The White House is reportedly wrestling over how to interpret a ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” ahead of a meeting in Geneva next month concerning the United Nations charter on torture.
According to the New York Times, the Obama administration remains divided over what stance a Washington delegation will officially take at the UN-sponsored Committee Against Torture panel early next month in the Swiss city.
Although Barack Obama said before and after being elected to the White House that United States officials should never engage in torturous activity, Times national security journalist Charlie Savage reported on Sunday this week that administration officials might formally adopt another stance — one on par with the policies of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush — when the panel convenes in a couple of weeks.
The Times reported that the attorneys who answer to the president are conflicted over whether or not the White House should revisit the Bush administration’s interpretation of a UN treaty, the likes of which authorized the use of enhanced interrogation tactics, like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, on individuals detained by military and intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at facilities such as the Guantanamo Bay detention center and CIA so-called “black sites.”
The upcoming meeting will be the first one of Obama’s presidency, Savage acknowledged, presenting the commander-in-chief with a rare opportunity to speak of the UN Convention Against Torture, a treaty that since the 1980s has aimed to ensure prisoners the world over aren’t subjected to inhumane conditions.
In Sunday’s report, Savage wrote that Obama, then a US senator, spoke out adamantly against Pres. Bush when it was revealed in 2005 that his administration had been interpreting the UN treaty in a manner that they argued made it acceptable for CIA and Pentagon officials to disregard the prohibitions against torture if they weren’t on American soil.
Obama the president later condemned that reasoning with an executive order “ensuring lawful interrogations,” Savage added, although next month’s meeting may change that.
“But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view,” Savage wrote. “It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.”
“State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation,” Savage added, which would simply continue to let the 2009 Obama-signed executive order stand as Washington’s official word and further ensure that American officials are obligated to adhere to the torture treaty regardless of where in the world they are located.
Other attorneys, he added, have a different idea of what to do at next month’s meeting, however. “But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad,” Savage wrote. “They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.”
Should those arguing on the latter side provoke, then the current administration could soon find itself agreeing with past policies that continue to be controversial nearly a decade after the Bush White House’s use of torture started to surface.
“Many foreign political leaders and non-governmental organizations have called for members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, to face prosecution for allowing the abuse of detainees in US custody during the course of the US campaign against Islamic militant groups spurred by the 9/11 attacks,” Mark Hanrahan wrote for the International Business Times on Sunday. “The Bush administration, which launched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had to contend with a number of allegations it allowed US officials to use torture against detainees during the course of its campaigns,” including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.
If the Pentagon and CIA attorneys prevail, then Washington could once again interpret the UN treaty in a manner that allows those same torturous practices to be performed on detainees once against, as long as any such instances occur abroad.
Last week, McClatchy news service reported that a classified $40 million probe launched by the Senate to investigate the CIA’s Bush-era detention and interrogation program concludes without holding any administration officials responsible for the scandals at Abu Ghraib and other facilities that to this day remain a major scar on the presidency.
“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” a person familiar with the report told McClatchy. “It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.”
BETHLEHEM – Palestinian Authority police regularly detain people in the West Bank due to their political affiliation, an official said Sunday.
Khalil Assaf, a member of the subcommittee on civil liberties formed after the West Bank-Gaza unity government was sworn in in June, told Ma’an that regardless of the committee’s formation, none of its recommendations have been implemented.
“Every day people are being detained in the West Bank because of their political affiliation, though in most cases they are released within days,” Assaf said.
Though he could not give an exact number of political detainees, he said “we are talking about dozens” of people.
The subcommittee, which was tasked with maintaining and monitoring civil liberties in the West Bank and Gaza, has not been summoned for any meetings with the rest of the unity government so far, Assaf said.
He said it was formed in order to address several aspects of freedom in a democratic society: the freedoms of work, assembly, research, and movement; the freedom to distribute newspapers; the freedom to participate in political activities without discrimination; providing passports to citizens who had previously been denied passports; and the issue of citizens being summoned for questioning both in the West Bank and Gaza.
Palestinian political leaders have been unable to implement these freedoms due to the lack of full implementation of the unity government, he added.
Critics of the US-backed PA often decry the night raids conducted by Palestinian police to arrest dissenting politically active individuals, stressing that they are carried out in a manner nearly identical to the raids conducted by occupying Israeli forces.
The family of Mark Duggan –the man whose death sparked the UK riots in 2011 – have lost their bid to have the inquest verdict that ruled his death ‘lawful’ overturned. Lawyers acting for the Duggan family had argued that the coroner had blundered in his summing up and lead the jury to conclude that Duggan was unarmed at the time but the police’s shooting of him was still lawful. Amina Taylor has more from London.
It was a killing that was the spark for one of the worst periods of civil unrest seen in the UK for a generation. The inquest into the death 29-year old of Mark Duggan at the hands of a Metropolitan Police marksman in August 2011, was ruled ‘lawful’.
The Duggan family disagreed but on Tuesday lost their appeal to have the inquest verdict set aside. The family was not in court to hear the decision of Lord Justice Levenson and two other high court judges.
