Washington Week on Human Rights: November 24, 2014

Top News

Defense Secretary Hagel Resigns Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will resign today. According to a senior defense source quoted by the Associated Press, Secretary Hagel and President Obama had discussed the decision for weeks and “determined that it was time for new leadership in the Pentagon.” President Obama will make the announcement later today in a Rose Garden appearance and is not expected to name Secretary Hagel’s replacement at that time. Secretary Hagel will remain at the Pentagon until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

Immigration Last week, President Obama took executive action to defer deportation of up to 5 million immigrants. Over the weekend, in response to Republican criticism of his decision, President Obama called on Congress to send him a comprehensive immigration reform bill. As the administration and Congress continue to debate this important issue, Human Rights First continues to urge these elected leaders to protect other vulnerable immigrants and take steps to improve the treatment of mothers and children seeking asylum in the United States.

Guantanamo In the past week, the United States has released six detainees who were held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On Saturday, Muhammed Murdi Issa al Zahrani was returned to a rehabilitation program in his home country of Saudi Arabia. Earlier last week, five cleared Guantanamo detainees were transferred to Europe, including four Yemenis and a Tunisian. Two of the men—Tunisian Hisham Sliti and Yemeni Hussain Almerfedi—were resettled in Slovakia and three—Salah Mohammed Al Thabi, Yemenis Abdel Ghalib Hakim, and Abdul Khaled al Baidani—in Georgia. The administration said the men were resettled in Europe due to instabilities in their home countries. There have been 13 detainees released from Guantanamo this year, bringing the population down to 142. Of those, 74 have been cleared by U.S. intelligence and security agencies.

Torture Report In a closed door meeting last week, White House officials and Senate intelligence committee members discussed committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. According to news reports, the meeting featured a discussion of the CIA’s demand that pseudonyms of agency officers be deleted from the intelligence committee report, a step the committee says will distort key findings and hide the fact that some individuals who used torture on a number of occasions were later promoted within the CIA. Following the meeting, a White House spokesman reiterated President Obama’s desire to see the report’s executive summary declassified and released as soon as possible. Senate intelligence committee members have made clear their desire to release the report before the 113th Congress concludes.

Quotes of the Week

“My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.”

President Obama during his speech to announce executive action on immigration

We’re Reading

In advance of President Obama’s announcement of executive action on immigration, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer outlined in The Hill the need for increased protections for asylum seekers.

Siddhartha Mahanta for Foreign Policy explored the weakening of international human rights law, making it difficult to hold U.S. corporations accountable for abuses.

Metro Weekly reported that last week Gambian President Yahya Jammeh signed into law a bill that calls for life imprisonment for same-sex acts. Thom Senzee from the Advocate noted that the new law will likely lead to an increase on the government crackdown on Gambia’s LGBT community. According to the Washington Blade, the State Department responded to Gambia’s new anti-gay law Friday, calling for the government of Gambia to “reverse the deteriorating respect for democracy and human rights.

We’re Watching

As Thanksgiving approaches, Meet the Press interviewed a number of congressional leaders to ask them what they are most thankful for this year. Among those featured in the video is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a Cuban refugee who expressed gratitude for the opportunity to live in the United States.

Around Town

November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Looking ahead

Human Rights First will hold its third annual Human Rights Summit in Washington, DC at the Newseum from December 9-10. The event brings together international civil society activists, American policymakers, military and business leaders to discuss today’s human rights challenges and affirm the importance of U.S. leadership on human rights. Register for this free summit or learn more here.

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Published on November 24, 2014

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