Human Rights First Statement on the Sixth Anniversary of September 11

On this, the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we commemorate the tragic loss of nearly 3000 innocent people and express our heartfelt condolences to their families.

Every government has a duty to protect its people from violence, and the United States government has taken many steps toward this end that have been both prudent and appropriate.

But the post-9/11 world also has been defined by a dramatic expansion of executive power in this country, which has undermined the structures of American democracy and resulted in violations of fundamental civil liberties and human rights. These actions have included prolonged detention without charge or trial of terrorist suspects, illegal intrusions on the constitutional right to privacy, and expansion of government secrecy – including even the refusal to disclose basic information about government policies to the Congress.

Particularly troubling has been the continued assertion by the executive branch that it can authorize abusive interrogations of prisoners in U.S. custody using techniques that have been rejected by the military as violations of the Geneva Conventions. Most recently, this has taken the form of an Executive Order authorizing the CIA’s program of secret detention and interrogation and finding the program – which in the past reportedly has included the use of torture techniques such as waterboarding and forced hypothermia – to be consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

The military’s own experts on the Geneva Conventions – the Judge Advocates General of the different military services – appear not to have been consulted in the development of this order and reportedly have serious concerns about its impact on the integrity of the Geneva Conventions standards and the safety of U.S. troops. According to a retired four-star general who served as commandant of the Marine Corps under President Reagan, “The language in the executive order cannot even arguably be reconciled with America’s clear duty under Common Article 3 to treat all detainees humanely and to avoid any acts of violence against their person.” Human Rights First is concerned that the order risks repeating many of the same mistakes that gave rise to notorious incidents of torture and abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The effects of the Executive Order must be reversed by Congress without delay.

The retreat from well-established legal principles over the last six years has weakened human rights standards both at home and internationally, impairing the ability of the United States effectively to counter violent groups and promote human rights abroad. On this anniversary, we urge the United States government to restore respect for these bedrock principles and reclaim America’s role as the world leader in the struggle for human rights.

Human Rights First has spoken out on these important issues and will continue to do so. We believe that adherence to core American values and universal human rights standards – which in truth are one and the same – will advance national security and the rule of law.


Published on September 11, 2007


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