In Tottenham where Mark Duggan used to live, among his friends, family and wider support network there will be an overwhelming sense of disappointment at the court’s decision because so many of those who protested against the way in which Mark was killed by Metropolitan polices marksman they’ve argued that for so long that his death was tantamount to ‘state-sanctioned murder’
Those involved in the Mark Duggan justice campaign say they believe the coroner and the jury were mislead and that police corruption may be involved.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is continuing its investigation into the shooting.
The Yellow Book (Libro amarillo) is a 270 page document from 1987 that the National Security Archive in Washington DC made public on September 28th, 2014. The Yellow Book includes 1,975 photographs that the Salvadoran Armed Forces and the State Department of Intelligence of El Salvador used to catalogue people as “terrorists” and “enemies” of the state. The Yellow Book is the only military document that has been made public to this day.
At first glance the document seems to reiterate many of the cases that were made public through the work of the Truth Commission in El Salvador in the early 1990s. However, upon closer inspection, important clues begin to emerge about the nature of military surveillance of Salvadoran citizens and how disappearances and deaths were covered up. For example, in the document, names are encoded with letters and the codes matched with photographs that strip citizens of the very identities that stitched them into Salvadoran society. In the first few pages the book lays out a system for referencing “terrorist delinquents” so that names would not be spoken by radio or telephone. In effect, this code facilitated the process of making detainees disappear without a trace. The pictures themselves provide further clues about state surveillance; some photographs look as though they were part of the state ID card photographs and yet other photographs show individuals in much more haggard condition. Were these photographs taken during a given moment of detainment? Yet other photographs look as though they were taken during moments shared between friends or families. Were these photographs stolen from people’s homes during raids? There are other photographs that seem to have been taken without the person knowing that they were being photographed. These types of photographs suggest the work of a secret police that was trailing marked individuals. Additionally, the fact that the book was a photo-album to be photocopied means that it was likely a work in progress. As photographs were obtained they were added and information could shift and change without displacing the logic of the entire text.
The code also reveals the nature of state surveillance of Salvadoran citizens in the 1980s. The document identifies Salvadorans as leaders of militant groups, militants, and union organizers and specifies which particular group or political party the person is associated with. Salvadoran state authorities also recorded additional information about individuals such as pseudonyms and noted any trips abroad to Nicaragua, Cuba, Russia or China. Dozens of individuals are marked as “collaborators,” which leads the viewer to wonder about the torture mechanisms that broke the will of militants. The fact that there were so many collaborators muddies the public memory of a clearly divided left and right. What was the nature of the collaboration? Does “collaboration” mean naming people during torture sessions or does it imply a much deeper involvement as in the Chilean cases of Luz Arce and Alejandra Merino? Does the title of “collaborator” mean that the individual survived their involvement with the Salvadoran Armed Forces? Other individuals are listed as “pardoned” and this category of individuals also leaves many questions.
On the cover page just above the title of the book, a penned note serves as a prologue: “That this may be used. Make photocopies of the photographs and print them in bulletins, so that their enemies will be known.” This is part of a secondary “code” at work in the document in which some photographs are starred in pen and other names are crossed out. The stars mark names that are well known today including El Salvador’s current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
Recently, organizations such as the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University (IDHUCA) and the Asociación Pro-Búsqueda presented a legal challenge to the Supreme Court to revisit the legality of the general amnesty passed in 1993. The publication of the Yellow Book may become a cornerstone in the case against impunity in El Salvador.
Evelyn Galindo-Doucette is a Kohler Fellow at the University of Wisconsin.
Al-Shabaka Policy Brief
Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza calls for redoubled efforts to shake off its carefully constructed system of control of Palestinian lives throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and secure Palestinian rights. A necessary first step must be to address the donor-supported creation of Palestinian security forces that primarily serve Israel’s colonial ambitions. This is increasingly urgent with the PA set to move back into Gaza in the wake of the unity deal.
Al-Shabaka Policy Member Sabrien Amrov and Program Director Alaa Tartir tackle these issues by examining the state of the security sector today, its origins and purposes, and the fast-growing authoritarianism that is turning “Palestine” into a security state. While touching on the Gaza security sector, they focus primarily on its development in the West Bank. They urge that the foundations of security sector reform be challenged as a key step towards setting the Palestinian quest for freedom, justice, equality, and self-determination back on track.
A Burgeoning Sector
Over the past decade the security sector has grown faster than any other part of the Palestinian Authority (PA). More public servants are now employed in the security sector than in any other sector – 44% of a total of 145,000 civil servants. A growing number of “security science” schools and university programs have been created, including the Palestinian Center for Security Sector Studies in Jericho, considered the most prestigious in the West Bank, and thousands of Palestinians students travel abroad to receive “world class” security training.
Security eats up a sizeable proportion of the PA budget, accounting for almost $1 billion (26%) of the 2013 budget, compared to only 16% for education, 9% for health, and a staggeringly low 1% for agriculture, traditionally one of the main sources of livelihood for Palestinians. The security sector is also the recipient of considerable international aid: the United States, the European Union, and Canada pumped millions of dollars into what is euphemistically termed Security Sector Reform (SSR) in 2013 alone. In fact, there is now one security person for every 52 Palestinian residents compared to one educator for every 75 residents. Daily newspapers frequently carry announcements of bids for more PA prisons – there are already 52 new prisons and eight new security compounds – as well as riot control gear.
