The U.S. Gives Refuge to Torture Victims from All Over — Except from Guantanamo


(Photo: Garry Knight / Flickr)

June 26th marks the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This day was declared in 1997 and is celebrated every year to honor the struggles of torture survivors.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that there are half-a-million torture survivors who’ve fled other countries in search of a safe haven. While survivors of torture who end up in the U.S. come from all over the globe, there’s a noticeable absence of a particular group of survivors: those tortured by the U.S. itself — and specifically those tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

Since it opened on January 11th, 2002, the prison at Guantanamo Bay has been one of the world’s most notorious. Housed at a U.S. military base on illegally occupied Cuban territory, the prison has held 779 Muslim men behind its bars over the years. For many, the experience has been devastating — not just for those who remain imprisoned, but for those who’ve been freed as well.

The prison currently houses 41 prisoners. Of those who remain, five men have been cleared for release, and 26 haven’t been either charged or cleared. Only seven have been charged in military commissions, and just three others have been convicted. The farcical semblance of justice that the military commissions have been designed to uphold includes a lack of due process rights, admission of hearsay evidence, and surveillance of attorney-client discussions. A fair trial for those detained is pretty much impossible.

However, this isn’t even the worst of Guantanamo, where at least nine men have died in U.S. custody, seven of those by suicide. Adnan Latif, one of the men who died, was a 32-year-old Yemeni citizen who’d spent 11 years behind bars at Guantanamo, even though he was cleared for release three times. Though questions remain about the government’s claim that he committed suicide, Latif suffered from serious mental health conditions. “Anybody who is able to die will be able to achieve happiness for himself,” he wrote in a parting letter to his attorney. “He has no other hope except that.”

But those who are released often fare no better than those still detained.

Take the case of Lutfi Bin Ali, a Tunisian citizen who spent 13 years in Guantanamo only to be released to Kazakhstan. Despite the fact that Bin Ali was subjected to egregious torture at the hands of the U.S. government, he’s expressed an eagerness to return to Guantanamo rather than face the isolation in his host country, where he knows no one. “At least in Guántanamo there were people to talk to,” he told the Guardian last September. “Here I have nobody.”

Bin Ali was told he’d be able to leave Kazakhstan after two years — a period that came up late last year. But similar to those made while he languished in Guantanamo Bay, where he was dubbed a “low risk” in 2004 but not released for another decade, those promises now look flimsy.

Guantanamo has become synonymous with the torture program orchestrated under the Bush administration. Many of the prisoners who ended up in Guantanamo were first subjected to torture in CIA black sites, the details of which can be found in the Senate Select Intelligence’s Committee report on CIA torture. Some of the worst findings include rectal feeding, eye removal, freezing conditions leading to death, and drowning simulations.

Fifteen years later, the security rationale for Guantanamo appears vaguer than ever. What do we win by housing Muslim men in a prison on illegally occupied land, subverting the rule of law to implement outrageous measures of “justice” and condoning and committing torture?

The rule of law in any democracy is built on the premise of accountability — yet, save for a pending civil suit against two psychologists who helped the CIA design its torture program, there’s been none for the torture that prisoners and former prisoners have experienced. Nor has the U.S. agreed to resettle any of those freed from Guantanamo, a move which symbolically cements their guilt despite their release without charge.

The prison’s future remains unclear, though President Trump has stated that no prisoners should be released. He’s even hinted at plans to “load it up with some bad dudes.”

On the UN Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we have a moral and ethical imperative to execute justice — not justice conceived in the height of a national security panic, but justice that is fair, legitimate, and transparent. Nothing short of this will rectify the harm that’s been done to these prisoners — and our democracy.


El Salvador Votes for Water over Gold


Photo: Genia Yatsenko

The people of El Salvador and their international allies against irresponsible mining are celebrating a historic victory. After a long battle against global mining companies that were determined to plunder the country’s natural resources for short-term profits, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly has voted to ban all metal mining projects.

The new law is aimed at protecting the Central American nation’s environment and natural resources. Approved on March 29 with the support of 69 lawmakers from multiple parties (out of a total of 84), the law blocks all exploration, extraction, and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground. It also prohibits the use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury.

