Speaking out on Trump, populism, and complacency toward war crimes

❝ Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein…recently stepped down from four years as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights…A Jordanian prince whose father is Arab and mother European, a Muslim who has visited Auschwitz and bicycled around Israel, he is a fervent believer in “the human rights of each individual, everywhere.” A soft-spoken man who talks with hard-edged eloquence, he took on an impossible job, challenging violators on all sides, whether American, Russian, Chinese, African, Arab, Israeli, or other. And doing it publicly.

❝ He is reflecting on those difficult years as a Distinguished Global Leader-in-Residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, where he shared some of his thoughts.

We invite you to read his thoughts on the responsibilities of that post. On what has been accomplished…what still needs to be done.

Trump Admin Ignores Human Rights in Border Patrol Beating Death

❝ Attorneys for the family of a man killed by Border Patrol agents said Monday the Trump administration will “lose badly” for failing to respond to the family’s petition regarding their loved one’s death at the border.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took up a petition filed by the family of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas in May claiming human rights abuses over Border Patrol agents’ extrajudicial killing of the San Diego man and what the family says was a botched investigation by U.S. government officials.

❝ The U.S. government had until Aug. 10 to respond to the petition but has remained silent – breaking decades of tradition of cooperating with the human rights agency even with regard to abuse of prisoners kept at Guantanamo Bay.

Because the government has not responded to the petition, the commission can enter a default judgment against the United States – accepting the family’s claims as true.

❝ Earlier this year, the United States did not participate in hearings before the commission. Roxanna Altholz, associate director at UC Berkeley Law School’s International Human Rights Law Clinic and one of the attorneys on the Hernandez-Rojas case, said the government’s refusal to participate is unprecedented…

Hernandez-Rojas was beaten by Border Patrol agents in 2010 when he was caught crossing the border. The beating put him in a coma before Hernandez-Rojas’ family decided to take him off life support.

The Feds have already agreed to a large settlement in the civil case brought by Rojas family; but, they still would like justice to be determined – charging the agents who beat Rojas. Understandable.

Doesn’t seem to affect our fake president’s comprehension of law and justice.

Shrinks who designed CIA torture admit to torturing — but say it wasn’t torture!

Bruce Jessen — Jim Mitchell

The acknowledgement by two former Air Force psychologists that they used waterboarding and other harsh tactics against detainees in the war on terror is a striking development…

“It’s remarkable to see an end to the deniability of the existence of records of torture,” said Sarah Dougherty, a senior fellow with Physicians for Human Rights…

“This is a significant step forward for accountability,” Dougherty said.

In federal court documents filed this week, the two psychologists who helped design the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques said they used harsh tactics, but they denied allegations of torture and war crimes leveled by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU has sued James E. Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen of Washington state on behalf of three former CIA prisoners, including one who died, creating a closely watched case that will likely include classified information.

In response, the pair’s attorneys filed documents this week in which Mitchell and Jessen acknowledge using waterboarding, loud music, confinement, slapping and other harsh methods but deny that they were torture

The records don’t say why Mitchell and Jessen don’t consider the techniques to be torture. They declined to respond to many of the ACLU’s allegations, saying much of the information is classified.

I’ve been writing about these two pricks for seven years, now. They sit back on their overpaid butts and rely on the CIA to hide their tracks.

RTFA for the latest. You can read here and back here to catch up with early days in the history of a nation that violates international protocols on torture.

French parliament lifts historic ban on insulting president

A change in French law means it has now become legal to insult the French president.

Parliament agreed on Thursday to amend legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.

Previously, anyone tempted to offend the head of state risked a fine.

In March, the European Court of Human Rights ruled France violated freedom of expression by fining a man for insulting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The abuse, repeating words that Mr Sarkozy himself had used previously, was a crude version of “get lost!”

The European Court said the man’s conviction and his 30-euro (£26) fine had been “disproportionate”.

The president would now need to prove there had been slander or defamation towards him.

Why am I not surprised the last presidential creep to use this law was Sarkozy?

Saudi women activists face jail for taking food to woman who said she was imprisoned by her husband

Two female human rights activists are facing prison sentences in Saudi Arabia for delivering a food parcel to a woman who told them she was imprisoned in her house with her children and unable to get food.

Wajeha al-Huwaider, who has repeatedly defied Saudi laws by posting footage of herself driving on the internet, and Fawzia al-Oyouni, a women’s rights activist, face 10 months in prison and a two-year travel ban after being found guilty on a sharia law charge of takhbib – incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband.

…Campaigners argue the women have been targeted because of their human rights work, and fear that the sentences send out a chilling message to other activists who dare to criticise the repressive regime, under which women cannot drive and can only cycle in recreational areas when accompanied by a male guardian.

“These women are extremely brave and active in fighting for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and this is a way for the Saudi authorities to silence them,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and north Africa consultant for Equality Now, which is fighting for the women’s release. “If they are sent to jail it sends a very clear message to defenders of human rights that they should be silent and stop their activities – not just in Saudi Arabia, but across Arab countries. These women are innocent – they should be praised for trying to help a woman in need, not imprisoned.”