An important indicator of the growing importance of the security sector has been the appointment of security personnel to leading positions or in municipalities, governorates, and politically sensitive positions. For example, Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian Intelligence, was on the Palestinian negotiating team in the most recent negotiations with Israel. Although security force heads like Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan have been powerful in the past (and may be again in future), what is different now is that this is being presented as part of a modern state-building package.
Needless to say, far from providing for Palestinian security, the rapidly mushrooming sector has, as Israel intended from the start, served as an instrument of control and pacification of the Palestinian population in the area directly under the PA’s authority (Area A, according to the Oslo Accords) as well as the area controlled jointly with Israel (Area B). In these areas, Palestinian security forces have curbed demonstrations, arrested activists, violently disarmed the military wings of political parties, and tortured militants as well as political activists. At the same time, security collaboration with Israel has reached unprecedented levels, as will be discussed further below. Meanwhile, Israel has a free hand in Area C, some 60% of the West Bank, which is under its military control.
The Evolution of the Security Sector
Today’s PA security sector has its origins in the Oslo Declaration of Principles in 1993, in which Article VIII envisages a “strong police force” for the Palestinians while Israel maintains responsibility for “external threats” as well as the “overall security of Israelis.” This was further spelled out in Annex I of the Interim Agreement (Oslo II) in 1995 with a protocol on joint Israeli-Palestinian security operations, as were Israeli specifications of the size of the force and the number and type of weapons with the procedures for registering them. In other words, the PA playing the role of sub-contractor to Israel was foreseen in the Oslo Accords.
Ironically, the “strong police force” led in part to the violent intensification of the 2nd Intifada and to Israel cracking down on the Palestinian police as well as on other government institutions. It was in 2002, at the height of the 2nd Intifada and Israel’s invasion of Palestinian cities, that both former US President George W. Bush and the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon highlighted the security elements of the Road Map for Peace later launched in 2003 by the Quartet. As Bush declared in 2002, “The United States will not support the establishment of a Palestinian state until its leaders engage in a sustained fight against terrorists and dismantle their infrastructure. This will require an externally supervised effort to rebuild and reform the Palestinian security services.” Thus, self-determination for the Palestinians went from being a right to a privilege that the PA had to demonstrate it deserved.
The Road Map further consolidated the PA’s shift of its statehood strategy from a struggle for self-determination to acquiring a security sector that would in theory be governed by the “principles of democratic governance and rule of law” but in fact serves Israel. Indeed, Phase I of the Road Map demanded that the PA undertake “visible efforts” to arrest individuals and groups “conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.” The conditions on the Palestinian security sector included: Combat terrorism; apprehend suspects; outlaw incitement; collect all illegal weapons; provide Israel with a list of Palestinian police recruits; and report progress to the United States. Thus the evolution of the Palestinian security sector has been “an externally-controlled process” that is clearly “driven by the national security interests of Israel and the United States.”1
At the same time, it is important to note that the PA under Abbas, first as prime minister and then as president since 2005, had its own reasons to adopt this framework. Abbas wished to establish a monopoly over the use of force and to cement his leadership after he took over the reins from the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as to protect PA elites, as our colleague Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Tariq Dana noted in a recent piece. Furthermore, the PA had a vested interest in cracking down on Islamist as well as other opposition parties in the West Bank, particularly in the wake of the Hamas victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and the Fatah-Hamas schism since 2007. The development industry’s efforts to reinvent the Palestinian security forces gained momentum after Salam Fayyad became prime minister in 2007, all in the name of a state-building enterprise.
Despite clear and growing PA violations of the rule of law, international donors and the PA itself have continued to sell SSR as having the purpose of providing efficient and impartial justice and safeguarding human rights.2 Rule of law in the context of prolonged military occupation, however, is a non-starter, to put it politely. As a Western diplomat involved in security training admitted in an International Crisis Group report on the subject, “The main criterion of success is Israeli satisfaction. If the Israelis tell us that this is working well, we consider it a success.”
A discussion of the security sector in the Gaza Strip is beyond the scope of this brief, but a few words are in order about the similarities between the Fatah-led PA in Ramallah and the Hamas-led authorities in Gaza. Of the 23,000 civil servants employed by the Hamas-led authority, 15,500 work in the security sector. Just as the PA keeps a grip on power in the West Bank by intimidating other militant groups, Hamas does so in Gaza. For example, the Ramallah-based Independent Commission on Human Rights reported that of the 3,185 complaints it had received in 2012 of violations by security agencies as well as civil institutions, 2,373 were from the West Bank and 812 from Gaza. It remains to be seen how the unity government’s entry into Gaza will affect its security sector.
Part of Hamas’ effort to keep control of the Gaza Strip has aimed at upholding ceasefires with Israel. Thus, ironically, Hamas has in this respect been the best guarantor of Israel’s security since Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip began in earnest in 2006 – although, as veteran analyst Mouin Rabbani has pointed out, Hamas’ coordination with Israel differs from that of Fatah, being “informal and arguably tactical.” Hamas’ ability to uphold its ceasefires with Israel is something Israeli analysts have acknowledged although that has not prevented Israel from launching increasingly destructive assaults on Gaza to “mow the lawn,” the euphemism they use for their deadly approach to Gaza.
