Trump praised Philippine president’s campaign of extrajudicial killings against drug suspects

The New York Times reports: President Trump praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines in a phone call last month for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” in the island nation where the government has sanctioned gunning down suspects in the streets. Mr. Trump also boasted that the United States has “two nuclear submarines” off the coast of North Korea but said he does not want to use them.

The comments were part of a Philippine transcript of the April 29 call that was circulated on Tuesday, under a “confidential” cover sheet, by the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. In Washington, a senior administration official confirmed that the transcript was an accurate representation of the call between the two iconoclastic leaders. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the call and confirmed it on the condition of anonymity.

The White House also keeps transcripts of such calls, but they are routinely kept secret. The Philippine rendering of the call offers a rare insight into how Mr. Trump talks to fellow leaders: He sounds much the way he sounds in public, casing issues in largely black-and-white terms, often praising authoritarian leaders, largely unconcerned about human rights violations and genuinely uncertain about the nature of his adversary in North Korea.

Mr. Trump placed the call and began it by congratulating Mr. Duterte for the government-sanctioned attacks on drug suspects. The program has been widely condemned by human rights groups around the world because extrajudicial killings have taken thousands of lives without arrest or trial. In March, the program was criticized in the State Department’s annual human rights report, which referred to “apparent governmental disregard for human rights and due process.”

Mr. Trump had no such reservations. “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. accuses Syria of mass executions and burning bodies

The Washington Post reports: The Syrian government has constructed and is using a crematorium inside its notorious Sednaya military prison outside Damascus to clandestinely dispose of thousands of prisoners it continues to execute inside the facility.

At least 50 prisoners a day are executed in the prison, some in mass hangings, said Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. A recent Amnesty International report called Sednaya a “human slaughterhouse” and said that thousands of Syrians have been abducted, detained and “exterminated” there.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad, Jones said, has carried out these atrocities and others “seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” his main backers.

The information, he said, came from human rights and nongovernmental sources, as well as “intelligence assessments.” He released overhead photographs of the facility.

Russia, Jones said, “has either aided in or passively looked away as the regime has” engaged in years of “mass murders” and other atrocities, including extensive bombing of hospitals and other health-care sites and the use of chemical weapons on both civilians and rebel forces. [Continue reading…]

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The middle class cannot afford to remain silent about police violence

Rachel Kleinfeld writes: The killing of Jordan Edwards this week should yield outrage. It should also serve as a wake-up to the rest of America. I’m finishing a book on countries that recovered from pervasive violence. While war makes the headlines, citizen-on-citizen violence, ranging from all to common homicide to insurrection and Boko Haram-like groups, kill four times as many people as wars today. Two factors serve as major catalysts for this kind of violence: Repressive policing, and a failure to police at all. The United States is teetering on the edge of both mistakes.

We’ve been here before. In 1971, New York City’s police shot someone every four days. The era’s repressive policing, in which Southern police sometimes relied on the Klan for dirty work while the National Guard was called out to quell riots and protests in the North, contributed to the spiraling bloodshed of that time. Horrible as today’s police shootings are, they have nothing on a year in which New York City alone would have accounted for a tenth of all police killings in the nation today.

But after 1971, a series of strong police commissioners cleaned up New York’s force. Other police departments around the country followed. Deadly encounters with the police went into free fall for twenty years. The slow creep of war on drugs’ policies and military equipment purchases changed police culture again – but it is possible to get better.

The U.S. can learn from its own history, and from countries like Colombia, Italy, and even the Republic of Georgia.

In each country, the key to reform was awakening the middle class. Violence tends to hit the poor and marginalized the hardest – but it is the middle class that has the voice to make change. That’s a problem, because the middle class would often prefer to avoid the problem. Follow the rules, stay in good neighborhoods, don’t wear “gangster” clothes, and many people in the middle class believe – rightly, if their skin color is white – that they can avoid violence from police and other parts of society.

