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Hamas authorities in Gaza should immediately end the cruel and
inhuman treatment of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit of Israel and allow him to
communicate with his family and receive visits from the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Watch said today. June
25, 2010 is the fourth anniversary of his captivity.
Hamas authorities are violating the laws of war by refusing to
allow Shalit to correspond with his family, Human Rights Watch said, and
have refused to allow either his family or the ICRC to visit him since
his capture on June 25, 2006. Hamas has passed on only three letters
from him, a voice recording, and a short video. Hamas's prolonged
incommunicado detention of Shalit is cruel and inhuman and may amount to
torture, Human Rights Watch said.
"Hamas's cruel treatment of Shalit causes him and his family
needless suffering," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at
Human Rights Watch. "Regardless of Hamas's grievances against Israel,
there are no grounds to cut Shalit off completely from his family."
On June 11, the Hamas politburo deputy, Mousa Abu Marzouk,
released a statement rejecting any outside access to Shalit. Doing so,
the statement said, could reveal his location to Israel, which it
contended would bomb the area if it could not secure his release. The
previous month, Hamas officials gave the same rationale for denying a
Human Rights Watch request to visit Shalit.
Hamas officials say that they will release Shalit only in return for
Israel's release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including persons
whom Israeli courts have convicted of deadly attacks on civilians.
Repeated efforts at negotiating prisoner exchanges between Hamas and
Israel, including through foreign negotiators, have so far failed. On
April 25, in an apparent attempt to increase pressure on Israel, Hamas's
armed wing released a computer-generated video depicting Shalit's
father's efforts to secure his release. In one sequence, Shalit's father
watches a coffin, supposedly his son's, as it leaves Gaza, before the
video ends with the words, "There is still hope."
On June 25, 2006, Palestinian militants based in the Gaza Strip
raided an Israel Defense Forces post inside Israel, near the Kerem
Shalom crossing, killing two Israeli soldiers and capturing Shalit, who
then held the rank of corporal. Hamas, the governing authority in Gaza,
has held him captive ever since. According to news reports, Shalit
received medical treatment for a shoulder injury and a broken hand
sustained during the attack.
The laws of war prohibit cruel and inhuman treatment of persons
in custody. They also require a party to a conflict to permit persons
deprived of their liberty to correspond with their families and not to
refuse arbitrarily a request by the ICRC to visit detainees.
Incommunicado detention arises when detainees are denied access
to anyone outside the place of detention. In 2003, the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights resolved that "prolonged incommunicado
detention ... can in itself constitute a form of cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or even torture." The UN Human Rights Committee, a
body of independent experts, ruled in the case of El-Megreisi v. Libya
that prolonged incommunicado detention of more than three years amounted
to torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.
Israel for its part has prevented Palestinian detainees from Gaza
from having family visits. In June 2007, Israel suspended an ICRC-run
program allowing family visits, as required by the Geneva Conventions,
for 900 Palestinians from Gaza who are detained in Israeli prisons. The
families are allowed to exchange letters. Israel imposed the
prison-visit ban after Hamas's takeover of the territory on June 15,
2007, when it also tightened the blockade of Gaza, a form of unlawful
collective punishment against Gaza's civilians. Violations of the laws
of war by one party to a conflict do not justify violations by the
Israeli authorities have repeatedly detained Hamas members, including
elected members of parliament, without charge in the West Bank in
apparent retaliation for Shalit's
In May, Israeli authorities announced plans to deport from East
Jerusalem to Gaza four Hamas lawmakers who were arrested four days
after Shalit's capture, convicted by a military court of membership in a
banned organization and sentenced to different terms of between two and
four years in prison. The residency permits for the men - Mohammed Abu
Tair, Ahmed 'Atwan, Mohammed Toutah, and Khaled Abu 'Arafa - were
revoked in 2006. The Associated Press reported that Israel could begin
to deport the men as early as June 25.
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.
"I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default," wrote AFGE's leader.
A union leader representing over 750,000 government employees on Tuesday pressured U.S. President Joe Biden to reject congressional Republicans' demands for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and to avert an economically devastating default by invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has continued to warn that the federal government could run out of money to pay its bills as early as June 1, some legal scholars and progressive lawmakers have encouraged Biden to combat the GOP's economic hostage-taking by invoking the section of the amendment which states that "the validity of the public debt... shall not be questioned."
The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE) joined those calls on Tuesday, with national president Everett Kelley writing to Biden to call for "unilateral action to ensure that the government continues to pay its bills and fulfill its obligations after the Treasury exhausts all extraordinary debt measures within the next several days."