The women were arrested in June 2011 after going to the aid of the Canadian national Nathalie Morin, who contacted Huwaider and said her husband was away from their home in the eastern city of Dammam for a week and her supplies of food and water were running out. When they arrived they were immediately arrested and released a day later.

More than a year later, in July 2012, they were called in for further questioning. Huwaider previously said she was repeatedly asked about her involvement in the Women2Drive campaign, which lobbies for women to be allowed to drive in the kingdom. In May 2011 Huwaider and Manal al-Sharif defied Saudi law and gained international media attention by driving a car, posting widely viewed footage on YouTube. She was also asked about a women’s rights protest she organised in 2006 on the King Fahd causeway and her 2009 attempt to cross to Bahrain without the approval of a male guardian…

Following a trial which concluded last month the judge deemed the pair were guilty of “supporting a wife without her husband’s knowledge, thereby undermining the marriage“. Their appeal is to be heard on 12 July and they are asking the Saudi king, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, for a pardon.

Life in a theocracy. Please don’t delude yourself into thinking there aren’t any Christians who would practice the same sort of sharia law in the United States – if they thought they could get away with it.

Ecuador’s response to threats from Congress: offers training to U.S. in human rights, tells Congressional bullies to shove it!


Tell Senator Menendez to get an honest job!

Ecuador’s leftist government thumbed its nose at Washington on Thursday by renouncing U.S. trade benefits and offering to pay for human rights training in America in response to pressure over asylum for former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

The angry response threatens a showdown between the two nations over Snowden, and may burnish President Rafael Correa’s credentials to be the continent’s principal challenger of U.S. power after the death of Venezuelan socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

“Ecuador will not accept pressures or threats from anyone, and it does not traffic in its values or allow them to be subjugated to mercantile interests,” government spokesman Fernando Alvarado said at a news conference.

In a cheeky jab at the U.S. spying program that Snowden unveiled through leaks to the media, the South American nation offered $23 million per year to finance human rights training.

The funding would be destined to help “avoid violations of privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity,” Alvarado said. He said the amount was the equivalent of what Ecuador gained each year from the trade benefits…

An influential U.S. senator on Wednesday said he would seek to end those benefits if Ecuador gave Snowden asylum.

Snowden, 30, is believed to be at Moscow’s international airport and seeking safe passage to Ecuador…

That “influential senator” is Robert Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey. He deserves less respect than a Cold War gangster for his threat.

Never shy of taking on the West, the pugnacious Correa last year granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to help him avoid extradition from Great Britain to Sweden…

The 50-year-old U.S.-trained economist won a landslide re-election in February on generous state spending to improve infrastructure and health services, and his Alianza Pais party holds a majority in the legislature…

An OPEC nation of 15 million people, Ecuador exported $5.4 billion worth of oil, $166 million of cut flowers, $122 million of fruits and vegetables and $80 million of tuna to the United States under the Andean trade program in 2012.

I will make it a point when we go grocery shopping this weekend to buy tuna, produce and flowers from Ecuador. I never tolerated bullies when I was a schoolkid. I still don’t.

How imprisoning a Gitmo inmate costs taxpayers $900,000 a year

It’s been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects.

With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.

By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say.

And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.

The high cost was just one reason Obama cited when he returned this week to an unfulfilled promise to close the prison and said he would try again.

Obama…said that the prison, set up under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush and long the target of criticism by rights groups and foreign governments, is a stain on the reputation of the United States.

‘It’s extremely inefficient,’ said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, who has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay since 2005.

‘That … may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,’ Gude said…

Obama pledged to close the prison within a year after first taking office in January 2009 but his efforts ran aground, partly because of congressional opposition, from both Republicans and some in his own Democratic Party, to transferring prisoners to the United States.

Inmates started a hunger strike in February that has swelled to some 100 prisoners and has led to force-feeding of 23 of the prisoners.

With the camp back under a critical spotlight, Obama told a news conference on Tuesday he would renew efforts to shut it down. He has an array of options, some of which would be more achievable than others…

Above the annual operating cost, capital spending on the prison could rise again if the Pentagon receives the funding it says it needs to renovate the place.

General John Kelly, the head of Southern Command, which is responsible for Guantanamo, told a House of Representatives panel in March that he needed some $170 million to improve the facilities for troops stationed at the base as part of detention operations.

Kelly said the living conditions were ‘pretty questionable’ and told the panel, ‘We need to take care of our troops.’

Or we could act like we have functional brains – put the convicted into mainland supermax prisons, send the unconvictable, unindicted back to their home countries or a helpful surrogate country and go back to at least a pretense of being a law-abiding civilized nation. Close down Gitmo and give the land back to the Cubans.

Send civilian judges to Gitmo – then shut it down!

President Obama has once again pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay prison. But can he back up his brave words with decisive action?

The answer is yes, if he chooses to.

At present, legislation bars him from sending the Guantánamo detainees to the mainland United States to receive justice from the federal courts, leaving them to be tried by slow-moving military commissions that deny them many of the guarantees of civilian legal procedure. Nevertheless, the president has a way forward. He can, on his own authority, send federal judges to Guantánamo, where they could resolve the remaining cases in trials everyone can respect.

