The topic of birthright citizenship has resurfaced in the broader immigration debate. Immigration opponents are proposing legislation intended to undo this bedrock principle of American society written into the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: If you are born in the United States, you are a citizen. Although the popular rhetoric surrounding efforts to end birthright citizenship mainly focuses on the U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants, many legislative proposals to rollback this constitutional right would actually deny citizenship to children born to lawfully present immigrants—including nearly all foreign students, temporary workers, and even some lawful permanent residents.
Removing or changing this crucial part of the Constitution would inevitably create a large class of less-than-citizens and stateless persons and require the creation of new burdensome regulations and oversight that would affect the lives of every new parent in the United States. At the end of the day, such efforts undermine the intentions of the 14th Amendment, the nation’s history, and the core values of inclusion and integration.
The two psychologists credited with creating the brutal, post-9/11 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture regime are being sued by three victims of their program on charges that include “human experimentation” and “war crimes.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday filed the suit against CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, on behalf of torture survivors Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, as well as the family of Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia in his cell as result of the torture he endured.
The suit, which is the first to rely on the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, charges Mitchell and Jessen under the Alien Tort Statute for “their commission of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; non-consensual human experimentation; and war crimes,” all of which violate international law.
The pair, both former U.S. military psychologists, earned more than $80 million for “designing, implementing, and personally administering” the program, which employed “a pseudo-scientific theory of countering resistance that justified the use of torture,” that was based on studies in which researchers “taught dogs ‘helplessness’ by subjecting them to uncontrollable pain,” according to the suit.
“These psychologists devised and supervised an experiment to degrade human beings and break their bodies and minds,” said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “It was cruel and unethical, and it violated a prohibition against human experimentation that has been in place since World War II.”
In a lengthy report, the ACLU describes each plaintiff’s journey.
After being abducted by CIA and Kenyan agents in Somalia, Suleiman Abdullah, a newly wed fisherman from Tanzania, was subjected to “an incessant barrage of torture techniques,” including being forced to listen to pounding music, doused with ice-cold water, beaten, hung from a metal rod, chained into stress positions “for days at a time,” starved, and sleep deprived. This went on for over a month, and was continually interspersed with “terrifying interrogation sessions in which he was grilled about what he was doing in Somalia and the names of people, all but one of whom he’d never heard of.”
Held for over five years without charge and moved numerous times, Abdullah was eventually sent home to Zanzibar “‘with a document confirming he posed no threat to the United States.” He continues to suffer from flashbacks, physical pain, and has “become a shell of himself.”
Mohamed Ben Soud was captured in April 2003 during a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid on his home in Pakistan, where he and his wife moved after fleeing the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Ben Soud said that Mitchell even “supervised the proceedings” at one of his water torture sessions.
Describing Ben Soud’s ordeal, the ACLU writes:
The course of Mohamed’s torture adhered closely to the “procedures” the CIA laid out in a 2004 memo to the Justice Department. Even before arriving at COBALT, [a CIA prison in Afghanistan] Mohamed was subjected to “conditioning” procedures designed to cause terror and vulnerability. He was rendered to COBALT hooded, handcuffed, and shackled. When he arrived, an American woman told him he was a prisoner of the CIA, that human rights ended on September 11, and that no laws applied in the prison.
Quickly, his torture escalated. For much of the next year, CIA personnel kept Mohamed naked and chained to the wall in one of three painful stress positions designed to keep him awake. He was held in complete isolation in a dungeon-like cell, starved, with no bed, blanket, or light. A bucket served as his toilet. Ear-splitting music pounded constantly. The stench was unbearable. He was kept naked for weeks. He wasn’t permitted to wash for five months.
According to the report, the torture regime designed and implemented by Mitchell and Jessen “ensnared at least 119 men, and killed at least one—a man named Gul Rahman who died in November 2002 of hypothermia after being tortured and left half naked, chained to the wall of a freezing-cold cell.”
Gul’s family has never been formally notified of his death, nor has his body been returned to them for a dignified burial, the ACLU states. Further, no one has been held accountable for his murder. But the report notes, “An unnamed CIA officer who was trained by Jessen and who tortured Rahman up until the day before he was found dead, however, later received a $2,500 bonus for ‘consistently superior work.'”
The ACLU charges that the theories devised by Mitchell and Jessen and employed by the CIA, “had never been scientifically tested because such trials would violate human experimentation bans established after Nazi experiments and atrocities during World War II.” Yet, they were the basis of “some of the worst systematic brutality ever inflicted on detainees in modern American history.”
Despite last year’s release of the Senate Torture Report, the government has prosecuted only a handful of low-level soldiers and one CIA contractor for prisoner abuse. Meanwhile, the architects of the CIA’s torture program, which include Mitchell and Jessen, have escaped any form of accountability.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) issued a statement saying they welcomed the federal lawsuit as “a landmark step toward accountability,” and urged the U.S. Department to follow suit and criminally “investigate and prosecute all those responsible for torture, including health professionals.”
In the wake of the Senate report, the group strongly criticized Mitchell and Jessen for betraying “the most fundamental duty of the healing professions.”
In Tuesday’s statement, Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director, said: “Psychologists have an ethical responsibility to ‘do no harm,’ but Mitchell and Jessen’s actions rank among the worst medical crimes in U.S. history.”
