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Updated 10/20/2006

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—October 20, 2006

1. Bush signs law allowing harsh interrogation and military trials of terrorism suspects

2. U.S. Army investigates allegations of abuse by Guantánamo guards

3. Pentagon releases 21 Guantánamo detainees

4. Canadian court bars deportation of Egyptian terror suspect because of torture fears

5. Rendition victim honored with human rights award but unable to accept in person

6. Bush administration files appeal of wiretap ruling

7. U.S. citizen charged with treason

8. Lawyer convicted of aiding terrorists

1. Bush signs law allowing harsh interrogation and military trials of terrorism suspects

On Oct. 17 President Bush signed into law the controversial Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allows the CIA to continue its once-secret program for interrogating terrorism suspects and authorizes military-commission trials of detainees. Although the law bars certain “grave breaches” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, including torture and cruel and inhumane treatment, the Bush administration has refused to specify what interrogation techniques will be permitted or banned. The law denies detainees the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts or to use the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights in military trials, and it broadly defines “enemy combatants” to include those who have given material support to hostilities against the United States, even if they have not directly participated in hostilities. The bill has already drawn legal challenges from detainees held in Afghanistan and many additional challenges are expected.  [JURIST, 10/17/06, Reuters, 10/17/06, Aljazeera, 10/17/06, Human Rights Watch, Q&A: Military Commissions Act of 2006, 10/06; background info: HRWT News Update, 9/27/06]

2. U.S. Army investigates allegations of abuse by Guantánamo guards

U.S. Army Col. Richard Basset arrived at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba on Oct. 18 to investigate allegations that guards regularly abuse detainees at the military prison there. In a sworn affidavit sent to the Pentagon on Oct. 10, U.S. Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny claimed that several guards she met at Guantánamo last month bragged to her about regularly beating detainees at the prison and depriving them of water and personal items. “From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice… Everyone in the group laughed at the others’ stories of beating detainees,” she wrote. The investigation, ordered by the Defense Department’s inspector general, is expected to last up to one month as Basset conducts interviews at the naval base. [Reuters, 10/13/06; Ireland Online, 10/14/06; International Herald Tribune, 10/18/06]

3. Pentagon releases 21 Guantánamo detainees

The U.S. Defense Department on Oct. 12 and 16 released a total of 21 men from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A group 16 detainees were transferred to Afghanistan and one to Morocco on Oct. 12. Several of the men claimed they had been subject to psychological torture and sleep deprivation. The following week, two prisoners were transferred to Pakistan, one to Iran, and another to Bahrain. The Defense Department said that about 340 prisoners have left Guantánamo, and of the approximately 435 who remain at the prison, some 110 have been deemed eligible for transfer or release.  [JURIST, 10/12/06; Defense Dept. press release, 10/12/06, JURIST, 10/16/06; Defense Dept. press release, 10/16/06]

4. Canadian court bars deportation of Egyptian terror suspect because of torture fears

A Canadian court ruled on Oct. 16 that Mahmoud Jaballah, an Egyptian detained in Canada for involvement in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, cannot be returned to Egypt because he might be tortured there. Canadian Federal Court Judge Andrew Mackay upheld the Canadian government’s charges against him and encouraged immigration officials to remove him from the country, but said that “deportation to Egypt or to any country where and so long as there is a substantial risk that he would be tortured or worse would violate his rights as a human being.” [Globe and Mail, 10/16/06, National Post, 10/17/06]

5. Rendition victim honored with human rights award but unable to accept in person

A Canadian man who suffered months of torture after the United States rendered him to Syria in 2002 based on faulty terrorism charges was presented on Oct. 18 with an international human rights award. The Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington-based think tank, honored Syrian-born Maher Arar with a Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award for his work to end torture in the world; however, Arar could not attend the event in person because he is still on a U.S. no-fly terror-watch list. Last month a Canadian commission cleared Arar of all suspicion of terrorist activity, and the Canadian government on Oct. 7 filed an official complaint with the United States over the treatment of Arar. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he wanted the U.S. government to recognize “inappropriate conduct” and to seek to prevent such an incident from happening again. [NYT, 10/7/06; Toronto Star, 10/19/06; background info: HRWT News Update, 9/27/06]

6. Bush administration files appeal of wiretap ruling

The Bush administration filed an appeal on Oct. 13 of a federal judge’s August ruling that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional. The House of Representatives passed a bill in September authorizing warrantless wiretapping, but the Senate did not pass such legislation. The legality of the NSA program is expected to eventually be reviewed by the Supreme Court. [Reuters, 9/13/06; background info: HRWT News Update, 8/30/06; HRWT News Update, 9/6/06]

7. U.S. citizen charged with treason

The U.S. Justice Department announced on Oct. 11 that it had charged a U.S. citizen with treason for creating videotapes for al-Qaeda. Adam Gadahn, originally from California, is currently thought to be in Pakistan and is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists. He is the first person charged with treason since 1952. [CNS News, 10/11/06, Wash. Post, 10/16/06]

8. Lawyer convicted of aiding terrorists

On Oct. 16 attorney Lynne Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in prison for conspiring to aid terrorists. Stewart represented convicted terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and was indicted for communicating messages from Rahman to alleged terrorists in Egypt. The U.S. government had sought a sentence of 30 years. Stewart is free on bail while her conviction is being appealed.  [Democracy Now!, 9/17/06; Wash. Post, 9/17/06]


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