February 26, 2007

US: 10 Steps to Restore Moral Authority

10 Steps to Restore Moral Authority in the U.S.
Scroll Down for a Complete List of the 10 Steps & A Sample Letter to Our Nation's Lead Policy Makers

(Washington, February 22, 2007) – Congress should adopt a 10-step plan to reverse the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies, a coalition of human rights, civil liberties and religious groups said in a letter sent today to the Congressional leadership.

First on the agenda is the restoration of access to courts for detainees to bring habeas corpus challenges – the age-old protection against the arbitrary exercise of executive power. Among other things, the coalition also calls on Congress to enact legislation that would stop renditions to torture; permanently ban the use of secret prisons; and prohibit the use in any adjudicative proceedings of evidence obtained through coercion and abusive interrogation practices, including in the newly authorized military commissions.

“For the last five years, the Bush administration has ignored the rule of law,” said Jennifer Daskal, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“It has authorized abusive interrogations, indefinite secret detention without charge, and rendition to torture – all practices Washington condemned when carried out by others.”

Congress should follow the 10 steps laid out in the letter, Human Rights Watch said. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is good policy – one that would restore the United States’ reputation as a nation that respects human rights and the rule of law.

“The new Congress now has the chance – and the mandate – to right the wrongs of the past five years and restore Washington’s moral authority at home and abroad,” said Daskal.

Ten Steps to Restore the United States' Moral Authority
A Common Sense Agenda for the 110th Congress

(1) Restore Habeas Corpus Perhaps the most important protection against the arbitrary exercise of executive power, the writ of habeas corpus ensures that all persons can challenge the legality of their detention before an independent court. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, as interpreted by the current administration, would deprive any non-citizen labeled “enemy combatant” of this centuries-old right. A vote to protect the habeas rights of detainees in US military custody lost in the Senate by just three votes in September. Restoring habeas corpus to ensure judicial review of detentions and provide an important independent check on executive power should be a first order of business for the new Congress.

(2) Stop Renditions to Torture The United States made great strides when, in 2005, it enacted the McCain Amendment prohibiting the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any US official acting anywhere in the world. Now the United States needs to get out of the business of outsourcing torture and ill- treatment to other countries. Congress should pass legislation to protect detainees in US custody from being transferred to abuse.

(3) Abolish Secret Prisons Although the US has long criticized other nations for engaging in forced disappearances – imprisoning people in secret – the Bush administration continues to assert the right to do so. While the administration claims to have emptied its secret CIA prisons for the time being, it has not ruled out their future use nor accounted for all the prisoners who are believed to have been secretly detained. Congress should pass legislation to ensure that the secret detention centers are shut down permanently and that no one in US custody is forcibly disappeared or otherwise held incommunicado. Congress should also demand an accounting of the whereabouts of all those formerly held in secret locations.

(4) Hold Abusers Accountable Although more than six hundred US military and civilian personnel have been implicated in hundreds of known instances of detainee abuse, including 25 cases where the detainee ultimately died, very few have been prosecuted. Only eleven service members have been sentenced for more than a year – all low-ranking; no one has been convicted on the basis of command responsibility; and only one civilian – a contractor to the CIA – has been prosecuted. Congress should demand that the Pentagon and Department of Justice vigorously prosecute those responsible for engaging in, authorizing or condoning detainee mistreatment, including those up the chain of command. This would deter future abuse and demonstrate to the world the US’s condemnation of such ill-treatment.

(5) Hold Fair Trials In October, the Congress authorized the use of military commissions to try non-citizen detainees in US military custody. The rules for these commissions raise serious concerns about the integrity and fairness of such trials. Of particular concern, the rules allow the use of coerced evidence and evidence obtained through cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if obtained before January 2006 and found “reliable” by a military judge, and also allow the government to withhold from defense lawyers information about how the evidence was obtained. As a result of these provisions, defendants could be convicted based on the wide array of so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques allegedly employed by the CIA – techniques including extended exposure to extreme cold, prolonged sleep deprivation, and “waterboarding” (mock drowning). Congress should amend these rules to ensure that detainees are not convicted – and possibly executed – based on evidence obtained through torture or other abusive treatment, are provided a fair opportunity to confront their accusers and are given a meaningful chance to gather and present evidence and witnesses.

(6) Prohibit Abusive Interrogations In the Military Commissions Act, Congress amended the War Crimes Act of 1996, specifying a list of eight “grave breaches” of the humane treatment requirements of the Geneva Conventions that constitute war crimes. Two of the primary authors of the Military Commissions Act, Senators John Warner and John McCain, have publicly stated that they intended to criminalize the abusive interrogation techniques allegedly used by the CIA in the past. But the administration continues to imply that it could continue the CIA secret detention program – and presumably the abusive interrogations that go with it. Congress should clarify that the full range of abusive interrogation techniques that have been prohibited for use by the military’s new field manual on interrogations are similar prohibited – and criminalized – if used by the CIA.

