICE filings affected almost a quarter of a million individuals (246,721) who were not subject to deportation because they were entitled to reside in the United States. The count is even higher (313,244), however, if all other reasons given by the judges for not granting ICE removals and deportation are counted.

Lena Graber of the National Immigration Forum agrees that the TRAC analysis shows that “ICE casts a very wide net and pursues targets indiscriminately, despite their claims about enforcement priorities.”

She told IPS, “The growth in cases dismissed for having ‘no grounds for removal’ -- from under 5% a few years ago to nearly 12% in 2010 -- demonstrates that ICE is pursuing removal against people who should not be forced to go through proceedings at all.”

She also expressed concern about the distribution of these dismissal rates. She pointed out that most of them occur in urban areas with large immigrant populations. There, she said, “the proportion of cases dismissed or granted relief is noticeably higher than average. This is likely because the vast majority of people in removal proceedings are not represented by an attorney, but those in urban areas with large immigrant populations are the most likely to have access to immigration attorneys and particularly immigrant defense organizations and pro bono networks.”

She added, “This underscores the injustice of having most of our immigration detention centers in remote rural areas in the south, far from access to legal representation.”

The documents analyzed track what happens to ICE cases where the law requires the agency to obtain the concurrence of an immigration judge before an individual is deported from the United States. ICE has refused to release more detailed data to better explain the growing rejection rates and the possible reasons behind these important shifts.

TRAC says the questions the public has “might be answered with the more extensive data that the agency has sought to withhold from the public.”

One question involves the effectiveness of the agency: is it targeting the individuals for removal who in fact should be deported? The second concerns the fairness of the process: What is the impact on those individuals the agency has wrongly sought to remove who were entitled to remain in the United States?

TRAC suggests that one reason may be the “growing pressures to increase the volume of illegal immigrants the agency catches and removes from the country.” The administration of U.S. president Barack Obama has announced new priorities targeting aliens with particularly serious criminal records.

But other studies have shown that a large proportion of those deported to not have such criminal records, and in fact have been arrested for petty crimes and traffic violations. ICE has also focused increasing resources on new initiatives such as Secure Communities while de-emphasizing large scale raids on businesses.

According to HRW’s Alison Parker, ICE’s new priorities “have yet to be transformed into action.” She suggested that reform at ICE “requires a cultural change” from ICE’s predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

TRAC says that “because ICE is withholding data that would track cases from their origins to disposition we are prevented from determining which particular initiatives may account for the sharp increase in ICE's turndown rate.”

TRAC adds that “It seems unlikely that these changes can be attributed to changes in the Immigration Courts.” During this past year there has been little change in the makeup of judges serving on the court.

TRAC’s findings are based upon a detailed analysis of 3.4 million records covering each proceeding filed in the Immigration Courts for fiscal years 1998 — 2010.

The group says that, over the past five years court records indicate there were a total of 94,949 cases that the judges said they had terminated because there were no grounds for removal. In addition, there were 151,682 cases where the judges granted relief.

In some areas of the country the court turns down ICE's removal request over half of the time. These include courts in New York, Oregon (which also covers Idaho, Montana and Alaska), Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia.

TRAC found that larger Immigration Courts regardless of the region of the country were seeing an increase in the rejection rates on ICE removal actions. The three courts that disposed of the largest number of cases during FY 2010 were courts in Los Angeles, New York City and Miami.

TRAC concludes that “poor targeting that weakens the government is inefficient. In addition, however, poor targeting imposes real personal and financial burdens on the individuals who have been wrongfully selected for removal. It is unfair.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010


By William Fisher

A clear majority of U.S. voters-- 61 per cent -- would choose a punishment other than death for murder if given a choice, the Death Penalty Information Center said today as it released the results of “one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted” of Americans’ views on the death penalty.

In a national poll of 1,500 registered voters conducted by Lake Research Partners, alternative punishments to execution included life with no possibility of parole and with restitution to the victim’s family (39 per cent), life with no possibility of parole (13 per cent), or life with the possibility of parole (9 per cent).

The researchers said the survey “shows growing support for alternatives to the death penalty compared with previous polls.”

The research shows that in states with the death penalty, a plurality of voters said it would make no difference in their vote if a representative supported repeal of the death penalty; and a majority (62 per cent) said either it would make no difference (38 per cent) or they would be more likely to vote for such a representative (24 per cent).

“For decades, politicians have equated being tough on crime with support for the death penalty, but this research suggests voters want their elected officials to be smart on crime, use tax dollars wisely, and fund the services they care about the most. Capital punishment is not a high priority for voters and is not the ‘third rail’ of politics,” Richard Dieter, Executive Director of Death Penalty Information Center told IPS during a telephone news conference.

“We see a real openness to considering life with no possibility for parole as a punishment for murder and a real awareness among Americans of the many problems with the death penalty. It is likely we will see Americans moving away from support for the death penalty as states and local governments grapple with tight budgets and as today’s younger voters and Latinos move into the core of the electorate,” said pollster Celinda Lake.

Since the start of 2009, many states, such as Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Montana, Kansas, and New Mexico considered legislation to repeal the death penalty, and it is expected that trend will continue in 2011.

Voters ranked the death penalty the lowest on a list of budget priorities and expressed strong support for replacing the death penalty with life without parole, if the money saved was used to fund crime prevention programs.

In states with the death penalty, a plurality of voters said it would make no difference in their vote if a representative supported repeal of the death penalty; and a majority said either it would make no difference or they would be more likely to vote for such a representative. In 2011, about five states are expected to consider repeal legislation.

The poll dug deeply into Americans’ thinking about the death penalty and the problems they see in this punishment. For decades, elected officials have equated being tough on crime with support for the death penalty, but this research shows that capital punishment may no longer be a “third rail” of politics.

Additional key findings from the polling research include:

Cost emerged as an important concern for a strong majority of Americans. Sixty-eight percent said cost was a very or somewhat convincing argument against the death penalty. Voters ranked emergency services, creating jobs, police and crime prevention, schools and libraries, public health care services, and roads and transportation as more important budget priorities than the death penalty.

A strong majority of respondents (65 per cent) would favor replacing the death penalty with life with no possibility of parole if the money saved were used to fund crime prevention programs.

Hispanic voters were among those most willing to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment. They responded most strongly to moral objections to the death penalty rooted in faith, as well as the argument that the death penalty is particularly unfair along racial lines.

The poll explored the information that the public uses to make up its mind about the death penalty and the problems they see with this punishment.

