US: Obama Should Repudiate Bush Counterterrorism Practices

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Human Rights Watch (HRW)

US: Obama Should Repudiate Bush Counterterrorism Practices

11-Step Plan Would Combat Terror and Respect Fundamental Rights

WASHINGTON - 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.

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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.
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