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HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY IN IRAN

Posted by Admin on January 30, 2011

Table of contents:

1.      Introduction;

2.      Outline;

3.      Limitations of this study;

4.      The road to democracy;

5.      Democracy in Iran;

6.       Human rights in Iran;

7.      Conclusion.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

1. Introduction:

This paper looks at human rights and democracy in Iran in the wake of political reforms being implemented there since the late 1980’s/early 90’s. It proceeds on the important premise that before preparing a marks sheet on Iran’s progress in these two areas, it is necessary to bear in mind that these two concepts have a unique dimension shaped by a chain of events that ushered them in Iran. It would not make much sense to make sweeping and generalised statements about democracy and human rights, essentially Western concepts, when they are applied in one of the world’s oldest civilisations, in which an Islamic form of government is very much at the centre of power. “In Iran as in other Muslim countries, paths to human rights lie within Islam, to the extent that dialogue can grow between traditionalists and innovators” (Gustafson & Juviler, 1999, p. 9). Any discourse on democracy and human rights in Iran has to be understood in relation to the country’s circumstance, which is that the reform movement, which tried to infuse these ideas into the country, was basically a reaction to the failure of the Revolution to sustain the goal it sought to achieve in the face of the changing dynamics in international relations in the post-Gulf War and Iran –Iraq war. Thus, one has to understand that there exists a unique paradigm for democracy and human rights in Iran, which is at variance from what the West broadly perceives as universal values for all mankind. Keeping this consideration in mind, this paper looks at the progress made on these two fronts, guaranteeing and denying which is the leitmotif of the opposing camps, the reformists and the conservatives, respectively.

2. Outline:

This paper takes off by detailing how democracy has been introduced in stages. The most striking feature of this country’s process of democratisation has been the reluctance of the ruling establishment to give in to the moderates, who have sought to implement democracy. Thus, the study of the democratisation of Iran has been chiefly characterised by the tussles that have been taking place in the country’s political establishment between those who want to introduce democracy and those who want to abort it. Hence, a considerable portion of this paper is devoted to sketching the long series of battles in the war between the reformists and the conservatives. Human rights in Iran, an offshoot of attempts at launching democracy, and its corollary, are detailed here. Mention is made of the efforts at bettering human rights in the country by Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi. Finally, this paper offers its conclusions, in which it tries to prognosticate prospects and pitfalls for democracy and human rights in the country.

3. Limitations of this study:

A complete study of the actual progress made in the transition of the political system in any country would be truly comprehensive and complete if one were to keep one’s ears to the ground; in the absence of this factor, this paper relies heavily on the writings of opinion-makers emanating from that country. This is not to doubt their authenticity, but most of these opinion makers have their own agendas to carry out, and as such, their objectivity is not indubitable. A thorough and objective study is best arrived at by measuring the impact of democracy and human rights at the grassroots level. In the absence of this exercise, this paper is prone to get swayed by the (at times) emotive nature of the sources from which it bases its study. In other words, the most objective and scholarly work on human rights and democracy in Iran would be one that is seen from Iranian, not Western or Western-oriented eyes, a requirement not met by this paper. Some attention is given to reports of human rights violations from Amnesty International, whose objectivity has never been proven.

Another important shortfall of this paper is that it looks at human rights in Iran only from the time the new regime has taken power, i.e., after the death of the Ayatollah, who led the Revolution. Although gross human rights violations took place during the time the Revolution installed an Islamic-type government and the Shah’s regime it overthrew, this paper does not look at those, and chooses the period from the start of the new regime, only because this is when democratisation started in the political system. Finally, since the two are closely interrelated, there may be some overlaps in describing the events pertaining to these two. Another very important aspect to be borne in mind is that this paper was written just a few weeks prior to the presidential election of 2005, when the tussles between the conservatives and moderates were at their peak. The result of this election has not been reflected in this paper.

