If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor — Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 1984
On June 3, court martial is scheduled to begin for PFC Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of being the primary Wikileaks source, responsible for the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history. While the main timeline of the events has received international media coverage, and while the inhuman conditions of Manning’s pre-trial detainment have garnered high-profile condemnations, worldwide protests and fiery debates, the true farce lays in the U.S. government putting a man on trial for acting in accordance with the very same democratic principles, on which the United States of America were founded:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The famous words of the Declaration of Independence resounded in later democratic revolutions all over the world. Abraham Lincoln considered the Declaration the prism through which the Constitution should be viewed. The principles of the Declaration became the foundation of the U.S. political philosophy and American democracy.
This democracy had become so influential that it decided to share its “model of success” with other countries. The U.S. got engaged in “democracy-building” to help “failing states” in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, resorting to military intervention whenever it deemed necessary.
A young soldier ends up getting involved in the Iraq War and, as the prosecution rightly points out, voluntarily agrees to serve the interests of the U.S. He discovers, however, ample documentary evidence of systemic abuse of human rights by the U.S. armed forces, including killings of civilians, torture and false accusations and imprisonment of individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he has a moral dilemma: to expose the crimes against humanity or to remain loyal to his country. After an apparently emotionally heavy inner struggle, he chooses the former, fully understanding the consequences he is likely to face.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the U.S. was a co-author and co-signatory, states in Article 3, “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It is presumed by all modern democracies that this right is inalienable and the U.S. itself insists that the universal legitimacy of human rights prevails over individual national sovereignty in case of conflict of laws. Indeed, abuse of human rights has been persistently used in U.S.’s rhetoric as justification of military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining the states’ sovereignty for what the U.S. views as fundamental universal rights. And yet, when U.S. soldiers were clearly implicated in murders, instead of investigating the crimes exposed and prosecuting the perpetrators amongst its own ranks, the government decided to punish the soldier who uncovered the crimes.
Not only does the U.S. give a chilling warning signal to any would-be whistle-blowers to remain silent, not only does the U.S. seem to believe that “all men are created equal” only as long as they are not Afghans, Iraqis or whatever other nation “potentially harboring terrorists,” not only has the U.S. violated national pre-trial procedures and international detainment conventions by keeping Bradley Manning in what the UN torture chief described as “cruel, inhumane and degrading” conditions — it has clearly shown its belief that the international law only matters for the U.S. so long as it is convenient and beneficial for its foreign policy. On other instances, such as the case of Bradley Manning, the USA, the self-appointed leader of the democratic world clearly tells the world:
There is a democracy the U.S. advertises, and there is a democracy the U.S. practices.
As Noam Chomsky put it, “perhaps the most dramatic revelation [of Manning’s case] is the profound hatred of democracy by the U.S. government.” Transparency, accountability and legitimacy – along with the well-informed citizenry – is what constitutes a strong, healthy democracy. By choosing to expose the ugly meaning of the USA’s beloved euphemism “collateral damage,” by letting the public know what is being done “in the interests of their security,” by risking his freedom in doing so, Bradley Manning acted as a dutiful citizen and an empathic human being.
Let justice prevail at this trial. Although following President Obama’s remark that “he [Manning] broke the law,” there is no reason to be overly optimistic. The U.S. government does not have to recognize Bradley Manning as a hero. The world can do so without its partaking. However, the U.S. government has to end this farce immediately, if it indeed still believes in the principles on which the United States of America were founded.
Picture Credit: United States Army
Guantánamo hunger strike: Lawyers and human rights groups say it is just a matter of time before the detainees start to die
Emaciated and frail, more than 100 men lie on concrete floors of freezing, solitary cells in Guantánamo, silently starving themselves to death.
Stripped of all possessions, even basics such as a sleeping mat or soap, they lie listlessly as guards periodically bang on the steel doors and shout at them to move an arm or leg to prove they are still conscious.
The notorious detention centre is in crisis, suffering a rebellion of unprecedented scale, with most of the camp on lockdown and around two-thirds of the 166 detainees on hunger strike.
This week 40 American military nurses were drafted in to try to stem a mass suicide. The last Brit inside, Shaker Aamer, has said he is prepared to strike to his death.
The US administration does its best to keep prying eyes from the unfolding tragedy but the The Independent has obtained first-hand reports.
Twice a day, the 23 most weak are taken into a room. Their wrists, arms, stomach, legs and head are strapped to a chair and repeated attempts are made to force a tube down their noses into their stomachs. It is an ugly procedure as they gag and wretch, blood dripping from their nostrils. “They won’t let us live in peace and now they won’t let us die in peace,” said detainee, Fayiz Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti held for 11 years without charge.
