Sunday, August 28, 2011

Egypt: NGOs Accuse Army of Smear Campaign

By William Fisher

Thirty-six of Egypt’s most respected civil society organizations are denouncing Egypt’s military rulers for “conducting organized smear campaigns designed to impugn these groups’ patriotism as well as ongoing attempts to intimidate” them, the organizations said in a statement.

The groups accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of ordering investigations conducted by the State Security Prosecution into “complaints accusing unnamed NGOs and political groups of receiving foreign funds and grants in violation of the law.”

The groups also condemned the authorities’ “manipulation of the media to publicize investigations into associations and political groups accused of receiving US funding without identifying the groups in question.” They added that “it is well known that the majority of US funds have been disbursed as grants to US institutions operating in Egypt in a public, official capacity.”

“These Egyptian organizations and groups, which remain unidentified, have even been accused of high treason—charges that the Mubarak regime did not dare to level at its political enemies or at those organizations that bravely confronted crimes and human rights abuses under his rule,” the statement said.

It declared that “those currently administering the country’s affairs after the January 25 revolution are using the same methods as the Mubarak regime to confront their critics.” It said this “reveals the irritation of the SCAF with the criticisms raised against it, whether directed at its management of the political course of the transitional period or at the grave human rights abuses for which it is responsible.”

The groups said, “These abuses include the widespread use of exceptional military trials—before which more people have been tried in the past six months than in the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule—and the use of the military judiciary to harass revolutionary youth who have criticized SCAF policies.”

In addition, the groups said, “torture continues to be carried out in detention facilities run by the military police and has even reached unprecedented levels, as female political activists face sexual assault by being subjected to forcible virginity tests. Excessive force has also been used on several occasions to disperse sit-ins by political groups and the families of martyrs of the January 25 Revolution.”

“The heart of the dispute between human rights organizations and both the Mubarak regime and the SCAF is not foreign funding,” the groups declared. It is “the critical stances taken by these groups when confronting human rights crimes, both before and after the January 25 Revolution.”

The statement said. “Foreign funding is not prohibited for the state and its institutions or for the official state councils on human rights, women, or children. Nor is foreign funding a sensitive issue for thousands of development associations and charitable groups who receive foreign grants, as the activities of these groups and institutions are not based on a critical evaluation of the performance of the state and its institutions in the sphere of human rights. As such, foreign funding has never been a cause for dispute between the state and these institutions, neither during Mubarak’s rule nor after him.”

The groups charged that the issue of foreign funding was being used “as a tool to isolate and stifle human rights groups in an attempt to undermine their moral position within society or to arbitrarily ban certain activities by drying up funds for them, including anti-torture activities and election monitoring, as occurred during Mubarak’s rule.”

This context, they said, “helps explain why the military police, accompanied by State Security Investigations and hired thugs, raided the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center on February 3, 2011, just one day after the so-called ‘Battle of the Camel’, arrested several lawyers, including the founder of the group well-known attorney Ahmed Seif al-Islam, and detained them in a military camp, along with researchers with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who were meeting at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.”

They added, “It is noteworthy that while the military police were arresting lawyers and researchers on the upper floor, thugs stood outside the door of the building, accusing them of being ‘traitors and agents’.” Although this occurred while Mubarak was still president, these same accusations are now being used in a government smear campaign six months after Mubarak was deposed.

The groups concluded, “Using the pretext of national security to restrict human rights groups and funding for their activities is not an invention of Mubarak or his successors; it is the standard operating procedure of all authoritarian regimes.”

The groups demanded the dismissal of the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Abu al-Naga, and the Minister of Social Solidarity, Gouda Abd al-Khaleq, in light of their “hostile stance to civil society associations, their active role in restricting the activities of these associations, and their yielding to the dictates of the security apparatus.”

They also called for the SCAF to “immediately end the referral of civilians to military courts or any other exceptional investigative bodies, conduct civilian retrials for all those imprisoned based on sentences issued by these courts, and immediately release all prisoners of conscience and drop all charges against them.”

