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2017 Forecast: We Are Facing A Direct Assault on Human Rights — in the Name of Security

By Naureen Shah, Director of National Security and Human Rights

2016 was a year of ugly rhetoric on human rights and national security, and now the rhetoric is poised to become reality. Candidates for president espoused proposals to ban Muslim immigrants, torture people, carpet bomb civilians and ramp up the surveillance state. Media amplified the vilification and fear-mongering at the heart of these proposals, and pundits dressed up hate as a plausible basis for counterterrorism policy.

Now, with the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of a national security team with demonstrated animus toward human rights, we find ourselves staring down an abyss. The worst abuses of the former George W. Bush administration may recur. They may be more severe and expansive — aided by surveillance technologies unprecedented in their reach, an enormous network of private contractors and national security agencies accustomed to acting with impunity, and an American public primed to acquiesce to government secrecy thanks to 15 years of post-9/11 fear-mongering.

We anticipate — and are preparing for — a direct assault on human rights in the name of national security in 2017 and beyond, particularly as reactionary policies that the Trump administration and Congress may support by citing the real threat posed by terrorism and armed groups (a threat that the government should certainly respond to, but not by sacrificing human rights):

  • Anywhere between a few to several hundred new detainees at Guantánamo, in addition to those who remain at the end of the Obama administration;
  • Attempts to repeal U.S. law in order to permit torture and other forms of ill-treatment;
  • New “black sites” for incommunicado detention and torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and rendition of individuals to foreign governments with records of torture.
  • Expansive profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslim and immigrant communities, potentially including a registry of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries;
  • Introduction of “Patriot Act II” legislation to expand U.S. government surveillance of all people without a warrant.
  • Expansive use of drones and other air strikes in a manner that endangers civilians and is potentially unlawful in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere; the President-elect has even threatened to restart a nuclear arms race.
  • Further empowerment of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces to conduct killings in secret and with limited or no oversight;
  • Deployment of several thousands of U.S. military personnel to Iraq and Syria, where they and local communities face toxic exposures arising from military operations that may devastate their health.

We also anticipate intimidation, harassment and prosecution of whistleblowers from the national security community, and journalists covering national security issues, which could have ramifications for Amnesty International’s ability to document and report on human rights abuses.

This is a grim forecast. But it’s also a call to action. As we face a new generation of abusive national security policies, we must also create a new generation of human rights activism.

The fight for human rights under Trump starts with us, and begins now. One of the most important things you can do this month is reach out to your elected official. Tell your senators that you expect them to speak out for human rights, starting with the nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. Trump has picked him, but first he’ll face a Senate confirmation hearing and a Senate vote on whether he is fit to serve.

As director of the CIA, Pompeo could try to re-start the CIA secret detention program that included “disappearing” more than 100 individuals, most if not all of whom were tortured. Pompeo could also try to ramp up the CIA’s role in drone strikes, which have long been shrouded in secrecy, and remove safeguards against killing civilians.

Tell your senator that Pompeo must commit to upholding the law, including the ban on torture, at his confirmation hearing. Find out how.

The voices of hate and fear are speaking loudly. But we can speak even louder. This country is full of human rights supporters. It’s time that we were heard.

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