HRF Details for Senate Judiciary Committee Specific Steps to Return to the Rule of Law

Human Rights First Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Elisa Massimino today outlined concrete steps the United States must take in order to realize a return to the rule of law in two key areas: (1) enforcing legal prohibitions on torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners; and (2) abandoning the failed experiment at Guantánamo in favor of the proven effectiveness of our federal criminal courts. These steps were presented in testimony delivered by Massimino to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a hearing devoted to “Restoring the Rule of Law.”

Noting that “U.S. detention and interrogation policy over the past seven years has been marked by ongoing violations of fundamental humane treatment standards rationalized by a series of secret legal opinions that have stretch the law beyond recognition,” Massimino called for a “return to a detention policy that is firmly rooted in the rule of law—not in loophole lawyering[,]” and urged a renewed commitment to humane treatment standards through a series of actions detailed in her testimony. Read the full testimony here.

Massimino also called for the establishment of a bi-partisan commission, with subpoena power, to review the treatment of detainees held since September 11, including in the United States, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, and secret prisons overseas.

In addition, Massimino’s testimony addressed the many failures of government policy at Guantánamo. The Supreme Court has rejected the government’s detention, interrogation and trial policies at Guantánamo each time it has examined them. In more than six years only one military commission trial has been conducted, and not even one of the suspects implicated in the September 11 attacks has been tried.

According to Massimino, “Guantánamo has become a symbol of injustice, of expediency over fundamental fairness, and of this country’s willingness to set aside its core values and beliefs.” She pointed out there is now widespread agreement that it should be closed. Secretary of State Rice, Secretary of Defense Gates, and President Bush have all said they would like to close Guantánamo. Senators McCain and Obama have each vowed to close the facility as president.

Massimino noted that closing Guantánamo will require decisive action and policy changes. These actions also are laid out in her testimony, as well as in How to Close Guantanamo: A Blueprint for the Next Administration, issued last month by Human Rights First.

According to Massimino, the new Administration and Congress will have a limited “window of opportunity to signal to the American people and to the world that the policies of the last seven years were an aberration and that the United States is serious about restoring the rule of law”—

In the course of my work I often meet with human rights colleagues from around the  world, many of them operating in extremely dangerous situations. When I ask how we can support them as they struggle to advance human rights and democratic values in their own societies, invariably their answer is: “get your own house in order. We need the United States to be in a position to provide strong leadership on human rights.”

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Published on September 16, 2008

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