"Our union members are the doctors, nurses, firefighters, border patrol agents, corrections officers, federal police, food safety inspectors, transportation security officers, and other public servants who keep the government running around the clock," Kelley noted. "They served tirelessly throughout the pandemic, defending the public, often at great personal risk. More than a few gave their lives to their country. It would be unconscionable now to agree to a budget deal that once again sacrifices their well-being on the altar of fiscal austerity."
"We urge you not to agree to spending caps because, inevitably, they undermine the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions."
"We urge you not to agree to spending caps because, inevitably, they undermine the ability of federal agencies to carry out their missions and result in further unwarranted cuts to federal jobs and compensation," the union leader stressed, taking aim at a key demand of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and fellow Republicans, who passed their so-called Limit, Save, Grow Act late last month.
Noting that "many federal agencies that deliver services directly to the public, like the Social Security Administration, are already at the breaking point from years of inadequate funding," Kelley warned that they "can in no way withstand further budget cuts of the magnitude proposed by House Republicans in the morally bankrupt 'Limit, Save, Grow Act.' This bill, even in the most diluted form, would be an economic and humanitarian calamity."
"Clearly a default must be avoided at all costs," he added. "I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default under the Constitution's 14th Amendment. You have additional authorities to mint platinum coins under 31 USC § 5112. Please use these authorities now before it is too late."
Before returning to Washington, D.C. to continue negotiations with McCarthy, Biden told reporters on Sunday that "I think we have the authority" to invoke the 14th Amendment but given the potential for a legal challenge," the question of whether it could be done in time to prevent a default "is unresolved."
\u201cQ: "It sounds like the White House is now ruling out invoking the 14th Amendment as an option to get around the debt ceiling. Is that accurate?" \n\n@PressSec: "It is not going to fix the current problem that we have right now..."\u201d— CSPAN (@CSPAN) 1684871442
Politicoreported Friday that some Biden aides worry that "even the appearance of more seriously considering the 14th Amendment could blow up talks that are already quite delicate," and actually doing so could "trigger a pitched legal battle, undermine global faith in U.S. creditworthiness, and damage the economy."
Kelley's letter came as a federal judge scheduled a debt limit lawsuit hearing for May 31, the day before the so-called X-date. That case—filed by another union, the National Association of Government Employees, against Biden and Yellen—cites the 14th Amendment and aims to have the debt limit statute deemed unconstitutional.
"MAGA politicians... want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
As Republican leaders in the U.S. House prepare to hold a vote this week on legislation that would block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief, progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday warned of the "ruinous impact" the GOP's resolution threatens to have on millions of borrowers.
Last year, Biden moved to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes under $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment program. The White House's popular relief initiative is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to it. A decision in the case is expected next month.
House Republicans, however, are now attempting to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal Biden's student debt policies regardless of how the high court rules. At issue is H.J. Res. 45, a CRA resolution that GOP lawmakers approved in committee earlier this month in a party-line vote. House Republican leadership on Monday scheduled the measure for a floor vote on Wednesday.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel."
On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) sounded the alarm about the measure's wide-ranging potential consequences, warning that it "would destroy the lives of millions of borrowers and their families by forcing them to repay thousands of dollars in already forgiven debt."
"Right-wing special interests want their supporters to believe they are simply trying to stop Biden's student loan debt relief program, but there are far greater implications afoot," a new report from AFT and SBPC points out.
In addition to nullifying Biden's promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers, H.J. Res. 45 would "reverse months of paused payments and already waived interest charges implemented as part of the government's pandemic response, immediately leaving 40 million student loan borrowers past due on their loans and adding tens of billions of dollars in new interest charges," the groups noted.
That's not all. The CRA resolution also seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean after making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
As AFT and SBPC explained:
If enacted, the Republican student loan CRA scheme would undo the seventh extension of the pause on federal student loan payments first enacted by President [Donald] Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The seventh extension lasted from September 2022 through December 2022. According to the Congressional Review Act, "[a]ny rule that takes effect and later is made of no force or effect by enactment of [CRA resolution] shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect." The CRA scheme would thus also likely undo the eighth extension of the payment pause, a "substantially the same" executive action that began in January 2023 and is ongoing.
Based on their analysis of recently unveiled Department of Education data, the two groups estimated that if the CRA rolls back the seventh and eighth payment pauses, nearly 269,000 public service workers who accessed debt cancellation from September 2022 through March 2023 under the PSLF program would see their loan balances restored. The collective student debt burden put back on their shoulders would exceed $19.5 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, on average.
