Washington Week on Human Rights: February 22, 2016

Top News

Guantanamo Tomorrow is the statutory deadline for the Obama Administration to give Congress its plan for closing the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The facility’s future may also be among the topics discussed Thursday morning when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter testifies about his budget during a House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee hearing. There are currently 91 detainees held at Guantanamo, which costs nearly $400 million per year to operate approximately $4.4 million per detainee. Thirty-five of the remaining detainees are cleared for transfer, and another 42 are eligible for Periodic Review Board (PRB) review.

Global Refugee Crisis On Wednesday, President Obama will host King Abdullah of Jordan for a White House meeting that will include discussion of how best to help refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq. Human Rights First has urged the Obama Administration to increase the number of refugees the United States plans to resettle and to step up humanitarian assistance and development aid in order to better support Jordan and other front-line refugee-hosting states. In addition, the organization has called for Jordan to provide refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria with protection in accordance with international law. Presently, there are thousands of refugees blocked from crossing into Jordan who are living in a remote desert area under difficult conditions. Next week, Human Rights First will release a new report based on findings from a recent trip to Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. Human Rights First found that Syrian refugees are increasingly at risk across the region as they face a lack of access to protection, border closures, and severe backlogs in the resettlement process, driving many to embark on dangerous journeys to Europe.

Torture Last week 26 of the nation’s most respected interrogation and intelligence professionals made public a letter sent to all presidential candidates 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 and is signed by intelligence gathering professionals from the armed services, CIA, FBI, NCIS, DEA, Army CID, and federal law enforcement, some of whom have interrogated core al Qaeda members. “Torture is not only illegal and immoral; it is counterproductive. It tends to produce unreliable information because it degrades a detainee’s ability to recall and transmit information, undermines trust in the interrogator, and often prompts a detainee to relay false information that he believes the interrogator wants to hear. It also increases the risk that our troops will be tortured, hinders cooperation with allies, alienates populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and provides a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm,” wrote the interrogators. Last year, Senators John 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.

Immigration Family Detention Yesterday, the license of the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania expired. Human Rights First released a new summary of communications between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and some of the mothers detained at the facility who expressed concerns regarding the physical and mental wellbeing of their children. The responses they received from ICE officials showed little regard for these concerns. The Berks family detention facility had been licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services as a child residential facility for dependent and delinquent children. The facility has appealed the decision to not renew its license to the Bureau of Hearings Appeals—an administrative body within Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services. Human Rights First continues to call for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end the detention of individuals and families at the facility. An earlier 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.

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

“I cannot overstate the damage that the use of torture has done to our national security. But this is more than just about national security. This is about who we are as a nation.  American values do not twist in the wind based upon the values of our enemies. Our nation was founded on sacred principles of honor, decency, and a love of the rule of law. If we, as Americans, walk away from our core values, then who are we? The concerning rhetoric we’ve heard recently is out of step with what national security and military experts know to be true about torture.”

Former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps General Charles C. Krulak (ret.)

We’re Reading

Bloomberg View discussed whether President Obama has the authority to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay without the consent of Congress. In the piece, Human Rights First’s Raha Wala stressed the importance of speeding up transfers of cleared detainees and expediting review of non-cleared detainees.

Associated Press investigated where terror suspects would be held and tried if the Obama Administration can successfully shutter Guantanamo, noting that federal courts have been more successful than military commissions at trying terrorism cases.

Newsweek  featured a letter to presidential candidates from a coalition of former interrogators calling on presidential candidates to reject torture as an interrogation tool.

USA Today editorial makes the case that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was right when he asserted that torture is “unpresidential.”

The Wall Street Journal discussed challenges faced by U.S. authorities to develop special programs to reintegrate terror convicts back into society.

We’re Watching

Major General Antonio Taguba details the need for U.S. military forces to adhere to domestic and international law forbidding the use of torture. He notes that the practice is inconsistent with American ideals, endangers troops, and does not enhance national security.

On the Hill


The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “Review of the FY2017 State Department Budget Request.” Secretary of State John Kerry will testify.s 10:00 AM, 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on “The Unaccompanied Children Crisis: Does the Administration Have a Plan to Stop the Border Surge and Adequately Monitor the Children?” 10:00 AM, 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building


The House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “The Department of Homeland Security Budget.” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify. 10:00 am, B-318 Rayburn House Office Building


The House Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on “World Wide Threats.” CIA Director John Brennan; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; FBI Director James Comey; National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen; National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers; and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart will testify. 9:00 AM, HVC-210, US Capitol

The House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee Hearing on “The Department of Defense Budget.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.; and Defense Undersecretary Mike McCord will testify. 10:00 AM, 2359 Rayburn House Office Building

Around Town


The Henry L. Stimson Center will hold a discussion on “Grading Progress on US Drone Policy.” The event will feature Rosa Brooks, professor of law at Georgetown University; and Rachel Stohl, senior associate at Stimson. 10:00 AM, Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Avenue NW, Eighth Floor, Washington, D.C.

The Hudson Institute will host a discussion on “Egypt’s Enduring Security Challenges.” The event will feature Amy Hawthorne, deputy director of POMED; Michael Wahid Hanna, senior fellow for the Century Foundation; Mokhtar Awad, research associate for CAP; and Samuel Tadros, senior fellow for the Hudson Institute. 12:00 PM, Hudson Institute, 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C.

The Council on Foreign Relations will host a discussion on “Saudi Arabia Update: Rising Tensions, Strained Relations.” The event will feature Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University; Karen Elliott House, author of “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines – and Future”; and Douglas Jehl, foreign editor at the Washington Post. 12:30 PM, CFR, 1777 F Street NW, Washington, D.C.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on “The Global Refugee and Humanitarian Crisis: Implications for International Development.” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Catherine Wiesner; Andrew Natsios, director of the Texas A&M University Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs; Jon Brause, director of World Food Program’s Washington liaison office; Kelly Clements, deputy high commissioner in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; William Garvelink, senior adviser at CSIS’s US Leadership in Development; and Daniel Runde, director of the CSIS Project on Prosperity and Development. 1:30 PM, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, D.C.


The McCain Institute will hold a discussion on human trafficking. 1:30 PM, The Library of Congress, 10 First Street SE, Thomas Jefferson Building, Members Room, Washington, D.C.



It has been more than fourteen years since the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, opened and more than seven years since President Obama signed an executive order pledging to close it. Now, the Pentagon is expected to imminently release the Obama Administration’s plan to fulfill the president’s promise to shutter the detention facility. To mark this important step, Human Rights First will bring together military leaders, national security professionals, government officials, and legal experts to discuss key obstacles to closing Guantanamo and what can be done to overcome these challenges before President Obama leaves office. This event is free and open to the public.

8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

A light breakfast and lunch will be served.

20 F Street Conference Center
20 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20001
1 block from Union Station


Press must RSVP to Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319

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Published on February 22, 2016


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