4. The road to democracy:

The reform movement in Iran, which has been spearheading the implementation of democracy and human rights in the country, was born in the wake of the failure of the Revolution to spread benefits to the masses. (Kazemi, 2003) Although the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was an event whose importance has deeply impacted modern Iranian history, ironically, the country’s two earlier revolutions, those of 1906 and 1953, took place for the furtherance of democracy. (Momayesi, 2000, p. 41) They resulted in the establishment of monarchies. The latest revolution, the root of the current tussle for democratisation, at first was followed by major international political and economic problems. (Wright, 1996) The Revolution took place in very violent circumstances, whose culmination was the overthrow of the corrupt, unflinchingly pro-Western Shah. (Seliktar, 2000, p. 73-90) For all the tumult and convulsion that major event precipitated, the direct effect it produced, that of total Islamic rule, lasted no more than a little over a decade. The regime had to soon slowly either abandon or dilute some of its core ideals. This was due to the variety of unforeseen changes that unfurled on the international scene. One of the ideals that had to inevitably become a product of the changed situation was democracy. “In the 1990s, several factors contributed to the intensification of the debate over democracy and democratic institutions in Iranian society. These include the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, the disillusionment of a substantial portion of Iranian society with government policies, especially in the areas of liberty and individual rights, the imposition of more restrictions over freedom, and authoritarian infringement of people’s constitutional rights. The advocates of reformist Islam launched afresh a campaign to promote democratic values in government and society.” (Momayesi, 2000, p. 41) The first concrete step towards the latest round of democratisation was the elevation of the moderate reformist, Hashemi Rafsanjani from Speaker of the parliament, the Majlis, to the office of the president in 1989. Rafsanjani had assumed office at a time when “…the struggle to determine the true revolutionary path had entered a new phase, involving major policy reevaluation”. (Ayalon, 1995, p. 317)

5. Democracy in Iran:

To undo the highly ensconced politico- religious system in a matter of two presidential terms was no easy task. After the end of his two four- year terms, the mantle of presidency now passed on to his successor and like-minded reformist, Mohammed Khatami, who “…emphasized the country’s need for national unity, respect for the law and civil rights, the creation of a vibrant civil society, and the eradication of poverty.” (Amuzegar, 1998, p. 76) His efforts at reform of the political system, aimed at bringing about democracy were well received at first, as they were representative of the change the people were yearning for. (Yasin, 2002) Initially, Khatami seemed to have taken off from where his predecessor had left. He enjoyed massive support from the least thinkable constituencies in the earlier theocratic regime –youth and women. One of the most drastic changes he sought to implement was in the area of religious governance; he went about altering the structure of the clergy, something that was unimaginable earlier. Changes were implemented in some of the most important institutions, such as those of the supreme leader, the Faqih, the presidency, the judiciary and the Majlis. Khatami carried out amendments to the 1979 Islamic constitution, which had come into effect because of the Revolution. Dictated by the need of the hour, brought about by the death of the architect of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, one of the most tangible steps towards democratisation of the ruling clergy was “…a significant revision in the qualifications for the holder of this omnipotent office. The all-important and stringent religious qualifications were reduced.” (Kazemi, 2003)

After Khatami’s re-election in 2001 with a reduced majority, the pace of democratic reform lost some of its earlier tempo. The opposition to his democratisation process has been growing steadily, especially since the hardliner conservatives have enjoyed greater numerical superiority in the Majlis. The hardliners have stepped up the ante in opposition to the various reforms he has initiated. With a greater say in the Majlis, they have intensified their opposition to Khatami’s reforms. “Khatami’s victory ushered great hope for progress toward democratisation and reform of the rigid political system. This hope has been largely dashed as the conservative supporters of the Islamic Republic have prevented meaningful political reform…[t]he forces of opposition to Khatami are made up of a disparate but powerful set of institutions and actors with entrenched political, economic and ideological interests. While cognizant of Khatami’s massive electoral victories and popular support, they can find other means of thwarting his reform agenda, through the country’s major institutions” (Kazemi, 2003) Another area of discomfort for Khatami has been in the constituency on whose back he rode to power –students. Their earlier support for him dissipated when he tried to implement a major reform– privatisation of universities. Protests by student bodies at this proposal spilled on to the streets, in the form of massive demonstrations against the president as well as the clergy, on two occasions, once in July 1999, and on the fourth anniversary of this event.  (“Student Heroes Take on,” 2003, p. 23)