Some of the public’s top concerns about the death penalty were that it is applied unevenly and unfairly; it subjects victims’ families to lengthy trials and years of appeals that interfere with the healing process; and it risks executing the innocent.

Spending millions of dollars on the death penalty, at a time when states are cutting back on services such as police forces, schools, and public health, and when life in prison would cost less, was also of concern to voters.

Moral and religious objections to the death penalty were strong among Latino and Catholic voters.

The nationwide poll was conducted in May 2010 with a margin of error of +/- 2.5%

Death Penalty Information Center, founded in 1990, is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.


By William Fisher

The government of the United Kingdom will reportedly pay millions in compensation to seven British nationals who were unlawfully “rendered” to U.S.-run prisons and tortured with the cooperation of British intelligence.

The British press is reporting that Ministers and the security services appear to have decided that exposure of thousands of documents in open court was a risk they could not take. The documents presumably would confirm British complicity with the U.S. in the so-called “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represents two of those slated to receive reparations in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program.

The organization said in a statement it was “deeply troubling that while the U.K. and many other countries are now acknowledging and addressing their official complicity in the Bush administration’s human rights abuses, here in the United States the Obama administration continues to shield the architects of the torture program from civil liability while Bush-era officials, including former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney, boast of their crimes on national television.”

The group added, “To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in a U.S. court. The U.S. can no longer stand silently by as other nations reckon with their own agents' complicity in the torture program. Reckoning with the legacy of torture would restore our standing in the world, reassert the rule of law and strengthen our democracy.

“If other democracies can compensate survivors and hold officials accountable for their endorsement of torture, surely we can do the same,” the group said.

Last week, during television interviews to promote his new memoir, “Decision Points,” former U.S. president George W. Bush claimed that techniques such as waterboarding were legal and had protected the U.K. from terrorist attacks.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, disagreed with Bush. In fact, it was Cameron’s agreement that lawyers for the former prisoners should begin negotiations with the government that led to the settlement expected to be announced imminently.

The detainees understood to be in line for settlements include Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga. Mohamed and Al Rawi, plaintiffs in the Jeppesen case, claim they were kidnapped, forcibly rendered to U.S.-run prisons overseas, and tortured.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama invoked the so-called state secrets privilege to have the Jeppesen case thrown out, and a federal appeals court dismissed the case in September. The ACLU has asked the Supreme Court to review that decision.

The U.K. is one of several nations that have taken responsibility for their role in the illegal torture program run by the Bush administration by initiating investigations or public inquiries.

A forthcoming British inquiry will investigate the role U.K. officials played in the program. It was British Prime Minister David Cameron’s agreement that the government should negotiate with the former prisoners that opened the way for a broad inquiry into what British intelligence officials knew about the American rendition and torture programs, and what they did about it. The inquiry is scheduled to report by the end 2011.

The British high court had ruled that confidential documents would have to be released during court hearings. This would take inordinate amounts of time and the documents would likely be highly embarrassing to U.K. officials.

When Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed sued the British government last year for being complicit in his imprisonment and torture, it caused a major furor in the U.K. foreign office establishment. The former foreign secretary, David Miliband, fought in the high court to have the suit dismissed, on grounds that the Americans had threatened to stop exchanging intelligence with their British allies if the case went ahead. The high court ruled in favor of Mohamed.

The ruling said that Mohamed was subjected to "cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment" by U.S. authorities and ordered the release of a previously secret seven-paragraph summary of CIA documents on his treatment.

Paying reparations to Mohamed will inevitably further diminish Miliband’s reputation.

It appears that the payment to former Guantanamo prisoners would represent the first time a group of former prisoners has successfully sought financial restitution.

The only other known instance of a prisoner receiving a money award is the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen. He was stopped by U.S. authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York while enroute from North Africa to his home in Canada, shipped off first to Jordan, and finally to Syria, where he was imprisoned, held incommunicado without charge, and tortured for almost a year. The Syrian authorities then released him without charge.

The U.S. had acted on information supplied by the Canadian Government. After a two-year investigation of the incident, Canada made a formal apology to Arar and awarded him close to ten million dollars.

However, he remains on a U.S. “no fly” list and cannot enter the U.S.

Revenge of the Body Scanners

By William Fisher

Privacy advocates today called on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to end its controversial new initiative of whole-body scans and enhanced pat-downs of airline passengers, calling the program “dangerous to health, ineffective and unconstitutional.”

Led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, a group of organizations held a telephonic news conference to insist that the “strip-search” program be suspended and turned over the Congress to investigate.

Nader said, “the machines are ineffective, the pat-downs are too invasive, and the use of radioactive technology poses health risks.” Congress should look into these issues, he said.

Nader cited testimony from a number of physicians who agreed that radioactivity “could cause skin problems” and might pose a public health threat to passengers.

Nader said there is also the issue of how protective these TSA initiatives are. He pointed out that “passengers and crew of 17,000 business jets are not screened at all.”

He added: “The TSA has no strategy. This new program is a commercially driven, knee jerk reaction to the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber. The program should be ended and turned over to Congress.”

Additionally, he said, “What concerns us is the TSA’s secrecy – their obscurantist approach to government...not responding to members of congress, the press or the public.”

In San Diego yesterday, an airline ticket-holder declined to use the electronic body scanner and opted for a pat-down instead. The TSA inspector then explained the intimate anatomic details of the pat-down, at which point the would0-be passenger threatened to sue of the TSA official touched his private parts. He was denied access to the aircraft and threatened with arrest and a civil fine.

Another conference participant, Chip Pitts, a lecturer in law at Stanford University law school, talked about the ineffectiveness of the body scanning technology.
“Despite the secret, corrupt, and deceptive claims under which these machines have been sold by DHS, TSA, and their contract manufacturers, the body scanners don’t detect the sorts of plastic explosives that were their main justification. They’re easily evaded by real terrorists even as they render everyone else a suspect, increasingly relegating the innocent to an unacceptable choice of a radiation scan, or a groping pat-down, or not flying at all.”

“Adopted with utter disregard for a host of laws including the Administrative Procedure Act, the Privacy Act, and other specific statutes, these machines not only reverse the presumption of innocence, but violate the Fourth Amendment and other core provisions of the Bill of Rights, including by placing discriminatory burdens and risks on vulnerable groups and individuals such as religious minorities, children, pregnant women, airport crews, and frequent travelers,” he added.

