Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Headless Horsemen of Tahrir Square

By William Fisher

As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians thronged into the streets of the country’s major cities demanding an end to the 30-year rule of their aging, repressive, authoritarian President Hosni Murarak, the world’s commentariat was earning a living wrestling with questions like: “How did this thing start?” and “Who’s in charge?”

Was the world watching an Iranian plot to permanently derail the faltering peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority? Or a CIA coup? Or was it a spontaneous outpouring of voice from the voiceless? Was it a merely an important “second step” in the movement started in Tunisia? Was it engineered by such anemic political opposition as exists in Egypt? By the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps covertly, thus explaining that group’s conspicuous absence from the early days of the demonstrations.

Or did the wall to wall coverage of the Tunisian uprising by trusted media such as Al Jazeera embolden downtrodden Egyptians – as well as Yemenites and Jordanians -- to risk life, limb and property in the streets? And how important was the role played by the so-called “social media” – Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, etc. – as an accelerant in the David and Goliath struggle?

Journalists trying to report the dynamic situation in Egypt were obliged by fast-breaking developments to add updates, virtually by the minute.

Here’s where the situation stands as of Sunday afternoon (ET) January 30:

Over the weekend, the demonstrations appeared to gather strength as thousands again took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Luxor and other large cities in peaceful protests.

President Mubarak moved Egyptian troops into the center of Cairo to protect government property and historic sites from a wave of looting. The looting was widely attributed, not to the demonstrators, but to what one demonstrator called “thugs” – poor people and common criminals.

Some media outlets reported that the criminals were released from jails and police stations by the police themselves in an effort to discredit the demonstrators.

One TV outlet reported that 10,000 prisoners had broken out – or had been let out – of a large prison just North of Cairo.

In the suburbs of Cairo, residents formed “vigilante groups” of family, friends and neighbors to protect their property from vandalism and theft.

Meanwhile, in the United States – Egypt’s longtime benefactor and financier -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton went on the television talk shows on Sunday and called for “an orderly transition to meet the democratic and economic needs of the people” in Egypt.

She did not, however, say President Mubarak should resign. But she may have been preparing the ground. Some media in Egypt were reporting over the weekend that the president’s wife and family are already in London and that the president had arranged for the transfer there of large sums of money. These reports remain unconfirmed.

In her TV appearances, Mrs. Clinton said the Egyptian people would determine Mubarak’s future. She added that the US was prepared to help a transition that will address the political and economic freedoms sought by the demonstrators.

Secretary Clinton referred to Mubarak’s hurried appointment of a Vice President – the first in 30 years. It was Omar Suleiman, currently head of Egyptian central intelligence and before that head of intelligence for the air force. Mubarak also ordered his government to resign and appointed a new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

CNN’s veteran Egypt correspondent, Ben Wederman, reported that the new vice president and prime minister “are as Mubarak as Mubarak. Egyptians are in no mood for more of the same.”

According to “The Dark Side,” a prize-winning book by New Yorker investigative journalist Jane Mayer, Suleiman has been Egypt’s coordinator of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Extraordinary rendition involves the transfer or kidnapping of a “war on terror” detainee or suspect procedure in which and then transfering them illegally to a countryknown for its use torture during interrogation.

Suleiman ‘s appointment is prompting some analysts and protesters to question the sincerity of the Mubarak’s commitment to democratic change.

The Obama administration’s party line was also echoed on Sunday by the new White House Chief of Staff, William Daley. He called on Egyptian President Mubarak to "support basic human rights." But he added that this issue could be taken up by only the people of Egypt.

In other weekend developments:

A curfew is still in force but protesters are largely ignoring it. It was reported that some protesters set fires and tried to enter government buildings.

Self-styled “opposition leader” Mohamed El Baradei , former head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) arrived from his home in Vienna, and was reportedly initially placed under house arrest in his hotel. Later, as he attempted to join demonstrators in the street, he was doused by a water cannon.

El Baradei returned to his native Egypt several months ago and immediately began a campaign to persuade Egyptian voters that he deserved their support as leader of the opposition. Since then, he has been in and out of Egypt, was not present at the start of the current demonstrations, and is generally not seen as the person likely to be selected to lead this leaderless revolution.

In this reporter’s view, some of the best reporting of events on the ground came from Joe Stork and his team in Egypt with Human Rights Watch. Stork wrote:

“Thousands of protesters in Cairo and Alexandria defied a heavy deployment of riot police and other security forces and government warnings not to participate in demonstrations on January 28, 2011. The government shut down access to the Internet and most mobile phone networks and ordered the army onto the streets of Cairo ahead of a curfew.

“Witnesses described dozens of demonstrators being injured by the police. Reports say security forces are restricting the movements of the opposition leader Mohamed el-Baradei and have arrested several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Police briefly detained several journalists covering the protests.
“The Egyptian people are on the streets demanding reform and a government whose police no longer attack them. After decades of torture and brutality, the Egyptian government is all too comfortable beating and shooting at its own citizens. But the government and its security forces should heed the message that the people have had enough.

“Protesters in Cairo tried to force their way towards Tahrir Square, the scheduled meeting point for the January 28 protest. Human Rights Watch researchers observed demonstrators as they made their way across Qasr al-Nil Bridge toward the central square, only to be turned back, at first with water cannons and teargas fired at close range, and then with rubber bullets fired by riot police. Protesters also attempted to cross the 6 October Bridge, but riot police there also fired teargas into crowd.

“At approximately 3:15 p.m., riot police at Qasr al-Nil Bridge started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd and beating them with batons, eventually leading to the retreat of demonstrators back across the bridge. Eyewitnesses said that dozens were injured. Human Rights Watch researchers near the bridge counted nine bloodied victims as other demonstrators carried them out. One appeared to be unconscious, another had what appeared to be a dozen bullet wounds, and a 67-year-old man had a bullet wound to his neck.

“An eyewitness, an elderly female demonstrator who said she was at the front lines of the demonstrators on the bridge, said that the police fired both the teargas and the rubber bullets at extremely close range. Another demonstrator, a 62-year-old retired army officer who said he was a veteran of the 1973 war with Israel, said police beat him with batons.

“Meanwhile in the northern port of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, a Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed security forces shooting teargas canisters and rubber bullets at about 600 peaceful protesters after the Friday noon prayer at the Sidi Beshr mosque. The protesters left the mosque with banners and started marching, shouting, “We are peaceful, we are peaceful.” After an hour of sporadic clashes a large column of protesters came from the other direction and blocked in police, holding up their hands and repeating, “We are peaceful.” Police later withdrew from the area and thousands of protesters marched down the Alexandria seafront. Later in the day Human Rights Watch saw police cars and trucks burning on the city streets.
“Human Rights Watch urged the government to reverse its decision to shut down most communications in Egypt, saying the blackout poses a major threat to human rights. The shutdown of the internet came in apparent response to the demonstrations, which began as protests against police torture and quickly escalated into calls for an end to President Mubarak’s three decades of rule.

“Egypt’s information blackout is an extreme step designed to disrupt planned marches, to block images of police brutality, and to silence dissent once and for all,” said Stork. “Attacks on journalists are also intended to censor reporting. The government should order police to let reporters work freely.
“According to media reports, on January 28 police yesterday at least four journalists, beat a BBC reporters, and seized a camera from a CNN crew. Starting January 25, they briefly detained at least 10 other reporters.
“Human Rights Watch said that the internet and mobile communications are essential tools for rights of expression, to information, and of assembly and association. The United States, the European Union, and influential regional governments should take immediate steps to press Egypt to end the nationwide telecommunications blackout. Companies and internet service providers in and outside of Egypt should act responsibly to uphold freedom of expression and privacy by pressing Egypt to stop censoring their products and services.

“A state-directed shutdown of all internet access is deeply chilling,” said Stork. “The international community should respond swiftly to put an end to Egypt’s information blackout and human rights abuses.”
Also over the weekend, the Egyptian Air Force flew low-flying fighter jets and helicopters over thousands of protesters in Cairo’s central square. The show of force was seen as a message from Mubarak that he still controls the most important levers of state power.

But the relationship between the protesters and the Egyptian military remained enigmatic. The military was ordered into the melee to replace the universally-hated police, which fled to their headquarters at the Interior Ministry in Cairo, retreating in the face of an advancing army of citizens.

Police brutality, deaths in detention, torture at police stations, and unbridled corruption – this described the reputation of the police held by virtually all Egyptians, except those with the means to buy themselves out of trouble.

The Army commands great respect from the people of Egypt – after all, it fought three wars on their behalf (and, according to Egyptian propaganda, was victorious in all three).

So when the tanks rolled into Cairo over the weekend and parked on The Corniche, the wide-sidewalked road running long the Nile in one of the city’s upscale business districts, their crews were treated with shouts of welcome and handshakes. Indeed, some news reports said some of the soldiers were transparently in favor of the protesters.

