You wouldn’t know it from watching the news or reading the newspaper, but right now Congress is considering national security legislation that would compound some of the country’s worst mistakes in the struggle against terrorism.
The annual National Defense Authorization Act sets the military budget and—no matter how dysfunctional Congress is—it has passed every year since 1952. But the version up for debate this year contains three alarming measures. One would allow suspects to be indefinitely detained without trial. Another would make permanent the ban on transfers from Gitmo, ensuring that this symbol of error and injustice remains open well into the future. Still another would greatly expand the role of the military in domestic counterterrorism.
That last measure would restrict the government’s ability to use proven counterterrorism tools—the FBI, local law enforcement, and the federal courts—and force the military to take on responsibilities it doesn’t want and hasn’t requested. “We don’t ask DOJ to fight our wars, and we shouldn’t ask the Pentagon to try our criminals,” says retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, who sits on our board.
How many times do we have to learn the lesson that due process and respect for human rights are assets—not liabilities—in the struggle against terrorism? Proponents of these measures would not only abandon our values, but would jettison effective counterterrorism strategies in a misguided attempt to appear tough on terrorism. We’re aiming to defeat these measures, and we’ve gained an important ally in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. I invite you to support us in this work.
President and CEO
Human Rights First
We’ve been working to stop the United States from selling weapons to Bahrain’s brutal regime, and we’re making progress. After we teamed up with other human rights groups to protest the sale, several senators announced their opposition, and now the State Department has delayed it pending an investigation into human rights abuses in Bahrain.
While the delay is a welcome step, the United States doesn’t need an investigation—much less this one funded by the Bahraini regime—to tell it what it already knows: that the protestors have faced a violent crackdown. In two reports, we’ve documented with firsthand testimony the oppressive tactics of the regime, which has killed dozens of protestors, detained some 1,500, and tortured many.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, poses a test for American foreign policy. The United States can’t credibly claim to support people fighting for freedom when it provides weapons to their oppressors. Writing in The Hill, HRF’s Brian Dooley points out that “The first lesson the United States should have learned from the Arab Spring is not to be on the side of the dictators.”
Drawn by the promise of the Statue of Liberty, refugees flee to the United States seeking freedom. But too often, the U.S. government welcomes them with handcuffs, treating refugees like criminals. For many years, we’ve worked to correct this injustice. We achieved an important victory in 2009 when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) publicly announced that it would shift away from a penal model to one appropriate for immigration detainees.
But two years later, the overwhelming majority of ICE’s nearly 400,000 detainees are still held in jails, prisons, or prison-like facilities—at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $2 billion a year. That’s the central finding of our groundbreaking new report.
Less restrictive conditions are appropriate for immigration detention, the purpose of which is not punishment but ensuring that people show up for their hearings and comply with court orders. Our report recommends that ICE permit detainees to receive visitors, wear their own clothing, move freely, have at least partial privacy in the bathroom and access to email and recreational activities.
Every fall at our annual dinner, we honor activists with our Human Rights Award, which celebrates their achievements and affords them a measure of protection as they continue their work. This year’s honorees are Basem Fathy, 27, of Egypt and Shehrbano Taseer, 22, of Pakistan.
Basem, a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, was imprisoned several times for his pro-democracy activism. He coordinated logistics for the protests that sparked the revolution. “We thought we were dreaming big,” he said in his speech, “but what happened was bigger than any of our imaginations.” He also discussed the challenges ahead as he and his fellow activists struggle to reinvent their country. “Building a democracy is much more complicated and difficult than starting a revolution.”
NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams spoke to Shehrbano about her work opposing blasphemy laws, which governments use to persecute religious minorities. Her father, Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, was murdered by his own bodyguard for speaking out against Pakistan’s blasphemy law. “Everything I do now is with him in the back of my mind, wanting to make him proud,” she said. Earlier this year, we teamed up with Shehrbano to block a U.N. resolution that would have created a global blasphemy code. Thanks to her eloquence and courage, we succeeded.
We also presented the first Sidney Lumet Award for Integrity in Entertainment, named in honor of the acclaimed director. Michelle and Robert King, creators of The Good Wife, were honored for their powerful and nuanced exploration of human rights issues on the show, including internet freedom, asylum, torture, and repression in China. Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman presented the award, and most of the show’s cast, including Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles, were in attendance.
Now the Hard Part – Interview with Basem Fathy
The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC, October 27, 2011
N.J. residents facing deportation face uphill legal battle>
By Chris Megerian, The Star-Ledger, October 25, 2011
Top Lobbyists: Grassroots
The Hill, October 12, 2011
Pentagon Warns Against Bills Changing Rules on Detainees
By Julian E. Barnes, The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2011
Red Scare in Pearl Square
By Brian Dooley, Foreign Policy, October 7, 2011
U.S. Looks To Sell Military Equipment To Bahrain
By Jackie Northam, NPR, October 7, 2011
Time to stop arms sales to Bahrain
Op-Ed by Brian Dooley, The Hill, October 3, 2011