The Vice President has told Larry King that he finds Amnesty International's recently-issued report on human rights abuses worldwide, which is critical of the United States for its policies and practices at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, "offensive."
"'Frankly, I was offended by it,' Cheney said in the videotaped interview. 'For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously.' . . .
Cheney said detainees at Guantanamo 'have been well treated, treated humanely and decently.'
'Occasionally there are allegations of mistreatment,' Cheney said. 'But if you trace those back, in nearly every case, it turns out to come from somebody who had been inside and released to their home country and now are peddling lies about how they were treated.'"
The report states, in pertinent part:
By the end of the year, more than 500 detainees of around 35 nationalities continued to be held without charge or trial at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay on grounds of possible links to al-Qa’ida or the former Taleban government of Afghanistan. While at least 10 more detainees were transferred to the base from Afghanistan during the year, more than 100 others were transferred to their home countries for continued detention or release. At least three child detainees were among those released, but at least two other people who were under 18 at the time of their detention were believed to remain in Guantánamo by the end of the year. Neither the identities nor the precise numbers of detainees held in Guantánamo were provided by the Department of Defense, fuelling concern that individual detainees could be transferred to and from the base without appearing in official statistics.
In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the US federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees. However, the administration tried to keep any review of the detainees’ cases as far from a judicial process as possible. The Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), an administrative review body consisting of panels of three military officers, was established to determine whether the detainees were “enemy combatants”. The detainees were not provided with lawyers to assist them in this process and secret evidence could be used against them. Many detainees boycotted the process, which by the end of the year had determined that more than 200 detainees were “enemy combatants” and two were not and could be released. The authorities also announced that all detainees confirmed as “enemy combatants” would have a yearly review of their cases before an Administrative Review Board (ARB) to determine if they should still be held. Again, detainees would not have access to legal counsel or to secret evidence. Both the CSRT and the ARB could draw on evidence extracted under torture or other coercion. In December, the Pentagon announced that it had conducted its first ARB.
The government informed the detainees that they could file habeas corpus petitions in federal court, giving them the address of the District Court in Washington DC. However, it also argued in the same court that the detainees had no basis under constitutional or international law to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. By the end of the year, six months after the Supreme Court ruling, no detainee had had the lawfulness of his detention judicially reviewed.
Detentions in Afghanistan and Iraq
In August, the Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations, appointed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld following the publication of photographs of torture and ill-treatment committed by US personnel in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (see below), reported that since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, about 50,000 people had been detained during US military and security operations.
US forces operated some 25 detention facilities in Afghanistan and 17 in Iraq (see below). Detainees were routinely denied access to lawyers and families. In Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access only to some detainees in Bagram and Kandahar air bases.
Detentions in undisclosed locations
A number of detainees, reported to be those considered by the US authorities to have high intelligence value, were alleged to remain in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases, their situation amounted to “disappearance”. Some individuals were believed to have been held in secret locations for as long as three years. The refusal or failure of the US authorities to clarify the whereabouts or status of the detainees, leaving them outside the protection of the law for a prolonged period, clearly violated the standards of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Allegations that the US authorities were involved in the secret transfer of detainees between countries, exposing detainees to the risk of torture and ill-treatment, continued.
By the end of the year, 15 detainees were subject to the 2001 Military Order on the Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism. Detainees named under the Military Order can be detained without charge or trial or tried before a military commission. Military commissions are executive bodies, not independent or impartial courts, with the power to hand down death sentences; there is no right of appeal against their decisions to any court.
Four of the 15 – Yemeni nationals Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul and Salim Ahmed Hamdan; Australian national David Hicks; and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan – were charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes and other offences. The first pre-trial hearings were held for these four detainees in August.
