North America & Oceania

Former U.S. President Bush and His Administration Accused of War Crimes

By: Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C.,United States of America – In an interview with Democracy Now!, Richard Clarke, the nation’s former top counterterrorism official, stated that he believes former U.S President George W. Bush and former U.S Vice President Dick Cheney are guilty of committing war crimes during their 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Former United States President Bush accused of committing war crimes during the 2003 invasion of Iraq (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Times).

Richard Clarke served as the national coordinator for security and counterterrorism for just one year during President Bush’s term in office. Clark resigned in 2003 following the invasion of Iraq. When asked about the decisions made by former U.S President Bush regarding the 2003 invasion, Clarke stated, “I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes.” 

The United Nations was careful to create an all-encompassing definition of war crimes to ensure the accountability of those who act illegally during a time of war.

War crimes are criminal acts committed during armed conflicts and the term refers to grave breaches of the rules of warfare…Acts such as torture, destruction of property, and the killing of civilians or hostages can be defined as war crimes, as can the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, or any devastation not justified by military necessity.

Clarke who previously made headlines for accusing President Bush of ignoring warnings regarding an attack by al-Qaeda prior to September 11, 2001 stated, “It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did – in my mind, at least, it’s clear that some of the things they did were war crimes.”

Clarke’s accusations of misconduct of the Bush administration are not unprecedented. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, accused former Vice President Cheney of war crimes in 2011.Wilkerson emphasized the former Vice President’s affinity for enhanced interrogation methods. Wilkerson stated, “Waterboarding is a war crime, unwarranted surveillance…all of which are crimes.”

Bush and seven top members of his administration were convicted in absentia of war crimes in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2012 for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Current United States President, Barack Obama, has tasked the Department of Justice with a case that seeks immunity for Bush and his administration for any and all war crimes they may have committed.

When President Obama first took office he stated that he would not seek criminal charges against former President Bush or any of his staff. Obama inherited two wars started by Bush, thus he may be worrisome that he may be charged with war crimes by any future President. Based upon the definition of war crimes provided by the United Nations, a closer examination of military decisions in the past century may likely lead to the conclusion that many former president’s are guilty of war crimes.

For further information please see:

Democracy Now! – Former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke: Bush Committed War Crimes – 9 – June – 2014.

Examiner – Bush and Cheney are War Criminals, Says Former Bush Counterterrorism Official – 9 – June – 2014.

Huffington Post – Former Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke: Bush, Cheney Committed War Crimes – June – 9- 2014.

The Washington Times – Ex- Bush Intel Man: President, Cheney, Rumsfeld Guilty of War Crimes – June- 9 – 2014.

World’s First Climate Change Refugee Denied Asylum in New Zealand

by Max Bartels 

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania 

Wellington, New Zealand 

A Man from the small Pacific islands of Kiribati applied as a “climate refugee” in New Zealand. Mr. Teitiota is the first to apply for such a refugee status. A New Zealand Judge dismissed Mr. Teitiota case and denied him and his family refugee status. This ruling was appealed the New Zealand Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the lower court. Mr. Teitiota and his family have been living illegally in New Zealand for the past seven years, after his initial visa exprired he applied for refugee status. Since Mr. Teitiota’s case and appeal have failed in the New Zealand courts, he and his family are to be deported back to Kiribati. Mr. Teitiota is married with three children, all three children were born in New Zealand; however, New Zealand does not recognize the offspring of illegal immigrants born in the country as citizens.

Kiribati
Abandoned Kiribati farm that has been destroyed by sea water
(Photo Curtesy of The Guardian)

The New Zealand court held that under international law Mr. Teitiota does not qualify as a refugee. The UN Refugee Convention of 1951 states that a refugee must fear persecution if they returned home, the courts determined that this is a criterion that Mr. Teitiota does not meet. The court went on to say that if refugee status were granted, the floodgates would open for all medium-term environmental deprivation or damage refugees, which would create an influx of refugees. The court further said that Mr. Teitiota and his family would be able to resume their prior subsistence life with dignity in Kiribati.

The islands of Kiribati are quickly being swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Projections show that the Island will cease to exist by the end of this century. However, the island will become uninhabitable even earlier due to the rise in the rise in the sea-level combined with a more severe storm cycle that will contaminate the water table and with it all the agricultural land. The main atoll, Tarawa is six square miles in total, crammed into this space are 50,000 islanders and that space is quickly shrinking.