“They’re thus of a piece with other discredited post-9/11 programs like ‘Total Information Awareness’, ‘Secure Flight,’ and the massive warrantless surveillance and ongoing data mining programs, representing a misplaced techno-utopianism that’s utterly ineffective in achieving the promised objectives -- but quite effective in crushing our deepest values and true security, “ he said.

Other groups participating in the conference included the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Flyers' Rights. Org, We Won’t Fly. org., and the Libertarian Party.

Kate Hanni of Flyers' Rights.org., which claims to have 30,000 members, asked, “Are we getting ahead of terrorists or merely reacting to recent events?”.

Mark Hinkle of the Libertarian Party, said “Everyone who cares about civil liberties should be outraged. The Obama administration shows no respect for the constitution. It believes there is no limit on government power.”

We won't fly.org is promoting a national opt-out day, Nov. 24, to encourage people to protest the TSA program by not flying. Nov. 24 comes at the start of busiest travel season of the year.

EPIC has filed a lawsuit to suspend the body scanner program, calling it "unlawful, invasive, and ineffective." Opposition to the program is growing. The Libertarian Party, the American Pilots Association, Airline CEOs, flyers rights organizations, religious groups, and others are calling for an end to invasive searches at airports. A National Opt-Out Day is scheduled for November 24.

Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle said today, "The TSA should end the strip-search machine program immediately. We've reached a point where our government has no qualms about humiliating us." Hinkle expressed support for the EPIC lawsuit aimed at suspending the body scanner program. Hinkle further said, "We encourage Americans to call their newly-elected members of Congress and tell them that they don't want this expensive, worthless, intrusive, unconstitutional program."

The EPIC lawsuit challenges the unilateral decision of the TSA to make body scanners the primary screening technique in U.S. airports. Three frequent air travelers are joining EPIC in the lawsuit: security expert Bruce Schneier, human rights activist Chip Pitts, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations legal counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili.

The Petitioners have brought claims under the Administrative Procedure Act, the Privacy Act, the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Fourth Amendment. The Petitioners are seeking the suspension of the body scanner program.

In its brief, EPIC argues that the Department of Homeland Security "has initiated the most sweeping, the most invasive, and the most unaccountable suspicionless search of American travelers in history." EPIC further argues that the Transportation Security Administration "must comply with relevant law, and it must not be permitted to engage in such a fundamental change in agency practice without providing the public the opportunity to express its views."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Egypt: What Price Stability?

By William Fisher

The Egyptian government’s crackdown on political opponents continued unabated in advance of parliamentary elections November 28, even as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the “partnership” between the two countries as “a cornerstone of stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

In the latest example of a widespread campaign of media repression, Kareem Nabil, an Egyptian blogger who completed a four-year prison term, was still being detained and beaten at the State Security Intelligence (SSI) headquarters in Alexandria by security officers, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

Nabil had been released from Burj al-Arab Prison on 6 November. He was subsequently re-arrested by security officers in Alexandria without charges.

A student at Cairo's state-run religious university, Al-Azhar, Nabil was convicted in 2006 by an Alexandria court of insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak, who he called a dictator.

Nabil’s re-arrest was seen by human rights activists as, in the words of an unnamed opposition figure, “another nail in the coffin of Egyptian democracy.” The government’s efforts to stifle opposition to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have included firing an influential newspaper editor, revoking the licenses of TV channels, arresting bloggers, changing the rules governing political slogans, and fabricating infractions to disqualify opposition candidates from running.

As the government’s campaign continued, the U.S. Secretary of State hosted a visit by Egypt’s foreign minister, Aboul Gheit, and Egypt’s Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. Gheit confirmed that he and Mrs. Clinton did not discuss the forthcoming election.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has come under increasing criticism from both conservatives and liberals for not being forceful enough in speaking out publicly regarding the parliamentary election and the presidential election, which is to follow.

Conservatives – and neoconservatives -- are urging Obama to reinstate the “democracy-building” programs implemented by the George W. Bush administration, Obama’s predecessor. But they appear to be far more concerned about Egypt’s continuing role as “mediator” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Liberals are pushing for more unequivocal rhetoric from the White House comdemning the renewal of Egypt’s 30-year-old “emergency” laws and the widely-reported harrassment of opposition political institutions and individuals.

The country’s 82-year-old leader since 1981, Hosni Mubarak, promised the U.S. he would repeal the emergency laws, which give Egypt’s security services the unfettered right to arrest and detain people without due process or judicial review.

The Obama administration has been most outspoken regarding the emergency laws, whose renewal it regards as a broken promise. It has also publicly condemned the June murder of blogger Khaled Saeed, who was dragged out of an Internet café and beaten to death on the street. He had recently posted a video online exposing police corruption.

Human rights advocates charge that the government has kidnapped bloggers and Internet activists, tortured them, and then imprisoned them until the bruises on their bodies have disappeared so there is no evidence of abuse.

One of those advocates, Hossam Bahgat, has told IPS that democracy-building programs can only be effective if they are “inside-out” – adopted by indigenous people who live and work in a country or a community, and not superimposed on them.

Bahgat, who heads a not-for-profit organization known The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), was in New York to receive an award from Human Rights Watch (HRW) celebrating the “valor of individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the dignity and rights of others.”

HRW said Baghat is “a leading voice against the prosecution and harassment of individuals based on their religious beliefs or private sexual conduct. He has played a prominent role in exposing the government's failure to prosecute sectarian violence against Coptic Christians.”

Baghat’s organization recently won a case against the Interior Ministry on behalf of Egypt's Baha'i citizens, a minority facing frequent violence and discrimination. Egyptians may now obtain official documents without revealing their religious convictions, or being forced to identify themselves as Muslims, Christians, or Jews.

Baghat’s group recently launched an advocacy campaign to combat sectarianism in Egypt. The organization said the campaign is a joint movement and “an appeal for collective action to eliminate sectarianism and strengthen the values of equal citizenship and shared existence in our common nation without religious or faith-based discrimination.”

“While the movement is being launched by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights as part of our ongoing efforts to defend equality and freedom of religion and belief, we realize that it cannot be successful if it remains ours alone," Bahgat said.

"We firmly believe that this campaign will not meet with success unless it becomes a voice for Egyptians who believe that we are all in this together and those united by a common fear for our future due to rising social divisions, sectarian tension and a mindset that divides the country into an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ he said, adding:

“At the same time, we believe many people are hopeful about the possibility of ending sectarianism and working together to build a country that upholds all citizens’ right to equality and dignity.”