When if ever the Army will receive orders to use force, and what form that force may take, the unanswered question is whether the troops are ready to carry out such orders.

Also over the weekend, the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera said on Sunday that Egyptian authorities ordered its Cairo news bureau shuttered. The popular channel condemned the move as an attempt to "stifle and repress" open reporting.

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo asked Americans in Egypt to consider leaving the country as soon as possible. This suggestion was for Embassy personnel as well as tourists.

Israel’s Benyamin Netanyahu urged restraint. He told his Cabinet on Sunday that he is "anxiously following" the crisis in Egypt. In his first public comment on the situation, he said that one of the key factors was Israel's 30-year-old peace agreement with Egypt.

Unrest in Egypt begin creating gas shortages and interrupting the smuggling of gasoline to the Gaza Strip. This triggered panic buying by drivers afraid of the complete depletion of the local supply.

Egyptian protesters again defied the government-imposed curfew, as police effectively disappeared and military units made no obvious attempt to enforce it.

All of which leaves the reader or the viewer with many unanswered questions, beginning with: How did this all start?

There were many factors at work. One contribution came from the ubiquitous WikiLeaks organization, which released a number of diplomatic cables published in The Guardian/UK .

One US embassy cable predicted Mubarak, if still alive in 2011, would run
again for presidency 'and, inevitably, win'

Other Secret US embassy cables sent from Cairo in the past two years reveal that the Obama administration wanted to maintain a close political and military relationship with Mubarak.

One cable said, "The Egyptians want the visit to demonstrate that Egypt remains America's 'indispensable Arab ally', and that bilateral tensions have abated. President Mubarak is the proud leader of a proud nation ... Mubarak is 81 years old and in reasonably good health; his most notable problem is a hearing deficit in his left ear. He responds well to respect for Egypt and for his position, but is not swayed by personal flattery," the cable said.

It predicted that if Mubarak were still alive for Egypt's next presidential
election in 2011, "it is likely he will run again and, inevitably, win". The
most likely contender to succeed him was his son Gamal, the cable suggested.

Another cable, from March 2009, shows the US's astonishingly intimate military relationship with Egypt. Washington provides Cairo $1.3bn annually in foreign military finance (FMF) to purchase US weapons and defense equipment, and the cable said. "President Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the $1.3bn in annual FMF as 'untouchable compensation' for making and maintaining peace with Israel.

"The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at
peace with Israel, and the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace."

Many other parts of the question about the origins of the current situation are as yet unclear. But we know this much: In no way were these demonstrations a spontaneous or first-time event. Egypt has seen demonstrations before and, in fact, many Middle East scholars believe that those earlier demonstrations provided a direct route to the current protest.

The closest to rational answers to these questions, in this reporter’s view, came from an interview with Mohammed Ezzeldin, a graduate of political science at Cairo University, who is currently completing his master's degree in history at Georgetown, and Paul Jay, Senior Editor of the Real News Network. The Public Record has done some minor editing.

“So how did this moment arrive? How did we get here?” Jay asked.

Ezzelden’s response: “We have to understand this moment in terms of accumulation. This not just--didn't come out of the blue. This moment was the manifestation, this moment unfolded after a manifestation of different opposition movement, basically three …rounds of opposition to Mubarak regime, beginning from 2004, 2005, when (the) Kefaya movement (rose) up the famous slogan, ‘Enough,’ [and called for] no for continuation for continuation for Mubarak, no to inheritance of power to his son Gamal Mubarak. And then this movement took a momentum in 2005 and people made renewed the hope for a real change. After 2005 we have witnessed a huge wave of strikes--included workers, bureaucrats, included people working in the state apparatus and business. For example, in Mahalla, industrial city in Delta, witnessed three successive and successful strikes in 2006, 2007, and 2008.”

“El-Mahalla is a City and factories. Like, it's industrial city, based on huge [inaudible] factories of textile industry. And it's--like, you can find, like, almost 30,000 workers working together. So imagine when [inaudible] 30,000 people are striking and supported by the residents in El-Mahalla. So three times they made successful [2006, 2007, and April 2008].

JAY: “And were they met with police repression?”

EZZELDIN: In 2008, April 6, 2008, they met with huge and brutal repression by the police, and it was like a street war. So this was -- this moment actually made a new hope, that first it delivered a new culture, a new experience for ordinary people about the strike. So it was followed by estimated, almost estimated 800 strikes in two years, which [is] unprecedented in Egyptian history.”

“In 2008, 2009…So we had first a political movement 2005, social movement, spread all over Egypt, in 2008 manifested by Mahalla strike and the tax [textile?] workers strike, who called for independent trade union. And both experiences [inaudible] many of Egyptian workers and people who are protesting against the regime and the -- it paid a lot of attention to what these people can do and how powerful they are. Okay?”

“It was followed later, last year, in 2010, by a youth movement. This youth movement [inaudible] after the brutal death of Khaled Saeed. Khaled Saeed was a young man, a university graduate in Alexandria, and he was tortured in the street and he was killed by the police inspectors. And after -- like, who was ordered by the police to kill this man, and he was killed.”

“And after the murder of Khaled Saeed in June 2010, there was a huge and massive opposition between the youth [inaudible] the people who are vulnerable to unemployment, people who are facing the police in daily interactions, and people who feel that this country is theirs, this country is ours, but it has been hijacked, it has been captured by this repressive regime and the political and economic figures who are supporting this regime and who are depriving them from a new future.”

“So we have three moments manifested in what happened. And, of course, this wouldn't happen, I would say, this wouldn't happen, at least unless we have kept watching the great and glorious revolution of the Tunisian people, which actually broke any barrier of fear [inaudible] just fearing to go to demonstration and continuing and insisting on the demands. So Tunisia, of course, played a huge role in what--to make what happened [inaudible].”

JAY: How important was social media? We're--you know, from the Western coverage there's kind of this sense that Egyptians were doing nothing, Tunisia happens, social media, and now you get this. So now what -- you can understand there's years of development. But that being said, did social media play an important role?

EZZELDIN: Yes, it played an important role. But we have to understand there's a sort of difference between Egypt and Tunisia. The Egyptian regime, the dictatorship in Egypt, is supported, basically, by the American aid and supported by American regime…American administration, and of course supported by Israel. The geographic and strategic status of Egypt in the region made the Egyptian regime quite different from other regimes in the region, okay, w hat made the mission and the task of the Egyptian opposition is really hard. So this is number one. Number two--.

JAY: But just to add, because there's so much at stake for Western interests, Egypt is like the pillar of this US policy for this region.

EZZELDIN: Sure. Sure. Sure. This first. And this not--by any means, this--I don't mean to reduce anything of what happened or to underestimate what happened in Tunisia, which is beyond imagination, beyond recognition, something really incredible, something great. But I would say, first, Egypt is quite different in terms of population, in terms of strategic importance to United States.

And second, regarding the media, the media played important role, because, first, the government and the state media lost its legitimacy since 2005. Al Jazeera and all independent bloggers and websites, Facebook, all this new social media played a significant role in networking and in, like, calling for strikes.

For example, in April 6, 2008, it played a magnificent role. So social media played very important role. And people now, like, we--I expected that what happened in Tunisia is going to influence people in Egypt, but I didn't expect that it's going to influence--me and many people didn't expect it will take this short an--it was with this--in this quick way, this very fast way. So media, basically, the coverage of events in Tunisia last month, played a major role in bringing the potential for change in Egypt to a moment, a momentum.

JAY: So do you get a sense now that -- both in terms of the workers movement and the unions and the student movement, that this is going to give rise to new forms or more developed forms of organization? 'Cause right now it looks very spontaneous.

EZZELDIN: Yeah. It's completely spontaneous. The opposition movement, the legitimate, legally, opposition movement can't claim anything of what's going on now in Cairo streets. And Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday, they denounced what happened. They said, we didn't participate; we are going--. They said they are going to participate, but they didn't participate actively in what happened Tuesday. Okay? So this actually is really inspiring. First, those people are having spontaneous motivations. They were going after an--because of unemployment [inaudible] economic and political social grievance, because of dictatorship, because the suppression, the oppression of the police, okay, they are just--they are done. They are done.

They [The Muslim Brotherhood] have nothing to lose [inaudible] People are going to change. Okay? So this is number one. There's--they are not consolidated by foreign influence or foreign support. In terms of money, in terms of organization, like what happened in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, for example, it's quite different. People are not supported in Tunisia and Egypt; they are not supported from outside. And all the stereotypes in Western media about the potential threat of Islamist and all this stuff and they are going to take over the power [inaudible] only potential or only alternative to the recent regime in the region. Now it's -- it doesn't has-- it lost all of its credibility, because people are going and challenging the regime.

