Saturday, December 31, 2011

Toothless and Tone Deaf

It took exactly one day for the Syrian protesters to figure out what the Arab League sent them to "observe" the state of civil strife in that poor unfortunate country.
At the League, the dispatch of monitors to Syria was seen as a determined and courageous initiative. And it's true the League has been short on initiatives since its founding. Mostly it has issued communiqués as full of smoke, hyperbole and hypocrisy as is each delegate and the countries they lead.
For three decades, the Arab League has used the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as its all-purpose fig-leaf. It has substituted rhetoric for serious recommendations, perhaps with the exception of a "peace plan" put forth by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2002 and again in 2007. Skeptical observers believe that the League would rather have a live issue than a resolved dispute.
(This is not to deny that successive Israeli governments have not behaved in similar ways, but that's a subject for another day.)
So back to Day One in Syria. That's when the protestors learned that the head of the Arab League mission has been the intelligence chief in Darfur, working for Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with 10 charges of war crimes. It would be a huge stretch to believe that the League's man, General Mustafa Dabi, had no inkling that Darfurians were experiencing any inconveniences.
The first meeting of the General and the protesters happened in the city of Homs, which has been reported in the West as the scene of a massive bloodbath, with security services firing randomly into a crowd of citizens.On the very day that General al-Dabi visited Homs, rebel forces reported that 19 people were there were killed by Assad's security men.
As Syrian tanks pulled out of Homs, "activists charged that the government's action was a ruse to mislead observers from the Arab League." But General Mustafa Dabi said, "The situation seemed reassuring so far." He added, "Some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening." He said he plans to return to Homs as well as to other cities that have been under Syrian fire.
Let us pray that the General does return and does not represent the views of the other 150 monitors now in the country. Maybe it would be fair to ascribe his somewhat confused rhetoric to first-day-settling-in issues.
But, given the lackluster performance of the Arab League over many years, what is it reasonable to expect from this group of Dinosaurs?
Look at these members of the League, minus recently expelled Syria and plus Libya, restored to membership after Gadaffi fell.
The League consists of Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq ,Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine,Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Can we point to one democracy, however defined, among these 20 countries? Can we point to those in which a Sunni Muslim King or President rules over a majority Shia population? Can we name one that allows its citizens complete freedom of religion? Can we name one not based on crony-capitalism? How many can we find who won't arrest you with a warrant, hold you without charges or a lawyer, torture or perhaps kill you in detention, and – if you're lucky – get a sham show-trial that might last, say, 10 minutes.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have always occupied positions of great influence within the League. So it offers no comfort whatever to learn that the Saudis are planning to introduce really draconian legislation which would criminalize any unlicensed public assembly, while Egypt's "interim" military rulers are trying to figure out how they can appear to be giving up their power to civilians while in fact making it harder for anyone except a general do actually get anything done.
After a day's experience with the League monitors, the Syrian protesters are calling for their dismissal and referral of the whole matter to the United Nations.
Nice idea, but lest we forget, Russia and China appear steadfast in trying to preserve their countries' lucrative commercial ties. Don't expect any boat-rocking from these two.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Egypt Security Raids US, German and Egyptian NGOs

By William Fisher

Seeming to borrow a page from the Hosni Mubarak playbook, Egyptian security forces yesterday raided the offices of two Egyptian, two American and one German non-governmental organization and held their staffs inside these offices while police and prosecutors search their papers and computers.

The reason for the raids is still unclear, but it is known that these are among the not-for-profit groups who have registered strong objections to the so-called NGO law drafted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) IN November 2011.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), officers – in uniform and civilian clothes – raided the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions (ACIJP) and The Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, both Egyptian NGOs; The National Democratic Institute (NDI), an American NGO with offices in Cairo and Assuit); the International Republican Institute (IRI), an American organization with an office in Cairo; Freedom House, an American organization with an office in Egypt, and Konrad Adenauer, a German NGO.

The staff members of these organizations were reportedly held in their offices while. Police searched their papers, laptops and computers.

Staff members of the six organizations were warned from using their cell phones, laptops and computers; and were isolated from contact with the outside world. Additionally, with regards to the ACIJP office at least, authorities restricted access to the entire building, preventing people from entering or exiting the building.

ANHRI said that “storming these offices is related to the campaign led by the Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Egyptian government starting from June 2011 against civil society organizations and more specifically human rights groups in Egypt.”

The NDI, IRI, and Freedom House have been previously investigated by the ministry of justice on charges of receiving foreign funding, while the Arab Center for the Independence of Justice and Legal Professions has not been yet investigated. An Investigation of the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory was due to start next Sunday, January 1, 2012.

ANHRI said the storming of NGO offices is “an unprecedented move in the recent history of Egyptian NGOs,” adding that in February 2011, during the 18 days Egyptian revolution, “Military Police stormed the office of Hisham Mubarak Law Center, an Egyptian NGO based in Cairo, and arrested several of its members as well as staff members of other international organizations who were present at the scene.”

The Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahram, reported, “In Mubarak's time the government never dared to do such a thing," said prominent human rights activists Negad El-Bourai on his Twitter account.”

"We are still not sure of anything," said Emad Mubarak from the Freedom of Expression Center, "however their excuse could be that they are auditing the files after accusations that many NGOs are receiving foreign funds."

In August, a group of Egyptian NGOs sent an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the Rights to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. It is unclear what action the UN body took.

Thirty-nine Egyptian NGOs participated in the appeal, submitting a complaint condemning the campaign against civil society associations and the incitement to hatred, as well as government attempts to further restrict the activities of these organizations and the investigations launched by the Supreme State Security Prosecution.

In November, 2011, these 39 human rights and development organizations drafted a new law to regulate NGOs and sent a copy to then Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.

The proposed law provided for the autonomy of Egyptian civil society organizations from the state and its administrative apparatus. At the same time, it guaranteed the transparent operation of these organizations in terms of their activities and sources of funding. Under the proposed law, civil society groups and NGOs could be established by notification at a primary court, and the Ministry of Justice would be the competent administrative body. The law also provided for the freedom to join and form international and local networks and alliances. No action has been taken on this draft law.

ANHRI said that, “Since their formation human rights organizations have been at the forefront of proposing laws to liberate civic action. This law is one of many proposed since 1985. In 2009, during the Mubarak era, an alternative law was proposed by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights; however, it was disregarded by the regime.”

The group added,” In light of the continuation of the Mubarak regimes policy towards civil society organizations, including interference in civil society operations by the administrative and security sectors, the undersigned organizations now proffer the same law in a new initiative joined by several more groups. In addition, a media campaign has been launched to smear civil society, particularly human rights groups, in order to damage the credibility of their reports and their criticisms of the human rights record of the SCAF and its government.

ANHRI went further. It said this campaign has recently “taken more deplorable measures even than what was attempted by Mubarak himself. The undersigned organizations propose this law as a democratic alternative to the current law, passed in 2002, which gives arbitrary powers to the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Justice and permits daily intervention by the security apparatus in the operation of civil society associations and NGOs.

The group said its alternative law was “drafted with due consideration for international standards, aiming to rectify the current law’s incompatibility with such standards, as this incompatibility was a constant source of criticism of the Egyptian government, especially during the UN Universal Periodic Review of the human rights record in Egypt conducted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2010.”

It noted that one of the recommendations to the Egyptian government was to “pass legislation that allows NGOs to accept foreign funding without prior government approval, legislation that allows for increased freedom of association and assembly, and legislation allowing labor unions to operate without joining the Egyptian Trade Union Federation”.

