Archive for the ‘USA’ Category


The Supreme Court in the UK has found against the government’s decision to provide information to the USA to facilitate prosecution for crimes carrying the death penalty

In a unanimous decision delivered yesterday, 25 March 2020, agreed that the British government acted unlawfully in providing, or agreeing to provide, information to the United States without seeking assurances that the death penalty would not be imposed.  The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty and we have highlighted in many of our posts, the poor legal process, countless mistakes and lack of proper protection for suspects during interrogations.

This appeal concerned two individuals, Shafee El Sheik and Alexandra Kotey (nicknamed the ‘Beatles by parts of the UK press at the time) who were alleged to be a part of terrorists operating in Syria and who were involved in the murder of British and US citizens.

In a press release by the Death Penalty Project they say:

It has never been in dispute that Mr El Sheik and Mr Kotey should face trial for the serious crimes alleged against them, but any trial, if it is to take place, should be held in the UK.  We intervened in this case because we believed the earlier actions of the UK government were contrary to its long-standing approach on the death penalty and could lead to a death sentence being imposed or carried out.  The importance of this decision is wider than just this case.  It has implication for any individual who may be facing the death penalty and concerns what assurance the UK government must seek before deciding what help or assistance it may give.  there are fundamental issues concerning the right to life.  Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director 

It is interesting that one of the motives for leaving the EU was to ‘take back control’ and to be free of he judgements of the European Court.  Yet the government has shown itself all too craven when it comes to ceding power to the US justice system.

Arguments went on about where to prosecute them and the CPS had amassed a considerable body of evidence, sufficient for a trial to take place in the UK.  Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  The use of the penalty was abolished in the UK over 50 years ago.

 

Justice denied – again

Posted: January 14, 2020 in Florida, USA
Tags: , , ,

Justice for Kris Maharaj has been denied again in Florida.  After all the work that was done to prove that he was innocent, he still languishes in gaol after 33 years.  It was hoped his hearing – already delayed by several months – would have been heard this month and he would be freed.  But now it has been delayed again, this time indefinitely.  You can read the full story by Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve who must be close to despairing that this rotten US justice system will ever admit its mistake and release him.


The US is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty.

There is an opportunity to join Amnesty members for a protest outside the American Embassy on the continued use of the penalty.  They will be gathering signatures for a petition and, to illustrate the barbarity of the practice, you can also tweet a picture of yourself sitting in our mock electric chair.

Meeting at 1:30 in the small park opposite the US Embassy on 30 June.

See our death penalty report


President Trump is due to leave the UK after a controversial visit in which all the normal diplomatic niceties seem to have been ignored.  Our concern naturally is with human rights and his tenure as president has shown a wilful disregard for the rights of women, minorities and immigrants.  Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty, has written to the government arguing for a more vigorous line from them.  She said;

Trump has presided over two-and-a-half years of utterly shameful policies.  Locking up child migrants, imposing a discriminatory travel ban, decimating global funding for women’s rights and withdrawing from global human rights bodies – it’s been a roll call of shame under Donald Trump’s presidency.

We need to resist Trump’s trashing of human rights.  Within the Anglo-American relationship, we’d like to see the UK Government being far more vocal about human rights.  Our fear is that the Government’s desperate hunger for post-Brexit trade deals with the USA could mean we end up giving a free pass to the White House as this onslaught against human rights continues.

The full press release can be accessed from this link.


If you have come to this page seeking information about Paul Mason’s talk on 24th, details can be found here.


Congress votes to end military aid to Saudi

In our last post two days ago, we highlighted the Dispatches programme which described in graphic detail the role our weapons supplies were having in Yemen.  The Saudis, using jets supplied by us, were creating suffering on an almost unimaginable scale with tens of thousands of deaths, a cholera outbreak and starvation of its people.

Today, 4 April 2019, the US Congress has voted 247 to 155 to end military aid to Saudi Arabia.  Further votes are planned to stop weapons supplies as well.  It is expected that President Trump will veto the actions but nevertheless, it sends a strong message of what Americans think of this terrible regime and its countries continuing military support for it.

This puts the UK in a tricky position.  A chief ally stepping back leaves this country somewhat exposed.  We shall have to see over the coming days what feeble excuses are trotted out to justify our support and role in the killing.

Sources: The Nation, Washington Post, the Guardian

 


Sajid Javid proposes allowing ISIL individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of torture and execution

UPDATE: 1 August.  Article by Bharat Malkani in British Politics and Policy published by LSE which goes into the wider aspects of British policy in connection with executions on foreign soil. 