As Ezzeldin says, the role of social media such as Facebook and Twitter should not be underestimated. Many observers are referring to the current demonstrations are “The Twitter Revolution.” But others think that overplays its significance.

To Mohammed Ezzeldin, the real contribution of social media is to shrink the length of time required from having an idea of staging a demonstration and actual implementation of that idea. Many Egyptians were exchanging messages about the Mubarak regime and what could be done, literally for years. And demonstrations for social and economic justice took place regularly, sometimes with deadly consequences for the participants.

Because of social networks, many more people knew of these developments. This was the cadre of young, mostly college-educated Egyptians who were initially catalyzed by the “miracle of Tunisia.” The almost unbelievable ouster of the long-time president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had the effect of catalyzing the young Egyptians who began their country’s latest street demonstrations.

The social networks were also key to the media coverage. Twitter Tweets weere used by journalists to gather information as well as by demonstrators to coorindate with one another.

As this riveting Middle East Melodrama plays out – and it is impossible to forecast how it will all end – we all wonder if we will be sitting here ten years from now bemoaning what might have been – and wasn’t? Or looking proudly at what ordinary people were able to accomplish against odds so long they would drive as Las Vegas bookie into rehab.

Mubarak had an extraordinary opportunity to govern fairly and effectively. In the opinion of most observers, he has done neither. In 1979, he agreed to a peace treaty with Israel – an idea originated with Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president who traveled to Jerusalem to speak to the Knesset and whowas later assassinated by an Islamist extremist. He has enjoyed a high degree of acceptance by the international community and, thanks to America’s largesse, he has been able to fund a first class military machine.

Since that historic treaty-signing, Mubarak has sold himself in Washington and elsewhere as critical to the success of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Signing the treaty with the Israelis got him billions each year in military aid and economic assistance. It is known that he has a close relationship with Iasrael’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He saw himself as the indispensable player in the Arab-Israeli arena, and he persuaded many others – inside and outside Egypt – of the credibility of that mantra.

And it is also true that, more recently, the Mubarak Government has served Israel’s interest by cutting off some of the smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

These actions may give Mubarak a better reputation abroad than he enjoys at home, where he has been incredibly unpopular among most of his people for many years. He has kept the country under emergency law for 30 years, despite strong suggestions from the US, the EU and the UN to repeal them. These laws give the security services virtually unbridled authority to arrest and detain and, according to our own State Department’s annual report on Human Rights, Mubarak’s goons have used their authority to torture, to disappear prisoners, and to treat deaths in detention with impunity.

But the shortcomings of the Mubarak presidency are not limited to human rights. The economy is a basket case. Unemployment is virtually impossible to calculate with any degree of certainly, but the World Bank currently put it at 9.1 percent in March
2010, down from 9.2 percent a year ago.

But numbers don’t begin to tell the story. More to the point, the Constitution offers every Egyptian the opportunity to qualify for a university education. As a result, the country has a large population of men and women with degrees who have never had a job. Those who can afford to travel go overseas to seek employment. Those without resources take any job they can get. Many drive taxies. Others work as office cleaners. One suspects that their feelings of frustration would have led many of them to participate in the current demonstrations.

Those without resources include the 40 per cent of Egyptians who live below the poverty line, many in the most grinding poverty to be seen anywhere.

The Mubarak Government has made periodic noises about how much it’s done to improve Education, but today Egypt is ranked 123 in the Human Development Index (HDI), and seventh in the lowest 10 HDI countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, in

Then there is the issue of corruption – public and private. Corruption seems to be as indigenous to the Middle East as sand. In Egypt, it is pervasive. It is known as bakshish. If you are too short to get into the Police Academy; if you want your taxi to take you to an out-of-the-way place; if your phone doesn’t work; if something you ordered is being held up in customs; if you’d rather not have the traffic ticket the cop is writing for speeding (you weren’t) – in all these situations and many on a much grander scale, a few Egyptian pounds will solve your problem. The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt estimates that corruption in business adds at least 30 per cent to the price of Egyptian goods.

By most measures of development, modern Egypt fails. Washington is no doubt today questioning the cost-benefit implications of its massive investments in the Mubarak regime.

And wondering, with the rest of the world, who will emerge as a natural leader if Mubarak goes – and whether that leader will be able to maintain stability, while responding to the legitimate and long-delayed yearnings of the Egyptian people.

William Fisher, a regular contributor to The Public Record, has managed economic development programs for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere for the past 25 years. He has supervised major multi-year projects for AID in Egypt, where he lived and worked for three years. He returned later with his team to design Egypt’s agricultural strategy. Fisher served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy. He reports on a wide-range of issues for numerous domestic and international newspapers and online journals. He blogs at The World According to Bill Fisher.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bush, Obama, Wiki, and the CIA

By William Fisher

At his first primetime press conference, in February 2009, President Barack Obama was asked for his view on a proposal by Senator Patrick Leahy for a "truth and reconciliation" commission to investigate whether the predecessor Bush Administration had committed crimes in its handling of suspected terrorist detainees.

Obama ducked the heart of the question by saying he didn't know enough about the proposal to answer. But he then repeated a meme that he would subsequently deliver repeatedly in a variety of forms to a variety of audiences. It was to become almost as much a political cliché as “yes, we can” or “change we can believe in.”

He said: While “nobody is above the law," the President was more interested in looking ahead, not backward.

Nowhere was the seriousness of Obama’s intent more obvious than in his ongoing efforts to shield the Central Intelligence Agency, its operatives, and its activities, from public scrutiny or accountability.

This was, however, 180 degrees from the approach he took while on the campaign trail. As a candidate, Obama promised to end the use of torture, close Guantanamo Bay, and discontinue "extreme rendition.”

"From both a moral standpoint and a practical standpoint, torture is wrong,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs. He made the same point in numerous speeches on the Senate floor.

And indeed, on Jan. 22, 2009, the President created a task force to study and evaluate the transfer of prisoners to other nations for detention and/or interrogation.

Its eventual conclusion created considerable disappointment among Obama’s human rights constituency: The government would continue its policy of rendition – kidnapping people from one location and taking them to another where they would be imprisoned. But before anyone was “rendered,” the Task Force said, the US government would receive “diplomatic assurances” that prisoners would not be tortured or otherwise abused.

And on Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama signed a detailed executive order “operationalizing” the Task Force recommendations.

The order said that prisoners "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person (including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture), nor to outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment)." It also specifically nullified interpretations of federal law on interrogations "issued by the Department of Justice between September 11, 2001, and January 20, 2009."

These Bush-era DOJ documents were the so-called “torture memos" prepared by John Yoo and Jay Bybee, some of which Obama ultimately released to the public.

But legal experts and human rights advocates were quick to point out that “diplomatic assurances” was precisely the same mechanism used by the Bush Administration. The record shows that such assurances were usually less than worthless; countries with records of prison torture could not be trusted to change their ways.

And we will probably never know whether that outcome may actually have pleased any of the senior officials in the Bush Administration.

Rendition – which began during the administration of Bill Clinton -- was of particular concern to two of America’s allies, Germany and Spain. Public disclosure of their concerns threatened to expose both the incompetence and the immorality of some CIA operatives.

While rendition and torture were not the focal points of Obama’s presidential campaign, the subjects were prominent enough for the corporate media to have addressed the story with some frequency. And most observers believe that the public understood that rendition and torture were inseparable. And that their new president was opposed to both!

Given this background, it is perhaps understandable that the Obama Administration’s reaction to the anti-Bush actions of some of America’s allies took the US public by surprise. Defending the Bush Administration was nowhere to be found in the Obama campaign rhetoric.

Moreover, actions such as were and are being taken to protect Bush-era policies and personalities were sometimes rumored in the American press and in the blogosphere, but only widely confirmed by the diplomatic cables recently released by Wikileaks. So it is reasonable to assert that most of the US public simply did not know.

Germany and Spain turned out to be particularly complicated diplomatic problems for the Obama Administration. It sought to pressure the German government to “lose” the arrest warrants they had previously issued against 13 CIA officers who were allegedly involved in the abduction and subsequent torture of Lebanese-born German citizen Khaled El-Masri.

Earlier, the Bush Administration had faced – unsuccessfully – a similar situation in Italy. There, 23 CIA agents were convicted in absentia of abducting an Egyptian imam. Washington refused to extradite the agents, who are all free but would probably be arrested if they travel to Europe.

Later, as Scott Horton disclosed in Harper’s Magazine, the US attempted to obstruct investigations by the Spanish government into the murder of a Spanish journalist in Iraq by US forces, the use of Spanish airfields for the CIA's rendition program, and the torture of Spanish detainees at Guantánamo.

A major worry was a torture case brought by a Spanish non-governmental organization against six senior Bush administration officials, including the former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.