The 39 signatories to the letter of objection said that, after the January 25 Revolution, they “hoped that civil society would be freed from the bureaucratic grasp of the state and its security apparatus and that it would be given the opportunity to perform its patriotic role by entrenching democratic norms, respect for human rights, and social justice in post-revolution Egypt.”

However, they added, “this hope soon faded in light of the unchanged mindset of the regime and its failure in administering the transitional phase. In fact, the investigating authorities currently looking into the activities of human rights groups are relying on reports prepared by the dissolved State Security Investigations of the Mubarak era – the very apparatus whose practices were one of the main reasons Egyptians revolted to bring down the regime.”

The signatories concluded, “It is a bitter irony that the interim government and the SCAF are using the same justifications espoused by the extreme right-wing Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu to force through legal amendments to limit the freedom of human rights organizations in Israel on the pretext of protecting Israeli national security. This is the justification cited by the Egyptian regime in its current assault on human rights groups—“protecting Egyptian national security”—to use legal, administrative, and security means to harass human rights groups with the goal of covering up crimes committed by the regime.”

“While Israel hopes to silence those defending the rights of the Arab minority and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Egyptian regime seeks to silence those who decry its practices, such as the use of excessive force against unarmed demonstrators, the referral of civilians to military trials, torture by the military police, the Maspero massacre of Copts, and other crimes,” they said.

NDI and IRI were created in 1983 as two of the four core institutes of the US National Endowment for Democracy, which was established by Congress in that year to act as a grant-making foundation, distributing funds to private organizations for the purpose of promoting democracy abroad. The two organizations correspond to the political parties bearing their respective names.

Freedom House was established in 1941 with the quiet encouragement of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its initial mission was to encourage popular support for American involvement in World War II at a time when isolationist sentiments were running high in the United States. Today it is best known for the publication “Freedom in the World”, the Freedom House annual survey of global policies and civil liberties, which it began in 1973.

The 39 signatories to today ANHRI statement included such groups as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, the Human Rights Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Group for Human Rights Legal Aid, the Land Center for Human Rights, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.

What does all this mean in terms of the January revolution? The Public Record asked an American aid consultant who has lived in Cairo for 25 years. He told us it’s not absolutely safe to use his name, but this is what he told us:

“The smear campaign conducted by the SCAF against civil society groups is appalling. No one has a clue about what they’re thinking, but they’ve apparently swallowed Mubarak’s whole story about non-profit groups being responsible for Egypt’s unrest. The fact is that these organizations are the last line of defense against authoritarian, capricious and senseless limitation of these groups’ abilities. With SCAF in charge, we really didn’t need a revolution!”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rendition – Still With Us!

 By William Fisher

Two of Europe’s most respected human rights organizations are accusing a little-known European Union agency of paying “lip service to transparency” (while) “covering up crucial evidence on the CIA rendition program.”

Crofton Black, an investigator for the charity, Reprieve, said the agency, called “EUROCONTROL, has the necessary information and it is able to disclose it.” He asked, “Will it step up and do the right thing? The clock is ticking.”

The requests for information have come from Reprieve and its partners, Access Info Europe. They have written to the Director General of EUROCONTROL, asking him to reconsider his denial of access to flight planning information vital to renditions accountability.

So far, EUROCONTROL is refusing to release crucial evidence relating to the CIA’s illegal renditions program, despite requests to do so by Reprieve and Access Info Europe.

Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. It investigates, litigates and educates, and provides legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it. It promotes the rule of law around the world, and works to secure each person’s right to a fair trial.

In the past, the organizations say, EUROCONTROL “has made a significant positive contribution to the struggle for renditions accountability, disclosing portions of its records to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and to the Danish parliament. Thanks to these disclosures, flight logs for dozens of planes, contracted by the CIA to perform sometimes illegal missions, have become available.”

The groups added, “This good track record is at risk, however, as EUROCONTROL has recently and unaccountably denied access to records for another 54 planes. These planes were unidentified at the time earlier requests were made, and represent new insights into the renditions program, particularly in its later stages.”

EUROCONTROL, the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, is an intergovernmental organization made up of 39 Member States and the European Community. EUROCONTROL is committed to building a Single European Sky that will deliver the ATM performance required for the 21st century and beyond.

Founded in 1960, it is a civil-military organization that has developed into a vital European repository of air traffic management (ATM) excellence, both leading and supporting ATM improvements across Europe.

EUROCONTROL supports its Member States to achieve safe, efficient and environmentally-friendly air traffic operations across the whole of the European region.

EUROCONTROL is made up of 39 European member states, including the UK, all of whom are bound by freedom of information laws – and who fund its half a billion euro budget. However, the organization appears to consider itself above the laws which apply to its members when it comes to disclosure of information – even when it relates to serious criminal acts such as the renditions program.

Access Info Europe’s campaign coordinator, Lydia Medland, said: “Consistent with European and International human rights law, EUROCONTROL should now make a review of the information that they hold, and consider the public interest in this case.”

Access Info Europe is a Spanish-based human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information in Europe and globally as a tool for defending civil liberties and human rights, for facilitating public participation in decision-making and for holding governments accountable.

Reprieve notes that, in 2005, investigators, law enforcement officials and journalists became aware of the widescale use of private US-registered aircraft, illegally to transport (‘render’) individuals captured by the US and other governments in the context of the ‘war on terror’.

Prisoners transported by this method were routinely also held incommunicado and tortured, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and the domestic laws of all European countries.

A list of such aircraft was collected and published in two Council of Europe reports, in 2006 and 2007. Owing to the ongoing evolution of the CIA’s rendition and detention program, however, the Council’s data remained incomplete.

For the last twelve months, Reprieve and Access Info Europe say they have been building a more comprehensive overview of aircraft involved in the renditions program, and their flight routes. The list includes aircraft active before the Council of Europe reports but unknown to the Council of Europe investigators, and aircraft active after the Council of Europe reports. It currently includes 54 aircraft, all of which have substantive documentary connections to entities involved in CIA renditions operations. An interim report on this project will shortly be released.

In a letter to EUROCONTROL’s Director General David McMillan, the organizations, responding to EUROCONTROL’S denial of the records being sought, Reprieve and Access Info wrote, “We wish to explain why we consider your denial to be a very serious mistake and to urge you to reconsider most carefully in the light of your legal, social and ethical responsibilities.”

The organizations then laid out a timeline of exchanges on this issue. The said that, in 2005, investigators, law enforcement officials and journalists became aware of the wide-scale use of private US-registered aircraft, illegally to transport (‘render’) individuals captured by the US and other governments in the context of the ‘war on terror’.

Prisoners transported by this method were routinely also held Incommunicado and tortured, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Convention against Torture, the
Geneva Conventions and the domestic laws of all European countries.

The organizations noted that a list of such aircraft was collected and published in two Council of Europe reports, in 2006 and 2007. Owing to the ongoing evolution of the CIA’s rendition and detention program, however, the Council’s data remained incomplete.

They reminded EUROCONTROL that, for the last twelve months, Reprieve and Access Info Europe have been building a more comprehensive overview of aircraft involved in the renditions program, and their flight routes. The list includes aircraft active before the Council of Europe reports but unknown to the Council of Europe investigators, and aircraft active after the Council of Europe reports. It currently includes 54 aircraft, all of which have substantive documentary connections to entities involved in CIA renditions operations.

The groups charge, “It is demonstrable that EUROCONTROL holds relevant data on these aircraft, is able to disclose it, and has disclosed such data in the past for the same purpose. “

It reminded McMillan that EUROCONTROL had said, ““in the context of the EU's single European sky, the EUROCONTROL Agency is committed to promoting the objective of transparency. It is currently working on adapting its internal data rules on public disclosure.”