In another important round of their row, in February 2004, the conservatives gained an upper hand, disqualifying 2300 candidates belonging to the reformist camp from general elections later that year. With the conservatives gaining a comfortable majority in these elections, the process of democratisation has suffered a major setback, with the presidency, at that time being the only reformist position in the government. (Deccan Herald, 23rd Feb. 2004, p.8) In the words of US president Bush, “[s]uch measures undermine the rule of law and are clear attempts to deny the Iranian people’s desire to freely choose their leaders.” (The Washington Times, 25th Feb. 2004, p. A15.) Yet another major setback to democratisation has opened up as recently as on May 22, 2005, with barely a month to go for the presidential elections slated for June 17, 2005. The Council of Guardians barred from standing in the election the reformist camp’s candidate for president, Mostafa Moin. Additionally, in the same breath, it disqualified each and every of the 89 women candidates saying women are unfit to lead the country. Even as the reformists cried hoarse at the move, saying it has amounted to a coup d’ etat, and saying this move undermines the spirit of election to the presidency in that it would virtually amount to having an appointed president, one silver lining for the reformist camp is that of the six candidates allowed to contest the presidential election out of the 1014 who threw their hat in the ring, one is Hashemi Rafsanjani himself. The other consolation is that they have control over the Interior Ministry. (The Hindu, 24th May 2005, p.10)

6. Human rights in Iran:

Despite the avowed aim of the reformists in Iran to bring about democracy and respect for human rights, there are everyday occurrences of incidents in which amputations and floggings are commonplace, and pregnant women and children are routinely executed. (The Washington Post, 5th January 2005, p. A12)

If the reformists and the conservatives are united over one issue, it is their antipathy to any reference to human rights in the country. They are unanimous and vehement in their opinion that America is seeking to use international human rights organisations to criticise Iranian human rights. They believe that the US is trying to establish its hegemony by interfering with the internal affairs of strategically important countries such as Iran. They accuse the Americans of being selective in their criticism of human rights violations in different countries. (Karabell, 2000, pp. 212) The Iranian government allowed the Red Cross and the UN to inspect the country’s human rights situation in 1990 for the first time in its history. (Kamminga, 1992, p. 99) The Red Cross and the UN had reported that 113,000 women had been arrested in Teheran alone either for improperly wearing their headdress or for moral corruption; the UN had also reported an increase in executions, suppression of minorities and the press, and summary executions of anti-government demonstrators. (Mohaddessin, 1993, p. 142) The government reacted very angrily when America accused the Iranian government of expelling the members of the Red Cross on grounds of complicity with America. It came out heavily against the Human Rights Commission envoy. When the topic was reinvigorated in 1996, reflecting the general opinion in the country, an editorial in the Teheran Times said:

“Criteria for human rights are respected by everyone; however, any judgement on the situation of human rights in a country should be harmonious with the nation’s culture, religion and traditions. The special envoy should not surrender to direct and indirect pressures from the United States and other Western powers, whose aims are to use human rights as a leverage against Iran…”(Karabell, 2000, pp. 212, 213) Arguments and counter arguments between human rights organizations and the government continue with regularity.

The confrontation between the conservatives and reformists in the Majlis has also contributed to violations of human rights: Khatami’s reform of the clergy was based on the idea of undermining the six-member ‘Council of Guardians’, a powerful clerical body in the power structure of the ruling elite by exposing their corruption.  This earned him the scorn of those in power: this Council hit back by hounding his aides, who were seen as moderates. Hojjat-al-Islam Mohsin Kadivar, a well-known liberal writer, Gholam-Hussein Karbaschi, the then mayor of Teheran and Abdollah Nouri, the former interior minister, were among those in the reformist camp that the conservative clerics persecuted. The leftist, pro-Khatami newspaper, Salam, also suffered a similar fate, and was forced to close down. This brought students to the streets in support of Khatami on July 9, 1999. To quell this mob, the police had to open fire; Khatami thus unwittingly ended up antagonising the very constituency that took to the streets to support him. (Sardar, 1999)

