Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: human rights (page 1 of 3)

The US government attempts to justify targeted killings

Today Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech in which he explained why the US government asserts that it has the right to assassinate suspected terrorists overseas, even if they are US citizens. I urge you to read the recap of the speech.

How does Holder justify the government’s logic? This way:

This is an indicator of our times, not a departure from our laws and our values.

My fundamental problem with the Bush administration was that it chose to put aside the rule of law in pursuing the so-called “war on terror.” My greatest disappointment in the Obama administration has been seeing it continue and even expand some of the worst practices of the Bush administration. As others have pointed out, the decision to do so has cemented these practices as national policy.

I commend the Attorney General for coming out and offering a justification for this decision, even if I disagree with it completely. I’ll be voting for Barack Obama this fall, and I imagine that a lot of readers of this blog will be as well, but it will be in spite of his policies in the war on terror, not because of them.

How did Egypt drop off the Internet?

BGPmon.net looks at Egypt leaving the Internet. There was some speculation as to whether the government of Egypt had some sort of central kill switch they could use to shut down the Internet, but it appears as though the ISPs are shutting down individually at the request of the government.

Our abandonment of the rule of law will continue

Yesterday a federal court acquitted one of the men accused of the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya of 11 of 12 charges against him, including every charge of murder. He was convicted on one charge of conspiracy, which carries a sentence of 20 years to life. He probably would have been found guilty on more charges had the judge not ruled out all evidence and testimony obtained through the use of torture. Needless to say, plenty of people are arguing that this illustrates the flaws of trying terrorists in civilian court, rather than the problems inherent in torturing accused criminals in a society that claims to operate under the rule of law.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, this was a show trial anyway, since the President claims the right to continue to imprison prisoners like Ahmed Ghailani under the laws of war, regardless of the outcome of their trial. So we convicted him, but we weren’t going to release him no matter what.

I think the question many people who care about civil liberties ask themselves is how we got here. We knew that the entire post-9/11 era was utterly lawless under the Bush administration, but we can all remember that Barack Obama promised to change all that when he became President. After two years of an Obama presidency, we now know that very little has changed.

Yesterday I read GQ’s profile of Attorney General Eric Holder. The writer seeks to understand how Holder could go from principled defender of civil liberties to being an active participant in the continuation of the abuses of the Bush administration. In the end the article shows how choices made in the past restrict the options that are available today.

That’s not to excuse Eric Holder or Barack Obama. They’ve chosen to abandon the principles they once defended. It is to say that our problems are much bigger any particular person, even if they’re the President. Eric Holder’s choice is to compromise or resign. The options available to Barack Obama are to compromise or to throw away everything else he may want to accomplish as President.

Nearly the entire mechanism of federal government became invested in indefinite detention without charges, torture, and the exclusion of captives from civilian courts, and so the resistance to changing those practices and admitting fault is comprehensive. Congress refused to fund the effort to shut down Gitmo. Career lawyers at the Justice Department are resistant to any efforts to punish their current and former colleagues who conjured up the legal justifications for torture and indefinite detention. The military has never welcomed accountability to civilian authorities for wartime conduct. Most importantly, most voters don’t seem to much care about any of the abuses that have occurred.

The Eric Holder profile mentions guidelines for trying detainees that seem reasonable to me, assuming that in both cases, the pre-War on Terror rules of procedure and evidence are followed:

The guidelines that emerged from the task force last summer erected clear rules: If the crime is committed against a civilian target on U.S. soil, the case goes to civilian court; if the crime is against U.S. troops overseas, the case goes to a military commission.

If we followed those rules and actually released those defendants who were found not guilty, we’d be on the road to recovery. But of course, one problem we’ve found in releasing prisoners is that we’ve had a hard time finding anyone to take those prisoners who will agree not to torture and kill them.

My point is this: we are so far down the road of selling out our purported national values that it is likely to be a generation before we even start to make a real effort toward recovering them. Life goes on with the knowledge that our craven impulses dominate our noble ideals.

The long path to justice

The government of the United Kingdom released the Saville report on the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged the report’s findings, which shone a poor light on the British government of the time. It took four decades for the UK government to do so, and I wonder if after four decades we’ll see the US government take responsibility for the excesses on the war on terror. Right now, we’re still headed in the opposite direction. The Supreme Court has declined to grant Maher Arar access to US courts to sue the US government for sending him to Syria to be tortured after he was detained at a US airport on his way back to Canada. If he just waits another 20 or 30 years, I’m sure we’ll come around.

Sentences that provoke regret

From a New York Times article on a federal appeals court decision denying detainees access to US courts:

The decision was a broad victory for the Obama administration in its efforts to hold terrorism suspects overseas for indefinite periods without judicial oversight.

The court has ruled that as long as the government detains prisoners in Afghanistan rather than the US, they are not entitled to the same process as they would be if they were detained somewhere else, regardless of where they were captured. That’s quite a loophole.

In the meantime, Britain’s new government is confronting its complicity in torture and looking to roll back surveillance powers and other impingements on civil liberties. I’m envious and more disappointed than ever in the Obama administration.

Hillary Clinton on Internet Freedom

Because amid this unprecedented surge in connectivity, we must also recognize that these technologies are not an unmitigated blessing. These tools are also being exploited to undermine human progress and political rights. Just as steel can be used to build hospitals or machine guns, or nuclear power can either energize a city or destroy it, modern information networks and the technologies they support can be harnessed for good or for ill. The same networks that help organize movements for freedom also enable al-Qaida to spew hatred and incite violence against the innocent. And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Remarks on Internet Freedom. This speech is worth reading in its entirety, as it’s the Obama administration laying out something approaching an Internet doctrine.

Google and China

Everyone is blogging about Google’s big announcement about their Chinese operations today, but one day I’ll want to see this in the archive.


In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.


We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

A better Christmas card list

Guardian religion blogger Andrew Brown talks about his family’s holiday tradition — sending Christmas cards to people on Amnesty International’s Christmas Card list. Amnesty International publishes a list of people who are oppressed and imprisoned and could really use some support, and encourage people to send cards to them.

Women’s rights

While I was tinkering with my server over the weekend, the New York Times Magazine was publishing this incredibly thought provoking cover story on women’s rights. Seriously, read the whole thing. I’m not even going to pick out any of the most interesting facts cited so that you have to go look for them.

Links from June 8th

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