What Goes Around Comes Around

October 14, 2009

Our ad in the Farragut West Metro Station, Washington DC
Our ad in the Farragut West Metro Station, Washington DC

Last month I had the opportunity to meet with Tamil human rights defenders working to protect the rights of Tamil civilians displaced by the Sri Lankan government’s military campaign against the violent Armed Group known as the Tamil Tigers.

Displaced Tamils are confined to government run camps where conditions are harsh and there is no end to their detention in sight. Tamil and Sri Lankan human rights defenders are operating under great threat from the authorities and Sinhalese nationalist paramilitaries.

Journalists have been killed and activists have disappeared. An unmarked white van has been associated with several disappearances, evoking memories of the dirty wars of Latin America. The atmosphere in Colombo is increasingly one of fear and intimidation.

This is the context in which we learned earlier this month of a visit to Washington DC by the Sri Lankan Attorney General, Mohan Peiris, to meet with his American counterpart Eric Holder.

One of the principle items on the agenda at the Department of Justice was America’s use of Military Commissions at Guantanamo to try suspected members of Al Qaeda.

A Sri Lankan government spokesman told Agence France Presse:

“We want to study how the US handled terrorist suspects, particularly hundreds of them from Al Qaeda network, after the 9/11 attacks in New York.”

The Sri Lankan government is reportedly drawing up plans to try as many as 15,000 potential LTTE suspects before a ‘Special Tribunal’ modeled on the Military Commissions process with its reduced protections, secrecy and permissive rules of evidence.

This Sri Lankan initiative is a graphic illustration of the law of unintended consequences. The false steps made by the Bush administration in its fight against terrorism, and reinforced by the Obama administration, empower other governments around the world to flout international legal protections.

By its actions the US government has become an unwitting enabler, encouraging unscrupulous leaders around the world to roll back hard won freedoms, confident in the knowledge that US policies in the War on Terror prevent the American government from pressing its human rights agenda.

Closing Guantanamo and transferring the prisoners held there to the federal judicial system is an essential first step to rehabilitating America’s global reputation.

To this end, AIUSA’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign is launching a new ad – no Kangaroo Courts at Guantanamo – to keep up the pressure for reform and strengthen the Obama administration’s wavering commitment on these issues. The ad is running in the Farragut West Metro station in Washington DC, at the 17th street exit – an exit many White House staffers use.

We have to lead by example. Fine words and inspirational speeches are not enough. We are judged by our actions and, until we end the abusive practices introduced by the War on Terror, America cannot speak out for human rights around the world with any authority.

On October 16th from 11:30AM to 12:30PM Amnesty volunteers will be canvassing the crowds outside the White House, urging them to take action at www.amnestyusa.org/kangaroo. Come down and add your voice to those seeking to counter terror with justice. And remember: silence is consent.