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The Fight For Equal Rights For LGBT Americans Does Not End At Marriage
We’ve been talking a lot about a certain Supreme Court case over the past month, with the Affordable Care Act under attack for a second time. Next up, the Supreme Court will hear another important case in April on whether to legalize marriage for committed same-sex couples throughout the country. While proponents of equality are hopeful for a historic decision to finally ensure marriage equality nationwide, regardless of the outcome, the fight for LGBT equal rights will not end in June. One aspect of that fight is securing basic non-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.
BOTTOM LINE: While the Supreme Court may soon rightly decide that marriage equality is constitutional, the fight for fairness and full equality will not be over this summer. Congress and the States need to act to ensure equal protections for LGBT Americans.
President Obama Just Announced The Single Largest Expansion Of LGBT Workplace Protections In Our Country’s History
As many as 9 out of 10 voters believe federal law already protects LGBT workers from discrimination. But it doesn’t. And while the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was passed by the Senate this year, it has stalled in the House; Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made it clear that there is “no way” ENDA will pass this year.
Enter the latest chapter of the Obama Administration’s “year of action.” The White House announced today that President Obama will issue an executive order requiring that all companies who contract with the federal government must not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The order, expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, is an extension of orders previously issued by past presidents — most recently Johnson — similarly banning employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin among all contractors and subcontractors who do over $10,000 in business with the government in any one year.
The protections will reach over one million LGBT workers across the country, making it the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in our country’s history. There continue to be 29 states that offer no employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation and 32 with no protections based on gender identity, but many LGBT workers in those states will now have workplace protections for the first time ever. As many as 43 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination in the workplace.
As with Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10, this order will cover an enormous number of people but still relies on Congress to pass a law making sure that millions more LGBT Americans have the freedom to work.
Recently, some LGBT advocates have been giving second thoughts to the current ENDA bill in Congress, based on a religious liberty exemption that could have the potential interpreted too broadly. Here’s Zack Ford again:
The LGBT movement has also become increasingly divided over whether ENDA in its current form is worth pursuing. After two decades of failed consideration in Congress, the bill has been weakened by an exemption that would grant religious organizations unprecedented privilege to continue discriminating against LGBT people. A number of state groups and legal organizations have recently dropped their support for ENDA because they believe that the exemption goes too far and codifies into law the idea that LGBT identities are incompatible with faith. The executive order is thus an important step even if ENDA eventually passes.
BOTTOM LINE: Americans of any sexual orientation and gender identity should have the freedom to work and the right to equal treatment in the workplace. President Obama’s latest executive action is the biggest expansion of those rights in American history. There is more left to be done when it comes to giving all Americans equal protection, and Congress should follow the President’s lead by passing a federal law that ends unfair and discriminatory workplace practices that hurt LGBT workers and their families.
There have been a number of positive developments in the states on other issues, including efforts to expand voting access. Here’s a run-down of some of the best from the last few weeks:
1. Wisconsin: Federal Judge Strikes Down Voter ID Law, Finds That ‘No Rational Person Could Be Worried’ About Voter Fraud. The April 29 decision, in an overwhelming win for plaintiffs who argued that the voter ID law suppresses ballot access in the state, could still be overturned on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. But U.S. district judge Lynn Adelman did not hold back: he found not just that the law disproportionately deters minorities and low-income individuals from voting; but also that purported instances of voter impersonation are so infrequent, if they exist at all, that “no rational person could be worried about it.”
2. Hawaii: Aloha State Enacts Strong Voting Rights Law Including Same Day Registration. In 2012, even with its native son Barack Obama atop the ballot, just a paltry 44 percent of eligible Hawaii voters showed up to vote–the worst turnout rate in the country. On April 29, though, Hawaii lawmakers passed legislation to fix that, allowing citizens instead to register to vote when they show up to cast a ballot. Academic studies have found that allowing same-day registration increases turnout between 7 and 14 percentage points.
3. Minnesota: One Day After Judge Orders Online Voter Registration Shut Down, Legislature Passes Law To Revive It. This Monday, a district judge ordered Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to shut down the state’s online voter registration portal by Tuesday night because he lacked legislative authority when he launched it in September. On Tuesday, the Minnesota state legislature passed and Gov Mark Dayton signed into law a bill giving him that authority. Minnesota becomes the 23rd state to have online voter registration, which makes it easier for anybody with access to a computer to register and is simply common-sense for the 21st century.
4. Georgia: 12,000 Citizens Use New Online And Mobile Voter Registration System, More Than Double Than Expected. The new online system rolled out in the end of March, expecting around 5,000 users in the first month. Instead, more than 12,000 enrolled, including 7,000 newly registered voters, according to Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
On a side note: Last week was also a busy week for the minimum wage news: first, Senate Republicans in Washington, D.C. blocked increasing the federal minimum wage; then, a coalition of business, labor, and community leaders in Seattle, Washington announced a deal to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15.
And be sure to keep an eye out for…
5. Delaware: State Senate Set To Vote On Same Day Registration After Passing The House. The bill is an important step for expanding access to the polls in Delaware. But its not clear right now whether it’s a sure thing to pass.
BOTTOM LINE: Like we see with minimum wage legislation and so many other important issues for a more prosperous and just nation, cities and states are taking the lead while Congress stalls. When it comes to voting rights, at a time when some conservative-run swing states are doing whatever they can to roll back access, other states are showing the way forward for ensuring that voting is not a privilege, but a right.