UPDATE: 26 July.  Following considerable protest over this decision, the government today announced a temporary suspension of the cooperation with the US over the case.

It has been widely reported today that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, is withdrawing the long-standing objections the UK has had to sending people to the USA where they risk being executed. The USA is the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty. We continue to document cases in our monthly reports.

The two individuals who are involved are Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, both from West London.  They were part of a group of individuals from the UK who joined ISIS and allegedly perpetrated some dreadful crimes including beheadings.  They allegedly murdered two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning and aid worker and Iraq war veteran Peter Kassig.  Investigations have been continuing for 4 years and the question has arisen of where they should be tried.

The UK government has a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty abroad in all circumstances.  It has also been active in trying to persuade those countries which continue to use it, to stop.  Amnesty is opposed to the practice as it has a number of serious flaws.  It is ineffective in preventing crime and it is not a deterrent.  Mistakes cannot be put right.  In the case of terrorists, it risks creating martyrs and spawning others who want to avenge the executions.

It is therefore particularly depressing to see our home secretary acceding to the request.  The full text shows that it is because he believes a successful federal prosecution in the US is more likely to be possible because of differences in their statute book and the restrictions on challenges to the route by which defendants appear in US courts.  In his leaked letter to Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, he says on the matter of sending them to the States:

[…] All assistance and material will be provided on the condition that it may only be used for the purpose sought in that request, namely a federal criminal investigation or prosecution.

Furthermore, I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.  From the letter published in the Mail Online [accessed 23 July 2018]

The decision has received widespread criticism.  Alan Howarth, the head of advocacy and programmes, at Amnesty International said:

This is a deeply worrying development.  The home secretary must unequivocally insist that Britain’s longstanding position on the death penalty has not changed and seek cast-iron assurances from the US that it will not be used.

A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.

Other criticisms have come from Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow Attorney General and Lord Carlile who said on the BBC the decision was extraordinary and:

It is a dramatic change of policy by a minister, secretly, without any discussion in parliament.  It flies in the face of what has been said repeatedly and recently by the Home Office – including when Theresa May was home secretary – and very recently by the highly respected security minister, Ben Wallace.

Britain has always said that it will pass information and intelligence, in appropriate cases, provided there is no death penalty.  That is a decades-old policy and it is not for the home secretary to change that policy.  BBC Today programme 23 July 2018

There is also the question of the use of torture.  Will either or both of them be sent to Guantanamo Bay to receive abusive treatment including water boarding?  Coming so soon after a select committee roundly criticized the government for its role in torture and rendition, this is a surprising and disappointing development.

The full text of the letter can be seen here.

Sources: Amnesty; BBC; the Guardian; Mail on line


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Select committee issues two damning reports on UK’s role in torture

The Intelligence and Security Committee released its report in the UK’s role in torture on 28 June 2018 and this revealed the shocking extent of MI6’s involvement.  It is government policy, and the legal position, that the UK does not use torture nor does it outsource the practice to other agencies or governments.  It is counterproductive since under torture, victims are likely to say anything to get it to stop.  The evidence thus gleaned is of doubtful value as was dramatically shown in Iraq and our decision to invade.  It is also a key part of the Human Rights Act.  Article 3 protects you from:

– torture (mental or physical)
– inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and
– deportation or extradition (being sent to another country to face criminal charges) if there is a real risk you will face torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country concerned.
As you would expect, public authorities must not inflict this sort of treatment on you. They must also protect you if someone else is treating you in this way. If they know this right is being breached, they must intervene to stop it. The state must also investigate credible allegations of such treatment.  Equality and Human Rights Commission

That we were involved in this activity has been known for some time although often the details were not available.  So were the denials and here is Jack Straw – the Home Secretary for much of the time when this was happening – claiming in an interview:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.  Quoted by Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2012 [accessed 3 July 2018]

Peter Oborne continued: After Mr Straw spoke out, further denials followed. Tony Blair insisted that Britain had never engaged in the practice.  Mr Straw’s successor, David Miliband, was equally adamant.  Sir John Scarlett, until recently head of the Secret Intelligence Service (and the official responsible for the notorious dossier of September 2002 which asserted that Saddam Hussein was capable of deploying weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes) was forthright. “Our officers are as committed to the values and the human rights values of liberal democracy as anybody else,” he said, adding that there was “no complicity in torture.  (ibid)

The scale of the activity revealed by this report was a surprise.  Up until the report was published it was known that the activity had taken place on a modest scale but the facts show otherwise:

• On 232 occasions UK intelligence officers were found to have continued supplying questions to foreign agencies between 2001 and 2010, despite knowing or suspecting a prisoner was being tortured or mistreated.
• There were 198 occasions when UK intelligence officers received information from a prisoner whom they knew was being mistreated.
• In a further 128 cases, foreign intelligence bodies told UK intelligence agencies prisoners were being mistreated.
• MI5 or MI6 offered to help fund at least three rendition operations.
• The agencies planned or agreed to a further 28 rendition operations.
• They provided intelligence to assist with a further 22 rendition operations.
• Two MI6 officers consented to mistreatment meted out by others.  Only one of these incidents has been investigated by police.
• In a further 13 cases, UK intelligence officers witnessed an individual being tortured or mistreated.
• MI5, MI6 and the military conducted up to 3,000 interviews of prisoners held at Guantanamo.
• No attempt is being made to find out whether guidelines introduced by the coalition government in 2010 are helping to prevent the UK’s intelligence agencies from continuing to be involved in human rights abuses.
• The UK breached its commitment to the international prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
• On at least two occasions ministers took “inappropriate” decisions.
• Jack Straw authorised payment of “a large share of the costs” of the rendition of two people in October 2004. The Guardian 2 July 2018

Not that this is the full story.  The government prevented individual officers from giving evidence so there may well be more to come out in future.  On this matter, Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty said:

It is obvious that the ISC was prevented by the Government from producing a thorough report about what really happened – it says so itself.  The ISC had no powers to summon witnesses or demand full evidence, and its findings were always subject to redaction and veto from the Prime Minister herself.  Instead of the independent, judge-led torture inquiry promised by David Cameron, we’ve had an under-powered, over-controlled review by a committee that was never empowered to get the job done.  While the Committee’s report represents a helpful step forwards, it is not the definitive account of what really happened. It was always the wrong tool for the job.
With the President of the United States personally praising waterboarding and the CIA led by someone closely linked to torture, now is not the time to brush this issue under the carpet. We need a full judge-led inquiry now.  Amnesty statement 

The Response

In the face of damning evidence and a considerable amount of research carried out by the committee over many years, one might have thought that a contrite response from the head of MI6 at the time, Sir Richard Dearlove, would be appropriate, if not a full apology.  Not a bit of it.  Here he is quoted in the Sun* newspaper:

As far as my former service is concerned, the mistreatment issue has been blown out of proportion by pressure from certain interest groups [one assumes Amnesty is among them].  There never was a systemic problem, and there are no skeletons in the cupboard from my time.  The staff served the nation magnificently and with due care for our respect for the law.  In extreme circumstances, there will always be incidents that one regrets.  But nothing illegal was perpetrated – which is as achievement given the extent of the provocation.  Warning of the chilling effect that the MPs’ withering criticism could have, the ex-spymaster added: It’s time to move on and not allow our willingness to take risks to be diminished.  The Sun 29 June 2018

No mea culpa there.  Quite what the ‘provocation’ is not explained.  Torture seems to be part of a need to ‘take risks’.  This quotation – if it is an accurate statement of his position – is disgraceful.  That the former head of the service brushes aside a comprehensive and detailed description of our – and his service’s role – in water boarding, stress positions and other forms of degrading treatment is utterly reprehensible.  His defence seems to rest on the fact that MI6 officers did not actually do the torturing themselves.

But he is not alone.  This is the Sun’s editorial position:

WHAT did we gain by MPs blowing five years probing what MI5 and MI6 knew of the US torture of terror suspects back in 2001?  Their report admits our spooks were directly involved only twice.  And if it extracted vital intelligence preventing further atrocities after 9/11, so what if we turned a blind eye?  Yes, torture is barbaric.  But the CIA firmly believes it saved lives.  Would those people wringing their hands over it prefer to have risked thousands more being massacred by al-Qaeda?

Still perpetuating the myth that torture is necessary and saves lives.

As a nation we pride ourselves on civilised behaviour.  We promote such behaviour around the world and in the UN.  We are signatories to key treaties and it is government policy that we do not torture people.  We have the Human Rights Act which prohibits it.  Government ministers constantly claim that such practices are alien to our culture and way of doing things.  We have a fundamental sense of decency it is claimed.  However, Peter Beaumont, a journalist with the Observer, says over the years he has ‘been lied to a lot’.

British intelligence officers, despite all the denials, were aware of the mistreatment, they benefited from it and even supplied their own questions for the victims of mistreatment despite knowing those being interrogated were being brutalized.  1 July 2018 

Even now, people like Sir Richard Dearlove are in denial.  The government has done all it can to frustrate the enquiry and to prevent it getting to the truth.  Jack Straw and others have many questions to answer.