The German situation has been impeccably reported by Matthias Gebauer and John Goetz of Der Spiegel Online.

They write that the American diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks “provide new details about the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen abducted by the CIA in 2003. The reports confirm just how much pressure the US put on Germany to not pursue the agents believed to have been involved. But they also reveal how cooperative and responsive German officials were in light of American worries.”

The external details of the el-Masri case are well known by now.

Over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday in 2003, Khaled el-Masri, a greengrocer from a small town in South Germany, traveled by bus to Skopje, Macedonia. There he was detained by officials because his name was similar to that of Khalid al-Masri, a known Al Qaeda agent.

According to The Guardian newspaper in Britain, despite el-Masri’s protests that he was not al-Masri, he was beaten, stripped naked, shot full of drugs, given an enema and a diaper, and flown first to Baghdad and then to the notorious “salt pit,” the CIA’s secret interrogation facility in Afghanistan.

“At the salt pit, he was repeatedly beaten, drugged, and subjected to a strange food regime that he supposed was part of an experiment that his captors were performing on him.

“Throughout this time, El-Masri insisted that he had been falsely imprisoned, and the CIA slowly established that he was who he claimed to be. Over many further weeks of bickering over what to do, a number of CIA figures apparently argued that, though innocent, the best course was to continue to hold him incommunicado because he ‘knew too much’.”

Then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice sharply disagreed and ordered el-Masri’s immediate release – which did take place, albeit not until Secretary Rice learned of a delay and issued her order again.

Harper’s Scott Horton opined that Dana Priest of the Washington Post furnished the core of this account in an excellent 2005 story. Other aspects have been slowly confirmed by German criminal investigators. By studying el-Masri’s hair and skin samples, for instance, they were able to confirm allegations that he was drugged and subjected to a bizarre starvation regimen, he writes.

Throughout this process, el-Masri’s account of what transpired, part of which he wrote as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, has consistently been vindicated. However, his efforts to find a court that will let him sue the CIA have uniformly failed – stymied by the use of the “state secrets” privilege by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

Little used under previous presidents, the “state secrets privilege” rose to prominence during the George W. Bush Administration, which used it many times. Originally intended as an evidentiary tool – to claim that public introduction of a particular piece of evidence could jeopardize national security. But the Bush administration invoked it to have entire lawsuits thrown out of court. El-Masri’s was one. And there have been many others.

When barrack Obama came to office, it was expected he would take steps to reform this much-abused statute. And indeed he said he would do so on a number of occasions. But that never happened. Instead, Obama has closely channeled the Bush Administration’s use of the privilege.

That caused Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, to tell this reporter at the time, “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.”

He added, “To date, the United States hasn't so much as acknowledged its involvement in el-Masri's extraordinary rendition."

And Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists, reminded me that "There are innocent individuals who have been swept up in US government counterterrorism operations, wrongly detained, 'rendered' surreptitiously to foreign countries, subjected to extreme physical and mental stress, or otherwise wronged."

"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," he

"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," he said.

But the Wikileaks documents reveal that in 2007 American officials, including the US ambassador, warned Germany in the strongest terms not to enforce arrest warrants for the CIA officers involved in the el-Masri case.

In one of the cables, the ambassador, William R. Timken Jr., reports on a meeting to caution German officials against trying to enforce the arrest warrants. In another, 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 US” Observers characterize that as the thinnest of veiled threats.

German officials, according to the Wikileaks document, conceded that they understood the possible diplomatic consequences but also warned that, given the outcry from the German media, their options were limited.

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

The Wiki cable shows a discussion between the US 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 of the issue between the Secretary and [Foreign Minister] Steinmeier in Washington were inaccurate: the media reports suggest the [US Government] “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.

Politically speaking, Nikel reportedly said, “Germany would have to examine the implications for relations with the US 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," he said. 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."

In the end, most press accounts note that the indictments of the CIA officers appear to be dormant. And they depict German Prime Minister Angela Merkel as having "caved" to the US

The US dilemma with Spain appeared almost as complicated as the El-Masri affair. The issue with Spain, though far less widely reported in the US press, was front and center for a considerable time among Spanish readers. It spotlighted leaked cables revealing pressure from the US for Spain to drop the case of a Spanish cameraman killed in a 2003 attack on journalists in Baghdad.

The case was brought by the family of José Couso, a young cameraman with the Spanish TV network Telecinco. He was filming from the balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, April 8th, 2003, when a US Army tank fired on the hotel, packed with journalists, killing Couso and a Reuters cameraman.

Following Couso’s death, there were protests at American diplomatic posts in Spain and several civil and judicial actions in order to determine the liability of the people involved. As of today, people still gather on the 8th of each month in front of the U.S. Embassy in Madrid demanding justice.

In 2005, Spanish authorities opened a preliminary investigation with an international arrest warrant against three of the involved US military personnel. The investigation was closed in March 2006, with a finding that the event was an act of war. That decision was appealed by the Couso’s family to the Spanish equivalent of the Supreme Court, which unanimously granted the appeal by Couso's family.

The international arrest warrant against the three military personnel was reactivated, accusing the soldiers of murder and of a crime against the international community. They were subsequently indicted, and in July 2010, Judge Santiago Pedraz launched a search and arrest warrant against the three U.S. soldiers. However, senior ministers in Spain's socialist government intervened to stop the investigation

"I am outraged," said Javier Couso, the brother of José Couso. "I can’t believe my government conspired with a foreign government… It seems we are citizens, or at least a small province, of the empire of the United States."

The leaked US Embassy cables from Madrid received - and continue to receive - huge media attention in Spain and across much of Europe.

A cable dated May 14, 2007, from the US Ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, says, "For our side, it will be important to continue to raise the Couso case, in which three US servicemen face charges related to the 2003 death of Spanish cameraman José Couso during the battle for Baghdad."

But there were also other, equally serious, issues with Spain: The proposed indictment of former president George W. Bush’s legal braintrust for applying interrogation policies and techniques that resulted in torturing war-on-terror detainees. And the revelation
that the CIA flight that took el-Masri to Afghanistan had originated in Spain.

To de-escalate that situation, the US turned to then-Senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was asked to deliver a delicate message to Spain: Don't indict.

Martinez delivered that stern warning during a visit to Spain. He told the Spaniards that trying to prosecute US officials "would chill US-Spanish relations."

Martinez did not receive satisfaction from senior Spanish officials. Instead, they lectured Martinez on Spain's separation of powers, and how the executive branch of government could not close any judicial investigation. But the Spanish were eager that this case not affect its overall relationship with the US

The case file is now in the jurisdiction of a Spanish magistrate. He has taken no further action on the indictments while he awaits an answer to the question he asked the Obama administration - whether it intends to open an investigation of its own.

US officials tried to influence Spanish prosecutors and government officials to head off court investigations into Guantánamo Bay torture allegations and secret CIA "extraordinary rendition" flights involving Spanish airspace, according to the US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks

Among their biggest worries were investigations originated by the magistrate Baltasar Garzón, the storied jurist who had the Europe-wide arrest warrant issued for former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) - which has played a major role in mobilizing lawyers to defend Guantanamo detainees, told this reporter, "The importance of this investigation cannot be understated. Contrary to statements by some, the Spanish investigations are not 'symbolic.' Just ask Augusto Pinochet, who was stranded under house arrest in England and who ultimately faced criminal charges in Chile because of the pressure of the Spanish courts."

But the diplomatic cables reveal that Garzon was seen by US officials as having "an anti-American streak." However, many observers doubt this assertion. Garzon has been a frequent visitor to the US, and has lectured before bar associations and at major law schools.

"We are certainly under no illusions about the individual with whom we are dealing," US officials said after Garzon opened an investigation into torture at Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

"Judge Garzon has been a storied and controversial figure in recent Spanish history, whose ambition and pursuit of the spotlight may be without rival," the US diplomatic cable said.

Garzón was deemed to put self-promotion first. "We suspect Garzón will wring all the publicity he can from the case unless and until he is forced to give it up," said the officials.

"It is hard for us to see why the publicity-loving Garzón would shut off his headline-generating machine unless forced to do so," they reported.

"We also fear Garzón - far from being deterred by threats of disciplinary action - may welcome the chance for martyrdom, knowing the case will attract worldwide attention."

When another Spanish magistrate began investigating the alleged use of a Spanish airport for secret CIA flights carrying terror suspects, officials noted that US policy was to deal with these cases in closed-door conversations with governments.

They were especially alarmed when magistrates and prosecutors in both Spain and Germany began comparing notes. "This coordination among independent investigators will complicate our efforts to manage this case at a discreet government-to-government level," they warned.

US officials noted, however, that their own government had not explicitly denied the allegations. "Our ability to beat down this story is constrained by the fact that we do not ourselves know, factually, what might have transpired five or six years ago as the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq began yielding large numbers of potentially dangerous terrorist detainees and unlawful combatants," they observed.

