They said it couldn’t be done but codePink did it! It helped to have Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer, and the novelist Alice Walker, and Democracy Now, in the delegation. It helped that we were almost 60 women with sleeping bags and tents. It didn’t hurt to have been officially invited by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRWA) on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. I think the Egyptian government just didn’t want the exposure. So, guess what? Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt’s first lady, herself decided to support our crossing into Gaza and opened the Rafah Crossing! Note: delegation upon delegation has camped out for weeks and still been refused entry into Gaza. As I write this, even George Galloway’s convoy is still parked at the gate!
Most of us are staying with host families–the arrangements having been made for us by UNRWA. My host family is composed of a husband (journalist/writer), his wife who is employed by the Palestinian Authority but has not worked for eight months, their four almost grown sons and a teen aged daughter. Three of the apartment buildings surrounding them turned to rubble by Israeli pilots dropping American supplied bombs from American F16 jets. The windows of my bedroom are shattered like all the rest and their is no glass to be had in Gaza. Actually, no building materials, period. The Israeli’s will not let them in.
Today, I went to an “Art and Culture” center (where women learn to sew and make handiwork to sell) run by UNRWA in the Bedouin area near the Rafah border with Egypt to join the women celebrating International Women’s Day. I was struck by the delight these dignified people found in being able to gift rather than to just receive. They proudly shared their food with us. They sang their Bedouin songs to match the Egyptian ones I’d learned as a child. They pulled us out to dance and taught us how to ululate. And they shared their stories.
Om Eyman who’s in her sixties hasn’t slept through the night for years– most often because she has to run out to the parched fields beyond the village when the jets and helicopters start bombing. I heard the bombs myself at one o’clock this morning. Don’t believe them when they tell you that there’s a ceasefire! The Israeli’s have been bombing Gaza for years.
The younger women, mostly mothers, told me how terrified their children are. To a person, they recounted how their children were wetting their beds at night and soiling themselves during the day. They said that the children will only sleep if they sleep with their parents in the same bed. Little ones will not go to anyone but their others although Arab children usually pass smoothly from one adult lap to another as is true in most communal societies. When a young mother handed her daughter to the women sitting beside her so she could give me a glass of tea, I heard the two year old shriek in terror with my own ears.
The mothers were concerned about their children’s education. Many children refuse to go to school since the bombing children at the United Nations school compound. Those who do go, cannot concentrate. They are failing their classes. They cannot concentrate at home, either. They are distratced and irritable. The parents feel guilty because they themselves are short tempered. They are concerned that their teenagers will get into drugs. A recent survey of children indicates that a high percentage of them do not want to live. (I will research the source when I have a better internet connection.)
I have more to write but have to go to bed. Tomorrow we go to refugee camps. Sixt years as refugees Palestinian are the longest group of stateless people in modern history.
Other wise, all is well. Cindy Corrie is a fantastic woman. Folks are talking seriously about nominating her for a Nobel Prize!
Dahlia Lithwick tries to explain why the Obama administration is fighting so hard to preserve many of the Bush administration’s secrets:
Obama, Bush Secret-Keeper
What’s the president’s rationale for keeping so many legal skeletons in the closet?
By Dahlia Lithwick
Having inherited an undifferentiated mass of legal “war on terror” doctrine from the Bush administration’s constitutional chop shop, President Obama finds himself in the position of being Bush’s Secret-Keeper. Picking its way warily through a minefield of secrecy and privacy claims, the Obama administration this week released nine formerly classified legal opinions produced in the Office of Legal Counsel (while holding back others that are being sought) and brokered a deal whereby Karl Rove and Harriet Miers will finally testify about the U.S. attorney firings (but not publicly). Meanwhile, the administration clings to its bizarre decision to hold fast to the Bush administration’s all-encompassing view of the “state secrets” privilege, and the Nixonian view of executive power deployed to justify it. The Obama administration has also been quick to embrace the Bush view of secrecy in cases involving the disclosure of Bush era e-mails and has dragged its feet in various other cases seeking Bush-era records. If there is a coherent disclosure principle at work here, I have yet to discern it.