Previous presidents have established federal civilian courts on territory under American military control without going through Congress. The clearest precedent was set in postwar Germany…

Nothing prevents President Obama from establishing a similar court at Guantánamo, where 166 prisoners remain under indefinite detention and about 100 have gone on a hunger strike. Acting under his authority as commander in chief, the president should quickly direct a team of district judges to try the detainee cases in Guantánamo under civilian criminal procedures. Such an order should also create a panel of federal judges to hear appeals…

We have reached the point of no return. Since President George W. Bush revived military commissions in 2001, half a dozen prosecutors have resigned in protest and Congress has twice passed legislation in efforts to create a system that might win public confidence.

Now the escalating hunger strike has led to forced feedings and physical confrontations in which guards have used nonlethal bullets to quell unrest. It is only a matter of time before suicide attempts further intensify the cycle of resistance and repression…

Constitutional lawyers always prate about ordinary citizens failing to comprehend the value of Human Rights is that the most important time to defend those rights – is when you really hate to do so.

The point, of course, is that Congress and Presidents are equal cowards when they have to face the same question.

$240 Million judgment for disabled men exploited for decades


A look into one of the bunkhouse bedrooms

In a decision that legal experts are calling “stunning,” an Iowa jury this morning awarded $240 million to the 32 mentally disabled men who faced decades of discrimination and abuse while working for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa.

When jurors announced the judgment, after less than eight hours of deliberation, Sherri Brown, the sister of one of the 32 men, broke down in tears inside the Davenport courtroom.

“I totally lost it,” she said later. “I wanted the jury to make a statement so that my brother Keith and all of those men would know that someone had heard them. And if this isn’t a statement, I don’t know what is.”

The $240 million judgment reflects $2 million in punitive damages for each of the 32 men, plus $5.5 million in compensatory damages for each of the men.

Steven Schwartz, a disability rights attorney and former Harvard professor, said today’s judgment will be heard across the nation.

“It’s stunning,” he said. “It’s amazing. I’m almost incredulous. I think this verdict sends an incredibly powerful message to jurors all over the country. And of course it sends an equally powerful message to the people who cause this sort of harm. This is also an extraordinary testament to the EEOC and its attorneys, Robert Canino in particular, that they are willing to stand up for people with mental disabilities. They represent the best our government can be.”

Schwartz, who is trying to obtain community-support services in Texas for five former bunkhouse residents, said one of the biggest challenge in discrimination cases is convincing a jury that people with disabilities have just as much value as everyone else…

Through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the 32 former employees of Henry’s had sued the company in federal court, alleging unlawful harassment and discriminatory employment conditions at the company’s labor camp in Atalissa.

Over a period of 40 years, Henry’s sent hundreds of disabled men from Texas to Iowa where they worked in a West Liberty meat-processing plant for 41 cents an hour. The men were housed in a 100-year-old Atalissa school building the company converted to a bunkhouse. The operation was shut down in February 2009, after The Des Moines Register asked state officials about conditions inside the bunkhouse and the company’s lack of a license to care for disabled adults…

“The amount of this jury award is phenomenal in assigning responsibility for all of the wrongdoing that took place, and it also sends a message that this sort of conduct deserves more than a slap on the hand,” Dr. Sue Gant said. “But how do you put a value on decades of lost opportunity? You can’t recapture those years… These men were hidden away for decades, and for others’ personal gain. These were humans who were treated like cattle — like company property, like just another source of income for the company…”

RTFA for some of the disgusting details.

If you think the worst treatment for workers you ever read of only happened decades ago, have yourself another think. Here’s a firm that specialized in providing mentally-disabled men to live and work like serfs from the Dark Ages to optimize profits. That they were human beings wasn’t even an afterthought.

United Nations says Israel must remove settlers

Zohan battles a terrorist

U.N. human rights investigators called on Israel on Thursday to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.

A three-member U.N. panel said private companies should stop working in the settlements if their work adversely affected the human rights of Palestinians, and urged member states to ensure companies respected human rights.

“Israel must cease settlement activities and provide adequate, prompt and effective remedy to the victims of violations of human rights,” Christine Chanet, a French judge who led the U.N. inquiry, told a news conference.

The settlements contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territory and could amount to war crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations report said.

“To transfer its own population into an occupied territory is prohibited because it is an obstacle to the exercise of the right to self-determination,” Chanet said…

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reacted to the inquiry’s findings by repeating his position that “all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law”…

Israel’s foreign ministry swiftly rejected the report as “counterproductive and unfortunate.” Palestinians welcomed the report, saying it vindicated their struggle against Israel…

…Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official, told Reuters in Ramallah: “This is incredible. We are extremely heartened by this principled and candid assessment of Israeli violations.”

It’s time to confront American corporations doing business with Israel in the captive lands. Just because the Colonial Israeli government – and Israeli corporations – agree on a policy of Lebensraum makes collaborating US firms no less guilty.