"Baring (sic) a categorical statement from the US government that no detainees passed through Spain - and we understand that might be undesirable from a policy standpoint even if factually correct - nothing but time is going to make this go away," they said.

"Top (Spanish) ministers moved quickly to let us know that the government is working to resolve this situation," the officials reported, naming the deputy prime minister, the foreign minister and the justice minister.

"The [Spanish] government must act carefully as it tries to influence Spain's fiercely independent judiciary," they noted. "In order to avoid aggravating the situation, Spanish government leaders must publicly show their respect for the independent workings of the courts."

It is worth noting that while America’s problems with both Spain and Germany began during the George W. Bush presidency, efforts to "disappear" them have been continued by the Obama Administration.

Presumably under the mantra of looking forward, not backward, the White House and the State Department believe they have an obligation to do whatever they can diplomatically to protect US personnel, US interests, and US reputation.

This is considered essential, albeit most observers contend that it does not come anywhere near meeting the transparency and accountability pledges made by the President during the campaign and beyond.

Some observers suggest it may also be useful to consider the extent to which the diplomatic efforts of the Obama Administration have been motivated by the desire to continue the tradition of "the imperial presidency" - the effort to maintain a strong executive branch, typified by George W. Bush.

In the view of one commentator, who prefers to remain anonymous, “If successful, the efforts of the Obama Administration would ‘diplomatically protect’ the US to deny all wrong-doing - and even keep the diplomats who are supposed to be conducting these delicate negotiations in the dark about what ACTUALLY happened.”

This observer added, “It's not just the abrogation of the promise of transparency, it's the apparent obliviousness to what transparency is meant to achieve: democratic decision-making, a healing in the vast horrible wound that's been opened between our human rights ideals and actual practices.”

But even if Obama’s diplomats are successful in suppressing anything that might embarrass the CIA, the military, or any other agency of government, its troubles would appear to be far from over.

Last week, in Madrid, the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) asked a Spanish Judge to subpoena the former commanding officer at Guantánamo Bay to explain his role in the torture of four former detainees.

CCR and ECCHR filed a 12-page dossier detailing the key role of Major General Geoffrey Miller, who ran the island prison camp from November 2002 until April 2004, in the torture and other serious abuse of detainees held there.

In the dossier, the rights groups detail acts of torture and other war crimes committed against detainees, including the torture of CCR client Mohammed al Qahtani. Much of the documentation discussed in the dossier is drawn from US government reports.

Based on his record in Guantánamo, Miller was sent to Iraq in 2003 to share interrogation techniques from Guantánamo with US counterparts in Iraq: Miller is said to have wanted to "Gitmo-ize" Iraq and Abu Ghraib, including by having guards "soften up" prisoners. Shortly after Miller’s visit some of the most serious and notorious acts of torture at Abu Ghraib occurred.

"There is ample evidence - primarily from US government sources - that Geoffrey Miller played a central role in the torture of detainees at Guantánamo, and later in Iraq," said Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It is time that he be called before a court of law to explain his role in the torture of detainees."

The above article originally appeared ib

Diplomacy: Fig Leaf for Inaction?

By William Fisher

During his presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama emphasized negotiations rather than military action. The Republicans ridiculed his focus on diplomacy as naïve, "Strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries," Obama said during an August 19 debate. "We shouldn't be afraid to do so. We've tried the other way. It didn't work."

Candidate Obama argued that the United States had to put diplomacy at the forefront of American foreign policy. But today a leading civil rights organization is charging that one aspect of diplomacy –the language of ‘dialogue’ and ‘cooperation’ – is little understood, rarely reported on, and is being used by governments throughout the world as a fig leaf to conceal their tacit acceptance of egregious human rights abuses.

"The ritualistic support of ‘dialogue' and ‘cooperation' with repressive governments is too often an excuse for doing nothing about human rights," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

His remarks come as the organization released its “World Report 2011,” a 649-page summary of human rights issues and practices in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

“Too many governments are accepting the rationalizations and subterfuges of repressive governments, replacing pressure to respect human rights with softer approaches such as private ‘dialogue’ and cooperation’.... Instead of standing up firmly against abusive leaders,” many governments “adopt policies that do not generate pressure for change.”

The report was particularly critical of the United Nations, the European Union and the United States of America.

The famed eloquence of US President Barack Obama “has sometimes eluded him when it comes to defending human rights,” the report says. It cites as examples bilateral contexts with China, India, and Indonesia.

Criticism in the report is not limited to foreign policy. For example, it says that the United States “sets a dubious world record with 2,574 minors serving life sentences at the time the report was written.”

It says Obama has failed to insist that the various agencies of the US government, such as the Defense Department and various embassies, convey strong human rights messages consistently -- a problem, for example, in Egypt, Indonesia, and Bahrain.

The report notes that Obama “increased his focus on human rights in his second year in office, but his eloquent statements have not always been followed by concrete actions. Nor has he insisted that the various US government agencies convey strong human rights messages consistently, with the result that the Defense Department and various US embassies - in Egypt, Indonesia, and Bahrain, for example - often deliver divergent messages.”

The report charges that the Obama administration in its first year ”simply ignored the human rights conditions on the transfer of military aid to Mexico, under the Merida Initiative, even though Mexico had done nothing as required toward prosecuting abusive military officials in civilian courts.”

In its second year, the report says, although the administration “did withhold a small fraction of funding, it once again certified - despite clear evidence to the contrary -that Mexico was meeting Merida’s human rights requirements.”

“The US also signed a funding compact with Jordan under the Millennium Challenge Corporation even though Jordan had failed to improve its failing grades on the MCC’s benchmarks for political rights and civil liberties,” according to HRW.

A similar dynamic is at play in China, where Western governments seek economic opportunity as well as cooperation on a range of global and regional issues. For example, in its first year in office, the Obama administration seemed determined to downplay any issue, such as human rights, that might raise tensions in the US-China relationship.

President Obama deferred meeting with the Dalai Lama until after his trip to China and refused to meet with Chinese civil society groups during the trip, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that human rights “can’t interfere” with other US interests in China.

The report declares that Obama’s efforts to ingratiate himself with Chinese President Hu Jintao “gained nothing discernible while it reinforced China’s view of the US as a declining power.”

That weakness, the report says, “only heightened tension when, in Obama’s second year in office, he and Secretary Clinton rediscovered their human rights voice on the case of Liu Xiaobo, although it remains to be seen whether they will be outspoken on rights during the January 2011 US-China summit.”

The report, which was published before the Washington visit of China’s president, concludes, “The Chinese government is naturally reluctant to promote human rights because it maintains such a repressive climate at home and does not want to bolster any international system for the protection of human rights that might come back to haunt it. But even China should not see turning its back on mass atrocities - a practice that, one would hope, China has moved beyond - as advancing its self-interest.”

US policy toward Egypt shows that pressure can work, the report says.

“In recent years, the US government has maintained a quiet dialogue with Egypt. Beginning in 2010, however, the White House and State Department repeatedly condemned abuses, urged repeal of Egypt’s emergency law, and called for free elections.

“These public calls helped to secure the release of several hundred political detainees held under the emergency law,” the report says.

Egypt also responded with anger–for example, waging a lobbying campaign to stop a US Senate resolution condemning its human rights record. “The reaction was designed to scare US diplomats into resuming a quieter approach, but in fact it showed that Egypt is profoundly affected by public pressure from Washington,” the report charges.

It says that, with respect to Saudi Arabia, the US government in 2005 established a “strategic dialogue” which, because of Saudi objections, “did not mention human rights as a formal subject but relegated the topic to the ‘Partnership, Education, Exchange, and Human Development Working Group’.” But it notes that “even that dialogue then gradually disappeared."

It further notes, “While the US government contributed to keeping Iran off the board of the new UN Women agency in 2010 because of its mistreatment of women, it made no such effort with Saudi Arabia, which has an abysmal record on women but was given a seat by virtue of its financial contribution.”

Western governments also have been reluctant to exert pressure for human rights on governments that they count as counterterrorism allies, the report declares.

For example, it says, the Obama administration and the Friends of Yemen, a group of states and intergovernmental organizations established in January 2010, have not conditioned military or development assistance to Yemen on human rights improvements, “despite a worsening record of abusive conduct by Yemeni security forces and continuing government crackdowns on independent journalists and largely peaceful southern separatists.”

According to HRW, “One common rationalization offered for engagement without pressure is that rubbing shoulders with outsiders will somehow help to convert abusive agents of repressive governments.”

It says the Pentagon makes that argument in the case of Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka, and the US government adopted that line to justify resuming military aid to Indonesia’s elite special forces (Kopassus),”a unit with a long history of severe abuse, including massacres in East Timor and ‘disappearances’ of student leaders in Jakarta.