Amnesty International, in its report on human rights violations in Iran came out with some scathing observations, which it attributes to the feud between the reformists and the conservatives. Its summary reads thus: “Scores of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continued to serve sentences imposed in previous years following unfair trials. Scores more were arrested in 2003, often arbitrarily and many following student demonstrations. At least a dozen political prisoners arrested during the year were detained without charge, trial or regular access to their families and lawyers. Judicial authorities curtailed freedoms of expression, opinion and association, including of ethnic minorities; scores of publications were closed, Internet sites were filtered and journalists were imprisoned. At least one detainee died in custody, reportedly after being beaten. During the year the pattern of harassment of political prisoners’ family members re-emerged. At least 108 executions were carried out, including of long-term political prisoners and frequently in public. At least four prisoners were sentenced to death by stoning while at least 197 people were sentenced to be flogged and 11 were sentenced to amputation of fingers and limbs. The true numbers may have been considerably higher.”(Amnesty International, Report 2004)

A look at the field of human rights in Iran would be incomplete without a mention of the efforts of the Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi. Her efforts have been primarily focussed on the improvement of human rights in the areas concerning women and children in over the past three decades. Inspired to work for the improvement of human rights in her country following her demotion under the Revolution from the position as the country’s first woman judge, she believes that guaranteeing human rights in an Islamic society is not at all impossible. The two are never incompatible, she feels, saying that the important question is not the law of Islamic jurisprudence, the Shariat in itself, but its interpretation. Some of her major accomplishments have been the victories she has secured in getting important reforms done to the family law, the legal age at which girls can marry, and the rights of illegitimate children. Another significant victory of hers in improving human rights in Iran has been in pressurising the government to reveal the identities of the student demonstrators that were killed in the police violence of July 9, 1999. (Lancaster, 2003)

7.      Conclusion:

The road to democracy and human rights continues to be bumpy in Iran, so long as the tussle for supremacy continues within the Majlis between the conservatives and the moderates.  Seen in the overall sense, the speed of change towards democracy has been rather slow-paced.

This is perhaps understandable in an ancient country in which till recently, authoritarianism was so pervasive that most of the country’s resources were held by a thousand or so families. (Lytle, 1987, p. 1) Another major reason for democracy to take more than the expected time to gain ground in feudalistic societies such as Iran is that by its very nature, it cannot be planted violently in the system, in the way the Revolution of 1979 was. If it were to supplant the existing system and take its place by coercion, that would have to be done by adopting undemocratic means, thus defeating its very nature and ending up being an oxymoron!

Seen in this overall sense of the country’s difficult path to democratisation, despite the relative slowness being taken for democratisation to take root, there is still a lot of scope for optimism, as this observation by Momayesi (2000) best sums up the situation: “It is perhaps appropriate to view the current situation as an ongoing, step-by-step struggle and conflict over reform, rather than simply a stagnation under the grip of vested conservative clerical interests. It is evident that Iran shows some signs of movement toward a stable constitutional definition of governmental powers and processes. It seems more apt to see the glass of freedom in Iran as half full rather than half empty… [w]e must think in terms of a long march rather than a simple transition to democracy. Democracy and human rights must be adapted to suit countries with a distinctive culture and experiences, rather than simply being transplanted from existing democracies, East or West. The diversity and the range of democratization alongside persistent authoritarianism sometimes gets lost in the selective media coverage of Islamic Iran. But new freedoms pose difficult challenges to the most capable of leaders everywhere.” (Momayesi, 2000, p. 41) Thus, “…democracy, an element external or internal to Islam, was originally planted in the foundations of Islamism and is emerging, although extremely slowly, as a far more potent element of the Iranian revolution than it had been.” (Usman, 2002)

Having said this, the picture for human rights may not be as rosy: the crackdown on human rights is a major setback to the government, negating as it does important moves to draw foreign investment that the country can ill-afford to forego. For instance, prior to the moves by the conservatives in February 2004, some leading companies, such as the French car giant, Renault, the Turkish communications giant, Turkcell, and some Japanese companies, which would develop the country’s oil fields at an eventual cost of some $ 2 billion, were in the process of investing huge amounts in the economy, which was opened up for the first time since the Revolution. These actions by the government place the investors under pressure to withdraw, as they would not like to be seen to be investing in tyrannical governments. They also throw the intentions of the government in doubt, as they prompt the foreign investors to pack their baggage. (The Washington Times, 25th Feb. 2004, p. A15.)