The Mubarak regime has been criticized for many years for what opponents call a nationwide campaign of persecution and discrimination against the Egyptian Coptic church. Copts are Christians who make up about five per cent of the Egyptian population.

Baghat told IPS the EIPR campaign involves the production, screening and distribution of media materials and short public service announcements on the dangers of sectarianism. These are available for viewing on the group’s YouTube page.

There is also be a blog on which one can join the campaign, as well as a Facebook page to allow supporters to keep up with the news, express their opinions, take part in the debate, and facilitate citizen reporting of sectarian incidents.

From a U.S. perspective, despite the “cumbaya” diplomacy on display during the Egyptian foreign minister’s visit to the U.S. State Department, Egypt is likely to continue to be the target of both liberal and conservative scorn.

But neither end of the political spectrum believes Washington has the clout to influence the upcoming elections. And Egyptian voters are both powerless and uninformed.

As one prominent activist, Bahey el-din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, wrote recently, “The outcome of the elections has already been determined -- all that remains is the official announcement of the results after 28 November, in favor of the ruling National Democratic Party.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bush: Vacation at the Prado?

By William Fisher

After a three-year investigation, President Barack Obama’s mantra – “it's important to look forward and not backwards” – appears to have trumped the rule of law as a special prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges against the Central Intelligence Agency operatives involved in the destruction of video recordings of interrogations of “war on terror” suspects.

The human rights community and many legal scholars from both ends of the political spectrum are up in arms about the decision. And they were further angered by the remarks made by former president George W. Bush during television and radio interviews promoting his new memoir, “Decision Points.”

For example, Bush admitted to Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” program that he authorized the use of waterboarding on two CIA prisoners. He said further that the technique was legal and that he would make the same decision again.

Lauer then asked him, “Why is waterboarding legal, in your opinion?”

Bush responded: “Because the lawyer said it was legal. He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of the people around you, and I do.”

Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, spoke to IPS with a hint of despair. He said, “The failure of DOJ to bring criminal charges against the CIA officials who destroyed the tapes of the waterboarding of detainees is another awful decision insuring that the torture conspirators including President Bush will not be held accountable for their crimes -- at least not by the Obama administration.”

“Coming on the heels of Bush's proud confession that he ordered water boarding, we now have a country without a shred of human rights credibility. If the U.S. can torture with impunity, why can't every country?”

“Obama says we need to look forward; sadly, we are looking forward to a future of torture. One hope remains: international justice against the torture conspirators that is currently being pursued in the Spanish courts by the Center for Constitutional Rights and others. If I were former President Bush, my next vacation would not be a visit to the Prado.”

In the opinion of Chris Anders, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “I find Bush’s remarks about waterboarding [in the Lauer interview] more important than the narrow issue of the destroyed CIA tapes. That’s because he confessed to war crimes.”

He added, “Everything in our legal history makes waterboarding a crime. Bush said he authorized it. What he should know about the rule of law is that no one is above it. Yet Bush doesn’t seem in the least concerned about the consequences of what he is confessing to.”

Criticism of both the special prosecutor’s decision and of Bush’s remarks appeared to come from both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

A well-known conservative lawyer, Bruce Fein, who was a senior attorney in the Department of Justice (DOJ) under President Ronald Reagan, told IPS, “Obama decided against prosecution for the same reason he has desisted from prosecuting former President Bush and former VP Cheney despite confessing to authorizing waterboarding: political inconvenience or popular opinion.”

Professor Jordan J. Paust of the Law Center at the University of Houston, author of “Beyond the Law The Bush Administration's Unlawful Responses in the ‘War’ on Terror,” charges that Bush’s remarks were “in apparent violation of a court order and does not bode well for the rule of law or the need to end impunity for international crimes.”

“Clearly, former President Bush has admitted that he had a ‘program’ of secret detention (which is forced disappearance of persons, a war crime, and a crime against humanity over which there is universal jurisdiction and a universal responsibility to either initiate prosecution or to extradite) and ‘tough’ interrogation, which included waterboarding (which 29 U.S. cases and 7 U.S. Dep’t of State Country Reports on Human Rights records of other states affirm is “torture” – and if it is not “torture,” it is “cruel” and inhumane, which are also violations of the Convention Against Torture, human rights law, and war crimes under treaty-based and customary international law) among other tactics that are illegal and implicate universal jurisdiction and responsibility,” he charged.

Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall University law school, believes that “The U.S. government’s failure to hold accountable those responsible for the torture and other gross human rights constitutes one the of darkest legacies of our era.”

He told IPS, “The problem with President Obama’s approach is that it is not enough only to ‘look forward and not backward’. Non-action can itself serve as tacit approval for past abuses -- or at least that is how it can be interpreted.”

“The recent comments by Mr. Bush about his knowledge and approval of waterboarding, makes the need for accountability more, not less, important,” he said.

Chip Pitts, a Lecturer in Law at Stanford University Law School, is focused on what he calls the “complicity” between the Bush and Obama administrations.

He told IPS, “The crisis of accountability in America is starkly highlighted by the former president’s public confession of recourse to torture and war crimes. But that should not detract attention from the complicity of the current administration, which has resorted to secrecy and backroom deals that blatantly ignore laws (like the Convention Against Torture, in this case) and the administration’s duty to “faithfully execute the laws.”

In doing so, he added, “the administration cynically capitulates to the entrenched special interests that want nothing more than to remain “above the law” by continuing with unaccountable and profitable

Robert S. Bennett, attorney for the former C.I.A. agent who ordered the tapes destroyed, said in an interview with the New York Times that he was pleased that the Justice Department “did the right thing.”

Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, said in a statement that the C.I.A. was “pleased with the decision” not to bring charges against agency officers involved in destroying the tapes, and that the agency would continue to cooperate with other aspects of the Justice Department’s investigation.

Give Us Your Tired, etc., etc., etc.

By William Fisher

One year after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans for a wide-reaching overhaul of America’s long-mismanaged immigration detention system, human rights and immigration advocacy organizations are charging that the U.S. government has yet to make significant progress toward the underlying goal of detention reform – a true shift from a penal to a civil approach to immigration detention.

One such group, Human Rights First (HRF), is taking aim at a particularly sensitive aspect of the detention debacle: the plight of refugees seeking asylum.