So the first lesson for organizers is to make it clear: Violence doesn’t just happen to criminals. That’s why Jordan’s parents are so keen to prove that their son was an honor’s student. [Continue reading…]

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Case Farms hires vulnerable immigrants who endure harsh conditions that few Americans would tolerate

Michael Grabell reports: By late afternoon, the smell from the Case Farms chicken plant in Canton, Ohio, is like a pungent fog, drifting over a highway lined with dollar stores and auto-parts shops. When the stink is at its ripest, it means that the day’s hundred and eighty thousand chickens have been slaughtered, drained of blood, stripped of feathers, and carved into pieces—and it’s time for workers like Osiel López Pérez to clean up. On April 7, 2015, Osiel put on bulky rubber boots and a white hard hat, and trained a pressurized hose on the plant’s stainless-steel machines, blasting off the leftover grease, meat, and blood.

A Guatemalan immigrant, Osiel was just weeks past his seventeenth birthday, too young by law to work in a factory. A year earlier, after gang members shot his mother and tried to kidnap his sisters, he left his home, in the mountainous village of Tectitán, and sought asylum in the United States. He got the job at Case Farms with a driver’s license that said his name was Francisco Sepulveda, age twenty-eight. The photograph on the I.D. was of his older brother, who looked nothing like him, but nobody asked any questions.

Osiel sanitized the liver-giblet chiller, a tublike contraption that cools chicken innards by cycling them through a near-freezing bath, then looked for a ladder, so that he could turn off the water valve above the machine. As usual, he said, there weren’t enough ladders to go around, so he did as a supervisor had shown him: he climbed up the machine, onto the edge of the tank, and reached for the valve. His foot slipped; the machine automatically kicked on. Its paddles grabbed his left leg, pulling and twisting until it snapped at the knee and rotating it a hundred and eighty degrees, so that his toes rested on his pelvis. The machine “literally ripped off his left leg,” medical reports said, leaving it hanging by a frayed ligament and a five-inch flap of skin. Osiel was rushed to Mercy Medical Center, where surgeons amputated his lower leg.

Back at the plant, Osiel’s supervisors hurriedly demanded workers’ identification papers. Technically, Osiel worked for Case Farms’ closely affiliated sanitation contractor, and suddenly the bosses seemed to care about immigration status. Within days, Osiel and several others—all underage and undocumented—were fired.

Though Case Farms isn’t a household name, you’ve probably eaten its chicken. Each year, it produces nearly a billion pounds for customers such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes, and Taco Bell. Boar’s Head sells its chicken as deli meat in supermarkets. Since 2011, the U.S. government has purchased nearly seventeen million dollars’ worth of Case Farms chicken, mostly for the federal school-lunch program.

Case Farms plants are among the most dangerous workplaces in America. In 2015 alone, federal workplace-safety inspectors fined the company nearly two million dollars, and in the past seven years it has been cited for two hundred and forty violations. That’s more than any other company in the poultry industry except Tyson Foods, which has more than thirty times as many employees. David Michaels, the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), called Case Farms “an outrageously dangerous place to work.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates

Philip Rucker writes: It’s no longer just Vladi­mir Putin.

As he settles into office, President Trump’s affection for totalitarian leaders has grown beyond Russia’s president to include strongmen around the globe.

Egyptian President Abdel ­Fatah al-Sissi has had his opponents gunned down, but Trump praised him for doing “a fantastic job.” Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is a junta chief whose military jailed dissidents after taking power in a coup, yet Trump offered to meet with him at the White House. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has eroded basic freedoms, but after a recent political victory, he got a congratulatory call from Trump.

Then there’s the case of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. He is accused of the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of drug users, and he maligned President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” at an international summit last year. Yet on Sunday, in what the White House characterized as a “very friendly conversation,” Trump invited Duterte to Washington for an official visit.

In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders, one after another, in an effort to reset relations following an era of ostracism and public shaming by Obama and his predecessors. [Continue reading…]

Roy Gutman writes: Erdoğan essentially pocketed Trump’s endorsement of the referendum, and apparent lack of concern about human rights violations, but continues to pursue national security policies that directly conflict with Washington’s agenda—even as he prepares to meet with Trump at the White House on May 16.

