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Jun-06-2011 23:46printcomments

Updates from Human Rights First

Elisa Massimino is the President and CEO of Human Rights First

Elisa Massimino
Elisa Massimino Courtesy:

(NEW YORK) - News of the Osama bin Laden operation wasn't even a day old when torture apologists began claiming vindication. To hear former vice president Dick Cheney and his allies tell it, without the CIA's water-boarding program, the United States would never have found bin Laden. Cheney and company want Americans to believe that torture makes us safe, and they don't seem to care about the dangers it poses—to our national security, our national character, and our men and women in uniform.

But their propaganda push has run into a few hurdles, otherwise known as facts. The truth is that torture hindered the hunt for bin Laden. It failed to get critical information, and two detainees lied under torture, setting back the investigation. In fact, just like the operation that led to Saddam Hussein, it was legal, humane interrogation that produced the key intelligence—not torture. This was no surprise to the many veteran interrogators who for years have argued that torture is inefficient and counterproductive.

Armed with these facts, opponents of torture are setting the record straight. After getting the inside story from CIA director Leon Panetta, Senator John McCain took to the Senate floor to reveal that the bin Laden operation had nothing to do with torture, and Americans shouldn't either. I went to the American Enterprise Institute to debate the issue with prominent torture supporters, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, on a panel moderated by John Yoo.

Watch the debate here.

But the renewed debate has made clear that we can't sit back and let the torture apologists speak unopposed. We're doing everything we can to strengthen the consensus against torture. As the hunt for Bin Laden shows, torture isn't just wrong; it's also wrongheaded.

Our New Report Details Due Process Failures at Afghanistan Prison

Afghanistan No Due Process

Question:  Which prisoners held by the United States would have more due process protections if they were at Gitmo?  Answer:  The ones being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Sometimes referred to as "Gitmo East," in many ways that moniker is too generous for Bagram. The 1700 prisoners there don't have the right to an attorney and can't see the evidence against them, conditions that violate minimum due process standards. Some have been locked up for eight years, without charge or trial, while the evidence, if it exists, remains secret.

These are the findings of our new report, Detained and Denied in Afghanistan: How to Make U.S. Detention Comply with the Law. Daphne Eviatar, who wrote the report after a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, points out that the system at Bagram not only violates the rights of detainees, it also "flies in the face of the well-founded wisdom of our top military leaders who have warned repeatedly of the dangers of denying Afghan detainees due process."

The report—which received coverage in the New York Times and numerous other media outlets—urges the U.S. to provide Bagram prisoners with attorneys and to stop relying so heavily on secret evidence. It also recommends that even as the United States begins to withdraw from Afghanistan, it should continue to provide civilian assistance to the country's fledgling justice system.

Faith Shared – June 26th

Faith Shared

Tensions around Islam in America have erupted throughout the country in the past year, leading to misconceptions, distrust and in some cases violence. Media coverage has focused on extremists—bigots and Qur'an burners—which stokes fear and masks the shared commitment to tolerance and freedom that unites most Americans.

That's why Human Rights First is partnering with the Interfaith Alliance on a unique project we call Faith Shared. On June 26th, houses of worship across the country will host events involving clergy reading from each other's sacred texts. For example, a Christian Minister, Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam would participate in a worship service or other event.  60 houses of worship in 30 states have already agreed to participate.

For more information and to find out how to plan an event in your community, visit


Bahraini Regime Continues to Brutalize Activists

Violent crack down on democratic protestors

In his recent speech on the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama directed criticism at not only adversaries of the United States but also one of its allies: Bahrain. This was a welcome change, after many weeks in which U.S. officials remained mostly silent as the regime, with the assistance of Saudi troops, violently cracked down on democratic protestors.

Prior to President Obama's speech, Human Rights First published a report based on the firsthand testimonies of Bahraini activists. HRF's Brian Dooley traveled to Bahrain and interviewed activists who were critical of the U.S. for failing to condemn widespread illegal detention, sham trials, and torture.

President Obama's words were welcome, but alone they will do little to stop the abuses. Indeed, following his speech, the home of prominent human right activist Nabeel Rajab was attacked, and the regime confirmed death sentences for two young Shiite men, Ali Al Singace and Abudul Aziz Abdul Redha. Both were convicted of murdering police officers in trials that fell far short of international standards.

It's time for the United States to take action to back up the President's words. Read our report and listen to our podcasts for in depth analysis here and here for a blueprint of what the U.S. should do to turn the rhetoric into reality.


Working to Defeat a Dangerous Anti-Terrorism Bill

Congress is considering sweeping new war powers for the president, while at the same time tying his hands on how to deal with terrorism suspects. For months, we've been working against this dangerous bill, rounding up opposition in Congress, and pressing the White House to oppose it.

The new bill would give the President virtually unfettered authority to wage war anywhere in the name of fighting terrorism. The bill would also prevent federal trials for terrorism suspects and make closing Gitmo impossible by prohibiting the transfer of prisoners to the United States.

The good news is that the White House has now threatened to veto the bill if it contains either the Gitmo transfer restrictions or the new Authorization for the Use of Military Force. We will continue to fight to strip out the most dangerous parts of the bill.


Elisa Massimino is the President and CEO of Human Rights First

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