Annie Sovcik, Advocacy Counsel for HRF’s Refugee Protection Program, told IPS, “Of the approximately 400,000 immigrants held in U.S. immigration detention annually, a few thousand are refugees -- individuals who have fled persecution for political, religious and other reasons and are seeking protection in the United States.”

“Upon arrival, these refugees are shackled and transported to immigration detention centers where they are held in jail-like conditions and where they may remain isolated for months without adequate due process safeguards as their claims for asylum protection are adjudicated,” she charges.

Sovcik says this practice “undermines commitments the United States has made to protect refugees, violates obligations the United States has assumed under international law, and creates a barrier for refugees to access a fair asylum adjudication process.”

The Department of Homeland Security has pledged to reform the immigration detention system and move away from a jail-like system to one that is more civil in nature. HRF and other organizations welcomed this announcement in 2009 and also encouraged DHS to commit to reform its practices related to how decisions of who to detain or release are made.

But, Sovcik asserts, “Since the August 2009 announcement, while DHS has slowly worked on fulfilling its promise, 33,400 immigrants are held everyday in facilities that officials at the highest levels recognize is chronically flawed but have remained essentially unchanged.”

She added, “It is time for DHS to move toward implementing real improvements in the detention system and truly make the shift away from facilities modeled on the penal system. Everyday these reforms are delayed, more people continue to suffer.”

The DHS commitment to shift the immigration detention model from one based on correctional standards toward a civil model of detention was welcomed by most in the immigration community. They agreed that detained asylum seekers and other detained immigrants should not be held in prison-like conditions. “The purpose of immigration detention is limited to ensuring that detainees show up for their hearings and comply with removal orders. Immigration detention should not be punitive," said HRF’s Ruthie Epstein.

HRF’s Annie Sovcik said, "ICE should require changes to be implemented at existing facilities by the end of 2010."

The U.S. immigration detention system holds up to 33,400 detainees -- including asylum seekers -- every day. These detainees are currently held in a sprawling network of approximately 250 facilities (down from 341 a year ago) across the country. Some of these facilities are operated by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement arm of DHS; others are run by private corrections companies or county jail systems.

Last year, DHS acknowledged that its detention beds were located in facilities "largely designed for penal, not civil, detention." Key among its 2009 reform plans was a commitment to shift to a non-penal, or "civil," model of immigration detention.

DHS's announcement in 2009 came on the heels of two government reports that had concluded that the U.S. immigration system was inappropriately modeled on correctional systems. One was from Dr. Dora Schriro, former Director of the Arizona and Missouri state corrections systems and currently Commissioner of Correction for New York City, and the other from the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

HRF’s recommendations for new civil standards and changes to existing facilities include:

Allow asylum seekers and other immigrant detainees to wear civilian clothing rather than prison jumpsuits; contact visits with family and friends in all facilities; true outdoor recreation space, and expanded access throughout the day; and increased freedom of movement within secure facilities.

Stop detaining asylum seekers and other immigrants in penal facilities, and create nationwide alternatives to detention.

DHS should work with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide all detained asylum seekers with access to custody hearings so that the need for their continued detention can be assessed by an immigration court.

Another serious glitch in the asylum-seeking process is the application deadline imposed by Congress. A new study has revealed that one in five refugees seeking protection in the United States is denied asylum because they do not apply within one year of their arrival and thus miss the 12-month deadline imposed by Congress, according to a study of the Board of Immigration Appeals' (BIA) asylum decisions.

"The one-year deadline results in the denial of asylum, a basic human rights protection, because of a technicality," said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center.

"The BIA is making a bad law worse by arbitrarily denying exceptions to the deadline and putting the lives of men, women, and children at risk," she added.

The study's conclusions are detailed in a new report, “The One-Year Asylum Deadline and the BIA: No Protection, No Process.” The report was prepared by Heartland Alliance's National Immigration Justice Center's National Asylum Partnership on Sexual Minorities; Human Rights First; and Penn State University’s Law Center for Immigrants' Rights. The report is the first to examine how the asylum deadline is handled by the BIA, the highest level of administrative appeal available to asylum seekers.

In addition to the 20 per cent of asylum cases denied because of filing after the deadline, in 46 percent of the 662 filing deadline denials, the BIA did not provide any reason for the denial of the asylum application other than that it was submitted after the filing deadline.

And of the 662 filing deadline denials, the BIA did not recognize any exceptions to the filing deadline. When an immigration judge granted an exception to the one-year deadline, the BIA affirmed that decision 75 percent of the time. By contrast, when an immigration judge denied asylum based on the one-year deadline, the BIA affirmed the decision 96 percent of the time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The ICE-ing on Obama’s Immigration Cake

By William Fisher

Programs that “place local law enforcement agencies at the front lines of immigration enforcement” are preventing U.S. immigration agencies from reaching their objectives by turning over to them aliens with no criminal history or those who have committed minor or non-violent crimes and setting them on a course toward unnecessary and unlawful deportation.

This is one of main findings in a new study by the Immigration Policy Center, the policy arm of the American Immigration Council, presented in a new report, “ICE’s Enforcement Priorities and ther Factors that Undermine Them,” by Dr. Michele Waslin, IPC Senior Policy Analyst.

She told IPS, “As long as ICE continues to outsource the identification and arrest of immigrants to LEAs and communities intent on ridding their jurisdiction of undocumented immigrants, ICE will find it extremely difficult to truly focus on serious criminals.”

“By partnering with state and local police agencies, ICE has put non-ICE personnel at the front lines of immigration enforcement,” the report says.

It adds that ICE will always be limited in terms of the authority it can express over its state and local partners. “Because, under this model, LEAs are responsible for channeling immigrants from the criminal justice system into the federal immigration enforcement system, and because LEAs have their own local interests and priorities, it is very likely that non-priority immigrants will continue to be subject to immigration enforcement actions.”

Other organizations are equally critical of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which ICE is a major unit. Human Rights First (HRF), a major legal advocacy group, says that “one year after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans for a wide-reaching overhaul of the long-mismanaged immigration detention system”, HRF is concerned that the U.S. government “has yet to make significant progress toward the underlying goal of detention reform – a true shift from a penal to a civil approach to immigration detention.”

The IPC report notes that, “In recent years, ICE has grown more and more dependent on the 287(g) program and the expanding Secure Communities program, which are partnerships with state and local police agencies to identify immigrants for deportation. ICE has, in effect, outsourced the identification of immigrants for enforcement actions to local police agencies and jails.

However, the report says that “programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g) undermine ICE’s priorities because they are designed in such a way that leads to the deportation of immigrants with minor criminal offenses or no criminal history at all.”