Oppression by a Police State in the Making
Today, the end result of SSR has been to reinforce PA authoritarianism to an unprecedented degree. As Nathan Brown argued in discussing the authoritarian context of SSR, “The entire program is based not simply on de-emphasizing or postponing democracy and human rights but on actively denying them for the present.” Yazid Sayigh concluded that reform in the security sector resulted in an authoritarian transformation that will threaten not only long-term security but also the ability to achieve Palestinian statehood. If ever there is a Palestinian state, it is likely to be as much of a police state as those of most other Arab regimes.
A brief review of what West Bankers are enduring under the PA today shows that for many, the PA has already become a police state through which they are dealing with multiple layers of oppression from both Israel and the PA. This is reflected in the difference in language used between the PA and the people: The PA describes PA-Israel joint work as coordination (tansiq), whereas the people use the word collaboration (ta’awoun) in its negative connotation. Some Palestinians speak of a “revolving door” policy whereby prisoners are released from one authority’s prison to enter another’s. A respondent from Jenin refugee camp said: “After the PA’s Preventative Security Forces arrested and imprisoned me for nine months because I’m a member of Hamas, three weeks after my release, Israel arrested me and accused me of the same exact issues. Literally they used the same words.”3
This explanation by a high official from the Preventive Security Forces says it all: “We get lists with names. [The Israelis] need someone, and we are tasked to get that person for them.” This has been the approach for years, as was highlighted in the 2010 assessment by the International Crisis Group, “the General Intelligence Service (Shin Bet) provides its Palestinian counterparts with lists of wanted militants, whom Palestinians subsequently arrest. IDF and Israeli intelligence officials [say] ‘coordination has never been as extensive’, with ‘coordination better in all respects.’”
While repression by the PA security forces occurs on a continuous basis and takes different forms, it is worth highlighting specific examples to show the extent to which PA forces are willing to go to repress public dissent. In mid-2012, PA security forces cracked down on a peaceful rally in Ramallah and as a result five protesters had to be taken to hospital, with over 18 of them filing complaints. The injuries meted out to one protester in police custody were so severe that Amnesty International said that they amounted to torture.
Another Amnesty International report in 2013 found that police brutality had led to the death of two Palestinians: A 44-year old woman was killed during a police raid on a village that severely injured eight others and sparked protests by hundreds of locals and clashes with security forces, and a second Palestinian was killed in a separate operation at ‘Askar refugee camp in Nablus. It described the overall brutality meted out as “shocking even by the standards of the PA security forces.”
In a glaring echo of the Israeli justice sector’s treatment of Palestinian attempts to secure their rights to life, land, and liberty, Palestinian courts have not found “any West Bank security officers responsible for torture, arbitrary detention, or prior cases of unlawful deaths in custody […] [or] prosecuted officers for beating demonstrators in Ramallah on August 28,” according to a 2013 Human Rights Watch report. This is the case even when the police officers are known. In fact, the authorities sometimes go so far as to prosecute the victims as happened after police assaulted activists in April 2014. In effect, the security forces have the leverage to use the judicial system to their advantage. So much for the rule of law under SSR programs.
Moreover, repression is not confined to demonstrators or “wanted” people, that is, those Palestinians wanted by Israel. The Euro-Med Observer for Human Rights recently reported that in 2013, Palestinian security forces had arbitrarily arrested 723 persons and interrogated 1,137 without clear charges, court decisions, or warrants. Additionally, the PA security forces arrested 56 persons because of Facebook status against them, arrested 19 journalists, and a number of cartoonists and writers. It further documented 117 cases of extreme torture.
Nowhere is the PA’s security collaboration with Israel more evident than in the West Bank’s refugee camps, deepening the isolation of the camps’ residents from the rest of society and eradicating and criminalizing residual Palestinian armed resistance. The treatment of Jenin refugee camp is the best example of this approach. Devastated by Israeli forces during the 2nd Intifada despite heroic resistance, Jenin began in 2007 to be used as a pilot governorate by the Fayyad government, international donors, and Israel for strengthening the rule of law. Under the guise of “Operation Hope and Smile,” PA forces were mandated to remove any source of “terror and unstability” from the camp.
The oppression of Jenin has continued to this day. For example, between August and October 2013, a period when the talks sponsored by US Secretary of State John Kerry talks were underway, Palestinian security forces and the Israeli military conducted over 15 raids against the Jenin refugee camp (see this report in Maan News Agency for example). In March 2014, Israeli military forces stormed the Jenin refugee camp, assassinating three people and wounding at least 14 others. It was alleged that Palestinian security services in the area were told to stay in their office before the raid. Palestinian security forces are also even used to intimidate Palestinians who dare criticize their actions or the actions of PA officials: In May 2014, for example, Palestinian security forces and the guards of the governor of Jenin brutally assaulted a Palestinian civilian after he was overheard making a sarcastic comment about the governor’s procession through the city.