On 20 October 2011, therefore, EUROCONTROL was asked for information or documents relating to the movements of 54 aircraft between 2001 and 2011.

On 2 November 2011, EUROCONTROL denied an October request but failed to provide any reason, stating simply that it was not covered by the regulation (EC) No 1049/2001. But “EUROCONTROL is mistaken” in asserting that this data must remain confidential, for the following reasons:

Similar data has already been disclosed by EUROCONTROL and is freely available in the public domain. Public documents attest to the response of EUROCONTROL to a similar request in 2008, asking for records from the data warehouse and Central Route Charges Office relating to all flights billed to specific route planning and operating companies from 2001 to 2008.1 This response includes over 150 pages of precisely the same type of information that we request.

Indeed, the information request in this previous instance was far broader than our request, since it has never been suggested, nor could it be maintained, that all flights billed to these companies were in any way
connected with the renditions program.

In addition, many EUROCONTROL member states have already disclosed similar ing that this kind of data can and should be released.

In public, EUROCONTROL makes commendable claims of transparency. In its message to Access Info Europe on 12 October, the company stated a commitment to matching transparency standards set by the European regulation 1049/2001, despite not being legally bound. However, by refusing to disclose the information, or to identify a legitimate reason for non-disclosure, EUROCONTROL has failed to meet even the minimal transparency standards to which it aspires.

The alarming disparity between Euro control’s professed commitment and its actions highlights a dangerous gap in European transparency standards. If small bodies holding public information cannot meet national standards, both national and EU transparency efforts can be swiftly undermined. Access Info Europe calls on all bodies that hold public information to uphold at least the same transparency standards as their member states.

There is an overriding public interest obligation on EUROCONTROL to disclose the records we have requested. EUROCONTROL is the primary - and in some cases the only - repository of information crucial to the investigation of serious crimes and breaches of rights recognized by the European Convention and other conventions cited above.

As such, EUROCONTROL has a duty to comply with any such investigation, and any failure to disclose relevant information would render it complicit in the continuing cover-up of these crimes.

The signatories to the letter are awaiting Euro control’s response.

In Bahrain’s Hour of Peril, Where Does the U.S. Stand?

By William Fisher

News Analysis

The United Nations’ top human rights official is calling on tiny, oil-rich  Bahrain to release prisoners detained for joining peaceful demonstrations earlier this year, and to restore the jobs of thousands of people who were dismissed for joining the protest.

Navi Pillay said in a statement that this action should be taken as a confidence-building measure.

Bahrain’s Human Rights activists applauded her statement. Faisal Fulad, Secretary General of Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, said in response, “We have expressed all along that the government needs to show its commitment in order to gain the trust and respect of the people.”

He added: “The reforms agreed to in the National Dialogue, and the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) should be implemented immediately and those held for championing democracy must be released.”

Bahrain has been torn apart by peaceful protests met by armed responses following initial demonstrations for democratic rights made by the people during February and March this year. A strong crackdown by the government led to thousands of arrests and trials that took place under military rule during a state of emergency.

It was during this time that the Gulf Cooperation Council dispatched several thousand Saudi Arabian motorized troops to Bahrain to assist the Bahraini government to maintain order and re-establish stability.

Bahrain’s leadership, including the King, has since admitted that excessive force was used during the crackdown and that those responsible will be brought to justice.

To the surprise of virtually everyone, King Hamad appointed an independent commission to investigate the tense situation in the country and make recommendations for bringing the conflict to a peaceful end. Headed by a distinguished Egyptian judge, Cherif Bassiouni, and funded by the government.

According to a new report from Human Rights First, a US-based legal advocacy group, Judge Bassiouni stood in front of the King of Bahrain and largely confirmed what the world’s leading international human rights organizations and media outlets had been saying for months:

Thousands of people were illegally arrested, many were tortured;  
detainees were subjected to unfair trials; several people died in custody; .
dozens had been killed in the streets; thousands of workers and students were dismissed for perceived association with the democracy protests; .
there were some attacks on expat workers; there had been a series of attacks on Shi’a places of worship.

King Hamad is a Sunni Muslim, as are all the senior figures in the government and in the Royal Family’s circle of friends and confidantes. The majority of Bahrainis, however, is Shia. They have been complaining against discrimination in employment, housing and finance for many years. Bahrain has a large cadre of senior workers imported from abroad.

King Hamad said he was “dismayed” by the findings of the report concerning the use of torture, and pledged reforms.

“We do not tolerate the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners,” he said.

The King promised to implement a series of recommendations contained in the Commission’s 500-page report. However, since the report's release, the Bahrain regime has not significantly altered its behavior.

Police continue to attack protestors and funeral mourners. Those imprisoned after being convicted on the basis of tortured confessions have not been released. Those who appear to be detained on the basis of peacefully exercising their freedoms of expression or assembly are still

King Hamad has ordered the establishment of a committee to “follow up and implement” the BICI recommendations. It is expected to report by the end of February 2012 and to make suggestions “including the recommendations to make the necessary amendments to the legislation and the application of the recommendations.” It includes the Minister for Justice.

But human rights activists told HRF some of those on the commission are “part of the problem,” and so “can't be part of the solution.”

King Hamad has taken a number of steps, largely focusing on personnel. He removed the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al Khalifa. The NSA was heavily criticized in the BICI report for its use of excessive force. However, it would appear that Sheikh Al Khalifa has been promoted, and made the Secretary-General of the Supreme Defence Council and a National Security Adviser to the King with ministerial rank.

He has also made two top appointments to the police. John Timoney, formerly chief of police in Miami, Florida, will take on a similar post in Bahrain. He will be assisted by another new hire, the former chief of the UK’s Metropolitan Police, John Yates, who quit amid phone-hacking scandal will overhaul Middle East kingdom's force.

On December 7, the Bahrain government announced that the King “forgave” a group of athletes who had criticized him and would drop charges against them, although did not say it would free other athletes already sentenced.

Shiite Muslim doctors look back with horror at months of torture and demand a neutral hearing now that they are out on bail pending retrial for their role in pro-democracy protests.

“I can’t talk,” sobbed consultant paediatrician Nader Dawani, recounting how he was forced to stand up for seven days, while being beaten repeatedly, mainly by a female officer.

“She was the harshest. She used to hit me with a hose and wooden canes, many of which broke on my back,” said the frail 54-year-old man.

“They attempted to insert a bottle in my anus,” he recounted.

Dawani is one of a group of medics arrested after security forces in the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty crushed a Shiite-led uprising inspired by Arab Spring protests that toppled the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

They face a plethora of charges, the most serious of which is occupying the Salmaniya Medical Centre and possessing weapons, while denying access to the hospital to Sunnis as Shiite demonstrators camped in the complex’s car park.

The doctors also stand accused of spreading false news — particularly concerning the condition of wounded protesters — illegal acquisition of medicines and medical facilities, and participating in demonstrations.

Thirteen were convicted by a military court on September 29 and sentenced to between five and 10 years in jail. But before the verdict was handed down, they had already been released and now face retrial before a civil appeals court.

Claims that torture was used against scores of Shiite detainees, including the medics, were upheld in November by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Many Shiite medics who were not arrested, like consultant neurosurgeon Taha al-Derazi, lost their jobs just for being photographed at a demonstration.

The medics insist they are innocent. The commission’s report stated the charges that they inflated the number of protesters injured were unfounded, noting that hospital records showed hundreds were admitted during mid-February.

“All my statements to media were related to the wounded,” said consultant orthopaedic surgeon Ali Alekri, insisting he did not meddle in politics and only led demonstrations against the then health minister who was later sacked.