It warns that “these new partnerships take the initial identification and arrest outside of ICE’s control, (and) exacerbate the potential for profiling and pretextual arrests, which in turn take the focus off of serious criminals and lead to the arrest of large numbers of people for minor offenses.”

“Other factors at the state and local level also remove ICE from the decision-making process at the critical early stages. Laws such as Arizona’s SB1070 attempt to impose enforcement priorities on ICE and determine where and how ICE should use its limited resources, regardless of ICE’s own stated objectives,” the report observes.
At an October 6, 2010, press conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had removed more than 392,000 individuals in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, and presented other “record-breaking immigration enforcement statistics achieved under the Obama administration.”

In addition to record-breaking overall numbers, Napolitano also announced the “unprecedented numbers of convicted criminal alien removals” in FY 2010. Of the 392,000 removals in FY 2010, more than 195,000 were classified as “convicted criminal aliens,” which was 81,000 more criminal removals than in FY 2008.
But the issue raised in this report goes to the question of whether deportees are the people originally envisaged – people whose violent behaviour poses a danger to their fellow deportees as well as society in general – or others guilty of minor offenses such as driving and parking violations.

ICE says budget realities make it impossible to remove everyone who is in the country illegally or who is otherwise deportable, and has released a series of memos designed to prioritize the “worst of the worst.” Overall, this prioritization represents an effort to bring order to the increasingly complex world of immigration enforcement.

Partnerships between ICE and state and local law-enforcement agencies are not necessarily helping ICE to reach its strategic objectives and these LEAs are generating the most concern over enforcement priorities. Over the past several years, these partnerships have been greatly expanded, and ever greater numbers of LEAs are serving as “force multipliers” for DHS.

The two programs most closely associated with immigration enforcement are the 287(g) program and the Secure Communities program. The stated objective of both of these programs is to target dangerous criminals and persons who pose a threat to the community. ICE credits these programs with the increase in deportations of “criminal aliens” over the past year.

Programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities merge the federal immigration enforcement system with state criminal justice systems. But in many cases, local police arrest noncitizens who pose no threat to public safety for relatively minor crimes, such as driving without a license or shoplifting. In other cases, immigrants are merely charged with crimes for which they are never convicted.

Through the partnerships between ICE and local police, immigrants are channeled into the immigration enforcement system, regardless of their guilt or innocence or the severity of the crime with which they are charged. These immigrants then face lengthy detention, few due-process protections, and deportation.

The data from ICE does in fact show an increase in the percentage of deportations of “criminal aliens” or “convicted criminal aliens.” However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that many of those “criminals” have committed low-level offenses or misdemeanors, and many noncriminals continue to be deported.

One of the report’s main recommendation is for legalization, which it says would be an enormous step” toward true prioritization. “A pool of more than 11 million persons subject to deportation is not a good starting place. Legalizing undocumented immigrants who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security, would allow DHS to focus its limited enforcement resources on unauthorized and legal immigrants with serious criminal convictions.”

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Where'd the Rule of Law Go?

By William Fisher

Lawyers for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama told a federal judge yesterday that the government has authority to kill American citizens whom the executive branch has unilaterally determined pose a threat to national security.

That claim came in federal court in Washington, D.C., in response to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The two human rights legal advocacy organizations contend that the administration's so-called “targeted killing authority” violates the Constitution and international law.

CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriae told IPS, "The full contours of the government's position would allow the executive unreviewable authority to target and kill any US citizen it deems a suspect of terrorism anywhere. As the government would have it, while non-citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay can challenge the deprivation of their liberty by the United States, a US citizen could not challenge an impending deprivation of his life by his own government."

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the government's claim to an unchecked system of global detention, and the district court should similarly reject the administration's claim here to an unchecked system of global targeted killing," she said.

The ACLU and the CCR were retained by Nasser Al-Aulaqi to bring a lawsuit in connection with the government's decision to authorize the targeted killing of his son, Anwar Al-Aulaqi. The lawsuit asks the court to rule that, “outside the context of armed conflict, the government can carry out the targeted killing of an American citizen only as a last resort to address an imminent threat to life or physical safety.”

Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and has dual U.S. and Yemeni citizenship, is a firebrand extremist Imam, who has been accused by government officials and in the press of using his sermons and the Internet to recruit jihadists. He is thought to be in hiding in Yemen.

The lawsuit also asks the court to “order the government to disclose the legal standard it uses to place U.S. citizens on government kill lists.”

"If the Constitution means anything, it surely means that the president does not have unreviewable authority to summarily execute any American whom he concludes is an enemy of the state," said Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, who presented arguments in the case. "It's the government's responsibility to protect the nation from terrorist attacks, but the courts have a crucial role to play in ensuring that counterterrorism policies are consistent with the Constitution."

The government filed a brief in the case in September, claiming that the executive's targeted killing authority is a "political question" that should not be subject to judicial review. The government also asserted the "state secrets" privilege, contending that the case should be dismissed to avoid the disclosure of sensitive information.

On August 30, 2010, the CCR and the ACLU filed suit on behalf of Dr. Nasser Al-Aulaqi against President Obama, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, challenging their decision to authorize the targeted killing of his son, in violation of the Constitution and international law.

Plaintiff’s lawyers argue that, while the government “can legitimately use lethal force against civilians in certain circumstances outside of a judicial process, the authority contemplated by senior Obama administration officials is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow.”

Under international human rights law, they explain, “lethal force may be used in peacetime only when there is an imminent threat of deadly attack and when lethal force is a last resort. A program in which names are added to a list though a secret bureaucratic process and remain there for months at a time plainly goes beyond the use of lethal force as a last resort to address imminent threats, and accordingly goes beyond what the Constitution and international law permit.”

They add: “Moreover, targeting individuals for killing who are suspected of crimes but have not been convicted – without oversight, due process or disclosed standards for being placed on the kill list – also poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has detained thousands men as terrorists, only for courts or the government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or unreliable and release them.”

The DOJ declined to comment on the case.

This case is one of two related lawsuits brought by the ACLU and the CCR.
The second is against the U.S. Treasury Department (DOT) and its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) challenging the legality and constitutionality of the scheme that requires them to obtain a license in order to file a lawsuit concerning the government’s asserted authority to carry out targeted killings of individuals, including U.S. citizens, far from any battlefield.

