Censored Blog Brenda Norrell 2004 --2006

Amnesty: US torture

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"No human being is illegal"
Photo Brenda Norrell

Amnesty: US inspiring torture and ‘killing fields’


By Brenda Norrell

UN 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.

“You 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 prison.

   Cox said, however, those in the human rights movement are empowered with a special weapon.

   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 weeks ago.

   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, and Guatemala.

   “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 Bay:

   --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.