The experience of Jenin demonstrates that the armed resistance that was once considered an inseparable part of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is being dealt with by the PA as a form of dissent that needs not just policing but eradication and criminalization. Thus, a broader objective of SSR has been to criminalize resistance against the occupation and leave Israel – and its trusted minions – in sole possession of the use of arms against a defenceless population.
The success of the Israel- and US-framed and PA-implemented SSR depends on the way in which Palestinian security forces are conditioned to condition themselves. This self-conditioning is visible at different levels beginning with top government officials. Abbas holds regular meetings with the security forces and repeatedly orders them to rule with an iron fist. The spokesman of the PA security forces, Adnan al-Dimiry, went so far as to suggest that security forces have created a security miracle and that the West Bank is even more secure then Israeli cities.
Even more alarming are the occasions when young Palestinians who are training in the security forces reveal this self-conditioning. As a student from the Turkish academy admitted “It’s messy, but we need to show that we can do this. After that, when we get our state, we can run it so that we can benefit from it.” Indeed, the young Palestinian men and women who join the security forces perhaps embody the duality between being the subject of the occupation and the collaborator in its purest form. When close to half of the Palestinian public sector is given over to jobs in the security sector the decision is almost made for you.
In Ramallah, a group of police officers admitted that even though it is agreed that Israelis are strictly not allowed to come into Area A, when they do, “they call us, and our superiors tell us to put down our arms and go inside. We are not even allowed on the streets or in our police cars if they decide to come in for incursions. If they say disappear, we disappear. Who is going to stop them? No one.”
Several analysts have noted the impact of such conditioning. Law professor Asem Khalil suggests that security coordination itself is a form of conditioning: “The Palestinian struggle finds itself in a time where it’s no longer about self-determination – it’s about international reputation, about proving that you deserve to run your own state, and the coordination is a form of discipline where international donors, along with the colonizing power, are conditioning the future state of Palestine.” Political scientist Mandy Turner argues that the state-building enterprise is a form of counterinsurgency but that it takes time to blossom precisely because it needs to socialize the colonial subject into conditioning itself to the standards imposed by neoliberal principles.
A Call to Palestinians to Reform the “Reform”
The “Palestine Papers” leaked by Al Jazeera, including detailed documents from Israeli-Palestinian meetings in Annapolis in 2008, reveal that to some extent Palestinian leaders still believed that if they did everything that donors asked of them in terms of security they would get a state (see, for example, Saeb Erekat here). Yet, Palestinians are further than ever from securing a state. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally made it clear during Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza that Israel would never relinquish security control west of the river Jordan. The myth that the millions of dollars that donors have been pouring into the Palestinian security sector would serve a state-building enterprise has been exposed for what it is.
Security Sector Reform as it has been conducted in the OPT has distorted the national struggle and its priorities with the aim of disempowering the Palestinian people’s ability to resist colonial subjugation. It has broken the direct line of sight between the Palestinians living under occupation and the Israeli occupation forces and contributed to the creation of a new elite of security practitioners who abuse their powers and project the humiliation they face by Israeli forces onto Palestinian civilians.
The question is: What impact will Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza this summer have on the security sector in the OPT? Before the start of the assault, there appeared to be little change: Israel’s Gaza operation began hard on the heels of the June 2014 Israeli crackdown on the West Bank, which saw an intensified PA crackdown on Palestinian protestors both in tandem with Israeli forces and on their own. Soon afterwards, Abbas played the nationalist card to respond to Palestinian and global outrage about the assault on Gaza, and the Palestinian team negotiating a ceasefire in Cairo included all factions. However, after the assault was over, Fatah and Hamas began trading accusations again, but their end-September agreement to allow the unity government to function in Gaza may lead to a working relationship. It is too soon to judge the impact this will have on the security sector in either Gaza or the West Bank.
Regardless, security reform under occupation is fundamentally flawed: The more the PA invests in security reform, the more it entrenches the occupation and the more it is obliged to work as Israel’s sub-contractor. There is an urgent need to move away from the securitized development paradigm that was built under Abbas and strengthened under Fayyad and instead address the real development needs of the OPT. The fact that the number of families receiving financial assistance increased from 30,000 to 100,000 between 2007 and 2010 is evidence, should it be necessary, that PA arguments that better security conditions will lead to better economic conditions are hollow.
Below are four recommendations addressed to Palestinian civil society and their supporters at home and abroad so as to begin the work that can and must be done to reform “security sector reform.”
First and most importantly, Palestinian civil society organizations should use the media, public forums, and other outreach to shift the discourse and reject the notion that resistance against the occupation should be criminalized. All people living under occupation have the right to resist, whether it is through demonstrations, through speech and writing, or to defend against armed attacks. Indeed, criminalizing resistance to the occupation is the crime itself.
Secondly, civil society needs all its creativity to find ways to institute checks and balances. The key to successful security reform is public accountability and ownership. Neither exists in the Palestinian context given the lack of any Palestinian checks and balances and independent oversight, to say nothing of the all-encompassing Israeli occupation. PA officials claim they “are abiding by international standards,” but without a functioning parliament, an independent ombudsman office, or effective recourse to the judiciary, these words are meaningless. Until such checks and balances are introduced, SSR will be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Thirdly, investment needs to be found for alternative economic opportunities to enable people to survive as well as to continue the struggle against the multiple layers of oppression without being forced to work in the bloated and repressive security sector.