By any measure, Erdoğan’s actions appear provocative for a NATO ally who has been hoping to inaugurate a new era of improved relations with the United States after bitter enmity in the last years of the Obama administration. [Continue reading…]

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Trump invites confirmed killer, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House

The New York Times reports: When President Trump called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Saturday, the American leader’s national security aides saw it as part of a routine diplomatic outreach to Southeast Asian leaders. Mr. Trump, characteristically, had his own ideas.

During their “very friendly conversation,” the administration said in a late-night statement, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines, to visit him at the White House.

Now, administration officials are bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.

The White House disclosed the news on a day when Mr. Trump whipped up ardent backers at a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pa. The timing of the announcement — after a speech that was an angry, grievance-filled jeremiad — encapsulated this president after 100 days in office: still ready to say and do things that leave people, even on his staff, slack-jawed.

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.” [Continue reading…]

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The Arab Spring unleashed a wave of torture and abuse

 

Nader Hashemi writes: Assad’s chemical weapons attack and the subsequent U.S. missile strike on Syria jolted our world. Most of the commentary that ensued, however, was about the West.

What are the implications for U.S-Russian relations?

Is there a strategic vision behind Trump’s new Syria policy?

What can we learn about White House palace intrigue in terms of who has the president’s ear?

What was completely ignored was a connection between these attacks and the broader politics of the Middle East.

Assad’s sarin gas attack was not a sui generis event that took place in a vacuum. It is directly related to longstanding trends that help explain the region’s turmoil. Two themes stand out: 1) the extreme measures that authoritarian regimes will adopt to retain power, and 2) the severe human rights crisis facing the Middle East. [Continue reading…]

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The cost of Trump’s retreat from human rights

Jorge G. Castañeda writes: Last month, the United States declined to appear before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington, for the first time in decades.

It is a member and participates regularly in the commission’s meetings. But this time, it was the United States delegation that faced questioning — about President Trump’s executive orders to bar travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, to accelerate deportation of undocumented migrants and to weaken environmental regulations.

The refusal to appear placed Washington in the dubious company of Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba on accountability for human rights compliance.

Congratulations, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

Granted, the United States has never been totally consistent in championing human rights abroad, nor perfect in achieving those ideals at home. It also is not a party to the 1968 American Convention on Human Rights. But in openly retreating from its self-appointed role as a defender of the ideals that underpin the compact, it is showing cynical contempt for human rights even as a goal. This practically guarantees a result we are beginning to see: Dictators and other bullies are emboldened to trample rights and liberties with impunity. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Chechnya’s vicious anti-gay crackdown

The Daily Beast reports: Beka Gabadadze’s cell phone rang again: another gay teenager was in big trouble. A 16-year-old from the Zugdidi region of Georgia was begging Gabadadze, an LGBT activist and human rights advocate, to rescue him.

The boy’s family members were determined to drag him to a doctor for hormone treatment against homosexuality; when he was at home his older brother severely beat him. The teenager, who we are not naming to protect his identity, escaped home and is now hiding at a friend’s house in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, terrified to return home.

Coming out of the closet is an act of heroism for LGBT people all over the Caucasus, a region dominated by deep homophobia. The LGBT population of the Caucasus suffer from increasingly horrifying hate crimes.

A particularly vicious crackdown is reportedly underway in the Republic of Chechnya, where authorities have initiated the most violent anti-gay campaign since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Daily Mail reported that Chechen authorities had set up what it called “concentration camps” near the town of Argun where gay men are “being tortured with electric shocks and beaten to death.”

While the presence or not of the “camps” has yet to be independently verified, Tatiana Lokshina, program director for Human Rights Watch in Moscow, told the Daily Beast: “Chechen authorities did not build special ‘LGBT concentration camps’–this information is misleading. But dozens of presumed gay men have been rounded up by local security officials and tortured in holding facilities, which are apparently maintained by Chechen authorities in several districts of Chechnya. People detained arbitrarily, abduction style, are generally taken there for interrogation, which practically always involves torture and cruel, degrading treatment.”

