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The hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics has set back the clock for the
respect of human rights in the People's Republic of China, Human Rights
Watch said ahead of the Games' closing ceremony in Beijing on Sunday,
August 24. Over the past year Human Rights Watch has monitored and
documented extensive human rights violations directly linked to the
preparation and the hosting of the Games.
"The 2008 Beijing Games have put an end - once and for all - to the
notion that these Olympics are a 'force for good,'" said Sophie
Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "The reality
is that the Chinese government's hosting of the Games has been a
catalyst for abuses, leading to massive forced evictions, a surge in
the arrest, detention, and harassment of critics, repeated violations
of media freedom, and increased political repression."
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic
Committee (IOC), told Reuters in August 2007 that, "We believe the
Games are going to move ahead the agenda of the social and human rights
as far as possible, the Games are going to be a force for good."
Human Rights Watch pointed out that, to the contrary, the
Chinese government has consistently violated its Olympics-related human
rights commitments. In addition, the International Olympic Committee
has failed in its duty to ensure that the government fulfilled those
pledges. The Chinese government's unrelenting campaign during the Games
to squelch legal peaceful protests, limit media freedom, and restrict
the internet access of journalists reinforces the urgent need for the
IOC to establish a permanent mechanism to monitor the human rights
performance and compliance of future Olympic host countries.
"Not a single world leader who attended the Games or
members of the IOC seized the opportunity to challenge the Chinese
government's behavior in any meaningful way," Richardson said. "Will
anyone wonder, after the Games are over, why the Chinese government
remains intransigent about human rights?"
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"The court's ruling will undoubtedly put lives at risk," said one policy expert. "It must be reversed."
A federal judge's ruling in Virginia on Thursday once again made clear the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the right-wing majority ruled that laws and regulations pertaining to firearms must fall within the United States' so-called "historical tradition."
The ruling on Thursday was handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne, a George H.W. Bush appointee, in the case of a 20-year-old who was turned away when he attempted to buy a Glock 19x handgun from a federally licensed dealer.
Under regulations put in place by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF) and the Gun Control Act of 1968, federally licensed sellers have been prohibited from selling guns to 18-to-20-year-olds, who have had to make such purchases in private sales.
Payne ruled that "the statutes and regulations in question are not consistent with our nation's history and tradition," and that "therefore, they cannot stand."
The judge made clear in his decision that the ruling was underpinned by Bruen, in which Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion that "constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them."
According to Payne, the fact that 18-year-olds were permitted to join militias at the time of the nation's founding suggests that buyers should not have to reach age 21 before purchasing handguns from licensed sellers.
"The Second Amendment's protections apply to 18-to-20-year-olds. By adopting the Second Amendment, the people constrained both the hands of Congress and the courts to infringe upon this right by denying ordinary law-abiding citizens of this age the full enjoyment of the right to keep and bear arms unless the restriction is supported by the nation's history," said Payne. "That is what Bruen tells us."
Princeton University professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr. denounced the ruling as "madness," while New York University law professor Chris Sprigman said the decision is the latest result of "America's extremist form of constitutionalism."
\u201cAmerica\u2019s extremist form of constitutionalism strikes again. https://t.co/wlsYXBI4BK\u201d— Chris Sprigman (@Chris Sprigman) 1683835308
Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals at gun control advocacy group Everytown Law, pointed to research that shows that "18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides at triple the rate of adults 21 years and older."
"The federal law prohibiting federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns to individuals under the age of 21 is not just an essential tool for preventing gun violence, it is also entirely constitutional," Carter told The Washington Post. "The court's ruling will undoubtedly put lives at risk. It must be reversed."
Attorneys on both sides of the case said they expected the Biden administration to appeal the ruling.
Numerous polls have shown that the majority of Americans favor stricter gun control measures, and a survey of gun owners taken last year by NPR/Ipsos found that 67% of respondents favored raising the age for any gun purchase from 18 to 21.
"At a moment when Americans are growing more unified and in favor of gun control," said historian Brian Rosenwald, "Clarence Thomas' grotesque, inane opinion in Bruen is going to make all of them illegal."
One advocate called the ruling a "victory for sustainable, humane farming against giant corporations that prioritize cost-cutting and profit margins over the environment, food safety, and animal welfare."
In what sustainable agriculture, public health, and animal rights champions celebrated as a major victory, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a California law prohibiting the in-state sale of pork, eggs, and veal derived from creatures "confined in a cruel manner."