Trying to tease out a unifying theme here is probably not possible; there are not, as yet, enough data points. I have argued before that one of the reasons Obama will want to keep Bush’s secrets is that he wants to protect his own. What’s good for the goose and all. But it seems to me that along with good (or at least plausible) reasons for shielding Bush-era misconduct from public scrutiny, President Obama may also have some wrongheaded ideas about protecting Americans from knowing the truth.
Americans beg to differ. The president has been proved wrong in his claim that there is no political will in this country for unearthing wrongdoing. Polls increasingly show that—despite the tanking economy—close to two-thirds of the public want investigations into the Bush team’s use of coercive interrogation and warrantless wiretapping. My guess is that those numbers will only go up, as America digests the OLC’s newly released constitutional quilting projects. This latest batch of memos, after all, offers us the proposition that U.S. citizens wouldn’t be protected by the Fourth Amendment if the military were deployed against suspected terrorists in the United States and that the president (as channeled by then-OLC lawyer John Yoo) had secretly granted himself the right to suspend free speech and a free press.
What else might the president be wrong about when it comes to concealing Bush’s mistakes from Americans? Here’s a partial list:
The line between “before” and “after.”The position of the executive branch is that Obama believes in looking forward. America needs to turn the page; nothing is to be gained by digging up old skeletons; choose your future-facing metaphor. But as Sen. Patrick Leahy has taken to saying, “We need to be able to read the page before we turn the page.” All crimes happen in the past. A legal regime that perpetually looked forward would be absurd. For years now, conservatives and victims’ rights groups have used the language of “closure” to demand that rights be wronged and reparations be made when crimes occur. That’s why 9/11 families were invited to witness tribunals at Guantanamo. Yet liberals, somehow, are loath to demand “closure” or “healing” or “resolution.” When it comes from the left, such sentiment is perceived as bloodlust. Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on looking backward.
Yikes! We can’t criminalize “policy differences.” This was Attorney General Eric Holder’s line at his confirmation hearings last month, when asked if he would take action against Bush administration officials who authorized waterboarding or warrantless surveillance. But as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has pointed out, that very formulation is offensive. What Whitehouse has called the “pervasive, deliberate, and systematic damage the Bush administration did to America” cannot really be brushed aside as a mere difference in policy. One can choose between two legal options and call it a policy dispute. When one’s policy is to break the law, that’s what we call a crime.
People just doin’ their jobs.Former Bush administration officials do themselves no good when they simultaneously argue that their actions were lawful and necessary—and saved our lives many times over—and that they should also be excused because they were terrified. Stephen Bradbury, then acting head of OLC tells us that the appalling work in the newly declassified memos should be filtered through the prism of temporary insanity: “It is important to understand the context of the  Memorandum,” Bradbury wrote, in a memo to the file. “It was the product of an extraordinary—indeed, we hope, a unique—period in the history of the Nation: the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11.”
Obama made the same leap when he said “part of my job is to make sure that for example at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering up.” But of course nobody is saying that everyone at the CIA needs a lawyer, or will be prosecuted for mistakes made in the field. This isn’t about going after people who were just doing their jobs under tough conditions. It’s about understanding how just doing their jobs came to include torture.
The fundamental mistake underpinning all the thinking above is that openness about past errors leads inexorably to ugliness, politicization, and rancor. But it’s worth recalling for a moment that we are already knee-deep in ugliness, politicization, and rancor. Transparency is not necessarily the first step toward indiscriminate prosecutions of everyone who ever worked for President Bush. It doesn’t mean that from now until forever, each administration will criminalize the policy differences of the administration before. It doesn’t mean that all mistakes are war crimes, or that hereinafter all investigations are all “perjury traps.” That’s the kind of binary, good/evil thinking we were supposed to have left behind us last November.
If President Obama has some better rationale for hiding the markers along the road to torture or eavesdropping from the American people, it’s time we heard it. But keeping this information from us for our own good is not an acceptable argument. The most recent OLC memos demonstrate precisely why the last eight years were so extraordinary. The suggestion that we just need to get over it is starting to sound extraordinary, too.