(7) Close Guantánamo Bay The US continues to hold close to 400 detainees in Guantanámo Bay, many of whom have been held for five years without charge and without access to court to challenge the legality of their detention. Those detainees who have engaged in terrorism-related crimes should be charged and held accountable; those who are not charged with criminal acts should be released. The administration should work with its allies to develop appropriate procedures in accordance with U.S. and international human rights and humanitarian obligations to ensure that detainees are not returned to countries where they face torture or abuse. Congress should hold oversight hearings about the future of Guantanamo, and push the administration to put forth a plan for its closure.

(8) Respect the Laws of War The US’s unilateral reinterpretation of the Geneva Conventions to support its questionable detention policies undermines respect for the rule of law around the world and puts US service members and civilians at risk if US’s policies and practices are adopted by others. Of particular concern, the US Congress in October enacted (in the Military Commissions Act) an overbroad definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” that turns a civilian munitions worker, a mother who provides food to her combatant son, and a US resident accused of giving money to a banned group into “combatants” who can be detained without charge in military custody or tried by a military court. The new Congress should strike this definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” and reaffirm the US’s longstanding commitment to the civilian – rather than military – courts to prosecute civilians who violate the law.

(9) Protect Victims of Persecution From Being Defined As Terrorists The United States will never be able to effectively fight terrorism if it cannot distinguish between terrorists and victims. Yet, overbroad terrorism-related bars in US immigration law are now being used to define innocent victims as terrorists – and denying them entry to the United States. Hmong and Montagnards are being labeled as terrorists solely because they took up arms alongside the United States during the Vietnam War. Rape victims who were forced into sexual slavery by West African rebel groups are being labeled “material supporters” of terrorism because they performed household chores while enslaved. Congress should adopt a reasonable definition of terrorism that does not equate victims with terrorists and define any armed group as terrorist, even if it does not target civilians.

(10) End Indefinite Detention Without Charge Ever since 9/11, the Bush administration has relied on a variety of means to detain individuals indefinitely and without charge. The material witness warrant law – a law that allows the government to temporarily detain key witnesses who pose credible flight risks – has been misused to detain dozens of terrorism-related suspects, some of whom were held for months without charge. Now, the administration is improperly invoking the “enemy combatant” label to justify the indefinite detention without charge of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a lawful US resident who since the eve of his trial for credit card fraud in 2003 has been held in a military brig in South Carolina. Congress should use its oversight authority and pass legislation that will prevent the administration from evading basic due process protections, and, in so doing, undermine respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

A Sample Letter to Policy Makers

Letter on the Ten Steps to Restore the United States' Moral Authority
A Common Sense Agenda for the 110th Congress

The Honorable Harry Reid
United States Senate
528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
United States Senate
361A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
United States House of Representatives
235 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable John Boehner
United States House of Representatives
1011 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
February 22, 2006

Dear Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Congressman Boehner:

Over the last several years, the moral authority of the United States has been undermined by the federal government’s unprecedented and illegal assertion of authority to subject detainees to abusive interrogations, indefinite detention without charge – often in secret locations – and rendition to torture.

The last Congress and the Supreme Court took some important steps to right these wrongs (with the passage of the McCain amendment and the Supreme Court’s rulings in the cases of Rasul and Hamdan).

But much remains to be done to restore America’s reputation as a champion of human rights and the rule of law. We have joined together to propose to Congress a
ten-step plan as a way forward.

Not only does this plan lay out the right thing to do, but it also sets forth an effective counterterrorism policy – one that ensures that the United States is holding the right people, promotes respect for the rule of law, and puts an end to policies and practices that undermine American interests at home and abroad.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to working with you to begin implementing these proposals.


Alliance for Justice
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International
Center for American Progress
Action Fund Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights Concerned Foreign Service Officers Friends Committee on National Legislation
Holy Name Province Franciscan, Office for Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Human Rights
First Human Rights Watch
Japanese American Citizens League
Liberty Coalition
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Open Society Policy Center
Physicians for Human Rights Presbyterian Church, (USA), Washington Office Rutherford Institute Unitarian Universalist Service Committee United Church of Christ,
Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society

1 comment:

Danny L. McDaniel said...

The damage is PERMENANTLY and IRREVERSABLE done. A 10 step program for recovering nations. We have it already, the United Nations. All the US has to do is compell to UN treaties and the Declaration of Human Rights.

Danny L. McDaniel
Lafayetyte, Indiana