October 27, 2009

Democracy Now! Radio in SLC, Utah Area

Human Rights Watch applies same standards to Israel, Hamas

By Kenneth Roth

Critics of Human Rights Watch's work on Israel raise three main points. First, they say we disproportionately focus on Israel, and neglect other countries in the Middle East. Second, they claim our research methodology is flawed - relying on witnesses with an agenda. Third, as recently expressed by our founding chairman Robert Bernstein, they argue that we should focus on "closed" countries such as China rather than "open" societies like Israel.

I reject all three claims.

Human Rights Watch currently works on seventeen countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Israel accounts for about 15 percent of our published output on the region. The Middle East and North Africa division is one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch and receives 5 percent of our total budget. Israel is a small fraction of what we do.

Our war coverage in the region has documented violations by all sides. No international human rights organization has done more to highlight the war crimes of Hezbollah and Hamas, challenging their leaders and the Arab public to think critically about the unlawful conduct of these groups. Our Civilian Protection Initiative, launched five years ago, has sought the support of Arab civil society leaders to discredit terrorist attacks.

The research methodology employed in these wars is the same we use around the world: in-depth private interviews with multiple witnesses. We corroborate their accounts with field visits, ballistics evidence, medical records and other means. Unfortunately, since late 2008, the Israel Defense Forces have refused to meet with us or answer any of our detailed written questions.

The problem of witness intimidation is not new, and we take it into account.

Contrary to the claims of some critics, in Gaza we found there were Palestinians who would speak about violations by Hamas. Palestinian victims and witnesses of abuse were the primary source for a report we published on Hamas torture and executions - a report cited publicly by the Israeli government.

We apply the same international human rights standards to all countries, open and closed. We work extensively on China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but we also investigate abuses in the American criminal justice system, police killings in India, "disappearances" in Sri Lanka, and migrants' rights in Europe. All governments, regardless of their political system, are obliged to uphold the same international norms.

At the heart of our critics' arguments lies the view that we should hold Israel to lower standards. There is no dispute that the country was founded on the ashes of genocide and is surrounded by hostile states and armed groups. But some believe that these circumstances give Israel's democratic government the right to take whatever steps it deems necessary to keep the country safe.

A country's conditions do not remove its obligations under international law, though. Whether a state is an aggressor or acting in self-defense, whether it faces a regular army or insurgents that commit abuses, the laws of war apply, imposing a duty to minimize civilian harm.

And being a democratic country prevents Israel from committing wartime abuses no more than it stopped the United States from torture and unlawful detentions at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The serious Israeli abuses we documented also put the country at greater risk. By failing to hold those responsible to account, Israel increases anger and resentment among the Palestinian population and in the wider Arab world, and undercuts moderates who wish to pursue peace.

Our critics have every right to challenge the substance of our findings on Israel or any other country, though they rarely find errors. But if they want to challenge repressive regimes and combat armed groups that terrorize civilians, they will not serve that cause by trying to exempt Israel from human rights laws that are the best defense against such abuse. Nor does it help to attack those organizations that are working to uphold those laws around the world.

The writer is executive director of Human Rights Watch.

October 10, 2009

9/11 Monthly Update - October

Once Again, The Will of the Voters Is Denied

Yesterday afternoon, Justice Edward Lehner of the State Supreme Court rubberstamped Referee Louis Crespo’s recommendation that the decision to establish a local commission to investigate the events of September 11th not be put before the voters on November 3rd.

After showing interest in weighing both sides’ arguments in the hearing, the Judge’s short decision gives no indication of having considered the arguments put forth in the Petitioners’ memorandum of law, nor any acknowledgement of the need for a new investigation, which the City of New York callously dismissed as “irrelevant”.

On a dark day for democracy, the patriotic call for answers by hundreds of 9/11 families, first responders and survivors has been stifled, and the will of the people of New York City once again denied.

Judge Lehner ruled that modifying the petition to make it “legally permissible” would result in it being “inconsistent with the law sought by the signatories of the Petition” despite the fact that all 80,000 signatories agreed by signing the Petition that “If any provision of this law is held to be unconstitutional or invalid for any reason, the remaining provisions shall be in no manner affected thereby but shall remain in full force and effect.”

Twenty Minutes with the President About 9/11
- by Charlie Sheen (script)

October 8, 2009

Daniel Sunjata Speaks At NYC CAN March For Answers

This video was taken of a speech during the NYC CAN march in New York, demanding that the 80,000 validated petition signatures be recognized by the State of New York to allow an entry on the voter ballot asking for a 9/11 investigation. (The decision is currently under review in court):

"A free people will not permit torture"

A free people will not permit torture. Throughout history, torture has always been an instrument of tyranny. The very purpose of the Grand Inquisitor was to compel absolute obedience to authority. Torture was the weapon he used in the struggle to force freedom to submit to authority.

