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September 09, 2005

Human Rights First Statement on the Fourth Anniversary of September 11

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Since those horrific attacks, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions to protect U.S. national security. The government has the right and obligation to take all necessary actions to ensure security, and many of the actions that it has taken have been prudent and reasonable.

Nonetheless, it is difficult to overstate the profound effect that other aspects of U.S. national security policy have had in setting back the cause of human rights. In many respects, these human rights challenges have been visible and severe: blanket denials to U.S. citizen "enemy combatants" of due process and fair trial rights; policy attacks on Arab and Muslim immigrants; vast increases in the information the government keeps secret from the American people; and widespread torture and abuse of individuals in U.S. custody in the United States and abroad. These harms have been real, some of them ongoing, and they must be addressed.

The potentially more lasting damage that has resulted from the U.S. "war on terrorism" is to the structures of American democracy itself. The positions that have been advanced by the U.S. government in defense of the above policies reject not only international human rights and humanitarian law, but any law as a binding constraint on the power of the U.S. executive to act in the interest of national security. They challenge the role of the courts as an independent check on executive actions. They attempt to foreclose from the structures of national security decision-making those laws, guidelines, and professional norms that exist to inform and constrain policies that would undermine human rights. And they rely on secrecy to undermine the ability of organized public constituencies in the United States to defend those rights. Restoring these structures will be critical to protecting human rights in the future.

"The additional danger now is that damage to the fabric of American law will become permanent, and that fundamental rights and freedoms will be lost", said Michael Posner, the Executive Director of Human Rights First. "It's time to take constructive steps to repair the breach."

Human Rights First believes the most immediate priorities include:

  • Establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate and report on the detention and interrogation practices of U.S. military and intelligence agencies deployed in the global "war on terrorism."
  • Enacting legislation to ensure that the existing Army Field Manual rules on interrogation apply to all agencies of the U.S. government.
  • Prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for all detainees in U.S. custody, and affording the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all those in custody.
  • Restoring the public's access to government information to pre-2001 levels.
  • Stopping the renewal of expiring provisions of the PATRIOT ACT, including section 215, allowing the government to seize business records, including records from libraries, bookstores, and educational institutions; and section 213, which greatly expands the government's ability to execute criminal search warrants.

Human Rights First has been tracking and reporting on these changes for the past four years. Below are links to a variety of our reports and white papers.

Recent Human Rights First reports:

Behind the Wire -- 2005 report on U.S. detention facilities established since September, 2001. Update to Ending Secret Detentions.


Getting to Ground Truth -- Investigating U.S. abuses in the "War on Terror."


Assessing the New Normal -- Assessing liberty and security two years after the attacks of 2001.