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Updated 08/29/2006

MISF Launches the Human Rights–War on Terror News Update

On Aug. 30, MISF Media launched the Human Rights–War on Terror News Update, a biweekly roundup of news events related to the U.S.-led war on terror and its impact on human rights around the world.  

Using capsule news summaries with links to the original sources, the Update addresses topics including the investigation and prosecution of torture cases, detention policies, renditions, national and international court cases, and U.S. laws enacted as “antiterror” measures.  

The premier issue appears below: 

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—August 30, 2006 

1. NSA warrantless spying ruled unconstitutional

2. Former CIA contractor in Afghanistan convicted of detainee abuse

3. Bush administration seeks war crimes protection

4. U.S. public sees war on terror and Iraq as separate issues

5. Human rights groups accuse Israel of war crimes
6. Judge orders charge dropped from Jose Padilla indictment 
 

1. NSA warrantless spying ruled unconstitutional

On Aug. 17 a federal judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional, and she ordered the Bush administration to put an immediate halt to the practice, which has been in use since 2001. Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the NSA’s Terrorist Surveillance Program "violates the separation of powers doctrine … the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, [and] the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]." The chief plaintiff, the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit in January 2006 on behalf of a group of journalists, lawyers, academics and civil rights organizations who alleged that their international communications were being monitored by the NSA’s spying program, in violation of their constitutional rights. The Bush administration is appealing the ruling, and the president has said he is confident the decision will be overturned. The administration described the surveillance program as a necessary tool in preventing terrorist attacks, and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R.-Ill.) went so far as to say that the program “saved the day by foiling the London terror plot” the previous week. [Reuters, 8/17/06; CNN, 8/17/06; NY Times, 8/18/06; for more information: “ALCU et al v NSA et al Memorandum Opinion,” 8/17/06]  

2. Former CIA contractor in Afghanistan convicted of detainee abuse

A jury in North Carolina on Aug. 17 found former CIA contractor David Passaro guilty of felony and misdemeanor assault for abusing an Afghan detainee during interrogations. Passaro was stationed at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan where, in June 2003, he beat Abdul Wali, a suspect in rocket attacks on the base, with a two-foot flashlight and a heavy hand-held spotlight. Wali died from injuries sustained during the beatings. Passaro is the first civilian convicted of U.S. detainee abuse in Iraq or Afghanistan. [Reuters, 8/17/06; News and Observer (North Carolina), 8/17/06]     

3. Bush administration seeks war crimes protection

The Bush administration is drafting amendments to the War Crimes Act that would retroactively protect U.S. government officials from criminal prosecution for authorizing certain kinds of detainee abuse. Although the draft outlaws torture, it does not prohibit abuses described in Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” The proposed legislation would be applied retroactively. One lawyer who has seen the draft said that although it is currently in the revision stage, it appears the Bush administration intends to push it through Congress after Labor Day. A White House spokesman indicated that the legislation is a move to bring “clear rules” to the War Crimes Act because Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions includes vague terms that are open to interpretation. [Boston Globe, 8/10/06] 

4. U.S. public sees war on terror and Iraq as separate issues

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted Aug. 17 through Aug. 21, a majority of Americans see the war on terror and the war in Iraq as separate issues. Fifty-one percent of Americans saw “no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort” and 53 percent said the Iraq war “was a mistake.” Fifty-five percent approved of President Bush’s handling of terrorism, but 46 percent thought “the administration had concentrated too much on Iraq and not enough on terrorists elsewhere.” [NY Times, 8/23/06]     


5. Human rights groups accuse Israel of war crimes
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, in separate reports released in August, chastised Israel for its attacks on civilian areas and infrastructure in Lebanon during fighting with Hezbollah. According to the Amnesty International report, “The evidence strongly suggests that the extensive destruction of public works, power systems, civilian homes and industry was deliberate and an integral part of the military strategy, rather than ‘collateral damage.’” Human Rights Watch similarly declared, “The patterns of attacks during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon suggests that that the failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents.” Both reports explicitly accuse Israel of committing “war crimes.” [AI, “Deliberate destruction or ‘collateral damage’? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure”, 8/23/06; HRW, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians in Lebanon”, 8/06]

6. Judge orders charge dropped from Jose Padilla indictment

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Aug. 21 ordered that a charge be dropped from the indictment of accused terrorist and U.S. citizen Jose Padilla. The original indictment charged both “conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists” and “providing material support to terrorists.” Cooke said Padilla is being “charge[d] a single offense multiple times, in separate counts,” and she ordered the prosecution to decide between one of the two charges. Padilla was arrested in 2002 and designated as an “enemy combatant” by President Bush for alleged terrorist activity. [CNN, 8/21/06; for more information: HRW, “Human Rights Watch Statement on Jose Padilla Case,” 4/24/06]