The SCAF must “end the government smear campaign against civil society associations and rights organizations… despite the arsenal of repressive laws used under Mubarak to enforce all manner of supervision and dominance over civil society and political parties.

The organizations also sent their complaint to various United Nations offices responsible for human rights.

The 36 groups include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Association of Researchers in Egyptian Universities and Institutes, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination .

Heels Dug In, Cheney Rewrites History

By William Fisher

Human rights advocates and legal experts are hitting back at statements made by former vice president Dick Cheney in his new book, “In My Time,” that abusive interrogation methods – torture -- yielded information that saved lives and that he had “no regrets” about their use.

Cheney has been unshakable in defense of his decision to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read torture) including waterboarding. “I would strongly support using it again if we had a high value detainee and that was the only way we could get him to talk,’’ he said.

But Human Rights First (HRF), one of the advocacy groups weighing in against the book, said, “The former Vice President has long claimed that abusive interrogation methods yielded information that ultimately saved lives, but national security experts and retired military leaders – including Senator John McCain, CIA Director General David Patraeus and former Marine Corps Commandant General Charles Krulak (Ret.) – disagree.”

Numerous official and private investigations and congressional testimony by an FBI interrogator strongly suggest that conventional interrogation techniques yield far more reliable results.

In conjunction with the release of Cheney’s memoir, HRF is launching an online ad campaign featuring prominent voices denouncing torture and highlighting the detrimental effect it has had on the United States’ anti-terrorism efforts. The ad links to an original 30 second video and will be seen on Google and YouTube, as well as in messages sent by the New York Times’ “Today’s Headlines” and Politico’s “The Huddle.”

“Former Vice President Cheney can write and say whatever he wants, but torture is torture and there’s no disputing the harm its use brought the United States,” said Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino. “Torture eroded the nation’s standing as an international leader in human rights. It undermined our ability to gather reliable intelligence, and it has no place in U.S. national security policy. Two days after he took office, President Obama closed the book on torture and it needs to stay shut.”

Other like organizations expressed similar disapproval of the new memoir, which was released this week.

Amnesty USA said “The failure to hold the architects of policies of torture and disappearance during the ‘global war on terror’ to account remains an enduring stain on the global reputation of the United States. Those most responsible for the shameful abuses at Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and other black sites around the world continue to boast of their ‘accomplishments’ with complete impunity.”

Since leaving office, AI said, “Cheney has been without question the most prominent apologist for the regime of indefinite detention and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ instituted by the Bush administration.

AI has revisited some of the former Vice President’s previous statements to “demonstrate how they contrast not only with the reality of the situation, but also with the United States’ obligations.” For example:

Speaking on September 16, 2001, on NBC’s Meet the Press Cheney “set the tone for the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks. He said ‘We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world… it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective’.”

AI counters with: “As a party to of a wide range of international human rights and international humanitarian law instruments, including the U.N. Convention against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, the United States is simply not free to use ‘any means’ at its disposal – it is constrained by the applicable international law to operate within lawful parameters.”

In an interview with CNN on June 24, 2005, AI says Cheney “spun a rosy picture of conditions in Guantanamo.” ‘We spent a lot of money to build it. They're very well treated there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want’."

The reality, says AI, is that “since January 2002, eight inmates have died while in custody at the U.S.-controlled detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Six of these deaths have been declared suicides. Hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are known to have engaged in hunger strikes at the prison in protest of conditions and their prolonged confinement without trial.”

AI reminds us that Cheney said in 2005 of the 520 detainees then held at Guantánamo: “Hard-core terrorists is the only way to describe them. They’re unlawful combatants. They’re out to kill Americans. And if you put them back on the streets, that’s exactly what they’ll do… [W]e absolutely need to have a facility like that to house some very violent and evil people.”

