On June 12, the Supreme Court issued the landmark ruling Boumediene v. Bush, which affirmed that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are entitled to the Constitutional right of habeas corpus–the fundamental right to challenge the legality of one’s detention.
Though a tremendous victory for the rule of law, far more work must be done to ensure that the United States government halts torture and effectively ends Constitutionally-suspect detentions. When the Supreme Court ruled that detainees have the right to habeas corpus in the June 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act — an effort to diminish that right in practice. With approximately 270 detainees from approximately thirty countries currently at Guantanamo Bay, robust and sustained advocacy is critical to prevent Congress and the Bush Administration from once again circumventing the Supreme Court’s judgment.
Enter Amnesty International USA’s “Counter Terror With Justice Campaign.” After joining the International Bar Association, the International Federation for Human Rights and the International Law Association to provide an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the Supreme Court in the Boumediene proceedings, AI launched a multi-pronged advocacy program to stop torture, close Guantanamo and end the practice of extraordinary rendition.
AIUSA’s capacity to capitalize on public energy was on full display in the advocacy effort on behalf of Gitmo detainee Sami al Hajj. A Sudanese cameraman for the television station al-Jazeera held without charge for over 6 years, al Hajj claims to have been subjected to a range of torture and ill-treatment, including beatings and denial of prescribed medication for cancer. Amnesty International volunteers worldwide wrote letters to US authorities on his behalf, and AIUSA Local Groups 48 (Portland, OR) and 74 (Garden City, NY) “adopted” his case for targeted petition drives. In May, the government released al Hajj from Guantanamo and he was reunited with his wife and son in Sudan, ending an ordeal that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof had deemed the Bush Administration’s most systematic job of “discrediting our reputation around the globe.”
This discrediting has, fortunately, also made an impact on the homefront. “We have received a great deal of public response,” says Njambi Good, director of the AIUSA campaign. “We’re seeing more and more people when we hold visibility events who are just average Americans citizens upset by the current administrations’s policies.” And with Congress taking little meaningful action this summer to address human rights violations, this mainstreaming of dissent is likely to continue, perhaps boosted by the life-sized Guantanamo prison cell replica AIUSA is sending around the country in an effort to bring the harsh realities of illegal detention closer to home.
In spite of the slow legislative season, Good says the campaign is still devoting its attention to any legislation that would attempt to strip habeas corpus or replace it with an inadequate substitute. AIUSA is particularly concerned by what its activists deem the “allow some torture” compromise, an amendment to the 2009 Intelligence Authorization Act introduced by Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri. which allows the use of many practices that generally are considered to constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
The campaign’s website offers an innovative array of resources for everyone from the most dyed-in-the-wool anti-torture activist to the concerned citizen simply looking for an online petition to click. In addition to the reports, statements and issue briefs that define Amnesty’s influential human rights advocacy work globally, a Denounce Torture blog provides activists with one of the most up-to-the minute sources of information on the War on Terror and its human rights casualties.
Co-written and researched by Will Di Novi.