Graphic reports of persecution have been received by the Russian LGBT Network. The Network told NBC News they had received around 30 calls for help from those targeted since April 2.

According to a report published in Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, several gay men have been killed in the past few weeks and dozens have been arrested and tortured.

To all media requests for clarification and comment, Chechen authorities responded that there were no gay men in Chechnya. [Continue reading…]

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‘The hospitals were slaughterhouses’: A journey into Syria’s secret torture wards

The Washington Post reports: One evening in the early days of Syria’s uprising, Mohsen al-Masri’s band of activists slipped through the Damascus streets and waited for the coast to clear. Then they crouched, opened their bags and let out a stream of color.

Thousands of ping-pong balls, painted green, pink, blue and yellow, bounced past policemen, who scrambled to stop them. Residents would find balls tucked in nooks and crannies for months. Each was marked with a single word: “Freedom.”

The punishment for Masri’s acts of peaceful protest would begin a journey into hell, unusual not because of what he saw, but because he survived.

In a series of interviews, he described how he was tortured and interrogated over a two-year period in four detention facilities before arriving in a hospital at the heart of a nationwide system of brutality.

The hospital, known as 601, is not the only site of torture in Syria. But after it was seen in a cache of photographs showing thousands of skeletal corpses, it became one of the most notorious. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson to lift human rights conditions on arms sale to Bahrain

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has decided to lift all human rights conditions on a major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain in an effort to end a rift between the United States and a critical Middle East ally, according to administration and congressional officials involved in the debate.

Mr. Tillerson’s decision comes as the Trump administration looks to bolster Sunni Arab states in the Middle East and find new ways to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is a key player in that effort, and home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the strategic waterway.

But the decision to drop the human rights assurances as a condition of the sale is bound to be read by Saudi Arabia and other states in the region as a sign that the new administration plans to ease its demands to protect and respect political dissidents and protesters. The conditions on the sale of 19 new American fighter jets, worth $2.8 billion, had been imposed by the Obama administration amid continuing concerns about the tiny Sunni monarchy’s crackdown against majority Shiites. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian defector to Trump: Stop Assad’s machinery of death

CNN reports: The Syrian defector who smuggled out tens of thousands of photos of people allegedly tortured to death in Assad regime jails has spoken out in his first TV interview.

In an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the defector, code-named “Caesar,” urged US President Donald Trump to stop what he calls the “criminality” taking place in Syria’s government-run prisons.

“We have shown the killing and torture of so many of the Syrian people,” he said, “and you cannot give back the lives to those that have lost it. But we ask you, out of your humanity, to stop the machinery of death.”

“We are asking to all the officials, to all the policy makers, to President Trump’s White House, which we are hoping will do the right thing, we beg you to stop the machinery of death in Syria.” [Continue reading…]

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American courts are tackling Islamophobia – why won’t European courts do likewise?

Muneer I Ahmad writes: On both sides of the Atlantic, courts this week have addressed the relationship of Islam to the west, but with radically different approaches and outcomes. In the US, federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland have halted Donald Trump’s second attempt at a Muslim ban. Meanwhile, the European court of justice, Europe’s highest court, has upheld the right of private employers to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves.

American and European law each embrace principles of religious neutrality and non-discrimination, but the divergent application of those laws reflects different levels of discomfort with religion generally and a demographic anxiety with Islam in particular.