On July 16, 2010, however, the Secretary of the Treasury labeled Anwar al-Aulaqi a “specially designated global terrorist,” which makes it a crime for lawyers to provide representation for his benefit without first seeking a license from OFAC.

The CCR and the ACLU sought a license, but after the government’s failure to grant one despite the urgency created by an outstanding authorization for Al-Aulaqi’s death, the two groups brought suit challenging the legality and constitutionality of the licensing scheme as applied to the representation they seek to provide. CCR and the ACLU have not had contact with Anwar Al-Aulaqi.

The OFAC requirements generally make it illegal to provide any service, including legal representation, to or for the benefit of an individual designated as a terrorist. A lawyer who provides legal representation for the benefit of such a person without getting special permission is subject to criminal and civil penalties.

In their lawsuit, CCR and the ACLU charge that OFAC has exceeded its authority by subjecting uncompensated legal services to a licensing requirement, and that OFAC’s regulations violate the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the principle of separation of powers. The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the regulations and to make clear that lawyers can provide representation for the benefit of designated individuals without first seeking the government’s consent.

The OFAC case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Terror Challenges and Muslim-Americans

By William Fisher

A new report on the challenges posed in the U.S. by violent extremists has found that terrorism plots by non-Muslims greatly outnumber those attempted by Muslims and that Muslim-American communities helped foil close to a third of al Qaeda-related terror plots threatening America since 9/11/01.

The report comes from the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a not-for-profit organization advocating for the civil rights of American Muslims. The report consists largely of MPAC’s "Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database." Reportedly the first of its kind by a Muslim-American organization, the Database tracks plots by Muslim and non-Muslim violent extremists against the United States.

The author of the report, Alejandro J. Beutel, MPAC researcher and government liaison, told IPS, “This report demonstrates the validity of two of our guiding principles.”

“The first of these is that the choice between our rights and liberties and national security is a false choice; we can have both. The second is that law enforcement will be much more successful if it treats the American Muslim community as partners, not as adversaries.”

He added, “Because of the baseless spying by the FBI on our mosques, we are very cautious about our engagement with the Bureau.”

Key findings in the report: There were 72 total plots by domestic non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States since 9/11/01. In comparison, there have been 37 total plots by domestic and international Muslim perpetrators since 9/11/01; there are at least five incidents of non-Muslim domestic extremists possessing or attempting to possess biological, chemical or radiological weapons. One of those occurred since Obama's election. No such cases involving Muslim violent extremists have been reported since 9/11/01; evidence clearly indicates a general rise in violent extremism across ideologies.

The report says that, using Obama's election as a base measurement, since November 4, 2008 there have been 39 terror plots by non-Muslim domestic extremists. By comparison, there have been 16 plots by Muslim domestic and international extremists. Each of these cases constitutes close to 50% of all violent extremism cases since 9/11/01.

The report also found “little evidence of a rise in ideological extremism. It concluded that those involved in 13 out of the 15 post-election plots (86.7%) were engaged in ideological extremism before the vote. Of the 15, 10 (66%) were engaged in ideological extremism since 2007.

It declares that Al-Qaeda does not appear to be making new ideological gains into the American Muslim community. Instead, the data is pointing toward greater numbers of longstanding ideological extremists turning to violence.

The report asserts that Muslim communities have helped foil almost one out of every three Al Qaeda-related terror plots threatening America since 9/11/01. It says this highlights the importance of law enforcement partnering with citizens through community-oriented policing.

The report recommended that the government: Expand community-oriented policing initiatives; increase support for research on combating biased policing; expand investments in better human capital acquisitions; highlight citizen contributions to national security; and reform the fusion center process to increase coordination among law enforcement communities.

The report examined the challenges posed by violent extremists in two ways. The first was by examining the quantitative and qualitative nature of terrorism trials. Second, it looked at the number of actual and attempted attacks within the United States, including a comparative analysis of incidents involving Muslim and non-Muslim perpetrators.

The report appears amidst a resurgence of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. Some of this has been triggered by the proposed building of an Islamic community center two blocks from “Ground Zero”, the site where the World Trade Centers once stood.

A number of individual and community groups, including some families of 9/11 victims, have blasted the Center idea as “a celebration of Islam.” Supporters see it as a vehicle for bringing diverse faiths closer together.

In communities throughout the U.S., there have been “copycat” campaigns to thwart mosque planning or construction.

The recent American midterm elections have also provided some candidates with platforms from which to verbally attack Muslims, including Muslim-Americans. These candidates have largely been Republicans and members of the Tea Party, on the extreme right wing of the political spectrum. While a few Democrats attempted to debunk the “all Muslims are terrorists” mantra, most remained silent.

Several recent unsuccessful terrorist plots have also contributed to heightened public anxiety – and the search for scapegoats. The so-called Times Square bomber was a home-grown terrorist who admitted attending training school in Pakistan; the “underwear bomber” who attempted to bring a passenger plane down over Detriot last Christmas day was a Nigerian believed to have been trained in Yemen. Both men are Muslims.

And the successful interception of two parcel bombs shipped as cargo from Yemen further raised the public’s level of apprehension that another terrorist attack was in the making.

The backlash takes a number of forms. For example, ordinary Muslims are experiencing renewed discrimination in the workplace. The New York Times reports that Muslim workers filed a record 803 such claims in the year ended Sept. 30, 2009. That was up 20 percent from the previous year and up nearly 60 percent from 2005, according to federal data.

The Times says the number of complaints filed since then will not be announced until January,” but Islamic groups say they have received a surge in complaints recently, suggesting that 2010’s figure will set another record.”

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed several lawsuits connected with anti-Muslim discrimination. It sued JBS Swift, a meatpacking company, on behalf of 160 Somali immigrants; it filed a case against Abercrombie & Fitch, the
clothing retailer, for refusing to hire a Muslim who wore a head scarf; and it sued a Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Phoenix, charging that an Iraqi immigrant was called a “camel jockey.”

Finally, MPAC and similar groups are angry and disappointed at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which has acknowledged placing “agent provocateurs” inside mosques in attempts to root out terrorists, terrorist plots, and terrorist cells.

“We feel betrayed,” says Alejandro Beutel.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

In Egypt, Does Anything Ever Change?

By William Fisher

In the face of police brutality, crackdowns on political parties, closing of media, arrests of citizen journalists, and a host of other violations ahead of Egypt’s Nov 28th parliamentary election, human rights advocates are calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to use American leverage to persuade Egypt to reform its electoral process, allow international monitors to assess the election, and conduct transparent and accountable balloting.