“Our slogans were clear: sack the minister and his administration for failing to protect medics, halting ambulance movement when needed and giving false information on numbers of casualties,” he said.

“We never called for the fall of the regime,” he added.

Alekri said the medics “need a neutral body,” an “international judicial body” to judge them. “We don’t trust the Bahraini judicial system.”

It was speaking out that got them in trouble, the medics said.

“We are witnesses to the crimes of the regime,” said Dawani, who, like most of his sentenced colleagues, and other foreign and Sunni medics, appear in abundant video footage treating casualties at the SMC accident and emergency department.

Rula al-Saffar, 49, the head of the Bahraini Nursing Society, who faces 15 years in jail, said she treated more than 200 female fellow prisoners who were subjected to torture and did not escape abuse herself.

During five months in custody, Saffar said, “At night they would take me blindfolded. I can smell alcohol fuming with their breaths. One interrogator would say: It is the weekend and we are a group. If you don’t confess, we will sleep with you one at a time.”

Which brings us to the question: What, if anything, has the US been doing about the situation in Bahrain.

The short answer is that the US Government has been largely silent. This has given rise to widespread perceptions among the Bahraini Shia population that America is on the side of the King.

Maryam al-Khawaja of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, minces no words. She says, “The United States has collaborated with the deadly crackdown on the popular revolution against Bahrain's despotic monarchy. "People in Bahrain think that the US is in one way or another directly complicit in what's happening in Bahrain," she said in a Press TV interview.

The US Government’s rhetorical constipation reflects its attitude toward the stand-off between the Royal Family and pro-democracy activists. Secretary of State Clinton has delivered her almost-stock wish for moderation on both sides and a peaceful end to hostilities through dialogue.

The US sees a number of important relationships possibly being upended by full-throated support for either side. Saudi Arabia is one of Washington’s prime concerns. Bahrain is situation in the Persian Gulf just across a 1.4 mile causeway, over which the Saudi troops rolled in to help Bahrain’s rulers.

One of Saudi’s Eastern provinces is just a few miles from one of Bahrain’s western provinces. Both are largely Shia. And both are oil-rich. The two Shia communities have a long-standing relationship, and the Saudis worry about Bahrain’s violence spilling over into the desert Kingdom.r uld Saudi Arabia (or any of the other Gulf states) be thrilled to see a democratic form of government replacing the monarchy in Bahrain.

At this juncture, the US is turning itself into a pretzel to keep from angering the Saudis, who were reportedly upset at how quickly the US threw Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak under the bus. This concerned the Saudis for a number of reasons; one of them is the question of whether America would treat Saudi Arabia in the same way if pro-democracy forces were to prevail in Bahrain.

Aside from worrying about the Saudis, the US has its own, more immediate concerns: The American Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain. That makes stability the top priority for US policy­-makers.

So far, the most tangible help given to Bahrain’s protesters has been the suspension of a scheduled shipment of arms from the US, a position reached after some grassroots and congressional warnings to the White House. The arms shipment reportedly contains weapons used for crowd control.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

With Lawyers for Some

By William Fisher

The nation’s legal aid organizations are intended to provide lawyers for the poor. But today these agencies are overburdened, underfunded, and inefficient.

Yet, the non-profit, Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute Justice (JPI) says, “At a time when more poor people are seeking legal help, legal services programs are bracing for more federal funding cuts.”

The JPI says, “Inadequate public defense systems lead to more incarceration, in the form of unnecessary pretrial detention, increased pressure to plead guilty, wrongful convictions, excessive sentences and increased barriers to successful community re-entry. Incarceration, in turn, can lead to higher costs for individuals, families, communities and taxpayers.”

In criminal cases, the Constitution guarantees a person a lawyer if he or she can't afford to hire one. But in civil cases, low-income individuals must fend for themselves.

Recently, the Institute reports, a U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee proposed cutting legal aid funding by 26 percent for the next funding cycle. States like Mississippi receive 80 percent of their funding from the federal government, says Rebekah Diller, deputy director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

"It's a terrible time to cut legal aid programs," Diller said. "We are really concerned... Everybody is still suffering with the recession."

Plus, Diller says, areas like Mississippi are dealing with the aftermath of tornadoes and flooding, which have increased the need for civil legal help for low-income residents.

Last year, the two Legal Services programs in the state, Mississippi Center for Legal Services and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, lost about $228,000 when federal funding for such programs were cut 4 percent, said Sam Buchanon, executive director of Mississippi Center for Legal Services.

"We are praying the proposed 25 to 26 percent cut in funding doesn't pass," Buchanon said. "That would devastate programs."

If the proposed 26 percent cut goes into effect, national funding would be down to the lowest level since the start of the program in 1974, Diller said.

At the same time, the national poverty population eligible for civil legal aid  grown by 17 percent since 2008 to an all-time high of 63 million Americans.

The federal Legal Services Corp. - which distributes grants to local programs -reports that from 2009 to 2010, foreclosure cases were up 20 percent at LSC-funded programs; unemployment compensation cases increased 10.5 percent; landlord-tenant disputes rose by 7.7 percent; bankruptcy, debt relief and consumer finance cases were up by nearly 5 percent.

Mississippi Center for Legal Services serves 43 counties in the central and southern part of the state and has offices in Jackson, Hattiesburg, McComb and Biloxi. North Mississippi Rural Legal Services covers 39 counties in the northern part of the state with offices in Oxford, Clarksdale, Greenville, Tupelo and West Point.

Last year, the legal services programs closed about 10,800 cases.

Mississippi currently receives more than $5 million annually in federal legal service funding.

As more people seek help, Buchanon said the Mississippi Center for Legal Services doesn't have the manpower to service all the requests.The same holds true for the North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, according to executive director Ben Cole. Cole said 60 percent of the people who seek the agency's services are turned away because it doesn't have enough workers.

According to the Institute, “many systems across the country have been in a state of ‘chronic crisis’ for decades. The defender systems that people must rely on are too often completely overwhelmed; many defenders simply have too many cases, too little time and too few resources to provide quality or even adequate legal representation.”

JPI adds that “only seven per cent of all county-based public defender offices have enough investigators to meet national guidelines.”

The following are some of the main findings in the Justice Policy Institute’s new report, System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense.

The majority of public defender offices and systems have excessive caseloads. Only 27 percent of county-based public defender offices and 21 percent of reporting state public defender systems have enough attorneys to meet caseload guidelines.4 Statewide systems had only a median of 67 percent of the number of attorneys necessary to meet caseload guidelines. Nearly 60 percent of county-based public defender offices
do not have caseload limits or the authority to refuse cases due to excessive caseloads.

Overwhelming caseloads can prevent even the most dedicated and talented attorneys from providing their clients with a quality defense. A lack of resources limits the ability to prepare and investigate. Only 7 percent of all county-based public defender offices have enough investigators to meet national guidelines and 87 percent of small county-based public defender offices do not have a single full-time investigator.

When defenders do not have access to sufficient resources they may be unable to interview key witnesses, collect or test physical evidence, or generally prepare and provide quality defense for their client, resulting in poorer outcomes for the client.
Public defense systems don’t have enough independence or oversight. Without independence from judicial and political influence, the defense system’s legitimacy can be compromised. A lack of oversight has also
contributed to a system in which a person’s access to justice varies wildly depending on the zip code or county in which he or she was accused of an offense.

Only 27 percent of county-based public defender offices and 21 percent of state public defender systems have enough attorneys to meet caseload guidelines.

