ACLU INTERVIEWS

​The following interviews were conducted in New York between September 11 - November 1, 2012 while I served as an Artist-In-Residence at the American Civil Liberties Union. ​The residency was funded by the Lambent Foundation and was related to my ongoing research and project, ​Did You Kiss the Dead Body? which uses military autopsy reports and death certificates of detainees killed in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports were first made public on the ACLU's website in 2004.  My residency centered on a set of conversations I had with lawyers working in the Human Rights and National Security Projects about torture, human rights, empathy, trauma, truth and justice. These interview segments represent an abbreviated archive of what we talked about.

STEVEN WATT

“All our victims and survivors of torture are over there.” -Steven Watt

THE UNITED STATES, SOUTH AMERICA AND TORTURE. 8:16

In this segment, attorney Steven Watt, compares Operation Condor, to the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program,  drawing out  similarities and differences between past right wing South American dictatorships' use of torture and intimidation with American uses of torture after 9/11. Operation Condor was a program of terror and cooperation between many South American countries  (Argentina, Chili, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay) to target, torture and execute leftists including students, activists, politicians and labor organizers.

"What's worse than torture? -Steven Watt

CHALLENGES OF LITIGATING TORTURE IN THE U.S.  3:46

Steven Watt discusses the challenges, frustration and absurdity of litigating torture cases in the U.S. in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. On the grounds of States Secrecy, and other procedural arguments, the U.S. government has effectively blocked all lawsuits to date seeking information and accountability of torture, illegal detention, kidnapping and rendition.

"Did we forget about him?” -Steven Watt

KHALID EL-MASRI, WIKILEAKS AND EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION. 4:59

Steven Watt reflects on Khalid El-Masri’s case, the role of the State Department's interference in the German legal system revealed through Wikileaks' diplomatic cables, and questions of justice. El-Masri is a German citizen who was kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Recently the European Court of Human Rights made a judgement in his favor marking the first legal victory and official acknowledgment of his kidnapping and torture by the U.S. government.

“You can't let it overwhelm you.” -Steven Watt

EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS LITIGATION. 6:13

Steven Watt reflects on the emotional impact of his human rights work, including fighting the use of solitary confinement on children in U.S. prisons, hearing Khalid El-Masri’s story  and meeting Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen and victim of extraordinary rendition, arbitrary detention and torture.

Steven Watt is a Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. Watt specializes in civil and human rights litigation before domestic courts and international tribunals. Watt is counsel in a host of state and federal court cases involving U.S. rendition, detention, and interrogation programs, trafficking and forced labor, juvenile justice, women’s and immigrants’ rights, and prison conditions.  Prior to joining the ACLU, Watt was a Human Rights Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he focused on post-9/11 civil and human rights litigation, including Rasul v. Bush, Arar v. Ashcroft, and Turkmen v. Ashcroft.

HINA SHAMSI

“How Orwellian the language is....” -Hina Shamsi

9/11 DEFENDENTS, GUANTANAMO AND OPEN JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS. 7:02

Hina Shamsi discusses the case brought by the ACLU on behalf of the public's right to have full and open access to the military commissions system in Guantanamo. The case is about the right of open judicial proceedings relating to the 9/11 defendants’ trials. The US government wants to censor the thoughts, experiences and memories of the 9/11 defendants in the military tribunal system about their torture and detention in CIA custody.

Military Commissions were in part designed to permit the use of information obtained through torture. ” -Hina Shamsi

TORTURE, MILITARY COMMISSION SYSTEM AND GUANTANAMO. 3:06

Hina Shamsi discusses the creation of the Military Commissions as a second-tier system of justice which exists as a way to include information obtained through the application of torture without the admission of the use of torture. The Guantanamo military commissions are military tribunals created by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 for prosecuting detainees held in the United States Guantanamo Bay detainment camps.

Guantanamo is set on a beautiful island where some of the worst American travesties of the last 10 years took place.” -Hina Shamsi

VISITING GUANTANAMO, CAMP X-RAY AND BANANA RATS. 3:33

Hina Shamsi recalls her impressions of her first trip to Guantanamo, Camp X-Ray, and the military commissions system.

Not a single architect of the torture regime has been held accountable.” -Hina Shamsi

RACE, TORTURE, 9/11.  8:22

Hina Shamsi reflects on the role of race in human rights abuses in the U.S. post 9/11 through the systematic racial profiling of American Muslims, Arab Americans and South Asian Americans. Shamsi describes a culture of fear and silence among minority communities critical of the U.S.'s War on Terror.

