BY TASNEEM HAMEED
United Nations Organization, is the custodian of human rights all over the world. United States Of America is the most powerful country of the world and, one of the most prominent exponent of human rights. Together they bear the collective responsibility for ensuring the observance of human rights as enshrined in the United Nations Charter and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United States Of America is also bound by the provisions of American Constitution about human rights and the principles of The American Declaration of Independence 1776 .
It would be important to go through the salient features of the above two historic documents to emphasize the great importance given to human rights BY UNO and USA. Although, according to Richard Magnus, Singapore's representative to the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) “Talking about human rights in a rights-based perspective is not wrong, but it is insufficient.” Human rights should be about “cultivating humanity, human flourishing, and identity politics.” He further stipulated that, there are many different dimensions, expressions and depths to human rights but that there is a common narrative to human rights: cultivating humanity or a sense of being a world citizen.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
• All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
• Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
• Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
• No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
• No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
• Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
• All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
• Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
• No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
• Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
• (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
• (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
American civil rights as put forth by the United States Constitution & the Bill of Rights
The Promise of the American Republic
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall deem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
American Declaration of Independence, 1776
Since its inception as an independent nation, the United States has claimed a special relationship with the issue of human rights. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he captured—as well as spoke to—the yearnings of the colonists along the eastern seaboard of North America to break free from tyrannical rule across the Atlantic Ocean.. Although Jefferson was primarily concerned with focusing on the specific grievances and complaints the colonists had against the British king George III, his language gave expression to larger sentiments, coming partly from the Enlightenment philosophy that had recently swept the Western world. As a result, his words seemed transcendent in thought, though they were not necessarily so in their application.
But, what happened subsequently throughout the world, is a different story. A lot has been written about the atrocities committed in different countries of the world as well as the flagrant violations of human rights by dictators, kings and pseudo democrats. From the people whose basic purpose was to rule through despotic measures and whose very existence depended on such measures , nothing better could have been expected. In most of the cases they ultimately had to pay the price of their misdeeds one way or the other. But, what about the institutions specifically created to safe guard the human rights and the countries in the forefront of espousing this cause? How they have acquitted themselves during all these years and especially during the last decade or so. The main purpose of this article is to give a glimpse of this scene.
Guantánamo Bay is located in Guantánamo Province at the southeastern end of Cuba . It is the largest harbor on the south side of the island. The United States assumed territorial control over the southern portion of Guantánamo Bay under the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty, which granted it a perpetual lease of the area.
This relatively unknown piece of land shot into prominence after US invasion of Afghanistan to avenge the 9/11 attacks and to overthrow the Taliban Government in the country. US was successful in driving away Talibans from the Government very quickly and, during and after the short war took thousands of persons as prisoners belonging to different countries. While some of them were hard core militants many were arrested on mere suspicion, or because they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
How to deal with these people was a question with lot of legal implications. US Government of the time, wanted to have a system for these prisoners which keep them out of the definition of prisoners of war as well as out of the jurisdiction of the civil US Courts. In other words they wanted, that these people should remain in the prison as long as the Government Authorities wanted . It was then, that some genius proposed Guantanamo Bay American Military Base as the place where these prisoners could be kept away from the eyes of those who care about human rights as well as from jurisdiction of courts. In 2002, President George W. Bush made it the central prison for suspects and named them unlawful enemy combatants to keep them out of the definition of prisoners of war, which actually the were. . However, the Bush administration's efforts to try prisoners at the base before military tribunals was blocked by a series of Supreme Court rulings responding to challenges brought by prisoners
Unfortunate as it was, in the aftermath of 9/11 due to the frenzy created by war on terror no one took serious notice of the act which was not only illegal and unethical, a flagrant violation of human rights , but also against all the civilized norms of the society.
It took many years for the world to know what had been and/ happening behind the barbed wires of Guantánamo prison camp. Harsh interrogation tactics — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — drew global condemnation.
The horrible stories of torture, humiliation and, most modern but cruel ways of interrogation put to shame the Nazi atrocities.
More than 700 leaked secret files on the Guantánamo detainees lay bare the inner workings of America's controversial prison camp in Cuba. The US military dossiers, obtained by the New York Times and the Guardian, reveal how, alongside the so-called "worst of the worst", many prisoners were flown to the Guantánamo cages and held captive for years on the flimsiest grounds, or on the basis of lurid confessions extracted by maltreatment.
The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or enemy fighters, than on extracting intelligence. Among inmates who proved harmless were an 89-year-old Afghan villager, suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim. The old man was transported to Cuba to interrogate him about "suspicious phone numbers" found in his compound. The 14-year-old was shipped out merely because of "his possible knowledge of Taliban...local leaders"
Almost 100 of the inmates who passed through Guantánamo are listed by their captors as having had depressive or psychotic illnesses. Many went on hunger strike or attempted suicide.