The President of Kiribati is exploring options for a mass migration and the Kiribati government hoped that the case in New Zealand would give them that option. Other options the government is pursuing include the purchase of land in Fiji as a possible resettlement option. The government has also explored the option of building a man made island to resettle the population. In total there are over 100,000 people in Kiribati that will eventually be displaced by the rising sea level. With any option the government pursues it will be difficult to relocate such as large group of people.

For more Information, please see:

The Guardian — New Zealand Refuses Climate Change Refugees- Mass Action is Now Needed — 12 May 2014 

The Independent — World’s First Climate Change Refugee’ has Appeal rejected as New Zealand Rules Loane Teitiota Must Return to South Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati — 12 May 2014 

Australian International Business Times — New Zealand Denies Asylum to World’s First Climate Change Refugee; Court Orders Deportation of Kiribatian — 13 May 2014 

The New Zealand Herald — World’s First Climate Change Refugee has Appeal Rejected — 13 May 2014 

 

United States Secretary of Defense To Make Decision Regarding Transfer of Guantanamo Bay Detainees

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America Guantanamo Bay has been highly criticized by human rights groups for imprisoning individuals for extended periods of time without being charged or given a trial. President Obama’s administration wants to close the detention center in Cuba, however the President’s plan has been thwarted by the difficulties of transferring the detainees.

Hagel to make decision on transfer of Guantanamo Bay Detainees “fairly soon” (Photo Courtesy of Reuters). 

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently wrapped up a defense bill on Thursday 22 May 2014. The bill would authorize the transfer of prisoners currently incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay to U.S soil for detention, trial, and incarceration.  The bill is in accordance with last years National Defense Authorization Act that eased restrictions on transferring detainees to foreign countries and is another step towards closing the Guantanamo Bay facilities.

In an effort to close Guantanamo Bay, President Obama has been talking to several countries about relocating inmates. The U.S President recently spoke with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica about accepting six detainees. Uruguay agreed in March to take some inmates from Guantanamo Bay, in return, the United States was to free some Cuban prisoners. Uruguayan media reported that the detainees to be transferred were four Syrians and one Pakistani.

Under the current laws the Secretary of Defense must review all cases of detainees to be transferred and examine the procedures put in place to monitor the detainees so as to certify to Congress that they will not be at risk to return to the battlefield. United Stated Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, stated on Wednesday 28 May 2014 that he would soon make a decision regarding the detainees at Guantanamo Bay whom Uruguay has offered to accept. Defense officials said there was no timetable for Hagel to make the decision, and Hagel’s only indication as to the timeframe of his decision was his response that the decision would be made “fairly soon.”

Hagel responded to comments about his drawn-out decision by stating, “What I am doing is taking my time to assure that any decision I make is…by standards Congress gave me, that I in fact can notify and certify that this is the responsible thing to do.”

The decision to close Guantanamo Bay has been controversial due to the high security interest. Top Senate Republicans have vowed to do all they can to keep the facility open, or at the very least slow the process of transferring the detainees. Of the 166 men who were held in detention in May 2013 only 12 have ben transferred out of Guantanamo Bay in the past year.

Hagel has addressed the oppositions concerns to close the facility by stating that he has created a system whereby he will carefully examine the risk the detainees could potentially pose as well as measures put in place to mitigate those risks. However, Hagel acknowledged the risk in closing Guantanamo Bay when stating, “there is a risk in everything … I suspect I will never get a 100-percent deal.”

 

For More Information Please See:

ABC News – Obama Win on Guantanamo Prison May be Short-Lived– 30 May 2014.

Huffington Post – Time to Close Guantanamo — Not One More Day – 30 May 2014.

Reuters – Hagel to Make Decisions on Guantanamo Detainees ‘Fairly Soon’ – 30 May 2014.

Wall Street Journal – Hagel Reviewing Cases in Transfer of Six Detainees to Uruguay – 30 May 2014.

 

North Carolina Bill To Make Revealing Fracking Secrets a Felony

Brandon R. Cottrell
Senior Desk Officer, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – A proposed bill in North Carolina, the Energy Modernization Act, if passed, would charge any individual (with an exception for emergency first responders) with a felony if they publicly disclosed trade secret protected information regarding fracking chemicals.

A proposed North Carolina bill would make the non-authorized disclosure of fracking trade secrets a felony (Photo Courtesy News Week).