Unfortunately, it often happens in Iran that for the hardened attitudes of the clergy, it is the moderates who take the blame. Their attempts to undo the years of reactionary policies are often frowned at. For instance, the Second of Khordad, a reformist party that is seen as Khatami’s most important aide, along with its close allies, has been all for “…economic liberalization and privatization, as well as increased personal freedoms, including those of women, and have criticized the corruption and arbitrary power of the ruling clerics. But the front has been unable to implement policies that would address the country’s high unemployment rate or the high poverty rate (40 percent). Reformers have been unable to improve the lot of most Iranians, either because they have been blocked by conservative clerics or because they do not make bread-and-butter issues their top priority.” (Cole, 2004, p. 7)

A major test of the triumph or defeat of democracy would be the presidential elections scheduled for June 17, 2005. Its victors would play a decisive role in shaping the democratic process in the country. A sustained effort at this would be necessary for further democratisation and furtherance of human rights if the moderates were to come to power. But if they have to continue the process Rafsanjani and Khatami have set in motion, there would have to be installed a new reformist president who has considerable freedom to implement the reforms; or else, he too, would go the Khatami way, forever fettered by a conservative parliament.

On the other hand, should the conservatives pull off another coup and get one of their own elected as president, that would almost certainly neutralise all the efforts at democratisation and furtherance of human rights that have been taking place till now. Whether Iran would emerge as a champion of democracy and human rights or go back to being an inheritor of a theocratic government brought about by violent revolution, only the upcoming presidential elections would say. If the upper hand the conservatives have been gaining till now in its tiff with the moderates is any indication, the second scenario seems to have a slightly higher chance of materialising.

Written By Ravindra G Rao

References

 

 

Amnesty International, Report 2004. Available: http://web.amnesty.org/report2004/Irn-summary-eng (Accessed 2005, May 25)

 

Amuzegar, J.,1998, Khatami’s Iran, One Year Later. Middle East Policy, Vol. 6, No.2, 76-94.

 

Ayalon, A. (Ed.), 1995, Middle East Contemporary Survey: 1993, Vol. 17, Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

 

Cole, J., Iran’s Tainted Elections. The Nation, Vol. 278, No. 7. (2004, March 1) Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Gustafson, C. & Juviler, P. (Eds.). 1999, Competing Claims? Competing Claims? M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY.

 

2004. “Hard-Liners Face Hurdles in New Iran; despite Poll Win, Options Limited” The Washington Times (Washington , USA) February 25, 2004, p. A15.

2004. “Conservative ‘coup’” Deccan Herald (Bangalore, India) February 23, 2004, p.8.

2005. “Guardian Council’s move a coup d’ etat: reformers” The Hindu (Bangalore, India) May 24, 2005, p.10.

2005,.”Risks of Appeasing Iran’s Mullahs”, The Washington Times (Washington, USA)2005,  January 5, p. A12. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Kamminga, M. T.,1992, Inter-State Accountability for Violations of Human Rights, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

 

Karabell, Z.,2000, 8 “Iran and Human Rights”. In Human Rights and Comparative Foreign Policy /, Forsythe, D. P. (Ed.) (pp. 206-221), United Nations University Press, New York.

 

Kazemi, F., 2003, The Precarious Revolution: Unchanging Institutions and the Fate of Reform in Iran Iranian Politics Is a System Made by the Clerics for the Clerics, and for Their Supporters Who Possess a near Monopoly on the Spoils of the Revolution and the Country’s Resources. Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 57, No.1, p. 81+. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Lancaster, P., “A Worthy Winner: The News That Iran’s Shirin Ebadi Was the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Came as a Surprise to Many, Not Least the Peace Laureate Herself”, The Middle East, , November 2003, p. 32+. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Lytle, M. H..1987, The Origins of the Iranian-American Alliance, 1941-1953, Holmes & Meier, New York.