A number of British nationals and residents were held for years even though US authorities knew they were not Taliban or al-Qaida members. One Briton, Jamal al –Harith, was rendered to Guantánamo simply because he had been held in a Taliban prison and was thought to have knowledge of their interrogation techniques. The US military tried to hang on to another Briton, Binyam Mohammad, even after charges had been dropped and evidence emerged he had been tortured.
US authorities relied heavily on information obtained from a small number of detainees under torture. They continued to maintain this testimony was reliable even after admitting that the prisoners who provided it had been mistreated.
The files also show that a large number of the detainees who have left Guantanamo were designated "high risk" by the camp authorities before their release or transfer to other countries.
The leaked files include guidance for US interrogators on how to decide whether to hold or release detainees, and how to spot al-Qaida cover stories. One warns interrogators: "Travel to Afghanistan for any reason after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 is likely a total fabrication with the true intentions being to support Usama Bin Laden through direct hostilities against the US forces."
The files also detail how many innocents or marginal figures swept up by the Guantánamo dragnet because US forces thought they might be of some intelligence value.
One man was transferred to the facility "because he was a mullah, who led prayers at Manu mosque in Kandahar province, Afghanistan … which placed him in a position to have special knowledge of the Taliban". US authorities eventually released him after more than a year's captivity, deciding he had no intelligence value.
Another prisoner was shipped to the base "because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khowst and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver".
The files also reveal that an al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years, partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network.
The files also detail how many innocents or marginal figures swept up by the Guantánamo dragnet because US forces thought they might be of some intelligence value.
His dossier states that one of the reasons was "to provide information on … the al-Jazeera news network's training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network's acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL".
The Guantánamo files are among hundreds of thousands of documents US soldier Bradley ------Manning is accused of having turned over to the WikiLeaks website more than a year ago.
The documents were obtained by the New York Times and shared with the Guardian and National Public Radio, which is publishing extracts, having redacted information which might identify informants.
An affidavit by David Hicks, a 29-year-old Australian citizen captured in Afghanistan and held by the US military since December 2001, was released by his lawyers during legal action in the US courts.
Hicks was one of four Guantánamo Bay prisoners formally charged on allegations of terrorist activity and due to face trial early next year. He explained that he was “beaten before, after, and during interrogations... [and] threatened, directly and indirectly, with firearms and other weapons before and during interrogations” during his three-year detention.
He also heard the bashing of other detainees during interrogations and saw their injuries. He states that he has been hit in the face, head, feet, and torso with hands, fists and other objects, including rifle butts.
“At one point, a group of detainees, including myself, was subjected to being randomly hit over a eight-hour session while handcuffed and blindfolded,” he said. His head was rammed into the ground several times.
“I have witnessed the activities of the Internal Reaction Force (hereinafter ‘IRF’), which consists of a squad of soldiers that enter a detainee’s cell and brutalise him with the aid of an attack dog.
Hicks stated that he was deprived of sleep as a “matter of policy”, forcibly injected with unknown sedatives—his requests for information about the drugs ignored—and beaten while under their influence. He was handcuffed so tightly, and for up to 15 hours at a time, that his hands became numb and remained that way for a considerable period. He was regularly forced to run in leg shackles that ripped the skin off his ankles.
Military officers repeatedly told Hicks that he would be sent home if he assisted them. Failure to cooperate meant the loss of necessities, such as showers, sufficient food, and access to reading material, including receiving mail.
“I was told there was an ‘easy way’ and a ‘hard way’ to respond to interrogation,” he said. “Interrogators once offered me the services of a prostitute for fifteen minutes if I would spy on other detainees. I refused.” He said interrogators attempted to turn other prisoners against him by spreading false rumours.
“I have also heard that religious detainees were exposed to pornography,” he said, “and were dragged around naked in order to break their will.” Food was withheld from detainees during Ramadan.
“Cooperation with interrogators,” Hicks stated, “offered the only means of relief from the miserable treatment and abuse the detainees suffered. Those who failed to comply suffered abuse until they gave in.”
Hicks was moved to Camp Echo on July 9, 2003 and held in solitary confinement. He stated that he lost 30 pounds that year and was not allowed outside his cell for exercise in the sunlight until March 10, 2004.
Hicks said he repeatedly asked for a lawyer during interrogations and questioned why he “was not being treated as prisoner of war”. He protested his mistreatment to American military officials on several occasions—in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay—and told Red Cross representatives about the abuse.
The statement emphasized that it was only an “outline of the abuse and mistreatment” he “received, witnessed, and/or heard about” while jailed by the US military and that he could provide additional details if requested by US legal authorities.
Tarek Dergoul, a British citizen born and brought up in east London and released without charge after almost two years at Guantanamo Bay, described one of many alleged assaults he says he suffered in American custody. With the world still reeling from the photographs of prisoner abuse and torture at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, Dergoul's testimony suggests that Guantanamo hides another terrible secret - proof, in the shape of hundreds of videos shot by US guards, that here, too, America's war against terror has led to wanton brutality against helpless detainees.
'I was in extreme pain and so weak that I could barely stand. It was freezing cold and I was shaking like a washing machine. They questioned me at gunpoint and told me that if I confessed I could go home.