In the lead-up to the vote, communities in the town of Cinquera had rejected mining through a local referendum and the Catholic Church of El Salvador had called for massive participation in a public protest to demand legislators to start discussions on the prohibition of mining. When the protest arrived at the legislative assembly, on March 9, they were greeted by a multi-party commission that committed to start discussions immediately and have legislation ready before the Easter holidays.

Despite the fact that there is a national consensus among communities, civil society organizations, government institutions, and political parties for a mining prohibition, the Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold and its subsidiaries in El Salvador have consistently attempted to slow the bill’s progress and sought to gain support for their so-called “Responsible Mining” campaign.

The company launched the campaign at a fancy hotel in San Salvador after losing a $ 250 million lawsuit against El Salvador in October 2016. The company had filed a claim with the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), demanding compensation when the government declined to grant the firm a permit for a gold extraction project that threatened the nation’s water supply. In the face of tremendous opposition from a wide range of groups inside and outside El Salvador, the ICSID tribunal ruled against the company.

When legislators announced that they would begin serious discussion on the mining ban, the company intensified its activities.  Besides publishing paid communiqués in local pro-business newspapers, social organizations reported that OceanaGold representatives met with government officials to lobby against the bill.

On March 23, a pro-mining protest was organized by the El Dorado Foundation (the foundation created and funded by OceanaGold) in front of the Legislative Assembly while the Commission deliberated over the bill.  It was later reported by FMLN Representative Guillermo Mata, President of the Environment and Climate Change Commission, that the busloads of people brought by the foundation from the Department of Cabanas had each been paid $ 7 plus a free lunch to attend. They were also directed not to talk to the press.  Also on March 23, Luis Parada, the lawyer who led the defense team for El Salvador in the ICSID case, denounced through his twitter account a letter sent by OceanaGold and its subsidiary Pac Rim containing veiled threats of further legal action should El Salvador vote to ban mining.

But the push for a mining prohibition remained strong. To support the anti-mining coalition, Carlos Padilla, Governor of Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines, visited El Salvador to share his province’s adverse experience with OceanaGold. On March 28, in presentations to El Salvador’s Environment and Climate Change Commission, Padilla reported that the mine had brought no significant economic growth, had violated human rights, and posed a threat to the province’s agricultural activity, the environment, and future generations.

His testimony helped break down the myths of economic growth and responsible, sustainable mining propagated by OceanaGold. After Padilla’s presentation the legislators on the Commission unanimously voted to advance the Law to Ban Metal Mining to the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

Also in advance of the assembly vote, many foreign organizations and individuals wrote to the president of the Legislative Assembly, Guillermo Gallegos, expressing solidarity with the people of El Salvador and support for the law.

By voting in favor of the mining ban, these lawmakers in El Salvador have chosen water over gold, and people and the environment over corporate profits.  And they showed that even a very poor country can stand up to powerful global mining firms.

Pedro Cabezas is based in El Salvador, where he coordinates the International Allies against Metal Mining. Sebastian Rosemont also contributed to this commentary.


Trump’s Israel Rhetoric Is All Over the Place

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived February 14th for his first meeting with President Donald Trump, a meeting intended to solidify the existing relationship between the two countries in the new Trump administration.

In an interview with The New Indian TV Network, IPS Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis argued that while Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggested a warmer embrace of hardline pro-Israel policies than former president Barack Obama took, the details of Trump’s policy on the region remain unclear.  

“There’s a great deal of uncertainty about what Trump’s foreign policy on Israel-Palestine, like his foreign policy on other issues, is actually going to look like,” Bennis said. But his campaign rhetoric regarding U.S.-Israeli ties has certainly put him farther to the right in the United States, “closer to the extreme right inside Israel,” Bennis explained.

This hardline rhetoric is reflected in Trump’s pick for the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. David Friedman, Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer and a financial supporter of Israeli settlements, has called for the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an idea that has been internationally condemned.

However, Trump looks to have softened his approach on this issue. While averring that he “could live with one state,” disavowing decades of stated U.S. policy in favor of a two-state solution, he’s also offered a muted condemnation of new Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, saying they “may not be helpful” to achieving peace in the region.

Bennis said that “the possibility of an Ambassador Friedman deciding to move the embassy is greater than we’ve ever seen before.” Yet given the administration’s shifting rhetoric on the issue, she concluded that there’s still no guarantee it will actually happen.

Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


How Drugs Will Get Under, Over, and Around Trump’s Wall

Getting Over the Wall

(Photo : Mark Agnor / Shutterstock)

President Donald Trump campaigned against lax immigration laws, arguing that porous borders cause problems as diverse as drug use and terrorism, but his frenetic use of executive orders during his first week has made it difficult to keep up with everything he’s planned to do, let alone contemplate the full scope of Trump’s immigration doctrine.

This past weekend, as the effects of Trump’s abrupt and rather vaguely worded restrictions on refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries took hold, America’s airports and courts were plunged into chaos. It was enough to make you forget for a moment that Trump’s executive order from earlier in week aimed at creating a border wall that probably won’t do what he says it’ll do.

All the way back in 2015, when Trump announced his campaign, he accused undocumented immigrants of bringing drugs into the US, a point he has repeated several times since. According to historian Kathleen Frydl, Trump voters in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania ravaged by drug addiction may have voted for him based on the idea that the narcotics flooding their communities came from foreign countries and that Trump alone could halt this flow.

But a wall, no matter how big and beautiful a symbol it may be, can’t do much to stop the flow of drugs into the US. In the grand scheme of things, a wall acts as little more than a literal speed bump that can be driven over by a literal car, according to Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. In a recent interview, Tree—whose organization opposes the war on drugs—told me about all the ways highly motivated and well-funded cartel engineers can build infrastructure that will stymie Trump’s anti-drug ambitions.

Read the full interview on VICE.

The post How Drugs Will Get Under, Over, and Around Trump’s Wall appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sanho Tree is the director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


? America Must Choose Diplomacy Over War


(Photo: United Nations Photo / Flickr)

The 2016 election and its terrifying aftermath have pulled millions of Americans into a maelstrom of racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria, and Islamophobia, which simultaneously reflects and prepares the ground for an even more militarized, private-profit-driven, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant foreign policy. We don’t yet know whether Donald Trump’s foreign policy will reflect his earlier dalliance with isolationism or move closer to the rabid military interventionism favored by so many of his chosen generals. Even without knowing, though, we should identify what a new, non-imperial, truly internationalist foreign policy would look like—one in which international law, human rights, and global solidarity replace the “Global War on Terror.” That starts with cutting military budgets and ending the wars, occupations, and climate injustices that are generating the world’s many refugee crises.

A new US foreign policy must be broad in its vision and scope, and it must acknowledge that war cannot defeat terrorism. Despite some good intentions and powerful speeches, and despite renaming the “Global War on Terror,” President Obama was unable to break from it; in fact, he ended up significantly expanding its reach, with the use of US Special Forces and bombing campaigns increasing in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Further escalation of that policy by a Trump administration would only result in the escalation of failure.

A progressive foreign policy means ending the economic as well as the political privileging of military profiteers. It means lifting up diplomacy over war, while rejecting isolationism and recognizing the obligations that come with being the wealthiest and most powerful nation in history.

Read the full article on The Nation.

The post ? America Must Choose Diplomacy Over War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Over 40 Years, Measures of Justice

On September 10, 1976, Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet revoked the citizenship of Orlando Letelier, who had served as Chile’s ambassador to the United States and as a cabinet minister in the government of Dr. Salvador Allende before the 1973 coup. That night, Letelier filled the seats at Madison Square Garden for an anti-Pinochet rally, telling the crowd: “I was born a Chilean, I am a Chilean, and I will die a Chilean. They were born traitors, they live as traitors, and they will be known forever as fascist traitors.”

Eleven days later, on September 21, 1976, agents of Pinochet assassinated Letelier as he drove to work at the Institute for Policy Studies with his colleague Ronni Karpen Moffitt, a 25-year-old American development associate. The car bombing on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC, was a devastating blow to their families, their friends, their colleagues, and to the global crusade for human rights. But over these past 40 years, there have been measures of justice.


Between 1978 and 1991, U.S. authorities prosecuted seven people in connection with the crime. Michael Townley, a U.S. citizen working for the Chilean secret police, pled guilty in 1978 to organizing the assassination, and received a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against five Cuban exiles involved in the bombing. A Chilean Army captain also pled guilty for his role. An independent IPS investigation into the crime, led by Saul Landau, resulted in a book, “Assassination on Embassy Row,” (co-authored with John Dinges) and helped keep up the pressure for justice.


