International human rights

  • September 21, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program. This is a cross-post from the ACLU's Blog of Rights.

    Many people in the United States and around the world remember the horrific events of September 11, 2001 as some of the worst crimes against humanity of the last decade. These attacks savagely flouted the fundamental values of international human rights.

    While the international community was united behind the U.S. call to bring those responsible to justice, the struggle against terrorism — hardly a new enterprise — took a wrong turn towards undermining the international legal frameworks and accountability mechanisms that were developed after World War II.

  • June 23, 2011
    Video Interview

    Controversy continues to surround President Obama’s defense of an ongoing military presence in Libya, with members of Congress and academics questioning whether Obama violated the War Powers Resolution by maintaining a military operation in Libya for more than 60 days without obtaining Congressional approval.

    President Obama argued in a report to Congress last week that he was not legally required to obtain military authorization, because the military intervention did not constitute “hostilities” as the word is used in the War Powers Resolution. But ten members of Congress announced they planned to sue Obama challenging that determination, and debate in Congress is heating up over whether to authorize continued American participation, or instead pass a resolution that would require an end to combat activity.

    In a video interview during the ACS 10th Anniversary National Convention this past weekend, Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane explained his understanding of President Obama’s legal argument, and how it’s likely to fare.

    “I guess my opinion based on just the one-paragraph view on that question, is that the administration has made an argument that you could probably make with a straight face. I don’t necessarily think it’s the stronger argument,” said Shane, who specializes in separation of powers issues and is the author of Madison's Nightmare: How Executive Power Threatens American Democracy.

    This week, Shane told ACSblog he would now take the stronger position that the administration's argument can "just barely" be made with a straight face, in light of a subsequent New York Times report that there have been some 60 U.S. airstrikes since April.

    He said during the interview:

    At this point they’re arguing that because we don’t have boots on the ground, and we’re not flying any or hardly any sorties ourselves against Libyan targets that this doesn’t amount to hostilities. But it’s still the protracted use of lethal force in which we’re implicated. It’s sustained, it’s continuous, and it’s against a country that had not attacked us previously, so it’s an aggressive use of military force. I think it’s an uphill climb to argue that that does not amount to hostilities under the statute.

    Shane also speculated that, in making this argument, the Obama administration is attempting to carve out a human rights exception in the War Powers Resolution, which would allow the president to “deploy military force for humanitarian purposes to protect civilians, at least where that can be done consistent with international law, and at least where that can be done without putting troops in harm’s way for an extended period of time.”

    “If that’s what they’d like to see created, I think that’s a good debate to have,” he said. “People obviously have memories of our inaction during Rwanda, and then what we did try to accomplish in Bosnia and Kosovo, and this may be another example of that.”

    But, he added, to reach that end, the administration should propose legislation.

    “I think trying to create the precedent by an easily challenged interpretation of the War Powers Resolution is just not the most helpful way to preserve checks and balances and show that what you’re doing is consistent with the rule of law, which is what it should be,” he said.

    Watch the video interview below and download the podcast here.

  • March 24, 2011
    The United States and Torture
    Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse
    Marjorie Cohn, editor

    By Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Cohn edited The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, a collection of essays.
    Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing court-martial for leaking military reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico brig in Virginia. Each night, he is forced to strip naked and sleep in a gown made of coarse material. He has been made to stand naked in the morning as other inmates walked by and looked. As journalist Lance Tapley documents in his chapter on torture in the supermax prisons in The United States and Torture, solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations and suicide; it is considered to be torture. Manning's forced nudity amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment, in violation of U.S. and international law.

    Nevertheless, President Barack Obama defended Manning's treatment, saying, "I've actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures . . . are appropriate. They assured me they are." Obama's deference is reminiscent of President George W. Bush, who asked "the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government" to review the interrogation techniques. "They assured me they did not constitute torture," Bush said.

    The order for Manning's nudity apparently followed what he described as a sarcastic comment he made to guards after their repeated harassment of him regarding how he was to salute them. Manning said that if he were intent on strangling himself, he could use his underwear or flip-flops.

    "In my 40 years of hospital psychiatric practice, I've never heard of something like this," said Dr. Steven Sharfstein, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "In some very unusual circumstances, when people are intensely suicidal, you might put them in a hospital gown. ... But it's very, very unusual to be in that kind of suicide watch for this long a period of time."