Joint statement by human rights organisations

*a tabloid newspaper part of the Murdoch group in the UK.

 


Execution spree in Arkansas, USA

 This urgent action is for Ledell Lee who is one of a number facing imminent execution in Arkansas.  There is a spate of these planned executions in that state due to the imminent expiry of the chemicals used for the execution.  It gives a new meaning to ‘sell by date’.  If you want to read the gruesome details of execution by lethal injection, read an extract from the details sent to us by the state of California.

This case – concerning Ledell Lee – is worth reading even if you do not have the time to write which we hope you will.  It gives a bizarre insight into the legal process and the low standard of defence someone can expect in some states of the Union.  It is just another example described by Clive Stafford Smith in his book on the subject.

The USA is the only state in the Americas which still has the death penalty.

China executes more of its citizens than any other country but the statistics are a state secret.

Urgent Action: Arkansas (pdf)

 


Donald Trump’s favourable comments on the use of torture have put this topic back on the agenda

As early as the third century A.D, the great Roman Jurist Ulpian noted that information obtained through torture was not to be trusted because some people are “so susceptible to pain that they will tell any lie rather than suffer it”.

President Trump said last week that ‘torture absolutely works’ and threatened its use at Guantanamo.  I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally but do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.”  It now seems he is resiling from this after an outcry.

Amnesty disagrees that torture works.  And here’s five reasons why…

1: Torture is illegal under international law.  It reflects the widespread belief that torture is cruel, inhumane and morally wrong.  The physical and psychological damage it causes is often permanent. Even if it was effective, it would still be wrong.

2: No ends justify torture as a means. You might be able get useful information out of torture in the short term, but in the long term it’s counter-productive.  It does more damage to the reputation of the country that commits torture than any criminal or terrorist. Statistics prove that American use of torture is Al Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.

3: Torture produces false intelligence.  Some victims will say anything to make the torture stop.  At best this wastes only time and resources.  At worst people may be implicated and even convicted for crimes they did not commit, on the basis of false evidence.

4: While it remains illegal, information extracted through torture cannot be used as evidence in court of law.  It actually makes it harder to bring people to justice for any crime they have committed.

5: You can’t condone torture even in ‘special cases’, otherwise it becomes normalised and a “torture culture” emerges across the chain of command. In the USA the CIA used waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, and low-ranking soldiers tortured for sport in grotesque ways in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq.

Of the more than 700 men held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002, many are now acknowledged as ‘merely guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ Originally described as “the worst of the worst,” by Vice President Cheney, many were subjected to torture particularly waterboarding.  More than 400 of these men have now been released or cleared for release (Center for Constitutional Rights, 2009).

A common justification for the use of torture is the implausible ticking-time-bomb scenario.  This is beloved by Hollywood and was the opening scene in the TV series 24 staring Kiefer Sutherland.  It rests on several questionable assumptions: that a specific piece of “actionable” information could be used to avert the disaster; that somehow interrogators know for certain that the suspect possesses specific information about the location of the bomb; that the threat is imminent; that only torture would lead to disclosure of the information; and that torture is the fastest means of extracting this valid, actionable information. 

Of course, part of the appeal of this scenario is that it also portrays the torturer as a principled, heroic figure who reluctantly uses torture to save innocent lives. This carefully rigged, forced-choice scenario pits the temporary pain of one evil person against the deaths of thousands (or even millions) of innocent people.  And, once we have acknowledged that there might possibly be a situation where torture could yield precious, life-saving information, it is then a small step to conclude that we are sometimes morally obliged to use torture.  While this scenario might provide a useful stimulus for discussion in college ethics courses, or an interesting plot device for a television drama, there seems no evidence that it has ever occurred.  As one scholar put it, “Even though torture is not, on balance, effective or rational, it persists through its deep psychological appeal, to the powerful and the powerless alike, in times of crisis. The reality of torture is unpleasant as one FBI agent put it:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more.  FBI agent on visiting Guantanamo

CIA report

Picture: Washington Post

The Inspector General of the CIA conducted a review in 2004 and although great chunks of the report were redacted, they found that interrogators assumed detainees were withholding valuable information but this was not always supported by objective evaluation of available information.  Guilt was assumed despite the dubious nature of their capture.  Very little actionable information was obtained and there was little evidence to show that it could not have been got by ordinary means.

Morality

Setting aside its effectiveness – or rather lack of it – the main objection is morality.  Around the world governments and the various agencies working for them, use torture sometimes routinely to brutalise, suborn, humiliate and coerce their citizens.  Amnesty has credible evidence that it is used by 141 countries.  As the leader of the free world, America should be setting an example not joining with the sordid list of countries still carrying out this barbaric practice.

