Washington Week on Human Rights: January 20, 2015

Top News

STATE OF THE UNION Tonight at 9 p.m., President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. He is expected to detail his priorities for the last two years of his presidency, including an emphasis on growing the economy, improving access to education, national security and foreign policy priorities. Human Rights First has urged the president to use tonight’s speech to detail how he plans to fulfill his pledge to shutter the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There are currently 122 detainees at Guantanamo, and about half of those remaining have been cleared by U.S. intelligence and security agencies. Human Rights First has issued a blueprint, “How to Close Guantanamo,” detailing steps the administration should take to meet the president’s goal.

ANTISEMITISM On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly will hold an informal meeting on the growth of antisemitism. The meeting comes after 37 member nations, including the United States, urged U.N. President Sam Kutesa to hold the gathering in response to an “alarming outbreak of antisemitism worldwide.” Among the speakers at this week’s information meeting is Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. Her remarks will in part reflect the organization’s examination of recent events in France, as well as the rise of far-right, neo-Nazi extremist parties in Hungary and Greece. This latter was the focus of Human Rights First’s 2014 report: “We’re not Nazis, but…The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care.”

BAHRAIN Earlier today, Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months in jail, though he can stay out of jail before the appeal by paying a fine. Rajab was charged with insulting the Kingdom’s government institutions on Twitter. Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and has worked to expose U.S. ally Bahrain’s human rights violations for many years. He spent from mid-2012 to mid-2014 in prison after being convicted on trumped-up political charges. Last week, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley and Matar Matar, a former opposition member of parliament in Bahrain, discussed Rajab’s case, as well as the current climate in Bahrain ahead of the Feb. 14 anniversary of Bahrain’s 2011 uprising. You can listen to their conversation here.

Quote of the Week

“It is long past time for American officials to do the right thing: prosecute suspected terrorists in American courtrooms and shut down a wartime prison that has deservedly brought the United States international scorn. Besides moral and strategic considerations, shutting Guantánamo would make fiscal sense. Currently, the United States spends $3 million a year to hold each detainee.”

—January 17, 2015 editorial in The New York Times

We’re Reading

Agence France Presse reports on proposed legislation from Republican senators, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that would place draconian new restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantanamo Bay who have already been cleared for transfer by national security agencies. The bill is a step in the wrong direction, as President Obama works toward his stated goal of closing the prison by the end of his second term.

Egypt recently acquitted 26 men who had been accused of debauchery after being seized in a raid of a Cairo bathhouse. The Advocate reported on the decision, noting that the acquittal still leaves the door open for further persecution of LGBT persons in Egypt.

Last week, as reported by The Advocate, an Egyptian court acquitted the 26 men who were arrested in a bath house raid and accused of debauchery for homosexual activity. Though the acquittal was welcomed by the international community, it remains unclear whether the outcome of this case will provide greater protection for Egypt’s LGBT community moving forward.

In a piece for Foreign Policy, Bahraini human rights activist and winner of the Human Rights First Baldwin Medal Of Liberty describes the ongoing harassment she and her family have faced from the Bahraini authorities and calls upon the United States and Britain to stop turning “a blind eye to the regime’s systematic abuse of human rights.”

We’re Watching

Retired Maj. General Michael Lehnert, USMC, the first commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, appeared on MSNBC’s “Weekends with Alex Witt” to discuss his call for closing the facility.

Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley appeared on HuffPost Live to discuss the ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent in Bahrain.

We’re Watching

National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” today featured a story about Guantanamo Diary, a new book based on the diary of Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who remains at the prison. The book, which is heavily redacted, tells Salahi’s account of his capture, transfer to Guantanamo, and the torture he has endured.

On the Hill

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy.” Former U.S. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, president of the Scowcroft Group; and former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, counselor and trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will testify. 9:30AM, 216 Hart Senate Office Building

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will meet to organize for the 114th Congress. 10AM, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet to organize for the 114th Congress. 10AM, 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Around Town

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on “Intelligence in a Dynamic World.” The event will feature Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers; and Barry Pavel, director of the Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. 10:15AM, Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor, Washington, D.C.

The World Affairs Council (WAC) will host a discussion on “State of the Union’s Foreign Policy.” The event will feature James Carafano, fellow at the Heritage Foundation; Kathleen Hicks, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute; and Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 6:30PM, University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.


Published on January 20, 2015


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