...an end to the idea that we are always and forever in a gobal war.” -Hina Shamsi

ENDING THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR. 6:01

Hina Shamsi talks about the need to bring an end to the U.S. government’s ongoing and perpetual war on terror as well as the consequences of fear mongering including targeted killings, an ever expanding paramilitary force and rationals for torture.

Hina Shamsi is the Director of the ACLU's National Security Project. She engages in civil liberties and human rights litigation, research, and policy advocacy on issues including the freedoms of speech and association, torture, detention, and post-9/11 discrimination against racial and religious minorities. Her work has included a focus on the intersection of national security and counterterrorism policies and international human rights and humanitarian law. Ms. Shamsi previously worked as the Acting Director of Human Rights First's Law & Security Program and then as a Staff Attorney in the ACLU's National Security Project. Before returning to the ACLU in her current position, Ms. Shamsi served as Senior Advisor to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions.

ALEXANDER ABDO

"At the time there were rumors there were seriously disturbing things in those photographs." - Alexander Abdo

THE TORTURE FOIA. 16:00

Attorney, Alexander Abdo, recounts his role in the request, litigation and release of documents that have come to be known as the Torture FOIA. In 2003, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records relating to the abuse and torture of prisoners in U.S. detention centers overseas. To date, the government has released over 100,000 pages of documents. These documents reveal that hundreds of prisoners were tortured in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, and that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

"Donald Rumsfeld was instrumental in the passing of FOIA." - Alexander Abdo

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FOIA. 3:58

Alexander Abdo relates the history of FOIA and it's early support by Donald Rumsfeld, then a young senator, who played a key role in its passage. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal freedom of information law that allows for the disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. It was originally signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 4, 1966.

The legal memos are ones that effect me through their sterility." - Alexander Abdo

PERSONAL REACTION TO DOCUMENTS OF EXTREME INTERROGATION. 7:41

Alexander Abdo reflects on his personal reaction to the Torture FOIA and other documents that reveal grave absuses of prisoners oversees.

They were really asking the court to just trust us." - Alexander Abdo

THE SUPREME COURT AND ANALYSIS OF CLAPPER V. AMNESTY.  7:48

Alexander Abdo offers his analysis and guarded optimism for a positive Supreme Court ruling in the recent oral argument, Clapper V. Amnesty. On October 29, 2012, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether a coalition of human rights workers, lawyers and journalists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The law allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor and retain Americans’ international communications without a warrant. First enacted by Congress in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) regulated the U.S. government’s surveillance of intelligence in the country. In its first incarnation, the law demanded that the government—prior to collecting and monitoring Americans’ communications—obtain warrants.

Secrecy is always a problem in a democracy." - Alexander Abdo

​GOVERNMENT SECRECY AND CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS. 3:22

Alexander Abdo cautions against secrecy and over classification of documents in democratic societies.

Alexander Abdo is a Staff Attorney in the ACLU's National Security Project. He has been involved in the litigation of cases concerning the Patriot Act, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the treatment of detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Navy brig in South Carolina. Mr. Abdo is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. Prior to working at the ACLU, he served as a law clerk to the Hon. Barbara M.G. Lynn, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, and to the Hon. Rosemary Barkett, United States Circuit Judge for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

NATHAN FREED WESSLER

There are the important ethical and moral issues about conducting essentially an undeclared war half way around the world.” -Nathan Wessler

THE U.S. TARGETED KILLING PROGRAM. 3:50

Attorney, Nathan Freed Wessler, discusses his role in a recent FOIA request  pertaining to Targeted Killing  and Drone Programs. The CIA responded to the ACLU by neither confirming nor denying it has a drone program. The ACLU’s argument challenges the CIA positions based on the fact that numerous public admissions have been made by named governments officials, including the president, about the existence of the program and it’s purported effectiveness.

“Why it [the government] thinks its legal to put a US citizen on a kill list, hunt him down, away from a battle field..."-Nathan Wessler

KILLING U.S. CITIZENS. 3:59

 

Nathan Wessler discusses another targeted killing case which involves the death of 3 U.S. citizens. On October 19, 2011, the ACLU submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information about the targeted killings of three U.S. citizens in Yemen: Anwar al-Awlaki; his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki; and Samir Khan. In January 2013 the judge dismissed most of the lawsuit.

