Amnesty’s new report details U.S. violations of human rights
In its annual report on the state of human rights around the world released Friday, Amnesty International slammed the United States for its continued application of the death penalty, police brutality, substandard prison conditions, arbitrary detention at Guantanamo and Bagram airbase, and a culture of impunity for officials who have authorized torture.
“Forty-six people were executed during the year,” Amnesty’s introduction for the U.S. country report begins, “and reports of excessive use of force and cruel prison conditions continued.”
Scores of men remained in indefinite military detention in Guantánamo as President Obama’s one-year deadline for closure of the facility there came and went. Military commission proceedings were conducted in a handful of cases, and the only Guantánamo detainee so far transferred to the US mainland for prosecution in a federal court was tried and convicted. Hundreds of people remained held in US military custody in the US detention facility on the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The US authorities blocked efforts to secure accountability and remedy for crimes under international law committed against detainees previously subjected to the USA’s secret detention and rendition programme.
Amnesty notes that despite President Obama’s promise to close the Guantánamo detention facility by January 22, 2010, 198 detainees were still held there, about half of them Yemeni nationals. By the end of the year, 174 men were still being held, “including three who had been convicted under a military commission system which failed to meet international fair trial standards.”
In April, Amnesty notes, the Pentagon released the rules governing military commission proceedings, which confirmed that the Obama administration reserves the right to continue to detain individuals indefinitely even if they were acquitted by a military commission.
On the issue of impunity, the report observes:
There continued to be an absence of accountability and remedy for the human rights violations, including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance, committed as part of the USA’s programme of secret detention and rendition (transfer of individuals from the custody of one state to another by means that bypass judicial and administrative due process) operated under the administration of President George W. Bush.
In his memoirs, published in November, and in a pre-publication interview, former President Bush admitted that he had personally authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” for use by the CIA against detainees held in secret custody. One of the techniques he said he authorized was “water-boarding”, a form of torture in which the process of drowning a detainee is begun.
On 9 November, the US Department of Justice announced, without further explanation, that no one would face criminal charges in relation to the destruction in 2005 by the CIA of videotapes made of the interrogations of two detainees – Abu Zubaydah and ‘Abd al-Nashiri – held in secret custody in 2002. The 92 tapes depicted evidence of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, including “water-boarding”, against the two detainees.
The “preliminary review” ordered in August 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder into some aspects of some interrogations of some detainees held in the secret detention programme was apparently continuing at the end of the year.
Excessive use of force by the police continued to be a problem, with 55 people being killed by police Tasers, which are marketed as “non-lethal weapons.” Amnesty notes that “most of the deceased were unarmed and did not appear to present a serious threat when they were shocked, in some cases multiple times.”
Prison conditions were also a cause for concern, with complaints, in particular, of the authorities’ cruel usage of long-term isolation in super-maximum security units.
Amnesty also highlighted the case of the “Cuban Five,” who were convicted in 2001 of acting as intelligence agents for Cuba and related charges. The five men were involved in monitoring the actions of Miami-based terrorist groups, and are now serving four life sentences and 75 years collectively.
In June, Amnesty International reports, a new appeal was filed in the case of Gerardo Hernández, one of the Cuban Five. The appeal was based, in part, on evidence that the U.S. government had secretly paid journalists to write prejudicial articles in the media at the time of trial, thereby undermining the defendants’ due process rights.
In October, Amnesty International sent a report to the Attorney General outlining the organization’s concerns in the case of the Cuban Five. Specifically, Amnesty said that “there were doubts about the fairness and impartiality of the trial which have not been resolved on appeal.”
Regarding the death penalty, Amnesty highlighted the case of Anthony Graves, who was released in Texas, 16 years after he was sentenced to death. “A new trial had been ordered by a federal court in 2006,” Amnesty points out, “but charges were dismissed in October after the prosecution found no credible evidence linking him to the 1992 crime. He became the 138th person to be released from death row in the USA since 1973 on grounds of innocence.”
Nevertheless, another 1,234 executions have been carried out since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in 1976, with 46 added to the list last year.