As part of President Obama’s early actions regarding detainee abuse, he ordered a review of the conditions of detention at Guantanamo to determine if they met the conditions required by the Geneva Conventions. A few weeks ago, first word came of the findings of that report. Navy Adm. Patrick M. Walsh reported that the conditions were indeed “humane.” He reported that he found “no such evidence” to support repeated claims of brutal and inhumane conditions at the prison. As the Defense Department reported in their press release on the report, Walsh stated:
“From our review, it was apparent that the chain of command responsible for the detention mission at Guantanamo consistently seeks to go beyond the minimum standard in complying with Common Article 3,” he said. “We found that the chain of command endeavors to enhance conditions in a manner as humane as possible, consistent with security concerns.”
From the perspective of detainee attorneys and human rights advocates, one of the few positive notes in the report was an acknowledgment that the almost total isolation in which most detainees are kept should be loosened to allow more social interaction:
Socialization, or interaction among detainees, is important for the detainees because of the length of time they have been detained, he said. In certain camps, more socialization is needed. The team called for more “human-to-human contact, recreation opportunities with several detainees together, intellectual stimulation and group prayer,” the admiral said.
Further, the report called for improved health care, which could be seen as an acknowledgment that health care at the prison has left much to be desired.
Unfortunately, as has been true of all previous official reports or investigations of conditions at the prison, Admiral Walsh, according to defense attorneys I have spoken to, did not spend much time speaking to detainees. He apparently allowed only one defense attorney to speak to him, despite requests from several to have input. Human rights groups were allowed to submit statements, but were given only a very short time to prepare them. Thus, as in previous “investigations,” his main source of information was the precise chain of command that has often been accused of excessive brutality.
Walsh’s conclusions simply don’t match the repeated reports coming from other sources — such as released detainees and attorneys for current ones — who report that the prison has a harsh, violent atmosphere, with detainees, only one of whom has ever been convicted of any crime, beaten for the most minor infractions and in which blankets, clothes, and bearable temperatures are all considered “comfort items” to removed at a guard’s whim. A number of defense attorneys have privately complained that conditions have become more brutal in the month since President Obaba’s inauguration.
Human rights groups have not been silent about this implausible report that conflicts with virtually all other information sources. Thus, the New York Timeson Tuesday reported on the unhappiness of these advocates with Admiral Walsh’s report.
Sarah Havens, a New York lawyer who has been visiting clients there since 2004, said she was not surprised that the military was reporting that it had been doing a good job. But, Ms. Havens said, her observations during a recent visit were different from Admiral Walsh’s.
“In my experience,” she said, “the conditions at Guantánamo are worse than they have ever been. The detainees are at a breaking point.”
Also on Tuesday, the enter for Constitutional Rights, ome of the organizations which has taken the lead in representing Guantanamo detainees in the multitude of often farcical “legal proceedings,” issued its own report on conditions at the prison. The report, entitled Current Conditions of Confinement at Guantanamo: February 23, 2009, describes a facility which is far from in comliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Currently at Guantánamo, the majority of detainees are being held in conditions of solitary confinement in one of two super-maximum facilities – Camps 5 and 6 – or in Camp Echo. The conditions in these camps are harshly punitive and violate international and U.S. legal standards for the humane treatment of persons deprived of their liberty. Solitary confinement, sensory deprivation, environmental manipulation, and sleep deprivation are daily realities for these men and have led to the steady deterioration of their physical and psychological health.
In addition, detainees are subjected to brutal physical assaults by the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), a team of military guards comparable to a riot squad, who are trained to respond to alleged “disciplinary infractions” with overwhelming force. Detainees have also been deprived of virtually all meaningful contact with their families, and have suffered interference with and abuse related to their right to practice their religion.