A lack of resources limits training opportunities. Ongoing education and training is vital, especially with technological advancements in DNA and forensics, which can make cases more time consuming and complicated. Without this training—or the time to use it—defense attorneys may be less equipped to test the prosecution’s evidence at trial or advise a client regarding a plea offer, possibly leading to a conviction or harsher sentence for their client.

Lack of quality defense may lead to pretrial detention. In places where defender caseloads are very high or the court fails to appoint counsel in a timely manner, poor people may spend a lot of time in jail before ever speaking to a lawyer or appearing in court.

Unnecessary or prolonged pretrial detention due to case delays, late appointments of counsel, lack of or limited pretrial advocacy can also increase costs. Pretrial detention is expensive and can have a negative
impact on people and their families.

Lack of quality defense could lead to excessive prison sentences. A general lack of advocacy at sentencing, coupled with a lack of investigation throughout the process can lead to inappropriate and unnecessarily harsh sentences.

A lack of quality public defense and the costs that accompany them disproportionately affect people of color and those with low income, as public defense is provided to people who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Furthermore, people from communities with low income are more likely to be arrested than people from more affluent communities. Research also shows that the justice system in general also disproportionately affects people of color. As people of color are also disproportionately affected by poverty, they are also more likely to require court appointed counsel when arrested.

The JPI report contains a series of recommendations, including integrating a holistic and community-based approach to public defense, collecting better data, conducting more empirical evaluations of the impact of public defense systems on people, communities and criminal justice, and. involving public defenders and affected communities in the policy making process.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bahrain: Dialogue with Teargas?

Some mainstream media are suggesting that the Bahraini version of The Arab Spring is over. Crushed was the word used by one of the mainstream US newspapers.

But the Sunni King of the tiny oil-rich country, Hamad-Bin-Isa-Al-Khalifa, says the independent report he commissioned is being implemented. The report concluded that peaceful demonstrators were being attacked by soldiers, arbitrarily arrested, taken to prison and tortured. The King has, unexplainably, accepted the report's findings and promised to work with the people on long-overdue reforms. He is seeking patience from his majority Shia subjects.

But these subjects – at least what appears to be a substantial proportion of them – have run out of patience. They have been shot at, killed and wounded, arrested and tortured since March. They have no faith in the
King's reforms. They think he's stalling to buy time. They are telling a very different story.

Their story is about peaceful demonstrations being broken up by security forces with live fire in addition to tear gas, batons and water canon. Their story is about continuing middle-of-the night home invasions by security men, threatening whole families, arresting the men, and taking them away to an uncertain future. Their story is about sick people in jail not getting adequate medical attention and prisoners being routinely tortured. Their story is about thousands of teachers, doctors and nurses being fired from their jobs. Their story is about thousands of students expelled from the university.

These Bahrainis will be satisfied with nothing less than the abdication of the King, the removal of his family from the most senior government posts, a new constitution and an election to create a parliamentary democracy. The King has won no trust from this group. Their mantra here, as it was for Mubarak in Tahrir Square in Egypt, is: The King Must Go!

There are other Bahrainis, however, who appear willing to attempt to participate in a dialogue with the Royals to determine for themselves whether His Majesty is serious about real reforms. But thus far, there has
been virtually no action taken by the Government to begin creating any sort of dialogue.So while the Royal family and its government remain unified and determined, a small divide has opened among two factions of protestors.

How this will play out over time is unclear. But time appears to be on the side of the King, in whose name security forces, backed by the presence of troops from Saudi Arabia, appear prepared to continue their brutal crackdowns on dissidents.
That became clear this weekend.

Saudi-backed regime troops attacked anti-government protesters demanding an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa family in the eastern Bahraini town of Toobli. Clashes between protesters and government forces have also been reported in a number of other villages and towns across the Persian Gulf sheikdom. The troops used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Several protesters have so far been killed and hundreds injured.

Following is a lightly edited report from the spokesperson for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Maryam Al-Khawaja. She is believed to be in London. Her father, her sister and her sister's husband and their two-year old son, are currently in prison in B

Death of three civilians:

23 Nov 2011, Abdul Nabi Kadhem (44), fatally wounded when his car was intentionally hit by fast-moving police vehicle, forcing him to collide with a standing wall of a building. This was the morning of the ceremony for the release of the report.

7 Dec 2011, Zahra Saleh, (27), was hit with metal rod in head on 18 Nov. The government insists that the protesters were the ones who hit her and that she had turned to the security forces for protection. My colleague went to the hospital, as well as a member of AlWefaq party, to try to speak to Zahra; both of them were stopped, questioned then turned away by Ministry of Interior employees. Also, in Bahrain, it is highly unlikely for anyone to turn to police for protection, especially someone who was supporting the protest
movement as was seen on her facebook page.

11th Dec 2011, Sajida Faisal (5 days old) dies from teargas suffocation, according to her parents:

Attacks on all-types gatherings:

- Mourners have been attacked in Aali.

- Religious processions were attacked in Muharraq by the security forces, then by the thugs.

- Ministry of Interior yesterday prevented an "authorized" sit-in by sacked workers in front of the civil service bureau, and dispersed the crowds by force.

- Protests, small or large, continue to be attacked in the same way. Security forces continue to shoot excessive amounts of teargas on residential areas as collective punishment (, Teargas used is made in USA, France and Brazil.

Injuries showed the continued use of: Shotgun, teargas and rubber bullets.

Tonight there were heavy attacks on protesters in several villages, this came after a huge protest earlier in the day in front of the United Nations building due to a visit by OHCHR staff to the country. Tomorrow protesters have planned to set up a similar "Pearl square gathering" with tents but along the Budaiya Highway. The organizers have urged people not to block the roads, and to remain peaceful at all times.

It is important to note that despite the many injuries we saw today (including pellets in eyes), protesters are still not able to seek medical attention at the hospital as it continues to be under the control of the army, and instead have o attempt to treat themselves at home.

  •  Arrest continued following the daily protests. Arrested people not necessary protesters. Many are children under 18.

  • We have received a number of cases from families that their detained relatives are still being subjected to torture.

  • Religious places…attacked with teargas canisters in two occasions, in Aali during mourning of AbdulNabi, and later after attacking a religious procession in Muharraq.

  • Several journalists (including columnist Nicholas Kristoff) have faced harassment including brief detention and being tear gassed (EPA/DPA, Reuters, NYTimes, Washington post)

  • Trials continued of teachers, doctors and others. Three athletes were sentenced up to 1 year. (It's not clear if these are included in the ecent pardon for athletes)

  • Human Rights Watch observer was banned from entry to court. Teachers trial adjourned to the 19th (

  • Mustafa AlMoamen, brother of Ali AlMoamen who was killed on 17th February, was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment today for illegal gathering and inciting hatred against the regime, not first case where brother of someone killed is imprisoned. The judge is a member of the royal family. Trials of doctors postponed until January 9th. Continuation with case against 28 doctors charged with misdemeanors, adding charge of possession of white weapons. Case against 139 people for illegal assembly postponed until March.

  • New batch of government employees including teachers has been suspended from work for up to 10 days (no salary). New sacking Ministry of Justice (Minster is a member of the formed committee to follow up BICI recommendations). News in papers yesterday of reinstatement of 480 sacked workers not true as my colleague met with the health workers who stated that no one had been returned to work.
  • The case of dismissed workers can be example of how the king is not obliged to BICI recommendations. On 1 July Bassiouni (head of the Commission) told the media "King PROMISED me to return those dismissed for expressing their opinions" and the govt issued PR releases saying "PM gave the private sector 10 days to reinstate wrongfully sacked employees" , however thousands still sacked.