With respect to Kopassus, HRW says that while the Indonesian government’s human rights record has improved dramatically in recent years, “a serious gap remains its failure to hold senior military officers accountable for human rights violations, even in the most high-profile cases.”

In 2010, the report says, “The US relinquished the strongest lever it had by agreeing to lift a decade-old ban on direct military ties with Kopassus. The Indonesian military made some rhetorical concessions -- promising to discharge convicted offenders and to take action against future offenders -- but the US did not condition resumption of aid on such changes.”

As a result, the report says, “Convicted offenders today remain in the military, and there is little reason to credit the military’s future pledge given its poor record to date.”

Trivializing the significance of pressure, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates justified resuming direct ties with Kopassus:

He said, “Working with them further produce(s) greater gains in human rights for people than simply standing back and shouting at people.” Yet HRW notes that “even as the US was finalizing terms with Indonesia on resumption of aid to Kopassus, an Indonesian general implicated in abductions of student leaders was promoted to deputy defense minister and a colonel implicated in other serious abuses was named deputy commander of Kopassus.”

A similarly misplaced faith in rubbing shoulders with abusive forces rather than applying pressure on them informed President Obama’s decision to continue military aid to a series of governments that use child soldiers -- Chad, Sudan, Yemen, and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- despite a new US law prohibiting such aid.

In the case of Congo, for example, the military has had children in its ranks since at least 2002, and a 2010 UN report found a “dramatic increase” in the number of such children in the prior years. “Instead of using a cutoff of military assistance to pressure these governments to stop using child soldiers, the Obama administration waived the law to give the US time to ‘work with’ the offending militaries,” HRW says.

Another favorite rationale for a quiet approach, heard often in dealings with China, is that economic liberalization will lead on its own to greater political freedoms–a position maintained even after three decades in which that has not happened.

Indeed, in 2010 the opposite occurred -- in its regulation of the internet, China began using its economic clout to try to strengthen restrictions on speech, pressing businesses to become censors on its behalf. In the end, it was a business – Google -- that fought back, in part because censorship threatened its business model., the world’s largest web registrar, also announced that it would no longer register domains in China because onerous government requirements forcing disclosure of customer identities made censorship easier.

Despite these efforts, China still leveraged access to its lucrative market to gain the upper hand because others in the Internet industry, such as Microsoft, did not follow Google’s lead.

Conversely, the one time that China backed off was when it faced concerted pressure - it apparently abandoned its “Green Dam” censoring software when the industry, civil society, governments, and China’s own Internet users all loudly protested. And even Google’s license to operate a search engine in China was renewed, casting further doubt on the idea that a public critique of China’s human rights practices would inevitably hurt business.

Ironically, some of the governments most opposed to using pressure to promote human rights have no qualms about using pressure to deflect human rights criticism.

China, for example, pulled out all stops in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to suppress a report to the UN Security Council on the discovery of Chinese weaponry in Darfur despite an arms embargo. Sri Lanka did the same in an unsuccessful effort to quash a UN advisory panel on accountability for war crimes committed during its armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers.

China also mounted a major lobbying effort to prevent the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese writer and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, and when that failed, it tried unsuccessfully to discourage governments from attending the award ceremony in Norway. China made a similar effort to block a proposed UN commission of inquiry into war crimes committed in Burma.

But HRW saves its harshest criticism for the United Nations and the European Union. The report excoriates "the failure of the expected champions of human rights to respond" to human rights violations around the world.

HRW says the use of “dialogue and cooperation in lieu of pressure has emerged with a vengeance at the United Nations, from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to many members of the Human Rights Council.”

In addition, the report says, leading democracies of the global South, such as South Africa, India, and Brazil, have promoted quiet demarches as a preferred response to repression.

Recent illustrations include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) tepid response to Burmese repression, the United Nations' deferential attitude toward Sri Lankan wartime atrocities, and India's pliant policy toward Burma and Sri Lanka, the report said.

“The UN Human Rights Council has been especially timid, with many countries refusing to vote for resolutions aimed at a particular country. In an extreme example, rather than condemn Sri Lanka for the brutal abuses against civilians in the final months of the conflict with the Tamil Tigers, the council congratulated Sri Lanka,” Human Rights Watch said.

Although the EU's partnership and cooperation agreements with other countries are routinely conditioned on basic respect for human rights, it has concluded a significant trade agreement and pursued a full-fledged partnership and cooperation agreement with Turkmenistan, a severely repressive government, without conditioning either on human rights improvements or engaging in any serious efforts to secure improvements in advance, the report said.

And the EU opened accession discussions with Serbia despite its failure to apprehend and surrender for trial Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime military leader and an internationally indicted war crimes suspect, a key benchmark for beginning the discussions. The EU also lifted sanctions imposed on Uzbekistan after security forces massacred hundreds in 2005 in the city of Andijan, even though the Uzbek government took no steps to fill any of the EU criteria required for lifting the sanctions.

"Dialogue and cooperation have their place, but the burden should be on the abusive government to show a genuine willingness to improve," Roth said. "In the absence of the demonstrated political will by abusive governments to make change, governments of good will need to apply pressure to end repression."

The report said that if members of the Council want dialogue and cooperation to be effective in upholding human rights, they should limit use of these tools to governments that have demonstrated a political will to improve. “But whether out of calculation or cowardice, many Council members promote dialogue and cooperation as a universal prescription without regard to whether a government has the political will to curtail its abusive behavior,” HRW said.

These countries thus resist tests for determining whether a government’s asserted interest in cooperation is a ploy to avoid pressure or a genuine commitment to improvement–tests that might look to the government’s willingness to acknowledge its human rights failings, welcome UN investigators to examine the nature of the problem, prescribe solutions, and embark upon reforms.

“The enemies of human rights enforcement oppose critical resolutions even on governments that clearly fail these tests, such as Burma, Iran, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and Sudan,” the report said.

Similar problems arise at the UN General Assembly, the report says. As the Burmese military reinforced its decades-long rule with sham elections designed to give it a civilian facade, a campaign got under way to intensify pressure by launching an international commission of inquiry to examine the many war crimes committed in the country’s long-running armed conflict.”

A commission of inquiry, the report says, “would be an excellent tool for showing that such atrocities could no longer be committed with impunity. It would also create an incentive for newer members of the military-dominated government to avoid the worst abuses of the past.”

Yet some member states have refused to endorse a commission of inquiry on the “spurious grounds that it would not work without the cooperation of the Burmese junta.”

EU High Representative Ashton, in failing to embrace this tool, said: “Ideally, we should aim at ensuring a measure of cooperation from the national authorities.”

Similarly, a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that, to help advance human rights in the country, it is “crucial to find some co-operation mechanism with the [Burmese] national authorities.”

Yet obtaining such cooperation from the Burmese military in the absence of further pressure is a pipe dream, the report says.

Another favorite form of cooperation is a formal intergovernmental dialogue on human rights, such as those that many governments conduct with China and the EU maintains with a range of repressive countries, including the former-Soviet republics of Central Asia.

“Authoritarian governments understandably welcome these dialogues because they remove the spotlight from human rights discussions,” HRW says.

With such dialogues, the public, including domestic activists, is “left in the dark, as are most government officials outside the foreign ministry.”

But Western governments also often cite the existence of such dialogues as justification for not speaking concretely about human rights violations and remedies in more meaningful settings -- as Sweden did, for example, during its EU presidency when asked why human rights had not featured more prominently at the EU-Central Asia ministerial conference.

The UN and EU are accused of "cowardice" for claiming to tackle human rights abuses in places like China or Uzbekistan through quiet dialogue and cooperation, the report said.

Highlighting its claim, the report was issued in Brussels the same day the European Union hosted controversial Uzbek President Islam Karimov despite protests from campaigners.

The New York-based non-governmental organization's executive director, Kenneth Roth, was sharply critical of "the failure of the expected champions of human rights to respond" to violations in an introduction to the 600-page report covering 100-plus regimes.

He sees the fundamental error made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other leading voices is to place the accent on quiet diplomacy, which he says is often a euphemism for "other interests at stake."

Roth cites a "tepid" response from Asian partners to repression in Myanmar, with the report saying the Burmese junta's release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on November 23 was preceded by no significant steps on 2,100 other political prisoners.

The UN is criticized for adopting a "deferential" attitude towards Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, alongside Myanmar's Than Shwe or Sudan leader Omar al-Bashir, with Ban said to have placed "undue faith" in the impact of his corridor diplomacy.

The EU's top diplomat, the much-criticized English baroness Catherine Ashton, is said to hide behind an "obsequious approach to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan" where large energy interests dominate trade and political links.

Ashton's "quiet dialogue and cooperation often look like acquiescence" leading rights defenders to "sense indifference rather than solidarity," Roth wrote in a column for the International Herald Tribune in advance of the Report’s release.