Finally, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement has given many Palestinians and their supporters renewed hope in the effectiveness of non-violent tools of resisting oppression and securing rights. Some of its organizing principles and practices can be applied in the efforts to lift the yoke of the security state.
- 1Hussein Agha and Ahmad Khalidi, A Framework for a Palestinian National Security Doctrine (London, UK: Royal Institute for International Affairs/Chatham House, 2005).
- 2For more information, see Roland Friedrich and Arnold Luethold, Entry-Points to Palestinian Security Sector Reform (Switzerland: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), 2007).
- 3Unless otherwise specified, quotations are from interviews by each of the two authors in Ramallah, Birzeit, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin, and Ankara in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
South Africa’s largest trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), has joined with health sector unions to demand the expulsion of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) from the World Medical Association (WMA).
COSATU, along with NEHAWU (National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union), DENOSA (Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa), as well as the SA Medical Association (SAMA), issued the joint call earlier this week. Organisers will protest outside the WMA today, Friday 10 October, supported by campaign groups like BDS South Africa.
In issuing the call for expulsion, COSATU claimed that the IMA “has never denounced or seriously confronted the Israeli government on its shameless use of torture”, and has “shown blatant disregard for the ethical issue of medical neutrality.”
The South African trade unions also accused the IMA of having “stood silently in the face of…the killing, harassment and wounding of Palestinian health professionals on duty; and the destruction of the Palestinian health systems.” They note that “direct appeals to the IMA [over many years] have been unavailing.”
COSATU was one of the first trade unions in the world to endorse the Palestinian-led, international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Citing the struggle against South African apartheid, COSTAU is urging the expulsion of the IMA from the WMA, until the Israeli body “unequivocally condemns, distances and actively counter’s Israel’s torture, occupation and apartheid policies.”
The NYPD officer who used his gun to bludgeon an unarmed Brooklyn teenager in the face has been suspended without pay and might be indicted, after video footage of the violent August arrest went public this week.
But then, this isn’t Officer David Afanador’s first brush with the law he is sworn to uphold. Nor is it the first time that Afanador’s misconduct under the color of authority has involved a camera.
In 2009, Afanador was one of five officers who were defendants in a lawsuit against the NYPD. According to the complaint, Afanador and four of his colleagues were strip-searching a suspect on the street when plaintiff Ranique Williams walked by. For whatever reason—legally, he never needed one—Williams whipped out his camera and started snapping pictures.
Bad idea. Immediately, Williams was detained. He tried to call 911 to complain and asked for their badge numbers. They didn’t give any. Instead, they roughed him up, “slapping” the phone from his hand, “striking” him in the face and head, then “punching” him in the face while he was still handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser, never telling him he was under arrest. They also took his camera and his flash drive without a warrant.
As if that weren’t enough, the complaint alleges, Afanador and his colleagues initiated a malicious prosecution against Williams in an attempt to cover up the violent false arrest and the illegal search-and-seizure. (That prosecution was dismissed in 2009.)
Williams’ lawsuit against Afanador and the other cops cost the city a $37,500 settlement.
Whether or not Afanador’s arrest in 2008 went down exactly they way the complaint alleges—we’ll never know, since the case never went to trial—in hindsight the lawsuit stands in the record as a red flag that the NYPD ignored.
Five years later, we have a violent arrest against a sixteen-year-old boy who threw up his hands in surrender just seconds before a cop with a bad rap slammed a loaded gun into his mouth.
Good thing young Kahreem Tribble wasn’t trying to record any of the blows raining down on his head. Knowing the past allegations against Officer Afanador, he might not have survived the encounter.
Yesterday, a grand jury in Habersham County, Georgia, decided not to bring charges against the police officers who threw a flashbang grenade into the crib of Bounkham Phonesavanh, known affectionately as “Baby Bou Bou.” The explosion left a hole in the then-19-month-old’s chest, exposing his rib, and almost ripped his nose from his face.
How could this happen? Combine systemic police militarization, the war on drugs, and sloppy police work, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.
In May, the Habersham County Special Response Team executed a no-knock drug raid on the home of a family friend where Baby Bou Bou, his parents, and sisters were staying. It was the middle of the night, and even though the family’s minivan was parked in the driveway and children’s toys were in the yard, a squad of SWAT officers decided to throw a flashbang grenade into the living room.
Acting and looking like an invading army, the cops broke down the door, terrorizing the entire family. When Alecia, Baby Bou Bou’s mother, tried to go to him, they screamed at her to shut up. They violently threw and pinned Bou, his father, to the ground, injuring his shoulder so badly he cannot take care of his children alone anymore. Alecia and Bou did not see their son until they arrived at the hospital several hours later.
When they were able to see him, they were devastated.
The explosion from the flashbang tore a hole in Bou Bou’s chest, separated his nose from his face, and covered his body in third degree burns. His injuries were so severe that doctors placed Bou Bou in a medically induced coma.
And for what?
The man the SWAT team was looking for no longer lived in the house and was later arrested without incident. There weren’t any guns or drugs in the home either. To add insult to injury, the county refuses to pay the Phonesavanh’s medical bills, which now total $1 million, claiming the law doesn’t allow it.