​​“This essentially secret war” -Nathan Wessler

CIVILAN DEATHS AT AL-MAJALAH. 5:19

 

Nathan Wessler  discusses the targeted strike on  Al- Majalah in Yemen. On April 17, 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union made a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request to several government agencies for information about a US airstrike on a rural community in southwestern Yemen, in the Al-Majalah region, on December 17, 2009.  The strike killed a reported 41 people, including at least 21 children.  The Yemeni government initially claimed that it had carried out the strike, but leaked US government cables later revealed that Yemen had covered up the United States’ responsibility for the strike.

As to armed drones, there is certainly a concern to the future. ” -Nathan Wessler

SURVEILLANCE DRONES IN THE U.S.  6:47

 

Nathan Wessler discusses the use of drones for surveillance purposes domestically. He describes their use as part of a larger shift of the paramilitarization of police forces. Using the rational of ant-terrorism mandates, American police forces are arming themselves with military equipment, troop carrying vehicles and weapons.

Nathan Freed Wessler is a staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, where he handles cases involving both free speech and privacy issues. He previously served as the National Security Fellow in the ACLU’s National Security Project, where he was involved in litigation seeking transparency and accountability for targeted killing and challenging unlawful detention at the U.S. prisons in Bagram and Guantanamo. Mr. Wessler is a graduate of Swarthmore College and New York University School of Law, where he was a Root-Tilden-Kern Fellow. Prior to law school, he worked as a regional and national field organizer for the ACLU.

JAMIL DAKWAR

“Most Iraqis will continue to live with this experience." - Jamil Dakwar

ALI V. RUMSFELD.  6:37

 

Attorney, Jamil Dakwar, discusses Ali V Rumsfeld. In March 2005, the ACLU and Human Rights First filed a landmark lawsuit charging former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior military leaders with direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees. The suit was brought on behalf of nine men subjected to torture and abuse under Rumsfeld's command. The district court dismissed the case in March 2007 on the grounds that constitutional protections did not apply to Iraqi and Afghan nationals in U.S. custody in those countries.

“The rest of the world is watching.” - Jamil Dakwar

RACE AND U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS.  7:07

 

Jamil Dakwar talks about the US government’s policies targeting racial, ethnic and religious minorities.  Detention policies authorized by General Sanchez, allowing for the use of dogs to exploit the idea that arab men have a fear of dogs, serves a prime example of the way that race has come to play a central role in counter terrorism policies.

"What makes us different than other lawyers."

ACTIVISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS  6:47

 

Jamil Dakwar talks about growing up as a Palestinian in Israel and how his early life experiences politicized him, creating the foundation for his eventual work in activism, law and human rights.

“Counterterrorism has become a tool to violate human rights." - Jamil Dakwar

BRINGING HUMAN RIGHTS TO THE U.S.  2:52

 

Jamil Dakwar discusses the process of bringing an international human rights framework to the U.S.

Jamil Dakwar is the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program (HRP) which is dedicated to holding the U.S. government accountable to its international human rights obligations and commitments. He also serves as the ACLU Main Representative to the United Nations, and has testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, United Nations human rights bodies, and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), about human rights violations in the U.S. Prior to joining the ACLU in 2004, Jamil worked at Human Rights Watch, where he conducted research, advocated, and published reports on issues of torture and detention in Egypt, Morocco, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Before coming to the United States, he was a senior attorney with Adalah, a leading human rights group in Israel, where he filed and argued human rights cases before Israeli courts and advocated before international forums.
Jamil is a graduate of Tel Aviv University and NYU School of Law.

MITRA EBADOLAHI

I think of law as a language of disempowerment." - Mitra Ebadolahi

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS.  6:50

 

Attorney, Mitra Ebadolahi, discusses her background and how she came to practice law. Mitra discusses her interests in Human Rights with an emphasis on social and economic rights and the changing political landscape post 9/11 as a catalyst to her work as a fellow at the National Security Project.

I don’t want to be an expert in things like torture." -Mitra Ebadolahi

WHAT CAN THE LAW DO?  6:38

 

Mitra Ebadolahi talks about the limits of human rights litigation in the U.S. and reflects on what the law can and can’t change.

“When we lose, there are real consequences.” -Mitra Ebadolahi

EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF HUMAN RIGHTS WORK.  2:32​

Mitra Ebadolahi talks about the conflictual emotional terrain of working on human rights.

