Obama Detainee Policy in Afghanistan Same as Bush Administration

By Maria E. Molina
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – The Obama administration has told a federal court that detainees currently being held in Afghanistan are unlawful combatants not subject to the Geneva Conventions and can be held without charge for as long as the conflict in Afghanistan continues.  In a two-sentence filing late Friday, the Justice Department said that the new administration had reviewed its position in a case brought by prisoners at the United States Air Force base at Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital. The Obama team determined that the Bush policy was correct: such prisoners cannot sue for their release.  The closely watched case is a habeas corpus lawsuit on behalf of several prisoners who have been indefinitely detained for years without trial.

The Bush administration had argued that federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear such a case because the prisoners are noncitizens being held in the course of military operations outside the United States. The power of civilian federal judges to review individual decisions by the executive branch to hold a terrorism suspect as an enemy combatant was one of the most contentious legal issues surrounding the Bush administration. For years, President Bush’s legal team argued that federal judges had no authority under the Constitution to hear challenges by detainees being held at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

Rights lawyers have been hoping that courts would extend those rulings to allow long-term detainees being held at United States military bases elsewhere in the world to sue for release, too. There are about 600 detainees at Bagram and several thousand in Iraq.

Some observers believed that the Obama team would end up making a major change in policy but simply needed more time to come up with it, while others believed that the administration had decided.

For more information, please see:

IPS News – RIGHTS-US: What About Bagram? – 25 February 2009

Periodico – U.S. President Backs Bush Policy on Bagram Detainees – 23 February 2009

AFP – Obama draws fire for ‘terror’ detainee moves – 21 February 2009

NY Times – Obama Upholds Detainee Policy in Afghanistan – 21 February 2009

Voice of America – Obama Backs Bush on Afghanistan Detainees – 21 February 2009

Myanmar Pro-Democracy Protests

By Elizabeth O’Loughlin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar- Small protests continued today in Yangon.  The demonstrations were quickly addressed as security forces took protesters away in trucks, and there are some reports of protesters being beaten.  The number of protesters has decreased dramatically since the government began its crackdown earlier this week.

The United Nations’ Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in Myanmar today.  He will be meeting with junta officials in Naypidaw, however it is not clear if he will be meeting with leader General Than Shwe or pro-democracy leaders.

There is local and world pessimism over whether Gambari’s visit will cause change.  Western nations have insisted that the UN act more forcefully to quell the junta’s actions.  The United States has been trying to persuade nations to cut off investment and trade into Myanmar.  China however has been blocking these efforts to destabilize Myanmar.

The authorities have continued to shut down communications, including cell phones and internet access.  Since its rise to power in 1962 the junta has attempted to keep information from leaving the country, but Myanmar news has reached the world community via internet and blogs.  The internet has been especially important in sharing the news of the protests and government crackdown over the past month.
Captbk10709290846myanmar_protests_2

This AP photo, released by the Free Burma Rangers, shows protests on Tuesday in a remote village on the border of Thailand.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo! News (AP) – Myanmar protests falter after crackdown – 29 September 2007

AHN – Pro-Democracy Protests Resume in Myanmar Despite Crackdown – 29 September 2007

The New York Times – U.S. Steps Up Confrontation With Myanmar’s Rulers – 29 September 2007

ABC News – Blogging for Political Change: Myanmar’s Dissidents – 29 September 2007

Impunity Watch – Authorities in Myanmar Cut Communications Amongst More Protests – 28 September 2007

Impunity Watch – UN Holding Emergency Talks on Myanmar – 26 September 2007