On 8 November, US District Court Judge James Robertson presiding over Salim Hamdan’s habeas corpus appeal issued an order stating that Salim Hamdan could not be tried by military commission as charged. Judge Robertson ordered that unless and until a “competent tribunal”, as required under Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention, determined that Salim Hamdan was not entitled to prisoner of war status, he could only be tried by court-martial under the USA’s Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Judge Robertson held that even if Salim Hamdan was found not to have prisoner of war status by a “competent tribunal” which satisfied the requirements of the Third Geneva Convention (which the judge said neither presidential nor CSRT determinations would satisfy), his trial before the military commission would be unlawful because of military commission rules permitting the exclusion of the defendant from certain sessions and the withholding of certain classified or “protected” evidence from him. Military commission proceedings were still suspended at the end of the year, with the government having appealed against Judge Robertson’s ruling.
Torture and ill-treatment of detainees outside the USA
Photographic evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by US soldiers became public in late April, causing widespread national and international concern. President Bush and other officials immediately asserted that the problem was restricted to Abu Ghraib and a few wayward soldiers.
On 22 June, after the leaking of earlier government documents relating to the “war on terror” suggesting that torture and ill-treatment had been envisaged, the administration took the step of declassifying selected documents to “set the record straight”. However, the released documents showed that the administration had sanctioned interrogation techniques that violated the UN Convention against Torture and that the President had stated in a central policy memorandum dated 7 February 2002 that, although the USA’s values “call for us to treat detainees humanely”, there are some “who are not legally entitled to such treatment”. The documents discussed, among other things, ways in which US agents could avoid the international prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including by arguing that the President could override international and national laws prohibiting such treatment. These and other documents also indicated that President Bush’s decision not to apply the Geneva Conventions to detainees captured in Afghanistan followed advice from his legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, that this would free up US interrogators in the “war on terror” and make future prosecutions of US agents for war crimes less likely. Following the presidential elections in November, President Bush nominated Alberto Gonzales to the post of Attorney General in his new administration.
On 30 December, shortly before Alberto Gonzales’ nomination hearings in the Senate, the Justice Department replaced one of its most controversial memorandums on torture, dated August 2002. Although the new memorandum was an improvement on its predecessor, much of the original version lived on in a Pentagon Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism, dated 4 April 2003, which remained operational at the end of the year.
A February report by the ICRC on abuses by Coalition forces in Iraq, which in some cases were judged to be “tantamount to torture”, was also leaked as was the report of an investigation by US Army Major General Antonio Taguba. The Taguba report had found “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” against detainees in Abu Ghraib prison between October and December 2003. It had also found that US agents in Abu Ghraib had hidden a number of detainees from the ICRC, referred to as “ghost detainees”. It was later revealed that one of these detainees had died in custody, one of several such deaths that were revealed during the year where torture or ill-treatment was thought to be a contributory factor.
During the year, the authorities initiated various criminal investigations and prosecutions against individual soldiers as well as investigations and reviews into interrogation and detention policies and practices. The investigations found that there had been “approximately 300 recorded cases of alleged abuse in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq.” On 9 September, Major Paul Kern, who oversaw one of the military investigations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there may have been as many as 100 cases of “ghost detainees” in US custody in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld admitted to having authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to keep at least one detainee off any prison register.
However, there was concern that most of the investigations consisted of the military investigating itself, and did not have the power to carry the investigation into the highest levels of government. The activities of the CIA in Iraq and elsewhere, for example, remained largely shrouded in secrecy. No investigation dealt with the USA’s alleged involvement in secret transfers between countries and any torture or ill-treatment that may have ensued. Many documents remained classified. AI called for a full commission of inquiry into all aspects of the USA’s “war on terror” and interrogation and detention policies and practices.
During the year, released detainees alleged that they had been tortured or ill-treated while in US custody in Afghanistan and Guantánamo. Evidence also emerged that others, including Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and the ICRC, had found that such abuses had been committed against detainees.
Detentions of ‘enemy combatants’ in the USA
In June the US Supreme Court ruled that Yaser Esam Hamdi, a US citizen held for more than two years in military custody without charge or trial as an “enemy combatant”, was entitled to due process and habeas corpus review of his detention by the US courts. His case was remanded for further proceedings before the lower courts. While the latter were pending, he was released from US custody in October and transferred to Saudi Arabia, under conditions agreed between his lawyers and the US government. These included renouncing his US citizenship and undertaking not to leave Saudi Arabia for five years and never to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan or Syria.