 

Mohaddessin, M.,1993,  Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat, Seven Locks Press, Washington, DC.

 

Momayesi, N., 2000, “Iran’s Struggle for Democracy”, International Journal on World Peace, Vol. 17, No.4, p.41. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Sardar, Z., “Iranians Hold a Dress Rehearsal for Revolution”. New Statesman, 1999, July 26, Vol. 128, p.12+. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Seliktar, O.,2000, Failing the Crystal Ball Test: The Carter Administration and the Fundamentalist Revolution in Iran, Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT

 

“Student Heroes Take on Mullahs; the Pro-Democracy Movement in Iran Continues to Gather Momentum despite the Ruthless Tactics Employed by the Ruling Islamic Theocracy to Hold on to Power”,  July 22, 2003. Insight on the News, No. 23. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Usman, J., 2002, “The Evolution of Iranian Islamism from the Revolution through the Contemporary Reformers” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol.35, No. 5, p. 1679+. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Wright, R., 1996 Summer, “Dateline Tehran: A Revolution Implodes”, Foreign Policy, p.161+. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

 

Yasin, T.,2002, “Knocked off Axis? Iranian Reform Challenged” Harvard International Review, Vol. 24, No.2, p.12+. Retrieved May 25, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

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Guantanamo Closure Recedes Into Distance

Posted by Admin on December 26, 2010

Thursday 23 December 2010

by: Jim Lobe   | Inter Press Service | Report

Guantanamo Closure Recedes Into Distance
Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s Camp Delta. (Photo: Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Nistas)

Washington – President Barack Obama’s hopes of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility appear as far from being realised as ever in the wake of new legislation approved by Congress this week.

Wednesday’s approval by the Senate of an amendment banning the use of Pentagon funds for 2011 to transfer detainees at Guantanamo, the U.S. naval base on Cuba, to the United States or its territories appears to guarantee that the facility will remain open for business at least through next September.

The House of Representatives, which passed a similar provision last week, is expected to quickly approve the Senate version.

Despite the administration’s objections, the amendment is unlikely to be vetoed by Obama. It was strongly denounced by human rights groups that have campaigned for Guantanamo’s closure since it first began receiving detainees allegedly captured in what became the George W. Bush administration‘s “global war on terror” in 2002.

At its height, it held more than 700 terrorist suspects. The facility currently holds 174 prisoners of whom 90 – most of them Yemenis – have reportedly been cleared for repatriation, and 36 are due to be prosecuted in federal courts, although, with the Senate action, that plan may now be in jeopardy.

The remaining 48 are being held indefinitely without trial because evidence of their past ties to terrorist groups is unlikely to be admissible in a court – in some cases, due to its acquisition by torture – and because the government believes that they would return to such activities if they were released.

“Today’s vote will only serve to further erode the U.S. government’s human rights record and hamper the administration’s ability to bring terrorism suspects to justice,” said Vienna Colucci, a senior policy advisor at the U.S. section of Amnesty International (AIUSA) shortly after the Senate attached the amendment to the 2011 defence authorisation bill.

“This law will also effectively prevent the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, prolonging a human rights scandal whose closure national security and foreign policy experts agree is essential to improve U.S. counter-terrorism efforts and mend the international standing of the United States,” she added.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also assailed the bill, noting that it will effectively prevent detainees, such as alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from being tried in civilian courts has said he intends to do.

Calling the Senate’s action a “reckless and irresponsible affront to the rule of law”, Tom Malinowski, the head of HRW’s Washington office charged that “Congress has denied the president the only legally sustainable and globally legitimate means to incarcerate terrorists.”

The amendment’s attachment to the defence bill – which authorises the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars by the Pentagon next year – comes on the heels of a report by the investigative group Pro Publica and the Washington Post that the administration is drafting an executive order that would set up a system to periodically review the cases of Guantanamo prisoners under indefinite detention without trial.

Unlike the Bush administration’s military-run “annual review boards” – the now-defunct mechanism used to assess whether such detainees could be safely repatriated – the draft plan reportedly would establish review panels whose members would be drawn from a number of different government agencies.