In both the US and Europe, politicians proselytize about Islam as a mortal threat to western civilization, with high degrees of success. The victory of Trump, the ascendancy of Marine Le Pen in France, and the rightward lurch in the Netherlands – notwithstanding the electoral defeat – of Geert Wilders, provide ample evidence that such populism pays political dividends. And yet, while European courts regulate the veil year after year, American courts by and large have refused to take the anti-Muslim bait. [Continue reading…]

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Neil Gorsuch helped defend disputed Bush-era terror policies

The New York Times reports: In December 2005, Congress handed President George W. Bush a significant defeat by tightening legal restrictions against torture in a law called the Detainee Treatment Act. Soon afterward, Neil M. Gorsuch — then a top Justice Department official — sent an email to a White House colleague in case he needed “cheering up” about the administration’s setback.

The email from Judge Gorsuch, nominated by President Trump to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, linked to articles about a less-noticed provision in the act that undercut the rights of Guantánamo Bay detainees by barring courts from hearing their habeas corpus lawsuits.

“The administration’s victory is not well known but its significance shouldn’t be understated,” wrote Judge Gorsuch, who had helped coordinate the Justice Department’s work with Congress on the bill.

The email about the court-stripping provision — which the Supreme Court later rejected — is among more than 150,000 pages of Bush-era Justice Department and White House documents involving Judge Gorsuch disclosed by the Trump administration ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings next week.

Judge Gorsuch’s time in the executive branch was brief. He joined the Justice Department in June 2005 as the principal deputy associate attorney general, meaning he was the top aide to the No. 3 official in the department. He left in August 2006, when Mr. Bush appointed him as a federal appeals court judge in Denver.

But those 14 months were tumultuous ones for the Bush administration amid controversies over detainee abuses, military commissions, warrantless surveillance and its broad claims of executive power. Judge Gorsuch’s job put him at the center of both litigation and negotiations with Congress over legislation about such topics.

References to those efforts may offer clues to Judge Gorsuch’s approach to the sort of national-security and executive power issues that rarely come before his appeals court but can be crucial at the Supreme Court.

In November 2005, for example, Judge Gorsuch visited Guantánamo for a briefing and tour. Afterward, he wrote a note to the prison operation commander, offering a glowing review.

“I was extraordinarily impressed,” Judge Gorsuch wrote. “You and your colleagues have developed standards and imposed a degree of professionalism that the nation can be proud of, and being able to see first hand all that you have managed to accomplish with such a difficult and sensitive mission makes my job of helping explain and defend it before the courts all the easier.” [Continue reading…]

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UN accuses Turkey of killing hundreds of Kurds

The New York Times reports: Turkey’s military and police forces have killed hundreds of people during operations against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey, the United Nations said on Friday in a report that listed summary killings, torture, rape and widespread destruction of property among an array of human rights abuses.

The report, by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, details how operations by the Turkish infantry, artillery, tanks and possibly aircraft drove up to half a million people from their homes over a 17-month period from July 2015 to the end of 2016.

Though the report is focused on the conduct of security forces in southeastern Turkey, the 25-page document underscores the deepening alarm of the United Nations over the measures ordered by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since a failed coup attempt last July.

The state of emergency Mr. Erdogan imposed after the coup attempt appeared to “target criticism, not terrorism,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said here on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal challenged on human rights and terrorism

 

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Rex Tillerson skips State Department’s annual announcement on human rights, alarming advocates

The Washington Post reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who during his confirmation hearings repeatedly vowed to promote human rights as a core American value, alarmed human rights advocates when he did not appear in person to present the State Department’s annual human rights report, released Friday.

In a break with long-standing tradition only rarely breached, Tillerson’s remarks were limited to a short written introduction to the lengthy report. Nor did any senior State Department official make on-camera comments that are typically watched around the world, including by officials in authoritarian countries where abuses are singled out in the report.

Instead, a senior administration official talked to reporters by phone and only on the condition of anonymity.

“The report speaks for itself,” the administration official said. “We’re very, very proud of it. The facts should really be the story here.”

But Tillerson’s absence underscored how the former ExxonMobil executive remains more comfortable with an aloof, corporate style of governance than the public diplomacy practiced by his predecessors.

Tillerson drew fire from some members of Congress and advocates who said his decision not to personally unveil the report suggested the Trump administration places a low priority on advancing human rights. [Continue reading…]

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