Britain, France and Germany are all cited as appeasing Beijing.

The obsession with dialogue and cooperation is particularly intense at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where many of the members insist that the Council should practice “cooperation, not condemnation.”

The report says, “A key form of pressure at the Council is the ability to send fact-finders to expose what abuses were committed and to hold governments accountable for not curtailing abuses. One important medium for these tools is a resolution aimed at a particular country or situation. Yet many governments on the Council eschew any country resolution designed to generate pressure (except in the case of the Council’s perennial pariah, Israel).”

"Near-universal cowardice," meanwhile, marks efforts at confronting China's "deepening crackdown on basic liberties," with huge Yuan investments -- whether in African natural resources or US and eurozone public debt -- ensuring silence is the preferred approach.

“The credibility of the EU as a force for human rights around the world also rests on its willingness to address human rights abuses by its own member states. With a record of discrimination and rising intolerance against migrants, Muslims, Roma, and others, inadequate access to asylum, and abusive counterterrorism measures, member states and EU institutions need to show greater political commitment to ensure that respect for human rights at home matches the EU's rhetoric abroad," the report charges.

The report cites recent examples of failure to exert pressure. These include the EU's “obsequious approach” toward Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the West's “soft reaction” to certain favored African autocrats such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and the “near-universal cowardice in confronting China's deepening crackdown on basic liberties.”

It adds that the most effective support for human rights in China in 2010 came from the Norwegian Nobel committee's awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Prior to the recent visit of President Hu of China, there was concerted pressure from Obama’s left wing urging him to launch a full frontal attack on China’s human rights record.

To most of those on the left of the Democratic Party, Obama’s attack was far from “full frontal.” On the other hand, it was obvious that the American president intended to call attention to China’s pitiful human rights record and to keep the subject front and center while negotiations on other important issues were proceeding. The issue was now “on a table,” and was not going to be swept under the rug.

As a New York Times editorial noted, prior to Hu’s arrival, Obama “invited human rights advocates to the White House for a meeting on China.” Obama raised the issue from the very beginning of the State visit. It is reported that he also had a “very serious” discussion of human rights with Hu during a private dinner in the White House.

Many observers believe the president didn’t go far enough, but that he went as far as he could. But far fewer seem to believe Obama’s candor will have any impact on China’s domestic policies, at least not in the short term.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

King of Political Theater

By William Fisher

Representative Pete King, the impresario of Capitol Kabuki, is very busy these days getting ready for his debut as the new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

And for his opening act, some time next month, the congressman is planning a hearing on the radicalization of young Muslims by local religious leaders.

The New York Republican believes this is a serious problem. He says he has heard an increasing number of stories from federal law enforcement officials that U.S. Islamic leaders have not cooperated with police or are fomenting young Muslims.

"There's a systematic effort to radicalize young Muslim men," King told the Los Angeles Times. "It would be irresponsible of me not to have this investigation. If it was coming from some other demographic group, I would say the same thing," he said.

But U.S. Islamic leaders are concerned that the hearing will be more like a McCarthy-style witch-hunt because of the over-heated rhetoric King has consistently used to attack the Muslim community in the U.S. They say he is “unfairly tarring the Muslim community, which they said had helped U.S. law enforcement break up terrorist plots.”

That statement would appear to be supported by a recent study the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), entitled “Post-9/11 Terrorism Incident Database.” MPAC reported that:

• There were 77 total plots by domestic non-Muslim perpetrators against the United States since 9/11/01. In comparison, there have been 41 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. Using Obama’s election as our measurement, since November 4, 2008 there have been 44 terror plots by non-Muslim domestic extremists. By comparison, there have been 20 plots by Muslim domestic and international extremists. Each of these categories constitutes close to 50% of all violent extremism cases since 9/11.

• Yet there is little evidence of rising ideological extremism among American Muslims. We use Obama’s election as the start of a timeline for measurement. We found 14 out of the 19 post-election plots (74%) involved Muslim Americans engaging in ideological extremism before the vote. Only two out of 19 cases (10%) are individuals involved in extremist activities after Obama’s election.

• Muslim communities have stepped forward to help law enforcement foil over one out of every three Al Qaeda-related terror plots threatening America since 9/11. Muslim communities have helped law enforcement prevent the last 7 out of 11 Al Qaeda related plots.

So far, King seems intent on brushing off approaches from Muslims that they get together with King to discuss the subject. Rep. Keith Ellison, one of two Muslim members of Congress, buttonholed King on the House floor and offered to volunteer himself and other witnesses as proof that several terrorist plots —
including those in Times Square and in Virginia — were initially brought to the attention of federal law enforcement by Muslims.

And MPAC wrote to King suggesting a meeting. As of today, King has not responded to either suggestion and says the hearing will go forward as planned.

But King’s lack of responsiveness has worried American Muslim leadership. Alejandro Buetel, MPAC’s government liaison officer and author of the Terrorism Incident Database, told The Public Record, "We have no objection to a hearing. We just want to be sure they are focused on real problem solving, not political theater."

What concerns MPAC and other Muslim-oriented groups is what they characterize as King’s often-expressed prejudice against Muslims.

For example, he cited a recent Pew poll he said showed that 15% of young American Muslims believed suicide bombing was justified.

He has said, "I also know of imams instructing members of their mosques not to cooperate with law enforcement investigating the recruiting of young men in their mosques as suicide bombers. We need to find the reasons for this alienation."

In 2004 King said on the Sean Hannity program, “…you could say that 80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists…Those who are in control. The average Muslim, no, they are loyal, but they don’t work, they don’t come forward, they don’t tell the police.”

King has said there are “too many mosques” in the U.S.”

He has characterized American Muslim leaders as “an enemy living amongst us” [which does not] cooperate in the war on terror”.

In a 2004 non sequitur, King said: “The fact is while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100% of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our main enemy today.”

Two years later, King sent two letters to several thousand, mainly Jewish, constituents in New York’s 3rd Congressional District. The letters condemned American Muslim leaders, including those at the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI), for “failing to unequivocally denounce Islamic terrorism.”

Leaders of the ICLI, a Westbury-based mosque founded in 1985, supported King’s Democratic opponent in the last election, Nassau County Legislator David Mejias.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in 2009 warning of the rising threat of right-wing extremism, King told TV host Joe Scarborough that, instead of discussing the threat of anti-government radicals, DHS should focus on the threat emanating from “Muslims” and “mosques” at home.

He said ”[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano has never put out a report talking about ‘look out for mosques. Look out for Islamic terrorists in our country. Look out for the fact that very few Muslims come forward to cooperate with the police.’ If they sent out a report saying that, there would be hell to pay,” King said.

“The (DHS) was set up primarily to protect us from another terrorist attack from Islamic terrorists, and yet they talk about everything but that,” he said.

In an opinion column in Newsday, King wrote, “Federal and local law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or -- in most cases -- no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.”

"There are too many mosques in this country," King told Politico in 2007. "There are too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them."

'The leadership of the community is not geared to cooperation,' Peter King says.

Corey P. Saylor, national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called King's investigation a "witch hunt."

“If I saw that the hearings were sober and objective, I’d have no concerns,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative director. “But King is opting for a political circus approach.”

CAIR has not been invited to testify at the hearing.

Rep. Ellison takes a charitable view of Rep. King. "I don't think Pete King is an evil person. He's concerned about public safety and homeland security. And there have been cases where Muslims have done awful things. But it's a narrow investigation, and it's going to make a particular group feel targeted."

"The bottom line is you have people who desperately want to help protect their country," Ellison said, "and they are being nudged out of that opportunity because we're told we are the problem."

MPAC, in a January 7, 2011 letter to King, said the proposed hearings – as they are currently being framed – “would do little to solve the problem and would instead create an ugly political circus.”

MPAC called for a meeting with King to discuss his initiatives, the proposed hearings, and the efforts of the Muslim American community in fighting radicalization. “We certainly hope that Congressman King is serious enough about wanting to fight radicalization that he will take us up on this request in the coming days and weeks,” MPAC said.

“I hope my colleague from New York … does not make the mistake of trying to paint all Muslims with a broad, extremist brush,” Rep. Andre Carson, an Indiana Democrat, who is the other Muslim in Congress. In an email to the journal, POLITICO, he wrote, “Because for one, that’s not an accurate depiction of the millions of peace-loving Muslims; and two, our national security depends on us forging strong partnerships with people across the Muslim world.”

Possible witnesses, according to King, include the Dutch critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Zuhdi Jasser, the Arizona-based founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser is a sharp critic of leading American Muslim groups, whose agenda he calls “Islamist.”

Your Government’s Experiment in Social Isolation

By William Fisher

If you are unlucky enough to be doing time at one of the Federal Government’s two “experimental prisons” – which it calls Communications Management Units (CMUs) – you are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. You may not hug, touch or embrace your children or spouse during visits.