The law, known as Proposition 12, was challenged by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. The organizations claimed that "because of California's huge market share... pork producers elsewhere would be required to abide by" its rules, and they argued unsuccessfully that this would violate the U.S. Constitution's "restraints on the authority of states to regulate industry beyond their borders," The Washington Post reported.
Writing the majority opinion for the 5-4 decision in National Pork Producers v. Ross, Justice Neil Gorsuch rejected what he described as the plaintiffs' request for the court to "fashion two new and more aggressive constitutional restrictions on the ability of states to regulate goods sold within their borders."
"While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list," Gorsuch wrote on behalf of himself and Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett.
"A major victory for animal welfare and a more regenerative, healthful, and humane future of our food."
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson "would have kept the case involving California's humane pork production laws alive but sent it back to a lower court for more work," the Post noted.
Food & Water Watch legal director Tarah Heinzen called the ruling "a rightful victory for sustainable, humane farming against giant corporations that prioritize cost-cutting and profit margins over the environment, food safety, and animal welfare."
"It is also a critical victory for the rights of states that seek to do better on those issues than some of their neighbors, or the country at large," she added.
George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, which filed a brief in support of California last year, also welcomed Thursday's decision as "a major victory for animal welfare and a more regenerative, healthful, and humane future of our food."
"The Supreme Court rejected industrial agriculture's far-reaching efforts to curtail states' rights to enact laws governing farming to prevent animal cruelty and to protect the public health. Instead, the court properly recognized the value and benefits of such laws," said Kimbrell. "Intensive confinement of pigs poses profound danger to food safety and the public health such as foodborne illness and disease and pathogen transmission, and important laws like Prop 12 mitigate those risks."
As the advocacy group Animal Outlook explained in a statement:
Proposition 12 sets minimum space requirements for egg-laying hens, mother pigs, and baby cows raised for veal in California, such that these animals cannot be confined in the industry-standard cages, which are barely bigger than their bodies. Prop 12 also requires that any eggs, pork, or veal sold in the state comply with these space requirements, regardless of where those products were produced.
After Prop 12 was approved by nearly two-thirds of California voters in 2018, the meat industry proceeded to challenge the law in four separate lawsuits.
"Every court to consider each of the cases, at both the trial and appellate level, has ruled against the industry," Animal Outlook pointed out. "Today's Supreme Court ruling is the industry's latest in that string of losses."
"No matter how cruel or painful a practice is, the animal agriculture industry has fought against laws to prohibit it—in this case, all the way to the Supreme Court," said Cheryl Leahy, the group's executive director. "When a powerful industry will stop at nothing to make complicity in cruelty mandatory, it's a clear sign that the cruelty is part and parcel of that industry, and the only way to refuse to be a part of it is to not eat animals altogether."
The co-author of an "explosive" new report featuring the prisoner's work said that "his drawings are the ultimate repudiation of the failure and abuses of torture."
A report published this week featuring previously unreleased drawings by Abu Zubaydah—a 52-year-old Saudi who has been imprisoned by the United States for more than 20 years at CIA "black sites" and Guantánamo Bay—offers new insight into torture suffered by a man caught up in a case of mistaken identity.
The report—entitled American Torturers: FBI and CIA Abuses at Dark Sites and Guantánamo—is based on sketches and descriptions by Zubaydah and other War on Terror torture victims and was led by Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux and University of California, San Francisco psychiatry professor Jess Ghannam, with the help of Seton Hall law students.
"Despite the efforts of the federal government, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, to conceal evidence of the actual operation of the 'enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) deployed on detainees in dark sites and at Guantánamo, a steady drumbeat of disclosures has provided an unparalleled view into this disgraceful episode in the nation's history," the report states.
"Everybody agrees, they tortured the wrong guy; they went ahead anyway so they could get permission to torture other people."
The report notes that Zubaydah's drawings "viscerally convey the brutal reality the CIA sought to hide with its calculated destruction of video recordings of torture conducted by its agents," and "dovetail with the recent accounts of Dr. James Mitchell, a chief architect of the torture regime, who both wrote a book on EITs and testified in hearings on Guantánamo."
"These sources, together with the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, provide the most complete—and compelling—account to date of America's torture program" in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the publication states.