  • Conditions at central prison,"Jaw", has become even worsen after the publication of report. Less hours outside cell, restrictions on excercize of religious rituals, no hot water for showers, families not allowed to bring winter clothes, despite number of detainees suffering from Sickle Cell Anemia and other health problems.

  • Hunger strike started at cell 7 in the Dry Docks prison, and the Central police station against arbitrary arrest, torture and demanding their release. Two of the detainees who were taken to court today fainted as they are entering their 5th day or hunger strike. When the trial hearing adjourned, detainees Sayed Ahmed Neama, Mohamed Saleh and Abdullah Maki were beaten by the police in front of the lawyers.

  • Violence inciting increased online by the pro-gov, some with real names like the ex-colonial Adel Falifel, sending threats directly to Human Rights defenders while no action taken against him (this is a country which arrested people for their pro-democracy online posts).

Adel Fulaifal is a known torturer from the 90's and the reason he was not held accountable is because of Decree 56 which was issued by King Hamad granting amnesty to all those guilty of crimes of torture during
the 90's. Many still hold positions in government.

  • The National Commission said its priorities are the dismissed workers and students, and the religious places, which are indeed priority, but how come the martyrs and detainees are not on the very top priority list?

Government Actions since the report:

  • National Commission: 18 members appointed by the king, mostly members of the Shura council, human rights activist (Abdullah AlDurazi), minister of justice, others. After their first meeting they have been divided into new 3 sub-committees to deal with legislative issues, judicial issues and national reconciliation. Two members of Alwefaq were invited by they have rejected the invitation.

  •  Following their first meeting the commission announced that "All proposals brought forward for discussion will be approved by consensus". Government work group: formed by the PM as per the king order. They have to study the BICI report and to cooperate with the National Committees to implement the recommendations.
  •  Reform to MOI:

  • Appointment of John Timoney, the former Miami Police Chief known for brutality and Former Metropolitan police Chief John Yates known for a phone hacking scandal.

  • Bahrain's head of public security Tariq bin Dinah was dismissed then appointed security adviser.

  • Minister said there would be cooperation with international rganizations to develop a curricula to train ministry personnel. This will lead to the drafting of a code of conduct for the police force. He confirmed the commencement of a study to draft legislations that would guarantee visual and audio recording for all official questioning of detainees.

  • The Prime Minister today participated in the Ministry of Interior's celebration of the "policeman day".

  • Authorities in Bahrain say prosecutors have charged 20 members of the security forces for alleged abuse of protesters they are responsible for "instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees".

  • Royal pardon to 100 athletes, not unconditional release with dropping of all charges. No other releases, not even those mentioned in the tortured cases.

  • National Security Head Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah Al-Khalifa promoted to General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Defence and he king's advisor with Minster rank.

  • A new head (Adel bin Khalifa Hamad Al Fadhel) was appointed for the National Security Apparatus. Its responsibilities have been amended so that the NSA has no right to arrest suspects, while its dutiesare limited to collecting intelligence information, and detecting and uncovering detrimental activities relating to spying, and collaboration with foreign countries and terror in order to safeguard national security, institutions and systems. The NSA shall refer to the Interior Ministry all cases requiring arrests.

[We have called for the dissolution of the National Security Apparatus and the Special Security Apparatus and the return of their jurisdictions to the regular security apparatuses; ]

  • Government announced that the Red Cross allowed access to the prisons. This might be the only real step, but if these visits actually start now and not after two years [we are calling on Bahrain to sign the Optional Protocol against Torture, which involved that there will be a tanding committee to visit the prisons any time and that the visits could be sudden]

  • The Interior Minister issued an order to the public prosecutor to investigate all deaths and torture cases implicating the police. Both the Minister of Interior and the public prosecutor should be investigated and tried for violations against human rights. End of Report.

Unlike many other nations involved in versions of the Arab Spring, Bahrain pays careful attention to the positions taken by the U.S. Government. Bahrain has a strategic importance to the US because it is
the home of the US Fifth Fleet.

Thus far, the US has spoken out against the brutality involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations, but has not taken sides. It finds itself eager not to anger the Saudis, who provided troops to Bahrain some months
ago at the request of the King. The Saudis were unhappy with the speed at which it says President Obama threw Egypt's Hosni Mubarak under the bus.

The US is also interested in minimizing the influence of Iran among Bahraini Shia, who make up a majority of the subjects of the Sunni King.

The US applauded the King's appointment of an independent fact-finding commission headed by a well-known international jurist, and has urged the King to lose no time creating a structure for constructive dialogue.

But a one-party dialogue is a monologue. And just how Bahrain will reach a point of dialogue is unclear when peaceful protesters continue to fill the streets and the security forces continue to kill, injure and imprison them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

ICE Targets Even Fewer Criminals

By William Fisher

Last year, a controversial immigration enforcement program designed to trigger deportation proceedings against serious criminals in the US illegally, was severely criticized for managing to apprehend criminals comprising only 16.5 of total cases. This year, from July to September, only 13.8 per cent of the total were charged with having engaged in criminal activities.

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University said that its findings "appear to contrast sharply" with the White House's announcement that: "Under the President's direction, for the first time ever the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized the removal of people who have been convicted of crimes in the United States." TRAC said the findings also are "hard to reconcile with ICE's recent press statements that claimed that during the past year the agency had targeted a large and increasing number of convicted criminals for deportation."

TRAC conducted a case-by-case analysis of records covering all proceedings filed in the Immigration Courts. They were obtained from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

EOIR, a part of the Department of Justice, administers the nation's special administrative court system charged with deciding whether noncitizens should be deported or are legally entitled to remain in the country.

In previous analyses of Secure Communities data, such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have discovered that ICE's "serious criminals" include people driving with broken taillights, others wanted for minor shoplifting offenses, and drivers who have failed to pay traffic tickets.

"Not only has ICE targeted relatively few criminals as the basis for seeking deportation in these court proceedings, but this proportion has been declining steadily throughout the past year: 15.8 percent were charged with engaging in criminal activity during the first quarter period (October - December 2010), 15.1 percent during the second quarter (January - March 2011), 14.9 percent during the third quarter (April - June 2011), and finally 13.8 percent during the fourth quarter (July - September 2011). The average rate across the four quarters for FY 2011 was 14.9 percent," TRAC said.

These results are based upon TRAC's analyses of case-by-case records. These same case-by-case court records showed that during FY 2011 ICE initiated deportation proceedings against 188,770 individuals who were charged only with violating immigration rules. This amounted to 83.4 percent of the total cases. The proportion charged only with violating immigration rules was up slightly over levels in FY 2010 when 81.9 percent were so charged.

The number of individuals ICE sought to deport on national security or terrorism grounds - always few in number - also fell this past year. During FY 2010 a total of 42 deportation proceedings in the Immigration Courts included these grounds. This fell to only 30 during the past year, TRAC said.

The organization was sharply critical of ICE for failing to give TRAC access to documents it is permitted to have under the Freedom of Information Act. (FOIA)

TRAC says, "Unfortunately, while the agency could easily clear up these apparent discrepancies it has chosen not to do so. Indeed, for twenty months, in clear violation of public disclosure laws, ICE has persisted in withholding from TRAC the case-by-case data TRAC requested under FOIA that the agency maintains on these same court proceedings - information precisely parallel to what the Department of Justice already determined must be released to the public from its own files. DHS and other government offices have failed to rectify this matter despite TRAC's appeals to DHS's Director of Disclosure and FOIA Operations, as well as to the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)."

TRAC added, "The records ICE is withholding would show just which ICE programs - such as Secure Communities or others - have contributed to fewer alleged criminals being targeted for deportation in court proceedings. The data would also allow the public to judge whether ICE's actual activities match ICE's announced policies to target serious criminals, and those who pose threats to public safety, as well as to better monitor how the agency exercises prosecutorial discretion in whom it seeks to deport."

