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Updated 01/19/2007

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—January 19, 2007

1. Bush administration releases guidelines for military tribunals

2. Study finds no evidence supporting effectiveness of abusive interrogations

3. Pentagon and CIA accessing bank records of Americans

4. Bush administration now seeking court approval for wiretapping

5. Defense Department official urges law firms to not represent Guantánamo prisoners

6. U.S. to cut no-fly list in half, introduce appeal system

7. Protestors worldwide mark anniversary of Guantánamo prison

1. Bush administration releases guidelines for military tribunals

On Jan. 18 the Defense Department released guidelines for military trials of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Manual for Military Commissions grants judges the power to make decisions about the admissibility of evidence on an individual basis, permits hearsay and coerced evidence, and allows defendants access to the evidence against them. Evidence obtained during torture after the 2005 torture ban was passed by Congress is inadmissible, but judges may decide if statements made under torture before the law was passed are acceptable. Those found guilty will have the right to appeal to a military commission review board, the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, and the Supreme Court. Amnesty International USA said the rules were an improvement, but did not go far enough, saying, “Civilians picked up far from any battlefield still may be tried in a military system of justice, and defendants can be convicted on evidence obtained through coercion or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that would be inadmissible in any other U.S. judicial forum.” About 60 to 80 prisoners are expected to be tried by military commissions starting this summer. [Reuters, 1/18/07; CNN, 1/18/07; AIUSA press release, 1/18/07]

2. Study finds no evidence supporting effectiveness of abusive interrogations

According to a report by the Intelligence Science Board published online Jan. 15, there is almost no scientific evidence that the harsh interrogation techniques used in the war on terror are effective at gathering intelligence, and painful or coercive techniques might actually make it more difficult for a detainee to remember information of value to interrogators. The 374-page report, sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity, found that the lack of significant scientific research over the past four decades into the effectiveness of interrogation techniques perhaps played a role in the alleged abuses by U.S. personnel in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan. "This shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light," said Robert A. Fein, chairman of the study. [Wash Post, 1/16/07; more info: Intelligence Science Board: Educing Information, 12/06]


3. Pentagon and CIA accessing bank records of Americans
The New York Times reported on Jan. 13 that the Pentagon and the CIA have been accessing bank and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of involvement in terrorist activity. The two agencies have been issuing “national security letters” to banks and other financial institutions requesting, though not requiring, the records of certain individuals. Although the military and CIA are customarily banned from domestic law enforcement activities, government attorneys said the agencies have had authority to use the “noncompulsory” national security letters to access domestic records for the past three decades and that the 2001 Patriot Act boosted that power. Since 2001, Congress has rejected several requests to allow the two agencies to send mandatory letters, in part because of concern over broadening the agencies’ domestic spying powers. One target of financial surveillance was James Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at the Guantánamo Bay prison who was wrongly accused of espionage. [NYT, 1/13/07; Reuters, 1/13/07; Democracy Now!, 1/15/07; more information: Democracy Now!: Interview with James Yee, 1/17/07]


4. Bush administration now seeking court approval for wiretapping
The Bush administration announced Jan. 17 that it would not renew its “terrorist surveillance program” of warrantless wiretapping but would instead begin seeking court approval before eavesdropping on domestic phone calls. Critics of the program claimed it violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which made it illegal for the federal government to spy on Americans without the approval of the FISA court. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said a judge on the court had agreed to a set of guidelines proposed by the administration to ensure warrants were produced in a timely manner. Gonzalez maintained that the program, which required presidential renewal every 45 days, had been legal without the review of the FISA court. [Reuters, 1/17/07, CNN, 1/18/07, NPR, 1/18/07, Democracy Now!, 1/18/06]


5. Defense Department official urges law firms to not represent Guantánamo prisoners

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Charles Stimson is facing criticism from the legal community for comments made in a Jan. 11 radio interview suggesting that U.S. companies should boycott law firms that provide pro bono representation for detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Stimson said such representation is “going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms." His statement prompted the deans of 100 major law schools to sign a letter of condemnation submitted to the New York Times and the Boston Globe. Stimson issued a letter of apology on Jan. 17 saying, “I hope that my record of public service makes clear that those comments do not reflect my core beliefs.” [Boston Globe, 1/16/07; FindLaw, 1/16/07; Reuters, 1/17/07]

6. U.S. to cut no-fly list in half, introduce appeal system

On Jan. 17 Transportation Security Administration head Kip Hawley informed Congress that he expects the U.S. no-fly list to be reduced by half by mid-February. The classified list of people banned from flying in the United States is thought to range from 50,000 to 100,000 people. On the same day, the Homeland Security Department announced an appeal system for individuals who believe they have been wrongly denied the right to fly. [AP, 1/17/07; All Headline News, 1/17/07]

7. Protestors worldwide mark anniversary of Guantánamo prison

Protestors around the globe marked the five-year anniversary of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp on Jan. 11 by demanding its closure. Demonstrations were held in hundreds of U.S. cities and in countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Slovakia, and Italy. Many protestors donned the hallmark orange jumpsuits of Guantánamo. A delegation of 24 people traveled to Cuba to protest outside the prison camp, including the mother of a British citizen detained there. In Washington, D.C. 80 people were arrested for protesting inside a federal courthouse. Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and others held a press conference outside the Supreme Court calling for the detention center to be closed. [Wash Post, 1/12/07; BBC, 1/11/07; BBC, 1/12/07; AI blog, 1/11-16/07]

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