José Padilla, a US national, and Ali-Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a Qatari national, remained detained without charge or trial as “enemy combatants”. José Padilla had filed a similar petition to Yaser Hamdi before the US Supreme Court but the Court rejected his petition on the grounds that his appeal had been filed in the wrong jurisdiction. The case was pending a rehearing in South Carolina, where he was detained in a military prison at the end of 2004.
The concerns expressed in the Amnesty International report are not exclusive to AI. The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a report based upon the ICRC's extensive work with post-9/11 detainees, raising the same concerns that are raised in the AI report, to which the Vice President takes such false and political offense.
Less than two weeks after the administration allowed its representatives to blame Newsweek for violence resulting from reports of abuses of the Koran by guards at Guantanamo Bay, it is disturbing to find the administration taking umbrage at genuine, documented concerns. A willingness to take responsibility for successes and failures and to call failures what they are would go some distance toward correcting the administration's honesty deficit. Mr. Cheney owes the citizens of his country better than such blustery "offense."
William Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, noted that:
"It doesn't matter whether he takes Amnesty International seriously.
"He doesn't take torture seriously; he doesn't take the Geneva Convention seriously; he doesn't take due process rights seriously; and he doesn't take international law seriously.
"And that is more important than whether he takes Amnesty International seriously."
Parsing yesterday's vote in France on ratification of the proposed European Union constitution is not the challenge. More than 54% of the voting public cast their votes to reject the constitution. The challenge lies in understanding how and why public sentiment in the EU's leading member shifted so decisively against it. BBC News credits four factors in the public decision:
Dissatisfaction with the current French government
Worries (mostly misplaced) that the constitution moves the EU in an "Anglo-Saxon" direction economically
General concerns at the development of the EU, especially a perceived reduction of France's influence in the enlarged Union
Concerns at possible future membership of Turkey in the EU.
The first of these is palpable. The French electorate are dissatisfied with M. Chirac's government, for which the result of the constitutional referendum is a significant defeat. The third and fourth factors have received considerable discussion over the years. It is the second -- the Anglo-Saxonization of EU economics -- that proves to be quite interesting. Writing in The Financial Times, Christopher Adams notes that the result of the French referendum will likely lead the Blair government to shelve (or at least postpone) plans for a similar British referendum. Most analysists are suggesting that the French "non" will strengthen opposition to the constitution in the upcoming Dutch referendum, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has noted that there is "'a risk of contagion' with hostility to the treaty spreading to other countries."
Interestingly, Adams suggests that "Britain is likely to use the result, particularly if the Netherlands also votes against the treaty on Wednesday, to push its case for economic reform across the EU more vigorously." However, Dan Drezner is skeptical of the prospects for success of such a push by the UK. The Economist summarizes the economic argument thus:
"[T]he more they debated the constitution, the more the French came to see it as a means for the EU’s bureaucrats and other member countries to impose 'Anglo-Saxon' free-market policies on France. So, voting non supposedly came to mean voting to protect French jobs, employment rights and social benefits against competition from low-cost, low-tax, deregulated countries, including the EU’s new eastern members."
Such economic reforms are necessary to energize a sluggish European (including French) economy, as we see businesses, surveying their talent pools across the globe, increasingly moving out of Europe and its restrictions on labor.
"To recap, then: the Left views EU-Land as an Anglo-Saxon encroachment on their cherished (and embarrasingly scelerotic) social welfare state. The nostalgic Right misses things like de Gaulle's timarchic evocations of France's force de frappe and wonders worriedly about what servility to the Bruxellian yoke would mean. Yes, of course, the economy looms large too. It has been stagnant for years, and chronic unemployment rankles, humiliates, angers even. There are also the problems associated with integrating immigrants from North Africa and points beyond. Such efforts at integration have gotten trickier of late, as violent events in iconic havens of libertinism like Amsterdam have showcased. It's not far-fetched in the least to see more nativist backlash taking root in the years ahead. This too will likely have unfortunate economic ramifications."