Fear is the principal element in both public acceptance of torture and individual submission to it. The frightened public is persuaded that only torture can force confessions essential to prevent catastrophic acts—terrorism in the present context. The frightened victim is persuaded torture will be unbearable, or be his death.

. . .

At stake is our cultural insistence that America has faith in freedom, that America is, or aspires to be, the land of the free and the home of the brave. At risk is the image of America, which might become Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and rendition to torture chambers in client States.

Now we are confronted by the brutish and brazen mentality of Dick Cheney, only one of George W. Bush’s many vices. Having concealed truth by refusing to release records and after the destruction of evidence, Cheney proclaims, "I am very proud of what we did"—a war of aggression that has devastated and fragmented Iraq and Afghanistan, and created a danger to peace in Pakistan and beyond. The same wars that have left 5,000 U.S. soldiers dead and maybe 30,000 with impaired lives, spread corruption within the Bush administration, politics in prosecutors offices, the worst recession in 70 years caused by the failure to police his greedy friends and supporters, boasting of torture by any other name.

Cheney wants us to believe "enhanced interrogation techniques," the phrase he prefers to torture, "were absolutely essential" in successfully stopping another terrorist attack on the U.S. after 9/11. This is utterly false, a matter of indifference to Cheney who may be getting desperate. These "enhanced interrogation techniques" were, however, torture as defined in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture of 1984, an international treaty ratified by 184 nations, including the United States a decade late in 1994. The Convention, which is part of the supreme law of the land under the U.S. Constitution, recognizes "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," and "that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person."

Thus, the U.S. is treaty bound to prosecute all persons, high and low, who have authorized, condoned or committed torture if our word in the international community is to mean anything.

The Convention requires each signatory to ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law. It requires prosecution, or under specific conditions, extradition to another nation for prosecution of alleged torturers.

Former FBI agent Ali H. Soufan is only one of the key U.S. intelligence and investigative officials directly involved in the key interrogations who have publicly condemned the "enhanced interrogation techniques." He has explained how the practice not only failed to obtain reliable or new information, but was also harmful. He concluded an op-ed article in the New York Times on Sept. 6, which stated that "the professionals in the field are relieved that an ineffective, unreliable, unnecessary and destructive program, one that may have given Al Qaeda a second wind and damaged our country’s reputation is finished."

. . .

Ramsey Clark

October 6, 2009

Bombs and Bribes - Ron Paul

Bombs and Bribes
Tuesday, Oct 6th, 2009

What if tomorrow morning you woke up to headlines that yet another Chinese drone bombing on US soil killed several dozen ranchers in a rural community while they were sleeping? That a drone aircraft had come across the Canadian border in the middle of the night and carried out the latest of many attacks? What if it was claimed that many of the victims harbored anti-Chinese sentiments, but most of the dead were innocent women and children? And what if the Chinese administration, in an effort to improve its public image in the US, had approved an aid package to send funds to help with American roads and schools and promote Chinese values here?

Most Americans would not stand for it. Yet the above hypothetical events are similar to what our government is doing in Pakistan. Last week, Congress did approve an aid package for Pakistan for the stated purposes of improving our image and promoting democracy. I again made the point on the floor of the House that still no one seems to hear: What if this happened on US soil? What if innocent Americans were being killed in repeated drone attacks carried out by some foreign force who was trying to fix our problems for us? Would sending money help their image? If another nation committed this type of violence and destruction on our homeland, would we be at all interested in adopting their values?

Sadly, one thing that has entirely escaped modern American foreign policy is empathy. Without much humility or regard for human life, our foreign policy has been reduced to alternately bribing and bombing other nations, all with the stated goal of “promoting democracy”. But if a country democratically elects a leader who is not sufficiently pro-American, our government will refuse to recognize them, will impose sanctions on them, and will possibly even support covert efforts to remove them. Democracy is obviously not what we are interested in. It is more likely that our government is interested in imposing its will on other governments. This policy of endless intervention in the affairs of others is very damaging to American liberty and security.

If we were really interested in democracy, peace, prosperity and safety, we would pursue more free trade with other countries. Free and abundant trade is much more conducive to peace because it is generally bad business to kill your customers. When one’s livelihood is on the line, and the business agreements are mutually beneficial, it is in everyone’s best interests to maintain cooperative and friendly relations and not kill each other. But instead, to force other countries to bend to our will, we impose trade barriers and sanctions. If our government really wanted to promote freedom, Americans would be free to travel and trade with whoever they wished. And, if we would simply look at our own policies around the world through the eyes of others, we would understand how these actions make us more targeted and therefore less safe from terrorism. The only answer is get back to free trade with all and entangling alliances with none. It is our bombs and sanctions and condescending aid packages that isolate us.

**I've been learning about some of the history of American foreign policy, and I believe Ron Paul's assessment here seems quite accurate, unfortunately. The facade of promoting violence and corruption for "democracy's sake" is truly twisted and hypocritical.