The Egyptian parliamentary election – and the presidential election to follow in September 2011 – will play out against a background of years of police brutality and political corruption, buttressed by a so-called Emergency Law. That law, which has been in effect for three decades, gives police and security services sweeping powers to arrest and detain with little or no due process.

But Administration critics say President Obama and his advisors have become too dependent on Egypt for its help to Israel regarding illegal smuggling from the Egyptian desert into Gaza, and helping maintain Arab neutrality vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. While they acknowledge the value of this help, they contend that Egypt is acting in its own self-interest and would provide such help regardless of what the U.S. says about its electoral process.

One of the most vocal critics of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime is Human Rights First, a New York City-based legal advocacy organization. It is urging U.S. President Barack Obama to publicly call on Egyptian authorities stop harassing ruling opposition party figures and open the nation's upcoming parliamentary elections to international monitors.

Neil Hicks, HRF’s International Policy Advisor, says “The Egyptian government is using a 30-year ‘state of emergency’ to make arbitrary arrests and violently repress political activists. In preparation for upcoming elections this November, the government has silenced independent journalists, cracked down on activists and opposition candidates, and refused international election monitors. You need a license in Egypt to send a political text message!”

Hicks added, “The last round of elections in Egypt found policemen beating voters and officials grabbing ballot boxes. We cannot let that happen again.”
The Egyptian Government appears to be doing what it can to disrupt opposition plans to contest the Parliamentary election. For example, the Associated Press reports that Egyptian security detained 65 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood while they were hanging election posters. Authorities said the posters violated a new ban on religious expressions. The government has arrested some 250 members of the Brotherhood and 30 remain in jails.

Media suppression has also ratcheted up in the pre-election period. For example, Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), imposed new restrictions on text-message news services and mobile phone companies, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt possible anti-government activism during the polls. And the Egyptian Ministry of Information now compels satellite channels to obtain licenses before broadcasting an event live or distributing news reports to other television channels.

The anti-media campaign has also included the firing of one of the country’s better-known veteran journalists, who was editor of the main opposition newspaper. He had recently also been fired from his television talk show.

In another media move, authorities closed the religious conservative satellite television network, Al-Badr, for inciting sectarian hatred, and shut down the studios that produced the political talk show “Al-Qahira il-Youm” (”Cairo Today”).

These actions have triggered widespread calls from many for international monitors to supervise the election, and from others a campaign to boycott the balloting altogether.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the retired head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has given up his brief flirt with the idea of opposing Mubarak in the presidential election. Instead he has called for a wholesale boycott. He says this is the “easiest, fastest, the most direct way to delegitimize the regime.”

Political dissident and head of Al-Ghad Party, Ayman Nour, called on the European Union (EU) to oversee parliamentary and presidential elections, requesting that the European Commission “play a greater role” in supporting human rights in Egypt.

Washington has had little to say of current developments. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had taken an increasing interest in the need for political reform and human rights improvements inside Egypt, a position associated with his neoconservative vision of America spreading democracy around the world.

But the Bush position caused considerable friction between the two governments, and Obama returned to seeing Egypt as a peace process partner.

The Mubarak regime, however, has made the U.S. position difficult to maintain. For example, President Mubarak had promised to lift the state of emergency, which has been in effect since 1981 and significantly curbs civil liberties inside Egypt. But it chose to renew it instead. That drew a stiff protest from the Obama administration.

President Obama has also dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that these cuts over the past year - amounting to around 50 percent - have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure to ensure Egypt’s support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

Egypt has been one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid ever since it
became the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel, in 1979. Since the Bush administration, Washington has been reducing the nonmilitary part of the package. This year's aid is $1.55 billion, including $250 million in nonmilitary aid. In 2008, the Bush administration dedicated around $45 million of that to programs for Governing Justly and Democratically.

The Obama Administration’s slash in these pro-democracy programs has drawn a mixed response. Some contend they are ineffective and merely plant seeds of discord between the U.S. and Cairo. Others think they have a place.

Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and editor of the online journal, the Arab Reform Bulletin, told IPS, “I think that the United States should advocate democratization and greater respect for human rights for Egyptians. This does not mean that the U.S. can make these things happen in Egypt, but we should be clear that we are in favor and willing to use the influence we have to promote them.”

She added, “Public comments can make clear to Egyptian citizens where the United States stands on these issues—which has a value in and of itself—but clearly are not enough to have an effect on the calculations of the Egyptian government. That would require a more comprehensive strategy that considers public comment, private diplomacy, assistance programs, and other forms of engagement with the Egyptian government and Egyptian citizens—which is exactly was has been missing from U.S. policy so far.”

As to pro-democracy programs, Dunne told IPS, these “are helpful partly for the resources they offer and even more so from the implied U.S. support for pro-democracy groups in Egypt. But they can only assist and support a pro-democracy movement from Egyptian society itself, not create one from outside.”

“By the way,” she said, “the obvious question is whether the United States can do this and still cooperate with the Egyptian government on the Arab-Israeli peace process and other issues. The track record suggests that the answer is yes. The Egyptian government takes its decisions on Israel and other regional issues for its own national security reasons, not to do a favor for the US.”

Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University, minimizes the importance of the US AID pro-democracy programs. He told IPS:

“The real issue is what (or what not) the White House and State Department are saying publicly (and privately to the Egyptian government) about the upcoming elections.”

He continued: “I have no doubt that the 2010 parliamentary elections will be less competitive than the 2005 balloting. One of the most important reasons for this is the lack of public comment about the issue (e.g., pressure) from the United States. No serious observer of the Egyptian political scene can deny that this public and high profile rhetoric (and the attention it generated) from the President [George W. Bush] and the Secretary of State [Condoleeza Rice] was one of the primary reasons we saw a political liberalization in Egypt in 2005, including more competitive parliamentary elections at the end of 2005.”

“The Obama administration is unfortunately not interested in pushing the sclerotic Mubarak regime (Mubarak is 82, in declining health and without a vice president) to display even mild respect for political freedoms, including free and fair elections,” he said.

Mohamed ElBaradei has also weighed in on the issue of U.S. pressure on Egypt. He said: "Well, it is up to Barack Obama [whether to pressure Egypt on democracy]. It's up to any government to decide how to react to the denial of basic human rights anywhere in the world including Egypt. All I can say is this-those who believe that stability comes with repression are really shortsighted and should not be surprised if the Middle East continues to move toward radicalization."