Severe restrictions are also placed on your access to phone calls and letters, as well as work and educational opportunities. Transfers to the CMU are not explained; nor are prisoners told how to earn release into less restrictive confinement, as there is no review process. Lawyers say that because these transfers are not based on facts or discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has emerged.

Two federal prisons are being used as CMUs and overwhelmingly hold Muslim prisoners and prisoners with unpopular political beliefs. Opponents charge they are practicing religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment.

These are the principal allegations in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ houses the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which runs the two units, one in Terre Haute, Indiana, the other in Marion, Illinois. Plaintiffs are five current and former prisoners, and the spouses of two prisoners.
Now comes information on another major shortcoming: Inadequate medical care.

In a letter, a CMU inmate describes a situation that other legal experts confirm persists throughout the prison system. The inmate, whose name is being withheld from this article for his protection, explains:

"I was waiting to be called for the surgery. Today at 6 am the guard asked me if I had eaten today (I already did by then) because I was to be taken out for a procedure. I told him that I already ate and that I should have been told no later than last night about the procedure. Besides, I told them that I was put on daily aspirin, which must be stopped for several days before any procedure. The guard understood that there was a mix up.

“An hour later when the nurse (an LPN) came, I was explaining to her that there must have been a mistake. She was stern, less than respectful and less than understanding. She immediately snapped at me: ‘So you are refusing the colonoscopy’.

“What colonoscopy? I asked. There must be a misunderstanding. I am to go for a hernia surgery.”

“No, she said, my records show that you are to be locked up to be ‘preped’ (sic) for the colonoscopy.”

“Well, is there someone I can talk to and explain the situation, I said.”

“No”, she snapped. " I am the only one here". If you want to talk to someone you have to wait until tomorrow,” she said. "Meanwhile, you will have to sign this refusal form".

The prisoner’s letter continues: "You asked about my hernia. It does bother me that at times it is painful and uncomfortable. It limits my physical activities and exercises. I am unable to stay in one position for an extended period of time. I cannot bend or strain without feeling the discomfort. After my limited walk every day I feel the area numb. I look forward to being relieved of this hernia.

“Last night, they told me to be NPO after midnight for a procedure. This was after the morning fiasco which I briefed you about. Only to be told two hours later that it was cancelled! I am still in limbo, not sure what these people are doing or what game they are playing with my health.”

The prisoner asks: “How would an intelligent reasonable professional mix colonoscopy with hernia repair? Instead of thanking me for correcting a potential danger and embarrassment for these people I am treated like a dog. I take it back, dogs are treated better. All this is done by a supposedly health professional who swore an oath of taking care of the sick.

“I frankly…fear for my life and well being in this joint with characters like this one. I am unable to call her a nurse. I know nurses, I hired some, dealt with some and (was) treated by some. None is like this one. She would not have acted like this had her superiors been better than her. It is a culture of disrespect and abuse.

The inmate concludes: “It is ironic that this happens when they told us that the JCAH (joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals) is coming soon to give accreditation to their health service!!!!!!”

Joan Covici, a former longtime member of the Dallas ACLU Board of Directors, and a nationally recognized champion of prisoners’ rights, commented on this inmate’s predicament.

She told us, “The man has to keep going through his unit's grievance process. It may not make a difference, since what he is experiencing is common throughout the nation. But, he must go into court with his own story AFTER he has exhausted all remedies.”

She added, “Too many COs are TRAINED and INSTRUCTED to treat the incarcerated as dangerous and as liars -- which many of them are. I believe that anyone, incarcerated fairly and honestly, is sick and probably unreliable and dangerous. Some COs understand this and act professionally, but many do not.”

The CCR says that, “Despite the fact that their creation marked a dramatic change in BOP policy, [the CMUs] were opened without the required opportunity for public notice and comment.”

But relatively little is known about what goes on inside the CMUs. Unlike conditions and practices at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the CMUs have received virtually no attention from the mainstream media – print, television or radio. Nor has Congress shown any more than passing interest.

When the Bureau of Prisons announced the first CMU in 2007, they said its purpose was “to house inmates who, due to their current offense, conduct, or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communications with persons in the community to ensure the safe, secure, and orderly running of BOP facilities, and to protect the public.”

But the CCR disputes that statement. “These units are an experiment in social isolation,” said a CCR attorney. “People are being put in these extraordinarily restrictive units without being told why and without any meaningful review. Dispensing with due process creates a situation ripe for abuse; in this case, it has allowed for a pattern of religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment. This is precisely what the rule of law and the Constitution forbid.”

The CCR says that upwards of two-thirds of the prisoners confined there are Muslims – a figure that over-represents the proportion of Muslim prisoners in BOP facilities by at least 1000 percent. Many of the remaining prisoners have unpopular political views, including environmental activists designated as ‘ecoterrorists’.

The CCR says most of those other prisoners appear to have been transferred to the CMU because of other protected First Amendment activities, such as speaking out on social justice issues or filing grievances in prison or court regarding conditions and abuse.

CCR attorneys say the outsized proportion of Muslims demonstrates that the CMUs were created to facilitate the segregation and restrictive treatment of Muslims based on the discriminatory belief that such prisoners are more likely than others to pose a threat to prison security.

According the Bureau of Prisons, the 76 inmates housed in the isolation units are there to prevent them from furthering acts of terrorism. But civil liberties advocates say the extreme conditions in the CMUs amount to abuse and that the program violates the inmate’s constitutional rights. The BOP says CMUs were set up after authorities discovered that some Islamic militants were able to send messages abroad from their prison cells.

The Bureau of Prisons claims that CMUs are designed to hold dangerous terrorists and other high-risk inmates, requiring heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications.

But, the CCR says, “Many prisoners are sent to these isolation units for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system. Unlike other prisoners in the federal system, CMU prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children, spouses or loved ones during visits. The CMUs are an experiment in social isolation.”

Karin Friedemann, a Boston-based freelance journalist, writes, “Although the US government refuses to disclose the list of prisoners to the public, inmates include Enaam Arnaout, founder of Islamic charity Benevolence International Foundation; Dr. Rafil Dhafir, physician and founder of Iraqi charity Help the Needy; Ghassan Elashi, founder of Holy Land Foundation and CAIR Dallas; Randall Royer, Muslim civil rights activist; Yassin Aref, imam and Kurdish refugee; Sabri Benkahla, an American who was abducted the day before his wedding while studying in Saudi Arabia; and John Walker Lindh, an American convert to Islam who was captured in Afghanistan; plus some non-Muslim political activists.”

She claims that “most of these prisoners were falsely accused of terrorist offenses and then imprisoned for lesser charges but given sentences meant for serious terrorism-related crimes.”

Carmen Hernandez, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, reportedly told Ms. Friedemann, “The primary problem with the opening of (the CMUs) is that no one knows the criteria used to send the person imprisoned to that unit.”

“What the prisoners have in common is that they were well disciplined, studious, and often religious compared to those in the general prison population, they maintain strong commitments to various causes, and for some reason the government wants to keep them separate, to restrict their communication with the outside world,” she said.

Some observers think we may be one step further toward understanding why.

The reason is that when the BOP first inaugurated the CMUs, the public was not given the opportunity to learn about the program and comment on its soundness. CCR lawyers say that was a violation of federal law and one of the principal reasons for the CCR’s lawsuit.

Now, they say, the BOP is making a late attempt to correct that omission by proposing a rule disclosing CMU policy. CCR says this is “an implicit acknowledgment that the units are unparalleled in the federal prison system, and an admission that the BOP violated the law by operating the unique units secretly for more than three years.”

“While we welcome the BOP’s decision to finally comply with its legal obligations -- albeit over three years too late -- the proposed rule does not make these experimental isolation units constitutional,” said CCR staff attorney Alexis Agathocleous.

“Our clients’ experiences clearly demonstrate the abusive and arbitrary nature of the CMUs,” she said, adding, “The proposed rule states that CMU prisoners, when possible, are provided a detailed explanation of the information that has led to their designation. In reality, many prisoners have simply been told that their designation was based on ‘reliable evidence’.

Some prisoners’ requests to be told the nature of this evidence have been denied, the CCR says. “Others have received an explanation for their designation that included factually incorrect information, with no opportunity for correction.”

The CCR has little hope that the CMU issue will be settled out of court. Rachel Meeropol, a CCR staff attorney, told Truthout:

“The Bureau of Prison’s inhumane Communications Management Units have been operating without oversight or fair process for over four years. Under the Bush administration, it was startlingly clear that Muslims and political activists were to be treated as threats to national security, irrespective of any wrongdoing. Sadly, this [the Obama] administration seems to have embraced that notion as well, and continues to deny fundamental rights to CMU prisoners.”