Wikileaks Documents Reveal Hazards of Blindly Relying on Secret Evidence

The flood of news stories in the wake of the latest Wikileaks document dump reveal how one Guantanamo detainee after another was imprisoned at Gitmo for years based on tips from informants that turned out to be false. As James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation said in today’s New York Times, that’s not a big surprise. Law enforcement relies on such dubious tips in building criminal cases all the time. “The nature of intelligence is that it is ambiguous sometimes. It is sometimes based on sources you wouldn’t take to Sunday school.”

In criminal cases, that’s not necessarily a problem, because criminal defendants ultimately get a chance to test the evidence in court. But that’s not the case for military detainees. Until the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Guantanamo prisoners had a right to challenge their detention in federal court, they were stuck in the prison with no independent assessment of their guilt or innocence.

In fact, that’s still the case for detainees imprisoned by the United States in Afghanistan today. The U.S. military holds some 1700 detainees at a prison on the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan – nearly ten times as many as remain at Guantanamo. But unlike at Guantanamo, prisoners in Afghanistan don’t have the right to legal representation or to challenge or even to see the secret evidence being used against them.

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WikiLeaks, then Congress, Reveal Reluctance to Account for Guantanamo and Torture

The pander-to-fear-du-jour for members of congress is a >provision that would prevent the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US for any purpose, including for prosecution. Passage of this ill-founded measure could effectively put the nail in the coffin of efforts to end the failed Guantanamo experiment, perpetuating its legacy of arbitrary detention and detainee abuse. It would also leave little alternative but to either release people who should not be released, or detain them indefinitely without charge or trial, or try them in the universally discredited kangaroo courts known as military commissions, which have conclusively demonstrated their inability to try their own way out of a paper bag.

Human Rights First has correctly labeled this initiative as "tantamount to obstruction of justice."

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U.S. Aid Funding Colombian Oppression?

 

Exposing links between local politicians and paramilitary death-squads normally doesn't sound like grounds for arrest, but in Colombia it can be.

Colombian activist Carmelo Agamez has been in prison for over a year on bogus charges. Both the Colombian Attorney General and a court have found that his rights were violated--but the prosecution just won't stop. The LA Times even wrote a feature article describing his unjust detention. Agamez and other activists are being targeted with trumped-up charges designed to stigmatize and silence human rights defenders.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government gave approximately $40 million in human rights and rule of law aid to Colombia last year which came with conditions that the Colombian government respect the rights of human rights defenders. Congress set those conditions last December after years of advocacy by Human Rights First and other groups.

Just last week I was in D.C. with Agamez's daughter, Sandra Agamez. We urged U.S. officials to encourage the Colombian government to stop this unjust practice. Human Rights First is also running a petition to the State Department urging it to enforce U.S. conditions on aid--and protect human rights activists unjustly detained.

This video explains the plight of Agamez and many of his colleagues fighting for human rights, finding persecution.

Last year I went to Colombia and visited activists like Agamez who were stuck in jail, as well as others who were suffering harassment and baseless prosecutions. Human Rights First issued a report, Baseless Prosecutions of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia: In the Dock and Under the Gun, detailing the abuses.

We have since relentlessly advocated for change--and have seen progress: conditioning U.S. aid to Colombia on its human rights record was a step forward, as were Congressional hearings on this topic last year. The Colombian government has also released dozens of activists who can now continue their work.

But there are still victims like Agamez who suffer persecution who need our help. The Colombian government should empower a prosecutorial unit to review all criminal investigations of human rights activists to promptly close bogus cases and deter new cases of arbitrary detention. Activists courageously fighting for human rights struggles need to be guaranteed their basic rights.

 

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