In addition, detainees would be represented by attorneys and gain greater access to the evidence compiled by the government against them than was the case under Bush’s review boards, which were denounced by human rights and civil liberties groups as flagrant violations of elemental due process.

While praising some of the proposed changes, some of those same groups have expressed serious reservations about the reported plan.

Noting that an executive order, which can easily be modified or lifted, was preferable to a law enacted by Congress, Elisa Massimino, the director of Human Rights First said any preventive detention regime – whether administrative or legislative – “pose(s) a serious threat to fundamental rights and are no substitute for criminal justice”.

“Reliance on indefinite detention as a path of least resistance is part of how we ended up in the Guantanamo mess in the first place,” she said.

“Where credible evidence exists against Guantanamo detainees, they should be charged and prosecuted under our criminal justice system,” added Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She noted that federal courts have successfully completed hundreds of trials of suspected terrorists over the past decade.

During his press conference Wednesday, Obama himself stressed that he still hoped to close Guantanamo, calling it “probably the number one recruitment tool” used by al Qaeda and other “jihadist organisations”.

“One of the toughest problems is what to do with people that we know are dangerous, that …have engaged in terrorist activity, are proclaimed enemies of the United States, but because of the manner in which they were originally captured, the circumstances right after 9/11 in which they (were) interrogated, it becomes difficult to try them whether in an Article III court or in a military commission,” he went on, adding, “Releasing them at this stage could potentially create greater danger for the American people.”

“The bottom line is that striking this balance between our security and making sure that we are consistent with our values and our Constitution is not an easy task, but ultimately that’s what’s required for practical reasons,” he said.

The result, according to Adam Serwer, writing on a Washington Post blog, “is basically what we’ve come to expect from the Obama administration on security and civil liberties. Having promised to reverse the trajectory of Bush-era national security policies, Obama has settled on making them marginally more lawful and humane.”

“It’s not nothing, but it’s not what Obama promised,” he added.

Meanwhile, however, the Senate action prompted much greater concern among rights groups because it appears to rule out both Guantanamo’s closure over the next year and the possibility that detainees held there will be tried in the federal courts.

That leaves the much-criticised, error-plagued military commissions, which have successfully prosecuted only five cases in the last eight years, as the only tribunal where detainees can be tried.

Attorney General Eric Holder had strongly opposed the amendment, arguing in a statement released earlier this month that it would “tak(e) away one of our most potent weapons in the fight against terrorism”.

In addition to banning the transfer onto U.S. territory of any Guantanamo detainees, the amendment forbids the government from transferring them to another country unless the defence secretary certifies that such a transfer will not jeopardise U.S. security.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read athttp://www.lobelog.com.

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American Hypocrisy: Destruction of the Constitution, Collapse of the Rule of Law

Posted by Admin on November 17, 2010

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...
Covert Interventionist

Agency

by Paul Craig Roberts

Global Research, November 15, 2010

Ten years of rule by the Bush and Obama regimes have seen the collapse of the rule of law in the United States. Is the American media covering this ominous and extraordinary story?  No the American media is preoccupied with the rule of law in Burma (Myanmar).

The military regime that rules Burma just released from house arrest the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The American media used the occasion of her release to get on Burma’s case for the absence of the rule of law. I’m all for the brave lady, but if truth be known, “freedom and democracy” America needs her far worse than does Burma.

I’m not an expert on Burma, but the way I see it the objection to a military government is that the government is not accountable to law.  Instead, such a regime behaves as it sees fit and issues edicts that advance its agenda.  Burma’s government can be criticized for not having a rule of law, but it cannot be criticized for ignoring its own laws. We might not like what the Burmese government does, but, precisely speaking, it is not behaving illegally.

In contrast, the United States government claims to be a government of laws, not of men, but when the executive branch violates the laws that constrain it, those responsible are not held accountable for their criminal actions.  As accountability is the essence of the rule of law, the absence of accountability means the absence of the rule of law.