The Phonesavanh family, however, is not alone. SWAT teams raid people’s homes approximately 50,000 times a year in the United States. Most of these raids are to search for drugs. Many of them result in tragedy.
In May, the police shot and killed a man in his home during a raid to search for some marijuana. The man had reported that he was fearful of being burglarized and the police told him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.” When he followed their instructions, they killed him.
In July, a St. Paul SWAT team raided a home and killed the family dogs in front of two young children. All they found was some marijuana.
Earlier this month, the Georgia State Patrol sent a helicopter and a K-9 Unit to a man’s home in search of what they thought was marijuana. It turned out to be okra.
As we pointed out in our report, War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing, police militarization is real. And it can be deadly. America watched in horror as law enforcement responded to the peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri, as though they were an invading army. They threatened to kill peaceful protesters. They pointed assault rifles at people exercising their right to peaceably assemble. They jailed journalists.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the answer is better training. Training will help, but it is not an answer to the very real and very entrenched problem of police militarization.
Law enforcement agencies have been aggressively using military weapons and tactics in communities of color for decades, mostly for the purpose of waging the failed and wasteful War on Drugs. They have been able to do so largely courtesy of the federal government, which funnels billions of dollars’ worth of funding and equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies – equipment that was designed for combat.
Habersham County, where the flashbang exploded in Baby Bou Bou’s crib, has received at least 17 assault rifles, 13 automatic pistols, two utility trucks, and an armored personnel carrier from the federal government in the last 10 years alone. When the police use combat weaponry to serve drug warrants and respond to peaceful protests, they do so knowing that they are using weapons and tactics designed for war against their own citizens.
What happened to Baby Bou Bou is not a rare occurrence, and neither is the lack of accountability for the police officers who altered his life forever. It’s the price our communities pay – young and old, disproportionately black and brown – when police believe they are counterinsurgents waging the War on Drugs, and Uncle Sam arms them that way.
It is time to end police militarization. Not only through improved training, but through an end to the federal programs that fuel it and a shift in how the police view the communities they’re meant to protect and serve.
The division between police and citizens in this country continues to deepen with an incident out of Indiana caught on video showing a group of cops shattering a car window to pull out a passenger because he did not have identification.
Hammond police had pulled over the man’s girlfriend because she had not been wearing a seatbelt, which as we saw in South Carolina, can lead to a cop opening fire on a driver trying to comply with their orders.
They then asked her boyfriend, Jamal Jones, for his identification, which she should not have been under any legal obligation to provide considering he wasn’t driving.
Nevertheless, he explained that he did not have it because he was not driving, but offered to show them a ticket he had recently received, which would have given them the information they were looking for. He even reached for a backpack to show them the ticket.
However, that caused them to fear for their lives, so they drew their guns, another example of how complying with a cop’s orders can get you killed.
And that caused Johnson’s girlfriend, Lisa Mahone, to call 911, telling the dispatcher that she was in fear for her life.
She was also concerned that she would not make it to a Chicago hospital to see her dying mother before she lost her life.
But police apologists will be quick to fault her for not wearing a seatbelt. After all, the law is the law and the only people who are allowed to break it are those paid to enforce it.
Meanwhile, the couple’s 14-year-old son, who was sitting in the back with his seven-year-old sister, had begun recording after the cops drew their weapons, which is the only reason the couple is able to file a lawsuit for last month’s incident, which they did this week (click here to read lawsuit).
Otherwise, it would have been written off as another example of police trying to keep everybody safe, only to have to deal with dangerous citizens who refuse to wear seat belts or whatever.
In fact, Hammond police justified their aggression actions in a statement, pointing out that Johnson was also not wearing a seatbelt, so there you have it.
After all, as they proclaim on their website, they are only trying to provide “citizens the safest living environment possible.”
The chief can be reached at 219-852-2900.
RAMALLAH – 83 Palestinian prisoners and detainees died during the Aqsa uprising in September 2000 due to either medical neglect, torture, or assassination.
The Palestinian prisoners center for studies said on Monday that 206 Palestinian prisoners have died in Israeli jails since 1967, 83 of them were killed during the Aqsa uprising.
24 prisoners died in Israeli jails due to medical neglect, while three were tortured to death. Another one was burned to death.
54 Palestinians were directly shot dead during their detention despite the fact that they did not pose any threat to Israeli forces.
In 2002, 25 prisoners died in Israeli jails, most of them were deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers shortly after their arrest.
Dozens of Palestinian detainees suffering from chronic diseases also died shortly after their release from Israeli jails because they did not receive proper medical care inside jails.
The center called on human rights groups to necessarily reveal the real reasons behind the death of 206 Palestinian prisoners during their detention and provide protection for the Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Nine Bahraini protestors have been jailed for life and stripped of their nationality for allegedly smuggling arms to be used in “terrorist acts,” the prosecutor general of the country with the second highest prison population rate per 100,000 amongst Arab states in the West Asian and North African region announced on Monday.
A Manama court also found all nine guilty of having contacted an agent of an unnamed foreign country “to carry out acts hostile to Bahrain,” he said in a statement.
