Thursday, February 16, 2006

UN to US: Close Gmo

A United Nations report
today said the U.S. should either release Guantanamo Bay prisoners or put them on trial. It also called for the closing of the facility, saying practices there "amount to torture."

The U.S. rejected the report.

Well, neither is any surprise. The Bush administration's policy of never apologizing for anything is beginning to make sense. After bending the U.S. constitution, instituting torture as a matter of U.S. policy, holding prisoners without trial for lengthly periods of time condemning thousands of people -- some who have engaged in armed activity but many who haven't -- to a life of hell, and contracting with the worse security forces in the world in a policy of rendition and torture, how can they apologize now?

Let's be clear why all of this is problemmatic, and why the U.S. should follow the advice of the U.N. report to close the Gmo facility. It's about defining what our military is doing in Iraq. What happens at Gmo, what happens with illegal renditions, actually goes a long way to define whether our military is an army of occupation or liberation, whether we overthrew Saddam Hussein to make a stand for democracy and human rights or whether we are a bully. We can complain only for so long that the "bad guys" are worse than us -- and they are. But if we take on the aspects of the bad guys to fight us, we're not going to accomplish anything other than killing a lot of people and damaging a lot more.

Here's what others are saying about the UN report:
Three Wise Men says the report confirms the wrongfulness of our policies.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Running Scared

President Mubarak made a surprise announcement today delaying local elections for two years. This is not a move he would have made had he felt comfortable in the NDP's electoral strength. Nevertheless, it's a unsurprising sign that he plans to step back from the promises of reform and democracy he made during last year's presidential campaign.

This is an act that should bring an immediate and strong outcry. It's already coming from Egyptian activists, and we should join them. Since the presidential election, Mubarak's regime has:

* assaulted peaceful demonstrators against the war on Iraq

* assaulted supporters of the Muslim Brothers and other political opponents

* arrested and convicted on politically motivated charges Ayman Nour, the man who came in second place to him

* prevented independent oversight of the national parliamentary elections

* killed at least eight voters and injured at least 10 more in police violence at voting sites.

This is all in addition to the routine torture, abuse of administrative detention and restrictions on civil society and legitimate political activity that marks the Mubarak regime.

The reaction is coming in swiftly. Islamists are crying foul, says the Agence France Press. "The NDP and government are afraid of losing their influence to the Islamists in the municipal elections. They are afraid because Egyptians know that there is an alternative," says a member of the Muslim Brothers.

NGOs are also speaking out.
"The government is not ready now for the election, and they are not ready because they are afraid to be defeated or lose badly, like they did in the parliamentary election," said Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession.

I urge everyone in the United States to contact Egyptian ambassador Nabil Fahmy to express displeasure over the regime's actions and it's reneging on its promise on the democracy and human rights that Egyptians are clamoring for.

Ambassador Fahmy can be written at
The Arab Republic of Egypt. 3521 International Court, NW, Washington DC 20008
Telephone: (202) 895 5400 Fax: (202) 244-4319 E-mail:

Monday, February 06, 2006

Condemned to Guantánamo

In a new report published today, Amnesty International revealed how the US detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is condemning thousands across the world to a life of suffering, torment and stigmatization.

The report “Guantánamo: Lives torn apart – The impact of indefinite detention on detainees and their families”, contains testimonies of a number of former detainees and their relatives and assesses the current state of those who continue to be imprisoned at Guantánamo, including developments in relation to the ongoing hunger strike and suicide attempts.

Five-hundred men from around 35 nationalities are detained in Guantánamo. Dozens are currently on hunger strike and there have been numerous suicide attempts. None of them have had the lawfulness of their detention reviewed in a court of law. Nine continue to be held despite no longer being defined by the US government as “enemy combatants.”

Amnesty International is calling on the US authorities to:
  • Publish a list of all those detained by the US in Guantánamo and elsewhere;
  • Try or release all Guantánamo detainees;
  • Close Guantánamo and open up all US detention facilities to independent scrutiny;
  • Investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody.
I'll note this is Amnesty's same prescription to the Egyptian government for correcting the abuses in its "war on terror." I remember shortly after 9/11, the Egyptian ambassador Nabil Fahmy coming to my university to discuss the war on terror. "America should listen to us," he told the audience. "We warned them. We know how to fight the war on terror."

It seems that Ambassador Fahmy's wish has come true.

Click here for the report on Guantánamo.

Click here for a report on torture and ill-treatment in the war on terror.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Profiles of Human Rights Defenders: Negad el-Borai

Egyptian attorney Negad el-Borai has spent many years working on the behalf of democracy and human rights activists, and his work has not been easy. But it took a dangerous turn in 2005 when imams at several leading Egyptian mosques named him by person and called him a traitor for his reform work. (His colleague and friend Saad Ibrahim was also mentioned.) Worse yet, the attacks from the pulpit seemed to be directed or at least encouraged by the government's ministry of endowment, which must approve imam's sermons.

el-Borai was not silenced. He denounced the threats and continued his work, including the defense of opposition leader Ayman Nour. He has served as the director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and as the leader of the Group for Democratic Development.

el-Borai has supported a broad perspective on human rights, opposing abuses against women and gays. And he has keenly been aware of the need to strengthen civil society as a means of promoting human rights and democracy. In a 2000 talk at the National Endowment for Democracy, he said, "As we feel it, the real problem in Egypt now is a steady long, and a closing process of political de-liberalization by the last two Egyptian cabinets, control or destroy Egypt's building civil society.

"This sinister process that has been obscured by the smoke screen of the battle between the militant fundamentalist groups and the government during the 90's. Civil society stood firmly in support of government against terrorism. But when the government finally emerged victorious from that battle and the smoke subsided, we began to see final stages of this de-liberalization process."

His comments in the 2000 talk still stand true and bear repeating at some length.

"In my opinion an attempt to revive civil society cannot succeed unless the government recognizes that its oppressive and shortsighted policies have setback the country into the current economic and political crisis. To emerge out of these crises, difficult decisions have to be made, and citizens cannot be made to take the consequences without becoming partners in their homeland. The international community can play a role here by advising the Egyptian government that it has to start reconciliation with it's own civil society, by abolishing the exceptional and oppressive laws, including the continuos enforcement of the martial law.

"Government performance and accountability have to be improved, the monitoring role of the civil society has to be activated, and protection has to be guaranteed for its members.

"The international community that has evolved the principles of democracy and human rights and articulated them in international covenants must insist on their enforcement in the states that ratified them.

If international community should play a role in monitoring the progress of democracy and growth of civil society in worldwide, including Egypt. This will no doubt improve the political and economic environment for all."

His words and acts are reminder that no ideas of democracy or human rights need to be planted in Egypt. They are already there and have been for centuries; our role should be to help those believing in them find room to develop them.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Update on Sudanese refugees in detention

The Egyptian authorities extended the time it had initially granted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cairo to interview detained Sudanese demonstrators, and the UNHCR completed its final interview by 27 January.

The authorities released 440 of the detainees on the UNHCR's recommendation, between 7 and 20 January. Of the 183 demonstrators still in detention, the UNHCR has recommended that 14 be released immediately as they had applied for asylum.

The remaining detainees were found not to be in need of international protection. They are still in custody, but the Egyptian authorities have announced that they will not deport them and that they will grant them visas.