'They had already searched me and my cell twice that day, gone through my stuff, touched my Koran, felt my body around my private parts. And now they wanted to do it again, just to provoke me, but I said no, because if you submit to everything you turn into a zombie.
'I heard a guard talking into his radio, "ERF, ERF, ERF," and I knew what was coming - the Extreme Reaction Force. The five cowards, I called them - five guys running in with riot gear. They pepper-sprayed me in the face and I started vomiting; in all I must have brought up five cupfuls. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed. They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.'
Dergoul, 26, was released at the same time as four other Britons in March, but was too traumatised by his experiences to tell his story until now. While it is shocking, it is also credible: his description of his interrogations and the 'ERF' squad's violent reprisals closely matches that from other released prisoners, including his fellow Britons, while possibly his most important claim, that the ERF was always filmed, has been confirmed by the US military.
'Much of his story is consistent with other accounts of detention conditions in both Afghanistan and Guantanamo,' said John Sifton, a New York-based official from Human Rights Watch who has interviewed numerous former Guantanamo prisoners in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 'It is now clear that there is a systemic problem of abuse throughout the US military's detention facilities - not merely misbehaviour by a few bad apples.'
Dergoul also disclosed personal experience of the techniques pioneered by the former Guantanamo commandant, General Geoffrey Miller, to 'set the conditions' for detainees' interrogation, which Miller then took to Iraq.
He said they included humiliation, prolonged exposure to intense heat and cold, sleep deprivation, being kept chained in painful positions, and the threat of 'rendition' to an Arab country where, his interrogators said, he would be subjected to full-blown torture.
FBI Agents Allege Abuse of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay
Detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves, an FBI agent who said he witnessed such abuse reported in a memo to supervisors, according to documents released yesterday.
In memos over a two-year period that ended in August, FBI agents and officials also said that they witnessed the use of growling dogs at Guantanamo Bay to intimidate detainees -- contrary to previous statements by senior Defense Department officials -- and that one detainee was wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music in an apparent attempt to soften his resistance to interrogation.
In addition, several agents contended that military interrogators impersonated FBI agents, suggesting that the ruse was aimed in part at avoiding blame for any subsequent public allegations of abuse, according to memos between FBI officials.
The accounts, gleaned from heavily redacted e-mails and memorandums, were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit. They suggest that extremely aggressive interrogation techniques were more widespread at Guantanamo Bay than was acknowledged by military officials.
The documents also make it clear that some personnel at Guantanamo Bay believed they were relying on authority from senior officials in Washington to conduct aggressive interrogations. One FBI agent wrote a memo referring to a presidential order that approved interrogation methods "beyond the bounds of standard FBI practice," although White House and FBI officials said yesterday that such an order does not exist.
On Jan. 22, 2009, two days after his inauguration, President Obama signed executive orders effectively ending the CIA’s secret interrogation program, directing the closing of the detention camp within a year and setting up a sweeping, high-level review of the best way to hold and question terrorist suspects in the future. The move put a halt to the Bush administration's military commissions system for prosecuting detainees.
But, to the dismay of all those who had hoped for the end of this human tragedy Mr. Obama's plan to close the prison became bogged down in a politico-legal hair spiliting. Republicans criticized the move consistently, saying it would lead to the release of dangerous prisoners.
President Obama in March 2011 reversed his two-year-old order halting new military charges against detainees at Guantánamo, permitting military trials to resume with revamped procedures and implicitly admitting the failure of his pledge to close the prison camp which he had also made in the UN General Assembly during his first address as the President Of United States.
Evidently Guantánamo has shown the double standards exhibited by the United Nations and the United States about their regard, and love for human rights. Human rights cannot be differentiated for different people as all are born equal according to Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. But, as the above narrated gruesome facts testify the way in which even the innocent inmates were treated showed the world that human rights too are different for different categories of people based on their nationalities. While The United States try to take shelter by citing 9/11 as an excuse, United Nations even did not have that excuse. Just as the barbarian acts of 9/11 could not be justified on any ground so are the acts of the American Governments in Guantanamo. As for United Nations, its independence, its ability to act and its partisan character stands exposed to the whole world.
The world is justified in asking the following questions :
1. What the United Nations did to stop the illegal and inhuman activities carried out at Guantanamo with impunity?
2. Did the Secretary General called any meeting of the Security Council , compiled any report for the General Assembly about this matter?
3. Who was/ were mainly responsible for planning and implementing what happened at Guantanamo and what action was taken against him/them by the US Government.
4. How much compensation was paid to the illegally detained and tortured prisoners ?
5. Why the most powerful person on the planet, was unable to implement his promise made to the people of the world at the United Nations and why he did not explain it in his subsequent address to the United Nations General Assembly?
6. What steps United Nations took after the failure of The US president to close the Guantanamo Military Base to safeguard the rights of the prisoners?
7. Is President Obama entitled to retain the Nobel Peace Prize after his not so noble act of eating his own words in such an important matter?