The list of criminal actions by presidents Bush and Obama, Vice President Cheney, the CIA, the NSA, the US military, and other branches of the government is long and growing.  For example, both president Bush and vice president Cheney violated US and international laws against torture. Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union responded to Bush’s recent admission that he authorized torture with calls for a criminal investigation of Bush’s crime.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the ACLU reminded the US Department of Justice (sic) that “a nation committed to the rule of law cannot simply ignore evidence that its most senior leaders authorized torture.”

Rob Freer of Amnesty International said that Bush’s admission “to authorizing acts which constitute torture under international law” and which constitute “a crime under international law,” puts the US government “under obligation to investigate and to bring those responsible to justice.”

The ACLU and Amnesty International do not want to admit it, but the US government shed its commitment to the rule of law a decade ago when the US launched its naked aggression–war crimes under the Nuremberg standard–against Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of lies and deception.

The US government’s contempt for the rule of law took another step when President Bush violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and had the National Security Agency bypass the FISA court and spy on Americans without warrants. The New York Times is on its high horse about the rule of law in Burma, but when a patriot revealed to the Times that Bush was violating US law, the Times’ editors sat on the leak for one year until after Bush was safely re-elected.

Holder, of course, will not attempt to hold Bush accountable for the crime of torture. Indeed, Assistant US Attorney John Durham has just cleared the CIA of accountability for its crime of destroying the videotape evidence of the US government’s illegal torture of detainees, a felony under US law.

Last February Cheney said on ABC’s This Week that “I was a big supporter of waterboarding.” US law has always regarded waterboarding as torture. The US government executed WW II Japanese for waterboarding American POWs.  But Cheney has escaped accountability, which means that there is no rule of law.

Vice president Cheney’s office also presided over the outing of a covert CIA agent, a felony. Yet, nothing happened to Cheney, and the underling who took the fall had his sentence commuted by president Bush.

President Obama has made himself complicit in the crimes of his predecessor by refusing to enforce the rule of law. In his criminality, Obama has actually surpassed Bush. Bush is the president of extra-judicial torture, extra-judicial detention, extra-judicial spying and invasions of privacy, but Obama has one-upped Bush.  Obama is the president of extra-judicial murder.

Not only is Obama violating the sovereignty of an American ally, Pakistan, by sending in drones and special forces teams to murder Pakistani civilians, but in addition Obama has a list of American citizens whom he intends to murder without arrest, presentation of evidence, trial and conviction.

The most massive change brought by Obama is his assertion of the right of the executive branch to murder whomever it wishes without any interference from US and international law. The world has not seen such a criminal government as Obama’s since Joseph Stalin’s and Hitler’s.

On November 8, the US Department of Justice (sic) told federal district court judge John Bates that president Obama’s decision to murder American citizens is one of “the very core powers of the president.” Moreover, declared the Justice (sic) Department, the murder of American citizens is a “political question” that is not subject to judicial review.

In other words, federal courts exist for one purpose only–to give a faux approval to executive branch actions.

If truth be known, there is more justice in Burma under the military regime than in the USA. The military regime put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in her own home.
The military regime did not throw her into a dungeon and rape and torture her under cover of false allegations and indefinite detention without charges. Moreover, the military “tyrants” released her either as a sign of good will or under pressure from international human rights groups, or some combination of the two.

If only comparable good will existed in the US government or pressure from international human rights groups had equal force in America as in Burma.

But, alas, in America macho tough guys approve the virtual strip search of their wives and daughters by full body scanners and the grouping by TSA thugs of three-year old children screaming in terror.

Unlike in Burma, where Aung San Suu Kyi fights for human rights, the sheeple in Amerika submit to the total invasion of their privacy and to the total destruction of their civil liberties for no other reason than they are brain dead and believe without any evidence that they are at the mercy of “terrorists” in far distant lands who have no armies, navies, or air forces and are armed only with AK-47s and improvised explosive devices.

The ignorant population of the “Great American Superpower,” buried in fear propagated by a Ministry of Truth, has acquiesced in the total destruction of the US Constitution and their civil liberties.

Sheeple such as these have no respect anywhere on the face of the earth.

Paul Craig Roberts is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Paul Craig Roberts

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