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Updated 10/06/2006

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—October 6, 2006

1. Congress passes detainee legislation, criticized by human rights groups

2. Center for Constitutional Rights files first legal challenges to Military Commissions Act

3. House approves new wiretapping bill

4. U.S. rendition threat causes Britain to act

5. Amnesty International releases report on Pakistani human rights abuses in war on terror

1. Congress passes detainee legislation, criticized by human rights groups

On Sept. 28 the U.S. Senate voted 65-34 to pass the Military Commissions Act, outlining how prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in the broader war on terror may be prosecuted. The bill gives the president the power to use military commissions to try detainees, who will not have the right to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. Evidence may not be brought against a detainee if it was obtained by “cruel, unusual or inhumane treatment,” unless such evidence was obtained prior to Dec. 5, 2005, when Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act. The legislation prohibits “grave breaches” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, including torture, rape, and murder, but also allows the president to determine appropriate interrogation techniques short of “grave breaches.”  Lastly, the bill expands the definition of an “enemy combatant” to include noncitizens living in the United States and whoever meets the president’s criteria for such classification. Human rights organizations were sharply critical of the legislation. Amnesty International said the legislation will lead to violations of international law because there are insufficient guarantees of a fair trial, humane treatment or appropriate legal recourse for detainees. Human Rights Watch said the legislation “would undermine the rule of law and America’s ability to protect its own citizens from unjust treatment at the hands of other governments.” The House of Representatives approved a similar bill on Sept. 27, and President Bush is expected to sign the final version.  [HRW, 9/26/06; NY Times, 9/28/06; Washington Post, 9/29/06; AI, 9/29/06; ISN Security Watch, 10/2/06]

2. Center for Constitutional Rights files first legal challenges to Military Commissions Act

On Oct. 2 the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights announced that it had filed the first legal challenges to provisions of the Military Commissions Act, the legislation passed by Congress establishing military tribunals for terror suspects. Two separate lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Washington: one on behalf of 25 prisoners at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and the other on behalf of Majid Khan, one of the 14 “high-value” terror suspects recently transferred from secret CIA custody to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The suits were filed before President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act in order to provide an argument of retroactivity, as the bill will bar “enemy combatants” from accessing U.S. courts once it is enacted. There are some 400 other Guantánamo detainee cases currently pending before U.S. district or appeals court judges, and lawyers in those cases are expected initiate their own legal challenges to the Military Commissions Act. [Center for Constitutional Rights, 10/2/06; The Nation, 10/4/06; Christian Science Monitor, 10/6/06]

3. House approves new wiretapping bill

On Sept. 28 the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation giving the president authority for warrantless wiretapping. The bill would allow the president to order warrantless wiretapping for 90 days after a “terrorist attack” or an “imminent threat of attack,” after which time he would be required to gain approval from certain congressional committees and a judge to continue for an additional 90 days. In related news, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the current program of warrantless surveillance could continue while the Bush administration is appealing a federal judge’s decision declaring the program unconstitutional. [Reuters, 9/28/06; Washington Post, 10/4/06]

4. U.S. rendition threat causes Britain to act

An unnamed intelligence source told the British newspaper The Observer that the August arrest of a key terrorism suspect by Pakistani intelligence agents was motivated by U.S. threats to capture and transfer him to a secret interrogation facility. Rashid Rauf, a British citizen living in Pakistan with alleged links to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, was under close watch by British intelligence agents. He is a key suspect in the alleged plot to explode bombs on a number of transatlantic flights, which was exposed in August. The U.S. intelligence agents warned their British counterparts that they were ready to “render” him if he wasn’t arrested immediately, prompting Pakistani intelligence agents to capture him. That move then forced the British police, in a highly publicized raid, to arrest a number of people in Britain suspected of having links to Rauf. The arrest occurred much sooner than British intelligence agencies wished, and they feared it might compromise further investigations and prompt other U.K. terrorist cells to activate new plots or go underground. The intelligence source said the alleged plot had not reached the advanced planning stage. [The Observer,10/1/06] 

5. Amnesty International releases report on Pakistani human rights abuses in war on terror

A Sept. 29 report by Amnesty International documents human rights abuses by the Pakistani government in the war on terror. The report alleges that Pakistan has engaged in arbitrary arrests of terror suspects, often on the word of bounty hunters, as well as incommunicado detention, torture and unlawful transfer out of the country. It cites a Pakistani NGO claim that about 1,000 people have been arrested in the war on terror. [AI, “Pakistan: Human Rights Ignored in the War on Terror, executive summary, full report, 9/29/06]


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