Four are so ill that they lie in shackles in the hospital wing and insiders predict it is only a matter of time before one perishes.
“It is possible that I may die in here,” said Mr Aamer, 44, through his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, recently. “I hope not, but if I do die, please tell my children that I loved them above all else, but that I had to stand up for the principle that they cannot just keep holding people without a trial, especially when they have been cleared for release,” said the father of four, who remains in Camp 5 despite being approved for release more than five years ago. “Sad to say, torture and abuse continue in Guantánamo Bay and the US is throwing away yet more of its dwindling moral authority,” added Mr Stafford Smith.
he protest, which began on 6 February, has now spread through Camp 6 and Camp 5 with an estimated 100 to 130 taking part. These are not the high value detainees kept in Camp 7, the handful charged with terror offences. The hunger strikers are those who have waited a decade or more without trial, including 86 cleared for release but remain trapped because of restrictions imposed by Congress.
As President Barack Obama pledged to press for Guantánamo’s closure this week, detainees described how it has gone back to the draconian regime of the Bush administration.
“Defence lawyers have tried to engage in constructive dialogue but we have been met with resistance and silence,” explained US Army Captain Jason Wright, a lawyer who described seeing his client Obaidullah, now a 115lb “bag of bones” , a few days ago as “extremely distressing”.
“I have pain in waist, dizziness. I cannot sleep well. I fell [sic] hopeless. I cannot exercise. My muscle become weaker in the last 50 days. I have thrown up five times,” wrote Obaidullah, a 32-year-old Afghan who has never been charged despite 11 years imprisonment.
“When I walked into the room he was demonstrably changed. He said, ‘They won’t treat us with dignity, they are treating us like dogs’. There is an urgency. It is clear that if this hunger strike continues there will be deaths. These men are going to die in this prison for nothing. It is an absolute outrage,” said Capt Wright.
“The hunger strike is a political protest. The fact that they are being treated in this manner is contrary to international law and un-American,” he added. The protest began on 6 February when, according to lawyers, the new administration decided to end “an era of permissiveness” and take a more punitive approach, in contravention with the Geneva Convention, which calls for preventative detention. Guards confiscated all “comfort items” but what inflamed inmates most was a search of their Korans, an act the administration denies.
Prisoners began writing SOS on the outside of their cells but the protest passed peacefully until 13 April when guards used rubber bullets to move inmates from communal cell blocks, where they had covered cameras, and some responded with “improvised weapons” such as broom handles.
First-hand reports this week reveal that most prisoners are now being held in solitary confinement in empty, windowless cells just 12ft by 8ft. Clean water is rationed, they say, and they have been stripped off all possessions.
They complain the air-conditioning has been turned up to an icy level, guards deliberately disturb prayer times and turn up throughout the night to take them for showers.
Describing sleeping on a concrete floor, using his shoes as a pillow, Moroccan Younous Chekkouri said via phone to his lawyers at the charity Reprieve: “Pain starts immediately when I’m on the floor. Pain in my neck, pain in my chest. Finally at night they gave us blankets. It was very cold. Water is now a privilege. They are treating us like animals,” he added. “I thought my torture had ended, but what is happening now is horrible.”
Amnesty was among several human rights organisations to describe the situation at the camp in Cuba as “at crisis point” this week while UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez condemned the continued detention as “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.
Omar Deghayes, 43, a British resident who was released without charge in 2007, recalled the effect of two shorter hunger strikes. Lying in a “fridge-like” cell, he said he could barely stand within four days and was consumed with hunger and pains.
“You start to hallucinate. When people talk to you, you can’t understand them. I started to hear voices. Then I started to vomit blood and puss. Your stomach contracts and when they force feed large quantities, you can’t control anything, you get diarrhoea on your trousers. They take you into the yard and hose you down.”
Most people cannot survive losing more than 40 per cent of their body weight. Once fat stores are depleted, the body begins to consume the muscles and vital organs for energy. A large number on the current hunger strike have lost around a third of their body weight. While some are keeping alive by using a vitamin and mineral drink, 23 are now being force-fed.
Lieutenant Colonel Barry Wingard, a lawyer who visited Mr Al-Kandari, this week, explained: “He said they strap you to a chair, tie up your wrists, your legs, your forehead and tightly around the waist. The tube makes his eyes water excessively and blood begins to trickle from the nose. Once the tube passes his throat the gag reflex kicks in. Warm liquid is poured into the body for 45 minutes to two hours. He feels like his body is going to convulse and often vomits.