Perhaps the most horrific aspect of Guantanamo is that, after seven years confinement for many, approximately 75% of detainees are kept in near-total isolation in what the military euphemistically calls “single occupancy cells,” which more realistically should be described as tombs for the living:
Confined to small steel and concrete cells for at least 20 hours a day, the prisoners in Camps 5, 6 and Echo have virtually no human contact or mental stimulation. Food is delivered through a metal slot in the door and the men eat all their meals alone. The men can try to shout to one another through the slot with great difficulty, and at risk of disciplinary sanction that can result in the loss of “privileges” and imposition of 24-hour lock down in their cell or aggressive attacks by IRF teams. Items such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, deodorant, soap, and blankets are classified as “privileges” and can be taken away at will. Camp 6 has no windows that face the outside, and Camp 5 has only a thin opaque window slit in each cell. One prisoner reported to his attorney that in his isolation cell in Camp 5, he has only a hole for a toilet with no toilet seat and a faucet with no wash basin.8 Lights are kept on 24 hours a day in Camp 5.
Isolation is known to cause serious mental health problems in some of those subjected to it. Problems such as anxiety and depression can occur within weeks of being placed in isolation. A certain percentage of those isolated develop psychotic symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions. Many of the men at Guantanamo have been isolated for years on end.
Another condition frequently reported at this tropical prison is extreme cold, caused by air conditioning being turned to high. Any attempt to reduce the freezing is punished:
The temperature in their cells is consistently too cold, and out of the control of the detainees, causing health problems for many of the men as well as ongoing mental stress. Cold temperatures, for example, can exacerbate rheumatism, particularly for detainees whose thin sleeping mats have been removed as a punitive measure. When detainees block the air conditioning vents in an attempt to regulate the temperature to a more acceptable level, they are disciplined.
Remember that, as is stated in the 2003 and 2004 Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures and has been reported by many detainees, blankets, and sometimes even clothes or toilet paper, are viewed as “comfort items” that can be removed as punishment for minor infractions.
At Guantanamo, beatings, most often administered by so-called Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) teams, are also common. Many, if not most, detainees have reported IRF beatings. Some have received many.In evaluating these beatings, it should be remembered that most detainees are isolated in their cells or in fenced-in recreation areas at all times. The IRF teams mass outside a cell and attack completely defenseless caged-in detainees:
On the afternoon of January 7, 2009, Yasin Ismael was in one of the outdoor cages of Camp 6 for “recreation” time. The cage was entirely in the shade. Mr. Ismael asked to be moved to the adjoining empty cage because it had sunlight entering from the top. The guards, who were outside the cages, refused. One guard told Mr. Ismael that he was “not allowed to see the sun.” Angered, Mr. Ismael threw a shoe against the inner mesh side of the cage; which bounced harmlessly back onto the cage floor. The guards, however, accused Mr. Ismael of attacking them and left him in the cage as punishment. He eventually fell asleep on the floor of the cage, but hours later he was awakened by the sound of an IRF team entering the cage in the dark. The team shackled him and he put up no resistance. They then beat him. They blocked his nose and mouth until he felt that he would suffocate, and hit him repeatedly in the ribs and head. They then took him back to his cell. As he was being taken back, a guard urinated on his head. Mr. Ismael was badly injured and his ear started to bleed, leaving a large stain on his pillow.
As these brutal beatings of men locked alone in a cell can seldom if ever be justified by any need to control the individual, it can only be assumed that the IRF beatings are intended to teach a lesson.
The CCR report also details sleep deprivation, religious humiliation and harsh treatment of psychologically ill detainees, among other inhumane conditions.
Throughout the history of Guantanamo, officials from the President on down have always insisted that the detainees are treated “humanely.” In order to make this claim they frequently must butcher the English language to defend the indefensible. Thus, in May 2008 when then Guantanamo Commander Buzby was asked by myself and others about the use of isolation, he simply denied the existence of isolation:
We don’t have any solitary confinement down here in Guantanamo. What we have is single cells. I mean, there’s one person to a cell.
