(Washington, DC, November 16, 2008) – Upon taking office, President-elect Barack Obama should decisively repudiate the abusive counterterrorism practices of the past seven years and adopt fair and effective policy reforms, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.
The Human Rights Watch paper, “Fighting Terrorism Fairly and Effectively: Recommendations for President-elect Barack Obama,” outlines 11 steps that Obama should take to reform US counterterrorism practices. Closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, requiring the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to abide by the humane interrogation rules that apply to the military, and putting an end to renditions to torture are chief among them.
“For far too long, the United States has undermined its ability to fight terror by adopting short-sighted policies that allowed torture and indefinite detention without charge,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The United States urgently needs President-elect Obama to live up to his commitment to right the wrongs of the last seven years, and to regain the moral high ground in the fight against terrorism.”
The 28-page briefing paper urges Obama to prosecute Guantanamo detainees suspected of terrorism in federal civilian courts and to release or transfer the others. To start this process, he should designate a high-level interagency task force to review the detainees’ files and decide who should be brought to trial and who should be released.
Human Rights Watch also called on the incoming administration to admit into the United States some of the Guantanamo detainees who have already been slated for release but cannot be returned home because of concern that they would be subject to torture, and to step up negotiations with US allies around the world to find solutions for the others.
The new president should reject calls to create a preventive detention system in the United States as a way to “solve” the Guantanamo problem. Such a system would have the same major defects as the Guantanamo system, as detainees would be held without charge and without a meaningful chance to contest the evidence against them. Preventive detention would be based on assumptions about future behavior that are impossible to rebut.
Human Rights Watch cautioned that any attempt to create a preventive detention system in the United States would almost certainly embroil the administration in controversy over detainee policy and undercut gains made by closing Guantanamo.
Within the first days or weeks of taking office, Obama should take a number of additional steps to signal a major shift in US counterterrorism policy, Human Rights Watch said. Among his first acts, he should issue an executive order requiring the CIA to follow the humane interrogation rules adopted by the US military, announce an end to the CIA secret detention program, and sign the Convention against Enforced Disappearances.
Human Rights Watch also called on Obama to work with Congress to create a non-partisan investigatory body (a truth commission) with subpoena power to investigate abuses related to US counterterrorism policies and practices. This commission should specifically address who should be held accountable for these abuses and how such accountability can be achieved. It should also make recommendations regarding what steps should be taken to ensure that these abuses do not happen again.
“The United States must examine and account for the abuses of the past seven years in the fight against terrorism to understand what went wrong, and ensure that this ugly chapter in American history is never repeated,” Roth said.
The following is a full list of Human Rights Watch’s recommendations to President-elect Obama on counterterrorism issues:
· Close the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay;
· Abolish the military commissions and prosecute terrorist suspects in federal court;
· Reject preventive detention (detention without trial) as an alternative to prosecuting terrorist suspects;
· Reject the “global war on terror” as the basis for detaining terrorist suspects;
· Issue an executive order to implement the ban on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment;
· End the CIA detention program;
· Prohibit renditions to torture;
· Account for past abuses;
· Provide redress for abuse;
· Repudiate Justice Department memos and presidential directives that permit torture and other abuses; and
· Protect innocent victims of persecution abroad from being defined as terrorists.