In 1995, 19 years after the Letelier-Moffitt murders, former Chilean Secret Police Chief Manuel Contreras and Brig. Gen. Pedro Espinoza were sent to prison in Chile for their roles in the crime.


In 1978, U.S. lawyers Michael Tigar and Sam Buffone filed a civil suit on behalf of family members of Letelier and Moffitt against the assassins and the Republic of Chile. It was the first wrongful-death suit filed in the United States against a foreign nation. After the 1990 transition to democracy, the Chilean government settled the suit.


On October 16, 1998, London police arrested Pinochet on an order from the Spanish courts. The Spanish case had been filed by lawyer Juan Garcés, on behalf of victims. While a British magistrate ruled that Spain could extradite Pinochet for torture, in March 2000, the British Home Secretary released the former dictator on humanitarian grounds.


In 1999, the Clinton Administration responded to pressure from the National Security Archive and other human rights groups by declassifying more than 16,000 secret government documents related to Chile and the relationship between the U.S. government and the Pinochet dictatorship. The declassified documents helped clarify the history of U.S. intervention in Chile and have served as evidence in legal cases against human rights violators.


In March 2000, a team of U.S. law enforcement officials traveled to Chile for court proceedings involving 42 potential witnesses subpoenaed by Chile’s Supreme Court on behalf of the U.S. government. The Washington Post reported that “Federal investigators have uncovered evidence that some of them believe is sufficient to indict General Augusto Pinochet for conspiracy to commit murder in the 1976 car bombing.” While a draft indictment of Pinochet was reportedly prepared by Clinton administration officials, no action appears to have been taken after President George W. Bush took power.


Within 72 hours of Pinochet’s return to Chile from London in March 2000, Chilean Judge Juan Guzman moved to strip his immunity from prosecution, initiating a series of prosecutions that continue today. Twice—in 2000 and again in 2004—Guzman succeeded in indicting Pinochet. In both cases superior courts declared Pinochet mentally unfit for trial. Since Pinochet’s London arrest, over 300 other Chilean military officers have faced legal proceedings for human rights violations. Armando Fernandez Larios, who admitted his role in the Letelier-Moffitt assassination to U.S. authorities, was also held liable by a U.S. jury for crimes against humanity.


In 2002, a human rights litigation clinic founded by Michael Tigar at American University brought a suit against Letelier-Moffitt assassin Michael Townley for his role in aiding and abetting the torture and assassination of Carmelo Soria and won a default judgment of $ 7.2 million. This clinic still continues its work to enforce the judgment against Townley, who is in the U.S. federal witness protection program.


In February 2005, Riggs Bank agreed to settle a case brought by lawyers Juan Garcés and Sam Buffone by paying $ 9 million to victims of Pinochet for the bank’s role in concealing and spiriting Pinochet’s money out of Great Britain in 1999. In November 2005, Pinochet was arrested and placed under house arrest for charges related to tax evasion, passport forgery and other crimes associated with his possession of hundreds of illegal bank accounts, many of them in the United States. In August 2006, the Chilean Supreme Court stripped Pinochet’s immunity from prosecution, opening the way for additional charges related to these multi-million dollar accounts.  Pinochet died on December 10, 2006. At that time, about 300 criminal charges were still pending against him in Chile for numerous human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement.


In 2012, the Appeals Court in Santiago revoked a judge’s order to close the Moffitt case, arguing that the investigation should be reopened because those behind the attack were Chilean citizens. Previous Chilean prosecutions related to the bombing had focused on Letelier’s death. In 2016, a Chilean court indicted three former agents of Pinochet’s regime for Moffitt’s murder: retired Chilean army officers Pedro Espinoza Bravo and Armando Fernandez Larios and American Michael Townley. In May 2016, Chile’s Supreme Court asked the U.S. government to extradite Townley, Fernandez Larios, and Cuban American assassin Virgilio Paz in connection with another case involving the murder of United Nations diplomat Carmelo Soria in Chile in 1976.

These milestones stand as a testament to the power of persistence. As Martin Luther King once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

-? Sarah Anderson, Institute for Policy Studies, September 2016.

Contact:, tel: 202 234 9382 x 5227.

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