Admiral Walsh seems to be using similar language. If prolonged isolation, freezing cold, and prolonged beatings, leavened by a bit of religious humiliation and sleep deprivation is humane, then I guess Guantanamo is humane. It may be almost as humane as the supermax prisons on which it is modeled. While, in my opinion supermaxs are inhumane, there is one profound difference between these prisons and Guantanamo. Supermax prisons were, at least originally, intended for prisoners cobvicted of horrendous crimes who went on to commit further serious crimes, such as repeated assaults or murder, while imprisoned. In Guantanamo the brutality is administered to men who, for the most part, have never been convicted, or even indicted for any crime whatsoever.
For years human rights advocates around the world decried the brutal policies of President George W. Bush. But Bush is no longer President. In habeas proceedings the court documents now read [DETAINEE] v. Barrak H. Obama. President Obama is entitled to some time to reevaluate the mutitidious problems bequeathed him by his predecessor. But the detainees at Guantanamo have been living the life of the living dead in these brutal conditions for seven long years in many cases. They should not have to endure further inhumnity. It is incumbent upon the new administration to rapidly improve the conditions for the detainees as they decide whether and whom to release. Otherwise, President Obam will deservedly inherit the reputation of his predecessor.
As usual, the “international community” has different standards for human rights abusers who lead small states and those who lead major powers. This shouldn’t be implies law professor David Crane.Crane is a “former prosecutor of the Sierra Leone tribunal that indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor and put him on trial in The Hague”
Ex-UN prosecutor: Bush may be next up for International Criminal Court
By Stephen C. Webster
An ex-UN prosecutor has said that following the issuance of an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, former US President George W. Bush could — and should — be next on the International Criminal Court’s list.
The former prosecutor’s assessment was echoed in some respect by United Nations General Assembly chief Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua, who said America’s military occupation of Iraq has caused over a million deaths and should be probed by the United Nations.
“David Crane, an international law professor at Syracuse University, said the principle of law used to issue an arrest warrant for [Sudanese President] Omar al-Bashir could extend to former US President Bush over claims officials from his Administration may have engaged in torture by using coercive interrogation techniques on terror suspects,” reported the New Zealand Herald.
The indictment of Bashir was a landmark, said Crane, because it paved a route for the court at The Hague to pursue heads of states engaged in criminality.
“Crane also said that the [Bashir] indictment may even be extended to the former president George W. Bush, on the grounds that some officials in terms of his administration engaged in harsh interrogation techniques on terror suspects which mostly amounted to torture,” said Turkish Weekly.
“All pretended justifications notwithstanding, the aggressions against Iraq and Afghanistan and their occupations constitute atrocities that must be condemned and repudiated by all who believe in the rule of law in international relations,” Brockmann told the Human Rights Council. “The illegality of the use of force against Iraq cannot be doubted as it runs contrary to the prohibition of the use of force in Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. It sets a number of precedents that we cannot allow to stand.”
The Bush administration boycotted the Human Rights Council. The day Brockmann made his accusations happened to be the first in which the United States had observers at the council, on orders from President Obama.
According to Iranian news network PressTV, the Iranian government called the Bashir indictment “a blow to International justice” and an “insult directed at Muslims.”
Iran’s plainly stated sentiment toward the court’s legitimacy is similar in spirit to that of the United States. Because the US Government has refused to recognize the court by becoming a signatory in its statute, “the only other way Bush could be investigated is if the [UN] Security Council were to order it, something unlikely to happen with Washington a veto-wielding permanent member,” said the Herald.
Due to the International Criminal Court’s lack of any real police force, it has traditionally relied upon signatory states for enforcement of its rulings. But when the leader of one such state is indicted, the court’s authority and enforcement capability is called into question. Even the arrest of Bashir is a far cry, for now. And without a UN Security Council order, former US President Bush would not go on “trial” before the court any time soon.
However, on January 26, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak insisted that the pursuit of Bush and members of his administration for the torture of terror war prisoners is crucial if justice is to be served.
Nowak added that he believes enough evidence exists currently to proceed with the prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense who was credited as being highly influential in the crafting and push for America’s invasion of Iraq and the prior administration’s abusive interrogation tactics.