Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 20th Screening of Pray the Devil Back to Hell a Huge Success.

Human Rights USA thanks everyone who made the April 20, 2009 screening of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” a success. We had a wonderful turnout to see this documentary of the courageous Liberian women who brought peace to their war-torn country. Our audience included an impressive mix of NGO workers, government employees, law students, and members of the DC community with varying levels of familiarity with the history and the current situation in Liberia. We are happy to hear from many attendees that the film helped them better understand and appreciate why HRUSA was involved with the criminal prosecution against Chuckie Taylor and has brought a civil case against him as well.

HRUSA would like to thank:

Our panelists, Abigail Disney, the film's producer; Dr. Patricia Morris, Executive Director of Peace x Peace; and Matthew Baechtle, an ICE Special Agent who launched the investigation of Chuckie Taylor, for their insightful discussion of the impact of the film, the array of issues it addresses and the reality facing Liberians as a result of the civil war.

Steptoe & Johnson LLP for its generous support of this event.

Rona Leff and the Letelier Theater for use of their beautiful theater and reception space.

Chef Emilie Stein of Cafe 1612, Hello Cupcake, and Sumah's West African Restaurant for catering the reception.

Volunteers Robbie Kleekpo and Jonathan Henriques who most generously volunteered their time in making this event possible.

Update 07/21/09: for photos of the event, please see our Facebook album on our Fan Page.

Update 07/28/09: here is the trailer for this powerful movie:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Momentum builds for accountability

Almost one year ago, then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama said that if “genuine crimes” such as torture, rendition, or illegal wiretapping were committed by high-level U.S. government officials, his administration would investigate them. He said, more specifically, that “if [he] found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then [he thinks] a basic principle of our Constitution is [that] nobody is above the law.”

Four memos released last week by the Justice Department present the clearest indication to date of the Bush administration’s attempts to seek legal authorization for criminal acts. By writing these memos, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) created legal cover for the use of waterboarding and other abuses by the CIA; the Bush administration then used these memos to justify indefensible human rights violations, such as torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Torture is unequivocally and universally prohibited under all circumstances, including during times of war, out of necessity, in self-defense, or where legal counsel purport to authorize it. The notion that a government attorney can provide cover for officials who seek to torture and commit other war crimes was unequivocally rejected over half a century ago when, during the Nuremberg trials, U.S. prosecutors sentenced Nazi war criminals to prison or death for committing crimes against humanity.

Under both domestic and international law, the United States is required to investigate and, where warranted, prosecute those responsible for committing acts such as torture and other war crimes or crimes against humanity. These obligations are set forth clearly in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, United States criminal laws, the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and customary human rights standards.

In his public statements regarding the memos, Mr. Obama recognized that “the United States is a nation of laws.” But it is only a nation of laws if laws have meaning, are given precedence over politics, and are enforced. The next step President Obama must take is to ask Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate these crimes and, where warranted, prosecute those responsible. It is time for the United States to prove that it is, once again, a nation of laws.