Washington Week on Human Rights: February 16, 2016

Top News

Torture Last week 42 of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals released a letter sent to all candidates for president urging them to publicly reject the use of torture as it is illegal, counterproductive, and detrimental to national security. The letter was sent to candidates in September 2015. They wrote, “Torture is unnecessary. Based on our experience—and that of our nation’s top interrogators, backed by countless studies—we know that lawful, rapport-based interrogation techniques are the most effective way to elicit actionable intelligence. But torture is actually worse than unnecessary; it is counterproductive and undermines our national security.” The retired military leaders made the letter public just days after Senator John McCain admonished campaign “loose talk” related to torture. Last year, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sponsored landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation—which passed in a 78-21 vote in the Senate and was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act —is an historic victory in the fight to reestablish a durable, bipartisan consensus against torture. The amendment passed the Senate with the support of a broad bipartisan majority, which included the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence, armed services, homeland security, foreign relations, and judiciary committees.

Bahrain Today four American journalists were released by Bahraini authorities who say the media team is “suspected of offences including entering Bahrain illegally having submitted false information to border staff, and participating in an unlawful gathering.” The journalists are expected to return to the United States. Their arrests came as Bahrainis marked the fifth anniversary of the brutal government crackdown on mass protests calling for democratic reform in Bahrain. Ahead of the February 14 anniversary, Human Rights First released a new blueprint, “How to Reverse Five Years of Failure on Bahrain,” that examines conditions in Bahrain, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S. response, and potential opportunities for the U.S. government to support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights. The blueprint outlines key missteps in U.S. policy in Bahrain since the 2011 uprising, which include failing to back up rhetoric in support of human rights and civil society with action, and decisions to downplay these priorities in favor of short-term military objectives. Human Rights First’s interviews with Bahraini activists and civil society leaders revealed an enduring human rights crisis in the country, marked by denial of basic rights including freedom of association, assembly, and expression, arbitrary arrests and torture of human rights activists and opposition leaders, and a failure to hold senior officials accountable for the torture and killings that occurred during the 2011 crackdown.

Immigration Family Detention In a statement released last week, 30 mothers detained at the Berks Family Detention Center asked to be released from their prolonged detention with their children. The open letter was released as the Berks facility appeals a decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Human Services not to renew the facility’s license, which is set to expire on February 21. The Berks family detention center is currently licensed by Pennsylvania as a “child residential facility” to hold up to 96 individuals. A Human Rights First report on the Berks facility found that children and their parents detained at the facility experience tremendous legal and health challenges, including detrimental effects on their mental health that may begin within days of detention. The families also encounter delays in their immigration proceedings, lack of access to legal counsel, and face obstacles and delays to release. Human Rights First’s findings and advocacy have been informed by two leading pediatricians, including the president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics who visited the Berks facility along with Human Rights First staff and expressed concern about the damaging impact of detention on children and their parents, including the possibility of long-term negative developmental consequences to children.

Call for Nominations Human Rights First is seeking nominations for the 2016 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award. The 2016 award will go to an individual or organization outside of the United States who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to human rights advocacy in areas such as human trafficking, religious freedom, LGBT rights, refugee protection, and defense of civil society, among others. The winner will be selected by a distinguished jury and will receive a trip to the United States to engage in advocacy and a $25,000 prize. Nominations for the 2016 award are due by March 10.

Quote of the Week

“Given the loose talk on the campaign trail…it is important to remember the facts: That these forms of torture not only failed their purpose to secure actionable intelligence to prevent future attacks on the U.S. and our allies, but compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good.”

—Senator John McCain, Feb. 9

We’re Reading

Writing for The Hill, Human Rights First’s Raha Wala set the record straight on torture following controversial comments made by presidential candidates.

In a piece for The Washington Times, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley pointed out five years of failed U.S. policy in Bahrain, urging Washington to change course.

According to AFP, four American journalists were arrested in Bahrain yesterday, evidence of the ongoing human rights crisis in the kingdom.

Newsweek reported on the flight of Jews from France, citing an increasing number of antisemitic incidents in the country.

We’re Listening

Last week The Diane Rehm Show examined the ongoing humanitarian, military, and political crisis in Syria. The show notes that the Syrian civil war has lasted five years and claimed more than 250,000 lives. More than 12 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes as opposition forces battle the Assad regime.

Around Town

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The RAND Corporation will hold a briefing on “Lessening the Risk of Refugee Radicalization: Options for Congress.” The event will feature Barbara Sude, senior political scientist at RAND. 3PM, 2168 Rayburn House Office Building

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) will host a discussion on “Europe’s Migration Crisis: A Status Report and the Way Forward.” The event will feature Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute Europe; and Michael Fix, president of MPI. 9:30AM, MPI, 1400 16th Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Brookings Institution will hold a discussion on “Who We Really Are: A Conversation with Syrian Refugees in America.” The event will feature Taha Bali, assistant in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital (Homs, Syria); Kassem Eid, activist for Syria and Syrian refugees (Damascus, Syria); Qutaiba Idlbi, activist for Syria (Damascus, Syria); Mariela Shaker, concert violinist (Aleppo, Syria); and Robert McKenzie and Leon Wieseltier, Brookings fellows. 3:30PM, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Saul/Zilkha Room, Washington, D.C.

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Published on February 16, 2016


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