For an interesting discussion of how referenda may help to move the EU toward resolution of its democracy deficit problem, see here.
Only days after he vetoed legislation that would have provided gays and lesbians with, among other things, hospital visitation rights for their partners, Maryland Governor Ehrlich signed into law a measure which added sexual orientation and gender identity to Maryland's existing hate crimes law. The Human Rights Campaign notes that
"Maryland becomes the ninth state, plus the District of Columbia, with a hate crimes law addressing bias crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Those states include: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Twenty-one other states have hate crimes laws covering bias crimes based on sexual orientation."
The Wall Street Journalreports (subscription required) that Microsoft has terminated its relationship with Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, whom the company has employed for several months as a lobbyist on trade issues. Reed has announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor of Georgia. The company explained that:
"It would not be appropriate to have a consultant on retainer that is seeking elective office at the same time."
Reed's relationship with Microsoft raised concern among some in the LGBT community when the company reversed its prior support for a Washington state LGBT rights bill (see here, here and here). In a rapid response to critics, the company reiterated its support for the legislation (should it be reintroduced).
Microsoft has long been a strong advocate for LGBT rights, and in the recent confusion, company executives reinforced this commitment.
On June 5th, the Swiss will be the first citizens in Europe to vote on a referendum to establish recognition of same-sex couples in the form of civil unions.
"Voters are to decide . . . whether to allow gay couples to register their partnerships - the first referendum of its kind in Europe. Those in favour of the law say it will give same-sex partners greater rights, but opponents fear that it will undermine traditional marriage and family values. Under the proposed law, couples would register their partnerships with the authorities and gain the same rights as married couples in the areas of pensions, inheritance and taxes. They would also take on certain legal and financial obligations towards each other. The new government-backed measures are aimed at stamping out inequalities in the present system, which currently see homosexuals sometimes being excluded from visiting ill partners in hospital or being subject to heavy inheritance taxes."
Support for the civil unions measure stands at 66% of the Swiss electorate.
Responding to questions from members of the Senate, Scott J. Bloch, of the Office of Special Counsel, insisted that:
"he lacks the legal authority to enforce the Bush administration's ban on discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation.
If a federal manager fires, reassigns or takes some other action against an employee simply because that employee is gay, there is nothing in federal law that would permit the Office of Special Counsel to protect the worker, Bloch testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on oversight of government management, the federal workforce and the District of Columbia. . . .
Since taking office in January 2004, the Bush appointee has been accused of failing to enforce a long-standing policy against bias in the federal workplace based on sexual orientation, unnecessarily reorganizing the OSC to try to run off internal critics, and arbitrarily dismissing some personnel complaints and whistle-blower disclosures in an effort to claim reductions in backlogs.
He has denied such allegations and argued that he has made the agency more efficient at processing cases and, at the same time, more receptive to whistle-blowers and federal workers who have suffered unfair treatment.
The controversies -- especially last year's flap over sexual orientation discrimination -- have brought unflattering attention to an agency that typically has worked outside the limelight. In April 2004, the White House took the unusual step of clarifying its position on protections for gay men and lesbians in government workplaces, protections observed for three decades.
'Longstanding federal policy prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation,' the White House said in a statement. 'President Bush expects federal agencies to enforce this policy and to ensure that all federal employees are protected from unfair discrimination at work.'
[Senator] Levin reminded Bloch of that policy yesterday. 'That is not something that you believe is binding on you?' he asked.
'It is binding on me,' Bloch said, 'but it is not something I can prosecute in my agency. . . . I am limited by the enforcement statutes that you give me.'"
The Independent reports plans for a lesbian couple to become the first legally recognized same-sex couple in Britain:
"At one minute past midnight on 21 December, Debbie Gaston and Elaine Cook will enter British history books. Their achievement? Becoming the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Britain.
The pair, who have been together for 16 years, will go through an official register office ceremony in Brighton at the earliest possible moment after the long-awaited Civil Partnership Bill becomes law. At a stroke, they will be given the same tax, pension and inheritance benefits as married couples, and more rights than cohabiting heterosexuals."