In addition, roughly 2 million public service workers would lose at least some progress made toward the future cancellation of more than $178 billion in student debt under the PSLF program. As a result, teachers, nurses, first responders, and others would be driven even further into debt as they continue to recover from the coronavirus crisis and brace for the possibility of additional economic devastation brought about by the GOP's current debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel," says the report.
In a statement, AFT president Randi Weingarten condemned H.J. Res. 45, calling it "a disaster."
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
"For years, the AFT and the SBPC have fought the damage forced by the Trump administration on student loan borrowers and their families," said Weingarten. "Now, MAGA politicians don't just want to stop that progress, they want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others. It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
"Public service workers have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of others," the union leader continued. "They care deeply about what kids and communities need. We have a duty to honor and respect them—that's why, 16 years ago, a bipartisan majority in Congress made a promise to help them erase their student debt in exchange for 10 years of repayments."
"We will not stand idly by as House Republicans try to return us to those dark days," she added.
SBPC executive director Mike Pierce called Wednesday's scheduled vote on the CRA resolution "a test of American values."
"Do we stand on the side of teachers, nurses, first responders, and service members who fought to keep our kids safe and our communities healthy throughout the pandemic, or do we betray their service in pursuit of Republicans' never-ending culture war?" Pierce asked.
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers," he added, "is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement that "if Congress were to pass H.J. Res. 45, the president would veto it."
"This resolution," OMB stressed, "is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief."
"The good news," the authors of a new People's Action white paper assert, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."
Amid what many experts fear is a Republican-led slow-march toward fascism in the United States, a report published Tuesday by a progressive advocacy group answers the question: "How can we build a multiracial and pluralistic democracy with an inclusive economy to defeat the rise of authoritarianism?"
The white paper—entitled The Antidote to Authoritarianism: How an Organizing Revival Can Build a Multiracial Pluralistic Democracy and an Inclusive Economy—was published by People's Action with support from the Democracy Fund and the endorsement of more than a dozen progressive groups.
"This simple truth—that ordinary people, organized effectively, have the power to drive social change upwards to create the conditions for justice, equity, and freedom—has been the power behind every great expansion of our democracy, from abolition and women's suffrage to civil rights and marriage equality," the paper notes.
\u201cThe antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and we need an #OrganizingRevival across America to activate this potential - but organizers and funders must shift how we work together. Read our new report: https://t.co/NH3R85UXEM\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684853375
Paper co-authors Beth Jacob and James Mumm said they interviewed more than two dozen leaders of national social change networks, academics, philanthropists, and organizers.
"Arevival and expansion of community organizing is essential to reinvigorating democracy across lines of difference; this is the foundation of a multiracial pluralistic democracy," the pair asserted. "Philanthropies that want to address the root causes of racial inequity need to partner with community organizing on a long-term agendathat builds enough relationships and power to make progress on structural racism."
"Community organizing and philanthropy can reduce economic uncertainty that is fueling authoritarianism and help people win and make meaning of public investments as building blocks of an inclusive economy," the authors added.
\u201c"...[A]ction can indeed be taken to combat the daunting backward trend toward authoritarianism..." Rev. Dr. B. DeNeice Welch, leader with @gamalielnetwork, pastor at Bidwell Church in Pittsburgh. #organizingrevival #antidotetoauthoritarianism https://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684855770
Among the paper's key findings:
"Organizers and philanthropy have a big task before us: to strengthen and defend democracy at a time when some feel that democracy fails them and others want to throw it out to advance an authoritarian agenda," People's Action executive director Sulma Arias said in a statement.
"Community organizing is the solution, and for it to work, it must be fundamental to what we do, not just a tactic or short-term strategy," Arias added. "This white paper outlines the shifts and investments we need to make it work."
\u201c"This strong, clear vision couldn't have come at a better time." @democracyfund's Shuya Ohno. \n#organizingrevival\n#antidotetoauthoritarianism\nhttps://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684854969
Ana Maria Archila of Action Lab, one of the groups endorsing the white paper, argued that "in order to avert the rise of authoritarianism, and address the combined crises of climate disaster, growing inequality, unprecedented levels of loneliness and political fragmentation, we must double down on efforts to build community and transform who holds power in our democracy."
"There are no shortcuts here," Archila added. "This moment requires community organizers, donors, and leaders to reinvigorate community organizing, and re-commit to a long-term strategy to bring into existence the multiracial democracy we want."
Jacob and Munn remain hopeful, as daunting as the task ahead may be.
"The good news," they wrote, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."