\u201c\ud83d\udc40 Previously unseen drawings show the various torture methods used by the CIA against Abu Zubaydah, including physical/sexual assault, waterboarding, and more. \n\nContrary to their claims, the report details how the FBI was complicit in his and other detainees' torture.\u201d— CAGE (@CAGE) 1683816713
Born in Saudi Arabia, Zubaydah moved to the West Bank in Israeli-occupied Palestine as a teenager. He was captured by CIA, FBI, and Pakistani intelligence agents in Pakistan in late March 2002. Shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach during the raid that led to his capture, Zubaydah—who was mistaken for a high-ranking al-Qaeda member—was transferred to CIA "black sites" in Pakistan, Thailand, Afghanistan, Poland, Northern Africa, and Diego Garcia. In September 2006, he was sent to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he remains imprisoned.
Zubaydah was the first so-called "high-value" detainee to be tortured by U.S. agents, who treated him as a human guinea pig.
"Everybody agrees, they tortured the wrong guy; they went ahead anyway so they could get permission to torture other people," Denbeaux told The Guardian, which on Thursday posted the report along with an articleby Ed Pilkington on Zubaydah's experience.
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet gave the green light for U.S. agents to torture Zubaydah—even after learning that the prisoner was cooperative. During one discussion on the matter, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly remarked: "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
\u201cImagine: 21 yrs without trial in #CIA black sites and #Guantanamo; entire medieval torture program created to \u201cbreak\u201d him but they found no #AlQaeda link & no #9/11 prior knowledge. In fact, he\u2019s compensated by 3 EU nations for facilitating CIA torture 1/ https://t.co/8KhD6nPX2m\u201d— Moazzam Begg (@Moazzam Begg) 1683807758
Zubaydah was subjected to the interrupted drowning technique known as "waterboarding" 83 times; rape under the pretext of "rectal feeding"; shackling in excruciating "stress positions"; sleep, sensory, and food deprivation; confinement in small boxes; exposure to extreme temperatures and loud music; death threats; beatings and being slammed into walls; sexual and religious humiliation; and other abuses.
Most of the torture techniques approved by the George W. Bush administration—which included waterboarding, deprivation, stress positions, the use of loud music and dogs, slamming into walls, solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures—are illegal under both domestic and international law.
In addition to these approved EITs, U.S. military and intelligence personnel subjected terrorism detainees—many of them innocent men, women, and children—to additional abuses, including homicide, rape, imprisonment of relatives as bargaining chips, exposure to sometimes lethally extreme temperatures, and brutal beatings.
"Sexual assault was never approved, nudity was never approved, humiliation by having women present was never approved, and nor was subjecting someone to prolonged torture to the point of exhaustion or worse," Denbeaux told The Guardian.
"Prisoners died of torture at Asadadad, Bagram, and Gardez in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib, Camp Whitehorse, Basra, Mosul, Tikrit, Bucca, and an unidentified facility in Iraq."
According to a 2005 report by the National Library of Medicine—a federal agency—based on reviews of military documents, 26 War on Terror detainees died as a result of "criminal homicide," although the paper did not say how many prisoners died on the battlefield or while in U.S. custody.
"Prisoners died of torture at Asadadad, Bagram, and Gardez in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib, Camp Whitehorse, Basra, Mosul, Tikrit, Bucca, and an unidentified facility in Iraq," the report stated. "These cases do not include deaths due to medical neglect, mortar attacks on prisons, or the shootings of rioting prisoners."
Zubaydah has never been charged with any crime or tried. He is what's known as a "forever prisoner," as the U.S. has no plans to release him.
Last month, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Zubaydah's immediate release while asserting that his continued imprisonment violates the "fundamental rules of international law" and "may constitute crimes against humanity."
\u201cCredit to @ClareDalyMEP for amplifying the UN Working Grp on Arbitrary Detention's decision in our client #AbuZubaydah's case, calling for EU states to step up and offer resettlement. Urgent action needed to end crimes against humanity, torture & arbitrary detention. #Guantanamo\u201d— Helen Duffy (@Helen Duffy) 1683811253
Thirty men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. Only one has been convicted of a crime. Ten have cases pending before what former military prosecutors have called "rigged" military tribunals, while 16 have been approved or recommended for release.
The administration of President Joe Biden—who has expressed intent to close Guantánamo—has overseen the transfer of a handful of Gitmo prisoners to third countries.
Denbeaux said that "Abu Zubaydah is the poster child for America's torture program."
"He was the first person to be tortured, having been approved by the Department of Justice based on facts that the CIA knew to be false," Denbeaux noted. "His drawings are the ultimate repudiation of the failure and abuses of torture."