We hope President Trump’s change of mind is permanent.


Sources: Amnesty International; CIA, Inspector General Report, 2004; New York Times

The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture and an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate Costanzo, Mark, Gerrity Ellen, in Social Issues and Policy Review, Vol 3, No: 9 2009


Life and death in the courtrooms of America

It sometimes comes as a shock to people that the only country in the Americas which still has the death penalty is the USA.  It is especially favoured by the southern states such as Louisiana, Texas and Florida and we have on many occasions on this blog mentioned particular cases where the wrong man is convicted of a crime or where the evidence is at best doubtful.

Our view here in the UK of the justice system in America is heavily conditioned by Hollywood films, on screen or on TV, which give a highly biased view of the real life situation.  In these depictions, an innocent man or woman has been wrongfully arrested.  Clean cut lawyers appear for the defendant and there is a tense meeting in the DA’s office.  At some point, the defence (or defense if you’re reading this in the USA) lawyer says ‘we’re outa here’ and they all sweep out.  Hearings, such as a Grand Jury happen as if by magic and subsequent court appearances take place soon after.  Few episodes can go by without a lawyer saying someone’s ‘Miranda rights have been infringed’ and more people sweep out.  Everyone is dedicated to securing justice with the exception of one individual (a witness, police officer or someone needed for the plot) who is found out at the end.  More clean cut young people find a tiny and crucial piece of evidence and this is sufficient to set a defendant free, often in the last minute or so of the trial.  The overall impression is of a system that works – albeit uncertainly at times – with the good guy getting off at the end.

If you read Clive Stafford Smith’s book Injustice * you will find that these Hollywood stories are for many in the States, fiction.  Clive has spent many years in the USA helping people on death row, the majority of whom should not be there.  The book is about one individual, Krishna Maharaj (pictured), who was on death row in Florida for 28 years before being released.  It is a truly astonishing book with 110 pages of detailed notes and describes the dysfunctional legal system in states such a Florida.

The problem – bizarrely – is that an innocent man or woman is often more at risk that someone who is guilty.  Innocent people believe, often wrongly to their cost, that they don’t have to prove anything because they are innocent.  There cannot be any evidence to prove they did it because they didn’t.  They also think that the justice system is unbiased and the truth will out eventually, a ‘touching faith’ as Clive describes it.

 

The book explores these issues in great detail.  America elects its law officers and so there is great pressure to convict to prove to the electorate that you are ‘tough on crime’.  Sentencing people to death is a great way to prove this.  Unlike recent changes to the justice system in the UK, the defence has no right of disclosure.  So the police need only present evidence allegedly proving guilt, and not reveal evidence that proves the defendant innocent.  This practice was also commonplace in the UK before new rules were introduced following some high profile injustices were discovered.  In Florida, because of the enormous amount of money flooding in to the state from the drug barons, corruption is rife throughout the justice system.  Amazingly, the judge himself in Krishna’s trial was arrested for bribery and corruption after three days of hearings.  The police are often themselves involved in the drugs trade.

 

So if the judge was arrested, then surely the trial should start afresh?  No, because defence lawyers are paid so little and on a block fee basis, to start again is something they cannot afford, so they just ploughed on with a new judge.   The quality of defence lawyers is frequently poor and they fail to cross-examine properly, call relevant witnesses or even to meet the defendant that often.  The problem here is that if through incompetence or otherwise the defence lawyer does not raise the issues at trial, then appeal courts will rule matters to be ‘procedurally barred’ subsequently.

So alibis are not called, forensic evidence not challenged, police witnesses’ changes in evidence not challenged and so on and so on.  The result was an innocent man narrowly escaping death row for a crime he did not commit and which was committed it was eventually discovered, by someone acting for a drug cartel.  The man murdered was ‘skimming’ drug profits.  Errors are so great and so frequent that justice would better be served if it was done on the basis of a coin toss.  Fewer would be executed on this basis.

Clive Stafford Smith is an extraordinary lawyer but he is also a great story teller and this account of Kris Maharaj death row case is a powerful thriller beautifully told.  Helena Kennedy QC [senior lawyer in the UK]

Passionate and Humane Mail onSunday

This is a highly recommended book for anyone interested in the justice system.  If you have written letters to governors and others in the States it will explain a lot.  Clive Stafford Smith was the founder of Reprieve.

A story about the case in Miami Herald

*Injustice by Clive Stafford Smith, Vintage books, 2013


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