The case dates back to February 2013 when authorities in the country announced they had allegedly dismantled a “terrorist cell” with links to Iran.
This is the latest in a series of convictions that the Bahraini regime has imposed against protesters, including prominent rights activists.
Today, the Saudi-backed Manama regime has the distinction of being the country with the second highest prison population rate per 100,000 amongst Arab states in the West Asian and North African region. Authorities continue to detain over 2,000 Bahrainis who dared to challenge the Khalifa monarchy when the uprising erupted in February 2011.
Indeed, Bahraini authorities are rarely transparent about the actual number of prisoners, going as far as denying that any of the prisoners were arrested over their political stances, and claiming that they were apprehended for “conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime and communicating with foreign entities.”
Due to the fact that the Bahraini regime does not publicly share the total number of prisoners it has nor does it provide an accurate breakdown of the detainees’ crimes, most information regarding Bahrain’s prisons usually come from non-governmental sources.
According to Bahraini activists, there are presently at least 2,000-3,000 “political prisoners” who were arrested when the recent Bahraini uprising erupted in 2011.
They are held among 20 prisons dispersed throughout the archipelago nation, all but two are administered by the Ministry of Interior. Out of the 20, there are four main prisons, one of which is solely for women. They are: al-Qurain Prison, Dry Dock Detention Center, Jaw Prison, and the Isa Town Detention Center for women.
While the number of prisoners may seem inconsequential compared to other countries, for Bahrain – with a small population of 1.2 million, 570,000 of which are Bahraini – it is quite significant.
A report in regards to prisons by the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights released in July says there are over 200 minors held within these prisons, forced to stay side-by-side with adults, and a few have faced torture and sexual abuses.
Similarly, the July report stated, “Children as young as 13 have been sentenced to prison on charges of terrorism in trials that lacked any evidence and despite the fact that the Bahraini law does not define prison punishment for children below the age of 15 in the event of a criminal conviction.”
Attorneys for the United States government say that an upcoming court hearing concerning the force-feeding practices used on a Guantanamo Bay detainee should be held almost entirely behind closed doors.
The motion, filed by US attorneys on Friday in District Court for the District of Columbia, asks that the preliminary injunction hearing for Gitmo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab scheduled for early next month be conducted largely in secret over supposed national security concerns.
“As an initial matter, the hearing should be closed in order to prevent any unauthorized disclosure of classified or protected information,” the motion reads in part. “Furthermore, the hearing should be closed because, although portions of the materials in the record in this case are unclassified, conducting an open hearing in this case would impose significant burdens on the parties and the Court.”
Dhiab, a Syrian national, was cleared for release by the US in 2009 but remains in Pentagon custody at the Guantanamo Bay facility where he and dozens others engaged in a hunger strike last year to protest their continued confinement. To avoid having detainees die from malnourishment, the US has routinely subjected those individuals to force-feeding practices that their attorneys and human rights workers alike have raised concerns about.
Earlier this year in May, US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to temporarily stop force-feeding Dhiab and release his medical records and 34 of 136 videotapes of force-feeding sessions taken between April 9, 2013 and February 19, 2014.
“It’s 12 years late, but it’s fantastic, it’s the first time a federal court has started paying attention to the conditions of confinement in Guantanamo, that’s a huge step,” Clive Stafford Smith, the director of human rights group Reprieve said at the time.
Now as a District Court judge prepares to consider arguments from attorneys representing both the US government and Dhiab, federal attorneys are asking that the public be excluded from key elements of the hearing.
“It’s obvious what is really going on here,” Cori Crider, an attorney for Dhiab with Reprieve, said to The Guardian this week. “The government wants to seal the force-feeding trial for the same reason it is desperate to suppress the tapes of my client being hauled from his cell by the riot squad and force-fed. The truth is just too embarrassing.”
“There is no reason to close the upcoming hearing, other than the government’s intense desire to hide from public scrutiny the evidence we have managed to uncover over the past few months,” co-counsel Jon Eisenberg told POLITICO over the weekend. “This evidence, which consists of videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force feedings, his medical records and some key new admissions by military officials, vividly establishes that the force feeding at Guantanamo Bay is the opposite of humane. Its overarching purpose is to cause the hunger strikers a great deal of pain and suffering, in hopes that they are convinced to give up this peaceful protest of their indefinite detention without trial.”
“If, during any part of this hearing, the judge feels there is a need to protect national security information from public disclosure, she can simply close the courtroom for that part of the hearing. That’s how these sorts of cases are commonly handled, and that’s how this one should be handled,” he said.
According to the government, however, opening and closing the hearing because of classified information being presented would “interrupt the natural flow of the hearing, preventing full, frank and uninhibited discussion of the record necessary to conduct the hearing.” As a compromise, acting assistant attorney general Joyce Branda wrote for the government on Friday that “Respondents will create a public version of the transcript of hearing on an expedited basis and, consistent with the practice in many other Guantanamo Bay merits hearings, Respondents agree the parties should begin the hearing by delivering unclassified opening statements in public.”
According to the Guardian, several news organizations, including the British paper, plan to file a motion challenging the government’s request to keep the hearing largely secret.