In addition, TRAC says it contacted ICE's Public Relations office on November 7, 2011 asking for explanations of the figures given in the agency's October 18, 2011 press release that claimed the agency's FY 2011 accomplishments closely matched announced ICE priorities. At a meeting with ICE officials November 10, the agency promised to promptly provide answers to a series of TRAC questions that asked for details backing up the agency's claims. Again and again, however, the promised answers did not materialize. ICE's Public Affairs office continues to say the promised answers will be forthcoming.

On the basis of the extremely detailed and timely records that TRAC has obtained, "enforcement patterns can be determined for each state, Immigration Court and hearing location. What were the charges brought against each of the individuals in these various locations? What was their nationality? You can now access these detailed and highly localized portraits on TRAC's public website by accessing a new special web-based interactive tool," TRAC said.

Comprehensive data covering FY 1992 through FY 2011 are now included. TRAC's app lets you track - on a charge-by-charge basis - how well or poorly the deportation proceedings initiated by ICE actually match its announced priorities and policies. With the prosecutorial discretion ICE is asking its attorneys and enforcement personnel to exercise, are the agency's limited resources being focused on high priority targets for deportation? Those charged simply with entry without inspection are separately enumerated among these charge classes. Also included is information on whether the individual charged was a so-called "aggravated" felon, or charged with some other criminal violation.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) continues to attack the program known as Secure Communities, or S-Comm, for failing to "immediately ensnare any immigrant in the deportation pipeline the moment they come into contact with the criminal justice system."

The ACLU says "Detain first, investigate later - that is Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) mantra when it comes to its Secure Communities ("S-Comm") program."

It explains: "Under S-Comm, the fingerprints of every person arrested by the police are shared with ICE at the moment they are booked into police custody. Without investigating the person's immigration status, ICE immediately sends an "immigration detainer" or a request back to the police if they want the person to continue to be detained for immigration purposes. Detain first, investigate later."

The ACLU asks, "See a problem with this? Not only does it violate the Fourth Amendment's basic prohibition against detaining a person without probable cause to do so, but it commonly ensnares the wrong people, including people who are not even immigrants, but United States citizens, causing them to be unlawfully detained."

As an example, the ACLU presents the case of Antonio Montejano, a U.S. citizen who was born in Los Angeles.

This is what the ACLU wrote: "A few weeks ago, Antonio was arrested by the Santa Monica Police Department for shoplifting. He accidentally left a Sears store without paying for the candy his young children had taken and eaten while in the store. One of his children also placed a $10 perfume bottle in a bag that had already been paid for.

"When security guards stopped Antonio, accusing him of stealing the perfume, Antonio explained that it was an honest mistake and that he would be happy to pay for it. After a long back and forth with the security guards, the police were called and Antonio was taken into custody.

"Antonio normally would have been released from Santa Monica Police custody within hours of being booked into their custody. But ICE interfered through S-Comm. When Antonio was booked, ICE immediately placed an "immigration detainer" on him, instructing the local authorities to detain him until they could pick him up.

"Antonio spent four haunting and unwarranted days in jail on the immigration detainer. For two of those days, Antonio was detained in a temporary holding cell in Los Angeles County Sheriff's custody that only had chairs, no beds. The authorities forced him to sleep on the hard floor, depriving him of any mattress or blankets, a practice the federal courts have long denounced as flagrantly unconstitutional. Antonio repeatedly protested to jail authorities that he was a U.S. citizen. But only after the ACLU of Southern California contacted a senior ICE official four days later, did they finally agree to lift the detainer.

"ICE, quite clearly, has no business arresting and detaining American citizens. But as described in a recent report by the Warren Institute at University of California - Berkeley, they do so over and over again through the fundamentally-flawed S-Comm program. (ICE's own data in the first year of S-Comm activation revealed that five percent of persons identified by S-Comm were in fact U.S. citizens.) And they do so by enlisting the unwitting participation of local jail authorities in these unconstitutional practices.

"The costs and consequences of S-Comm's detain first, investigate later are borne out every day in the jails and police stations across the country where non-deportable citizens and noncitizens suffer needless detention, while they beg for ICE to finally investigate their cases so that they may be released from jail."

President Obama has failed to keep the promise he made during his presidential campaign to introduce legislation to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, he has placed more personnel on the Southern US border, and deported more people during his term than any other president in US history.

The continued absence of a body of immigration law worthy of a superpower is no doubt due in part to the intransigence of the Republicans in Congress. And the President's relative silence on this issue must surely give the GOP the sense that immigration reform is nowhere near Obama's top priorities.

Sadly, they could well be right.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Death Sentences Drop to Lowest Number Since 1976

By William Fisher

The death penalty may be on the way out.

Sentences to the ultimate punishment began their downward trajectory in the late 1990s, and in the 15 years between 1996 and 2011 death sentences declined about 75 percent. In 1996, 315 individuals were sentenced to death.

New death sentences dropped to 78 in 2011, representing a dramatic decline from last year’s number of 112 and marking the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 that the country has produced fewer than 100 death sentences in a single year.

These are some of main findings in the annual report of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), based on data as of mid-December 2011. The DPIC is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.

“Many of those challenging the death penalty now had defended it in the past, including people who introduced death penalty legislation or presided over executions. The multitude of problems associated with the death penalty is gradually convincing Americans that it can no longer be sustained,” the Report says.

The Report also notes that Executions have also steadily decreased nationwide, with 43 in 2011 and 46 in 2010, representing a 56 percent decline since 1999, when there were 98. Texas had 13 executions in 2011, and 24 in 2009, representing a 46 percent drop over two years.

Further information on these data is contained in “The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report” which can be found at

“This year, the use of the death penalty continued to decline by almost every measure. Executions, death sentences, public support, the number of states with the death penalty all dropped from previous years,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the report’s author. “Whether it’s concerns about unfairness, executing the innocent, the high costs of the death penalty, or the general feeling that the government just can’t get it right, Americans moved further away from capital punishment in 2011.”

Many states with the death penalty on the books, including Maryland, South Carolina, Missouri, and Indiana, had no new death sentences this year. California had a sharp drop in death sentences in 2011, decreasing by over half since 2010 when there were 29 sentences. Repeal of the death penalty is likely to be on the ballot in that state next year.

The declining numbers occurred in the context of three significant developments in the evolution of capital punishment this year:

· Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation to repeal the death penalty, making Illinois the fourth state in four years to abandon capital punishment. A commission reported that the state had spent $100 million on assisting counties with death penalty prosecutions while the state’s deficit grew to one of the country’s largest.

· Many Americans were shocked to learn that a man, Troy Davis in Georgia, could be executed in spite of strong doubts about his guilt. Several key witnesses recanted their testimony against Davis, causing even death penalty supporters like former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr to state: “Imposing a death sentence on the skimpiest of evidence does not serve the interest of justice.”

· Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stopped a pending execution and ordered that no others would occur during his term. Governor Kitzhaber, who oversaw two executions in the 1990s, urged citizens to “find a better solution” to a system that he said is arbitrary, expensive and “fails to meet basic standards of justice.”

Also this year, the Report noted, the Gallup Poll, which measures the public's support for the death penalty without offering alternatives, recorded the lowest level of support and the highest level of opposition in almost 40 years. Some 61 percent supported the death penalty, compared to 80 percent in 1994. Thirty-five percent were opposed, compared to 16 percent in 1994. A more in-depth CNN poll gave respondents a choice between the death penalty and life without parole for those who commit murder. Fifty percent chose a life sentence, while 48 percent chose death.

