US inspiring torture and ‘killing fields’
Observer and International Report
TUCSON, Ariz. –
The United States’ disregard for human rights is encouraging torture and dictators around the world, said representatives
at the Amnesty International USA Western Regional Conference.
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said around the world
people are celebrating killing because of what is now being considered justifiable by the United States.
Describing kidnappings, secret prisons and torture in Guantanamo Bay, Cox said, “The president
likes to call them ‘alternative techniques.’”
During the opening address at the convention, Cox said the United States is engaging in open defiance of international human rights law.
Further, Cox said the United
States is offering “comfort to dictators all over the world.”
There are no “exceptions” in the fundamental human rights guaranteed
to everyone in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said during the conference, Oct. 13 -- 15.
“When you start to make exceptions, you are on the road to the Holocaust.
are on the road to the killing fields,” Cox said.
Rallying against torture and inhumane conditions in prisons, Amnesty opposed
the United States’ practice of hiding
people in secret prisons.
Referring to the Military Commissions Act, Cox said “unlawful enemy combatants,”
is so broad that someone sitting in their house and writing a check could be declared an enemy combatant and held in a secret
Cox said, however, those in the human rights movement are empowered with a special
It is the “revolutionary idea of human rights.
“That is the weapon that we have.”
Recalling when the Amnesty movement was created, he said, “We had very
little idea of how powerful this idea is. Now we know how powerful this idea is. This idea has the power to open prison doors.
This idea has the power to shut down prison torture chambers.”
With the Senate passage of the Secure Fence Act, and plans to continue building
a border wall across the southern United States, Cox reflected the same
outrage that was expressed by Indigenous Peoples nearby, at the Border Summit of the Americas
in San Xavier, Ariz., two
Speaking of the revolutionary idea of human rights, Cox said, “This idea
has the power to shut down walls like this country is trying to build, walls like the Berlin Wall.”
There have been some changes for the better, he said, including the new Army
guidelines, which prohibit the use of dogs and hoods.
“Our actions have had consequences, and there have been positive ones.”
Cox said Amnesty continues with its efforts to halt massive human rights violations,
including massive killing and rapes in Congo and Dafur, and the systematic
violence against women, which reaches the level of murder in Juarez, Mexico,
“We have all those challenges still.”
Cox said, “This idea of human rights is now under attack like never before.
“We need everyone to see themselves as ambassadors for human rights.”
Cox pointed out that the America
that we live in began with the genocide of American Indians, the slavery of people from Africa
and denying the vote to women. It became the America
that now persecutes gay and lesbian people and wants to build a wall around this country.
However, Cox said it is important to believe in the America
that does not torture, the America that
once welcomed people from other countries.
He said it is important to believe in “the America that we have been fighting for all these years.”
During the workshops, torture survivor Adriana Portillo-Bartow of Guatemala described the life of trauma that followed the killing and disappearance of seven
members of her family, including two young children, in Guatemala.
She said the torture never ends.
“I am being tortured. I don’t know what happened to my children.”
“For survivors, it never gets easier.”
During the workshop, “Human Rights at the Border,” Angelita Reino
Ramon, Tohono O’odham, described how her son, 18-year-old Bennett Patricio, Jr., was ran over and killed by the Border
Patrol on tribal land in southern Arizona. The case against the Border Patrol is proceeding to the Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals. Patricio’s stepfather, Irvin Ramon, explained why the family believes the teenager was intentionally ran over
after walking upon Border Patrol agents in a transfer of items between two vehicles, in the predawn hours in the desert.
Shanti Seliz of the “No More Deaths” campaign, told how she was arrested
with Daniel Strauss while transporting three seriously ill migrants in the Arizona
desert for medical care. Seliz, arrested and incarcerated, described how migrants detention centers were kept very cold, about
35 degrees, with migrants shivering and given stale food, if any, while incarcerated. Border Patrol agents also made derogatory
remarks to migrant women detainees in Spanish, including calling them “cows.” Charges were recently dropped against
Seliz and Strauss.
Amnesty urged US citizens to speak out against the so-called “war on terror”
resulting in torture around the world.
During the conference, the Tucson School of Americas Watch announced ongoing
efforts to halt US sponsored torture. The Tucson SOA Watch said the Army Intelligence Training Center at Fort Huachuca in
southern Arizona educates military personnel in torture and these students go on to train people in torture around the world.
SOA Watch protesters will gather at the National Convergence at Fort
Benning, Georgia, Nov. 17 –19, to demand closure of the
infamous School of the Americas, which
trains officers from Latin American militaries. The graduates often carry out rapes, disappearances, torture, assassinations
and organize death squads and paramilitaries in their own countries.
Amnesty International USA student organizations revealed the desperate situations
of those being tortured and held in secret prisons around the world and Guantanamo
--Mohammad Haydar Zammar was disappeared at the hands of US government agents
in 2001. His family does not know whether he is dead or alive. It is believed that a Gulfstream jet used by the CIA, tail
number N379P, based in Smithfield, North Carolina, was used
to transport him to Syria. Other reports
suggest he has been repeatedly tortured, held in a tiny cell and is in “skeletal” condition.
--Maher Arar was flying home to Canada
from a family vacation in Tunisia in Sept. 2002, and never imagined he
would be arrested by the US as a suspected
terrorist. He was transferred to Syria
and remained in custody for nearly a year without being charged with a crime. He was severely beaten with an electrical cable
during six days of interrogation and eventually signed a false confession after being threatened with a torture device that
stretches the spine. After pressure from Canada,
he was released. His lawsuit against the US was dismissed by a US judge.
--Abdel Malik Abdel Wahab of Yemen
said he had his thumbs broken by US interrogators and subjected to more torture in Guantanamo
where he remains. He was interrogated by a Jordanian secret agent who beat him with a belt.
--Sami al-Hajj, Sudanese journalist, was a cameraman for al-Jazeera. He was taken
into custody and placed in US custody in Afghanistan.
For 16 days, he was physically tortured, had dogs set upon him and placed in a freezing cage in an aircraft hanger. He was
beaten and sexually abused by US soldiers. He was transferred to Guantanamo
Bay on June 13, 2002, where he remains. Guards shattered his kneecap
by stomping on his leg and he was refused rehabilitation treatment or a cane. There are no formal charges or allegations against
him. He has participated in a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.
--Omar Deghayes, a Libyan living in the United
Kingdom as a refugee, was married in Afghanistan.
He later fled to Pakistan when the war
broke out, with his wife and baby. Omar was arrested and tortured in Afghanistan’s
Bagram air base. He was subjected to numerous beatings, forced nudity, food deprivation, locked in a box with very little
air for prolonged periods and chained to a wall by his wrists. In Guantanamo By, he was sexually assaulted and blinded in
one eye by a guard who stuck his finger in his eye. He was placed in solitary confinement for more than eight months and threatened
with death by Libyan intelligence agents.
Amnesty International USA is urging US citizens to write US authorities and state that detainees must be given fair
trials that meet international fair trial standards or released unconditionally. Further, Amnesty urges independent investigations
of torture claims from those held in US custody and that abusers found responsible be brought to justice.
Amnesty is urging US authorities not to return any person being held to countries
where human rights are violated. Amnesty is calling for the closure of Guantanamo
Bay. Further, Amnesty is calling for all other “war on terror”
detention facilities be opened to external scrutiny.