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In a welcome development, President Obama has reaffirmed his pledge to close Guantanamo. Let's encourage him to take swift and decisive action.  The current situation is extremely dire. A majority of the 166 prisoners, afraid that they will be left to die in Guantanamo without ever being charged with a crime, are participating in a hunger strike that started on February 6 (nearly three months ago). The government reports that 100 prisoners are taking part, while detainee lawyers place the figure at over 130.

Many of the striking prisoners – 21 according to the government, a majority according to detainee lawyers – are being force fed. One prisoner has described the experience as follows.

I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
The president of the American Medical Association has condemned the force feeding policy in a public letter to Secretary of Defense Hagel,

Here is what everyone needs to know about Guantanamo.  A total of 779 prisoners have been sent to the detention center, of whom 604 have subsequently been transferred (almost all of them now free). Nine have died in custody.  Of the remaining 166 prisoners, only nine have been charged with a crime.  Ironically, conviction often leads to early release, prompting Morris Davis, a former Guantanamo prosecutor, to write,

There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home.
Compounding the injustice is the fact that 86 of the 166 prisoners were cleared for transfer in 2010, following a rigorous inter-departmental review process in the Obama administration. Yet more than three years later they remain in Guantanamo.
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It’s important to know that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is still wreaking havoc in central Africa, specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

Ida Sawyer is a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has spent years researching the LRA.  She writes:

Available statistics indicate there were fewer attacks in 2011 than the year before, though attacks have continued on a regular basis (the United Nations has reported 20 attacks already this year [2012], in Congo alone). With the group’s leadership still intact and its tactics adapted for the difficult terrain, there are no signs that its capacity to attack civilians and abduct children has significantly weakened. There have been periods when the LRA was comparatively less violent, often while regrouping or resupplying, but these relative lulls were often followed by large-scale killings and abductions.
She adds:
The refrain I hear from victims and survivors again and again is the following: Why have we been forgotten? Our own governments have abandoned us. Why can’t the international community do something to end the terror and bring our children home?
The whole piece is highly recommended.

The LRA operates in remote locations, where reporting is difficult.  One massacre went unreported for months.

Dozens of victims and witnesses told us how, in December 2009, the LRA brutally killed at least 345 men, women, and children, and abducted 250 others during a four-day killing rampage. This attack, one of the worst LRA massacres ever documented, had gone unreported for months due to the area’s isolation.
To address the communications problem, Invisible Children helped set up an Early Warning Network, to spread news of attacks to nearby populations.  Ida Sawyer states:
I think Invisible Children is starting some of the best work there, in terms of setting up the early warning mechanism. The system relies on a two-way radio network, They're training these two-way radio monitors who can report immediately when there's LRA presence or there's an attack....some of the quickest organizations to respond to the needs on the ground, very flexible and willing to work with and listen to the local communities.
To learn about continuing LRA attacks, follow the LRA Crisis Tracker, operated jointly by Invisible Children and Resolve.  You’ll see that attacks are occurring on a weekly basis.  For more about the situation, please refer to the excellent overview written by Ida Sawyer for Human Rights Watch, from which I quoted above.

In this video produced by Human Rights Watch in 2010, villagers plead for help.  Note: the individuals in this video were asked just one question: “If you could say anything you wanted to the president of the United States, what would you say?”

Dear Obama video

In early 2011, there was a panel at George Washington University featuring Human Rights Watch researchers Ida Sawyer and Anneke Van Woudenberg and reporters Joe Bavier and Marcus Bleasdale.  It is an outstanding and informative panel.  I strongly recommend watching all of it.

GWU LRA Panel, Part 1

GWU LRA Panel, Part 2

GWU LRA Panel, Part 3

GWU LRA Panel, Part 4

GWU LRA Panel, Part 5

GWU LRA Panel, Part 6

GWU LRA Panel, Part 7

I am not an expert on the LRA, but I thought this information was worth sharing.  Let me say that I have serious concerns about the Kony 2012 video.  But we should not reduce Invisible Children to the video.  I look forward to learning more about this issue and the organizations, Invisible Children and others, seeking to address it.

Discuss

A friend of mine is angry about the health care bill.  She owns a small business and leans Democratic, but does not follow political news closely.  She is upset that, since the reform was enacted, her premiums have increased 20% while, she says, coverage has worsened.  She has concluded that the health reform act made things worse.

How should I respond to her complaints?  Are there reasons why she should still support the health care reform?  Are there reasons why, on this issue, she should vote Democratic?  Note: she lives in a swing district.

These are genuine, not rhetorical, questions.  (I am not well informed on this issue.)  I would appreciate your views.  I will see her tomorrow night.

Discuss

Tue May 01, 2007 at 06:07 AM PDT

Restore Habeas Corpus Now

by eglantine

Today is “Restore Habeas Corpus Day.”  Human rights lawyers are visiting Capitol Hill to demand legislation that fully restores the habeas corpus rights gutted in the Military Commissions Act passed last fall.  Please act now.  Please take a few minutes to call or email your congressional representatives and urge them to support the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act (H.R. 1416) or similar language in other bills.  

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The New York Times reported last Saturday that hundreds of thousands of children in Zambia are at risk of starvation because Congress won't permit US aid agencies to purchase plentiful food stocks from Zambian warehouses.  Congress insists that the aid agencies buy only American-produced food shipped on American freighters.  It will take many months for that food to arrive, and in the meantime Zambian children will begin to starve.  Tom Lantos, the new chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, supports this policy, and is quoted in the Times as saying that it is "beyond insane" to allow US aid agencies to buy local supplies.  Let's call Tom Lantos's office and tell him that HE is beyond insane to let children starve for the benefit of American agribusiness and shipping interests.

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