Fracking is a procedure where fractures are created in rock formations by injecting high-pressure mixtures of chemicals and fluid; once the fractures are opened, natural gas can then be extracted.  Though not currently legal in North Carolina, legislation aims to legalize the process next year.

Environmental groups claim that the mixture of chemicals and fluid are potentially hazardous and could thus contaminate groundwater and wells serving nearby homes and farms.  Much is still unknown about the health effects, but according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, at least four individuals that worked at fracking sites have died due to “acute chemical exposure.”

However, proponents have refuted such claims and tout fracking as an environmentally sound alternative.  Additionally, proponents have stated that fracking will create jobs and provide cheap and reliable energy.

According to Hannah Wiseman, a Florida State University law professor who studies fracking laws, “the felony provision is far stricter than most states’ provisions in terms of the penalty for violating trade secrets.”  Depending on the offender’s prior criminal history, a violation of this law would be punishable by up to a year in prison or community service.

Derb Carter, the director for the Southern Environmental Law Center believes that the proposed law is “intended to protect polluters and keep neighbors in the dark.”  Carter has additionally stated that the “[real] crime should be allowing corporations to pump toxic chemicals underground without public disclosure of those chemicals.”

 

For further information, please see the following:

Business Week – NC Legislative Committees Ok Gas Fracking Bill – 21-May-2014

Huffington Post – North Carolina Legislators Advance Fracking Bill That Would Block Chemical Disclosure – 21-May-2014

MSNBC – North Carolina Could Make Disclosing Fracking Chemicals A Felony -21-May-2014

News Week – North Carolina Bill Would Make Revealing Fracking Secrets a Felony – 20-May-2014

 

MARYLAND LAW PROTECTS TRANSGENDERED INDIVIDUALS FROM DISCRIMINATION

By: Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ANNAPOLIS, United States – After a Maryland senate vote of 32-15 on 4 March 2014 in favor of a bill preventing discrimination against people who are transgender, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law on Thursday, 15 May 2014. The bill’s sponsor Sen. Richard Madaleno along with 31 Democrats and one Republican supported the passing of the bill. Sen. Madaleno who fought for eight years to convince his colleagues to pass the bill states that the bill “provides important protections for people who are just trying to live their lives”

Maryland Governor signs bill to stop discrimination against transgendered people

The law set to take effect on 1 October 2014 will prohibit discrimination against transgendered people on matters relating to housing, employment, credit, and the use of public restrooms. Governor O’Malley called the measure an “important step to protect the dignity and equal rights of all Marylanders.”

Opponents of the bill have labeled the measure a “bathroom bill”, as it protects a transgendered person’s right to use the restroom for the gender with which the individual identifies.  Kathy Szeliga, a Republican member of Maryland’s House of Delegates, has spoken outwardly about her opposition to the bill. Szeliga has expressed her concern that the measure will allow predators into opposite sex restrooms. Szeliga said, “this is just not right”, she has also stated that the law will have unintended consequences.

Opponents hope to collect 18,579 signatures by 31 May 2014 and a total of 55,736 signatures by 30 June 2014 in order to get a referendum on the ballot for November’s election. This would ensure that voters get the last say regarding the measure.

Approval of the bill makes Maryland the 18th U.S. state to pass a law protecting transgendered individuals from discrimination. The measure will alter Maryland’s laws to conform to the changing attitudes of United States citizens regarding transgendered people. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agrees with the shifting views regarding transgendered individuals and stated on Sunday, 11 May 2014 that the military should review its ban on transgendered people serving in its ranks.

The measure is in line with the Maryland Governor’s liberal policies which have been passed during O’Malley’s eight years as Governor. In 2012, O’Malley passed The Dream Act, legalized same-sex marriage, repealed the death penalty, and passed tougher gun laws. Governor O’Malley says that the law prohibiting discrimination against transgendered people will help create an “open, respectful, inclusive world that we want for all of our children.”

 

For further information, please see:

ABC NEWS – Maryland Bill To Stop Transgender Discrimination Signed – 16 May 2014

ABC NEWS – Maryland Senate Oks Bill To Stop Transgender Discrimination – 16 May 2014

THE BALTIMORE SUN – O’Malley Signs Maryland Transgender Rights Bill – 16 May 2014

REUTERS – New Maryland Law Makes Transgender Discrimination Illegal – 16 May 2014