One clear sign of increasing discomfort with the death penalty has been the decline in the number of states with capital punishment in effect. Illinois joined New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York in abandoning the death penalty, marking an 11% decline in death penalty states since 2007.

Death Penalty Statistics 2011 2010 2000

Executions 43 46 85

New Inmates Under

Death Sentence 78 112 224

Death Row population

(As of Jan. 1) 3,251 3,261 3,652

Percentage of executions by region:

South (32 executions) 74% 76% 89%

Texas (13) 30% 40% 47%

Midwest (6) 14% 17% 6%

West (4) 12% 7% 5%

Northeast (0) 0% 0% 0%

Executions Since 1976: 1,277

Texas 477 (37%)

Virginia 109 (9%)

Oklahoma 96 (8%)

Report data show that three states combined – Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma – meted out 682 death sentences since 2976. That represents 53 per cent of all executions in the US. Most US executions occur in the South.

The number of new death sentences dropped dramatically in 2011, falling below 100 for the first time in the modern era of capital punishment. Executions also continued to decline, while developments in a variety of states illustrated the growing discomfort that many Americans have with the death penalty.

Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011, the governor of Oregon declared a moratorium on all executions, and a national outcry was heard around the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia because of doubts about his guilt.

In January, the Illinois legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life without parole. The legislation requires some of the money saved by this action to go to victims’services and crime prevention. Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill, making Illinois the fourth state in four years to abandon capital punishment. A state commission reported $100 million had been spent on assisting counties with death penalty prosecutions over the past seven years, while the state’s deficit had become one of the largest in the country.

Illinois had not had an execution in 12 years.

In Georgia, the report declared, a very different scenario played out, but it also exposed deep concerns about the use of the death penalty. On September 21 Georgia executed Troy Davis, despite significant doubts about his guilt and urgent requests from national and international leaders to spare his life.

Davis had been convicted principally on the basis of eyewitness testimony, a form of evidence that has recently come under increasing scrutiny.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently considered Perry v. New Hampshire, a case questioning the validity of eyewitness testimony when the identification was made under unreliable circumstances. At the same time, years of scientific study on the accuracy of human memory are pointing to the need for reform in the use of eyewitness evidence in criminal cases.

Barbara Tversky, a psychology professor at Columbia University, whose experiments on memory were reported in the journal Cognitive Psychology, noted, “Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it’s overloaded. An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren’t concentrating on the details they’re asking about.”

About 75% of DNA-based exonerations have come in cases where eyewitnesses have made mistakes. Scientists suggest that witness testimony should be viewed more like trace evidence, with the same fragility and vulnerability to contamination. Strong emotions felt by victims of a crime is one such possible area of contamination. Gary Wells, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, found that the accuracy of lineups improves when the possible suspects are presented to witnesses in sequence, rather than all at once, as in the traditional lineup. The downfall of side-by-side lineups, Dr. Wells said, is that “if the real perpetrator is not in there, there is still someone who looks more like him than the others.” The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently promulgated new rules for dealing with the problems of eyewitness identification.

Years after his trial, 7 of the 9 state witnesses against Davis changed their stories. A federal judge in Savannah conducted a hearing to review this new evidence, but in order to grant Davis a new trial the judge required not only that he establish reasonable doubt of his guilt, but that he provide clear proof of his innocence, which he was unable to do to the judge’s satisfaction.

A former head of the FBI, along with former judges, prosecutors, and elected leaders from around the country urged the Board of Pardons and Paroles to intervene to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Citizens protested in front of the White House, the Supreme Court, and the Georgia prison where the execution took place. Similar demonstrations occurred in cities around the world.

People were shocked that in the U.S. someone could be executed despite so much doubt about his guilt. When Davis was denied clemency, former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia said, “Imposing a death sentence on the skimpiest of evidence does not serve the interest of justice.”

Even former supporters of the death penalty found the process so inflexible and unresponsive that they were convinced the system is not working. President Jimmy Carter said, "If one of our fellow citizens can be executed with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our country is unjust and outdated."

Finally, in Oregon on Governor John Kitzhaber halted a pending execution and declared that no additional executions would occur during his tenure. He urged the legislature and the people of the state to seek a sensible way to address serious crime: "I am convinced we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values," he stated. "I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor."

Figuring out the ‘why’ of the death penalty’s decline is complicated. But the statements of governors who have the life and death responsibility may shed some light on the underlying reasons.

Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon put a halt to executions in 2011, stating,” Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice – in swift and certain justice. The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all. It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury. The only factor that determines whether someone sentenced to death in Oregon is actually executed is that they volunteer.”

Gil Garcetti, the former district attorney of Los Angeles who pursued numerous death sentences, said California's death penalty is dysfunctional and the resources spent on it should be diverted to more pressing needs.

"California's death penalty does not and cannot function the way its supporters want it to. It is also an incredibly costly penalty, and the money would be far better spent keeping kids in school, keeping teachers and counselors in their schools and giving the juvenile justice system the resources it needs. Spending our tax dollars on actually preventing crimes, instead of pursuing death sentences after they've already been committed, will assure us we will have fewer victims."

Garcetti said the death penalty causes ongoing torment to the family members and friends of murder victims: "The living victims of a particular crime might think that a death verdict provides closure, but for most, there was no such closure."

Many of those who have analyzed the system of capital punishment, including leaders in law enforcement, former supporters of the death penalty and victims’ families, have concluded the system is seriously flawed. Among those who spoke out this year were:

Dr. Allen Ault, a retired Georgia prison warden, underscored the difficult issues prison officials face when participating in an execution: "You're killing somebody. And there’s no denying that, especially when we know that several people have been declared innocent with the new scientific techniques, and we're not real sure if the individual we're executing this evening or next week is really guilty -that in itself, that kind of doubt. The other thing most of us know [is] all the research which indicates that capital punishment does not deter . . . it seems so illogical to say to the public we do not want you to kill, and to demonstrate that, we're going to kill individuals."

Kathryn Gaines, Rita Shoulders, Victoria Cox and Ruth Lowe had someone in their family murdered but believe a death Sentence for the killers would only deepen their personal wounds. Shoulders lost her sister to murder; Cox lost her brother; Lowe also lost her brother; and Gaines her eldest grandchild. Ruth Lowe said of the man who killed her brother, "I’m learning to forgive. And even if I had the chance, I wouldn’t want him Year executed. It would do nothing for me; it would do nothing for the rest of my family. To take his life would make no sense.” Kathryn Gaines said, "You cannot bring a life back by taking away another life. It hurts a whole family."

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo advocated for a sentence of life without parole to replace the death penalty: "There is a punishment that is much better than the death penalty: one that juries will not be reluctant to impose; one that is so menacing to a potential killer, that it could actually deter; one that does not require us to be infallible so as to avoid taking an innocent life; and one that does not require us to stoop to the level of the killers."

Don Heller, a Republican former prosecutor and author of the 1978 ballot initiative that greatly expanded California's death penalty law, now says, "I never contemplated the staggering cost of implementing the death penalty: more than $4 billion to date and approximately $185 million projected per year in ongoing costs. . . . It makes no sense to prop up such a failed system.”

But for many, the following statement carries the highest level of credibility: It comes from Jeanne Woodford, former Warden of San Quentin prison in California.

She said of the death penalty, “The death penalty serves no one. It doesn't serve the victims. It doesn't serve prevention. It's truly all about retribution." She added, “There comes a time when you have to ask if a penalty that is so permanent can be available in such an imperfect system. The only guarantee against executing the innocent is to do away with the death penalty.”