It also reminds us that, by the end of President Bush’s second term, his administration had released 525 former Guantanamo detainees without charge. A January 2011 study of some 600 former Guantanamo inmates conducted by the New America Foundation put the recidivism figure at six percent.

Former Vice President Cheney has consistently maintained that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” prevented terrorist attacks and claimed that the release of classified memos would support his claim. In a speech delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in May 2009 Cheney stated: “I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed…The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.”

Amnesty contends that “there is no evidence that hundreds of thousands of lives were saved as a result of the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. In August 2009 a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by Amnesty International and coalition partners resulted in the release of the two CIA memos that the former Vice President had claimed would vindicate his public statements. In fact, the memos confirmed that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information obtained.”

The organization charges that “Information obtained through coercion led directly to one of the greatest intelligence failures of the past decade – the assessment that Iraq posed an imminent security threat to the United States. Suspected Al Qaeda trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where he was tortured. To make his interrogators stop, he told them that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. This intelligence was used in part to justify the Iraq War. No such link existed.”

In an October 2006 interview, former Vice President Cheney told radio host Scott Hennen that authorizing waterboarding was “a no-brainer” and denied that it amounted to torture. Similarly, in a February 2008 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference Cheney told his audience: “The United States is a country that takes human rights seriously. We do not torture – it’s against our laws and against our values.”

Amnesty responds: “Torture is indeed against the law, and water boarding – or simulated drowning – has consistently been considered to be torture under both international and U.S. jurisprudence. At the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, Japanese officials were convicted of torturing captured U.S. pilots by subjecting them to waterboarding. In 1983, Texas sheriff James Parker and his deputies water-boarded a number of prisoners in an effort to elicit confessions. Parker was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for his actions and the judge presiding over the case repeatedly described waterboarding unambiguously as torture in his judgment.”

Amnesty adds, “In April 2009, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee issued the conclusions of its ‘Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody’. Among its findings is that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

The organization makes similar claims regarding the issue of trials before military commissions v. trials in the civilian justice system. Cheney has repeatedly asserted that military commissions are the most appropriate venue for alleged terrorist trials. But Amnesty points out that Federal courts successfully prosecuted 523 terrorism-related defendants between September 11th, 2001, and December 31st, 2009. Approximately 235 defendants are still on trial. About 70 have been acquitted or had charges dismissed. The present conviction rate is 88 percent.

Military commissions have only convicted six people to date, which represents less than one percent of the inmates who have passed through GTMO.

Tom Parker, AI’s policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said in advance of the release of Cheney’s memoir: "One can only hope that former Vice President Cheney’s memoir will not serve as yet another vehicle through which to peddle the same discredited mix of half-baked assertions and dark threats that marked his time in office. These have been comprehensively debunked by every new piece of information that emerges about the Bush administration’s failed counterterrorism policies.

Amnesty is also reiterating its call to US citizens to urge US Attorney General Eric Holder to “immediately open a criminal investigation into the role former President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, and other officials played in the use of torture on detainees held in U.S. government custody.”

A large number of human rights and justice organizations have taken similar positions. These include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the public service law firm that has provided many of the pro bono lawyers who volunteered to defend GTMO inmates. Cheney’s daughter Liz, a former Assistant Secretary of State, has attacked the loyalty of the volunteer lawyers.

Chip Pitts, former president of Amnesty USA, perhaps summed up the deeply held feelings of Cheney's opponents. He told The Public Record, "By debasing the United States and its commitment to the rule of law, encouraging unjustified yet devastatingly expensive and corrupt foreign wars, and even attempting to re-legitimate torture in a way not seen since the Middle Ages, Dick Cheney has likely done more damage than any other Bush administration official – or indeed anyone else in US history -- to our nation’s authentic security and future prospects.

“His continued obliviousness to the catastrophic consequences and severe harm he has caused to so many people evinces, at a minimum, an obstinate and pathological inhumanity. This memoir will no doubt serve to further incriminate him rather than exonerate him."