“He is emaciated, down from 150lb to 100lb. He can’t walk. He finds is difficult to concentrate. He burps all the time as his stomach eats itself,” added the US Air Force officer, who described the treatment as “beyond hypocrisy”.
The Department of Defence said yesterday it used enteral feeding only when a detainee’s life was in danger. Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale added detainees had the highest standards of humane treatment.
“Detainees are not punished for hunger striking. However, we will not allow them to harm themselves,” he said, adding: “We will not allow them to commit suicide by starving themselves to death.”
Prisoners complain, however, that instead of leaving the tube in, they reinsert it twice a day. Dr Jeremy Lazarus, president of the American Medical Association, wrote to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel recently to complain that force feeding was in violation of medical ethics.
Capt Wright, who travelled on the same plane as the nurses, said this week: “I can’t imagine they understood what they are being asked to do for their country. I don’t think they knew how horrific it would be. I hope some of them have the courage to say no.”
PARIS – Stephane Hessel, the French best-selling author, Resistance figure and diplomat died last night at age 95.
He is mostly known however, for his rights activism – his tireless combat for the disenfranchised and illegal immigrants, writes France 24 and is considered the father of the Occupy movement.
His 32-page essay, Indignez-Vous! (Time for Outrage!), published in 2010, sold over 2.1 million copies in France and more than a 3.5 million copies worldwide, according to Le Monde. It was translated in 34 languages and has been lauded for inspiring the global Indignados and Occupy anti-austerity movements.
In an interview with the AFP in March 2012, Hessel said: “The amazing success is still a surprise for me, but it is explained by an historical moment. Societies are lost, asking themselves how to make it through and searching a meaning to the human adventure.”
Time for Outrage! urges youths to emulate the wartime spirit of resistance to the Nazis by rejecting the “insolent, selfish” power of money and markets and by defending the social “values of modern democracy.”
“The reasons for outrage today maybe less clear than during Nazi times,” he wrote, “But look around and you will find them.”
Hessel was born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1917, and moved to France when he was seven. His parents were Franz and Helen Hessel, who along with writer Henri-Pierre Roché inspired François Truffaut’s film, “Jules and Jim.”
He was naturalized French in 1939, as WWII was starting, and in 1941, he joined the Resistance movement spearheaded by Charles De Gaulle in London. In 1944 he captured by the Gestapo and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he was tortured but escaped death by exchanging his identity with a prisoner who had died of typhus.
After the war ended, he participated in editing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with Eleanor Roosevelt and went on to hold various posts at the UN.
Have you ever wished there was a set of standards by which budgets could be assessed that didn’t have to do with deficit hawks and stimulus sparrows pecking each other’s eyes out in the constricted ring of corporate opinion?
A noble little park opened in New York City last month: Four Freedoms Park. In the coverage of the Louis Kahn structure (which seems to rise like a ship out of Manhattan’s East River), remarkably little was made of the title. From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s address to Congress in 1941, “the Four Freedoms” are core requirements for humane political and economic existence:
“For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy,” said Roosevelt. “The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: Equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all. The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”
The “four freedoms” FDR named (which would eventually be incorporated into what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), were freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The last of those FDR defined as “a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”
Watching the carnage in the Middle East and anticipating the arms-bonanza that is sure to follow it’s hard not to wince. CNN’s coverage alone, with its feverish fascination with Israel’s purported missile-defense prowess, is sure to result in yet a new boom for the death merchants in that country and ours.
But human rights standards aren’t only for international actors, says economist Radhika Balakrishnan. We could do with some good human rights lawyers in the budget debate in Washington. Balakrishnan is the director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. She is also co-editor of Economic Policy and Human Rights: Holding Governments to Account.
“Looking at the election we have just been through, if we had been looking at this from a human rights lens, every candidate would have to have spoken about poverty,” Balakrishnan explained, because governments have obligations to the most vulnerable in the society. The United States hasn’t ratified many international human rights accords, but it has signed some. Under those, humans have rights and governments have duties, among those the duty to use the “maximum available resources” to realize the basic human rights of its people.
“All of these discussions that are taking place as ‘you’re for the rich or you’re for the poor’ can be addressed in a very different way,” reflects Balakrishnan.
Austerity as a human rights violation? It certainly puts a different spin on things. We spoke as the Center was about to kick off its 16 Days Campaign, a concentrated season of activism on violence against women.
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Click here to learn more about the center. To watch my conversation with Professor Balakrishnan in full and to find out why the Federal Reserve needs human rights observers, watch this.