Action Must Follow to Align Policies with Obama Administration’s New National Security Strategy

Washington, DC As the Obama Administration formally issues its National Security Strategy today, Human Rights First warned that the strategy will be undermined unless the administration moves to better align existing national security policies with the vision outlined in the document. The group welcomed the reiteration that respect for human rights and the rule of law is key to U.S. national security.  But it noted that the practice of indefinite detention of prisoners and military trials of suspected terrorists run counter to this principle and seriously undermine the National Security Strategy’s assertion that promoting universal values “in all that we do” is central to U.S. national security.

In a speech yesterday, National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan added that “it is our choice to either uphold the rule of law or chip away at it” and “to either respond wisely or lash out in ways that inflame entire regions and stoke the fires of violent extremism.” Brennan touted the strength of the civilian court system, noted the limitations “that circumscribe the instances in which [military commissions] cannot be used,” and justified prolonged detention without trial by citing the inherent difficulties in closing Guantanamo as a “legacy situation.”

But the National Security Strategy released today refers to a broader framework of indefinite detention without trial that goes beyond the “legacy cases” left by the previous administration and would establish a system that could be sustained by subsequent administrations.

Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino reacted:

“The administration’s strategy reasserts the centrality of human rights and the rule of law to U.S. national security, and that’s a welcome signal.  But for the strategy to be effective in practice, there must be better alignment between national security policies and this core principle. Practices such as indefinite detention without trial and reliance on flawed military commissions to try suspected terrorists are out of step with this new approach.”

Massimino added, “The administration must also find ways to exert a positive influence on key allies and strategic partners, including Egypt and Russia, where the human rights situation is poor and deteriorating.”  Finally, Massimino pointed out, “We welcome the administration’s commitment to proactively engage in a strategic effort to prevent mass atrocities and genocide, but this effort must include not only holding perpetrators accountable, but also stopping third-party enablers of these crimes who provide the support that makes possible the commission of atrocities.”


Published on May 27, 2010


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