​​“Do we want to live in a police state?” -Mitra Ebadolahi

CLAPPER V. AMNESTY AND AMERICAN SURVEILLANCE.  4:54

Mitra Ebadolahi discusses Clapper v. Amnesty, surveillance and the growth of a police state in the U.S.

Mitra Ebadolahi is a graduate of UCLA, the London School of Economics, and NYU School of Law. Prior to joining the ACLU, she clerked for the Hon. Betty B. Fletcher, U.S. Circuit Judge for the 9th Circuit; completed a thesis-based LL.M. in International Legal Studies; and clerked for the Hon. Margaret M. Morrow, U.S. District Judge for the Central District of California. Her areas of expertise include: “extraordinary rendition” and torture; racial, ethnic and religious profiling of minorities & immigrants, and other post-9/11 civil rights infringements; local, state, and national surveillance; FOIA requests and litigation; constitutional and administrative law and litigation; and international human rights law.

BEN WIZNER

“What happens when you abandon the rule of law?” -Ben Wizner

JOSE PADILLA + KHALID EL-MASRI.  9:49

 

Ben Wizner talks about representing El Masri and Jose Padilla. He reflects on the need for a shift in  both time and circumstances in the U.S. to help facilitate the success of future prosecutions. Jose Padilla was seized from a U.S. jail in 2002, declared an "enemy combatant" and secretly transported to a military brig in South Carolina. He was imprisoned for nearly four years, without any external contact, and subjected to torture. On February 2011, the courts dismissed Padilla v. Rumsfeld and in 2012, the Supreme Court declined to reinstate it. El-Masri is a German citizen who was kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

“We’re wearing the black hats and not the white ones.” -Ben Wizner

HUMAN RIGHTS LAW AFTER 9/11. 4:10

 

Attorney, Ben Wizner, talks about the how the law is used and perceived in the U.S., the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how they’ve been disregarded by the U.S. since 9/11.

“How much should Americans be thinking about a terrorist threat? Almost never.” - Ben Wizner

AMERICA'S ABSENCE OF HISTORY.  1:56

 

Ben Wizner contextualizes the scale of responses to  9/11 with the history of wars and other tragedies in the 20th C.

“We’re not machines bringing legal arguments to court.” - Ben Wizner

EMOTIONS AND HUMOR.  4:26

 

Ben Wizner talks about what role humor and other emotions play in his work as a human rights lawyer.

“The torturers went too high....We were up against something more powerful than our stories.” - Ben Wizner

REHNQUIST REVOLUTION V. LITIGATING TORTURE.  7:28

 

Ben Wizner talks about the backlash against early successes in civil rights litigation in the U.S., the Rehnquist revolution, and its impact on the litigation of torture in the U.S. after 9/11.

“I don’t want you to call me a state secret.”" - Ben Wizner

THE OFFICIAL TRUTH.  2:02

 

Ben Wizner reflects on the need for an official truth and the acknowledgement by the U.S. government of its crimes and misconduct.

The torture regime wasn’t inflicted on the liberal elite of our society...it was brown people in cages abroad.” - Ben Wizner

ACCOUNTABILITY AND TORTURE.  2:48

 

Ben Wizner talks about  how long the efforts to bring accountability for torture policies in the U.S. will take and how FOIA can be used to create an archival record of government abuses.

Ben Wizner is the Director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, which is dedicated to protecting and expanding the First Amendment freedoms of expression, association, and inquiry; expanding the right to privacy and increasing the control that individuals have over their personal information; and ensuring that civil liberties are enhanced rather than compromised by new advances in science and technology. He has litigated numerous cases involving post-9/11 civil liberties abuses, including challenges to airport security policies, government watch lists, extraordinary rendition, and torture. He has appeared regularly in the media, testified before Congress, and traveled several times to Guantánamo Bay to monitor military commission proceedings.

JENNIFER TURNER

​​“The use of psychologists in torture was really pretty shocking.” -Jennifer Turner

PSYCHOLOGISTS, TORTURE AND PRISONER DEATHS​. 3:55

 

Human Rights Researcher, Jennifer Turner, talks about the use of American psychologists to exploit fears and more effectively administer torture to teenage detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jennifer reflects on her surprise to encounter  that the same torture techniques used by well known  torturing regimes were being used by the U.S.

“The 15 year old on trial probably didn’t do it.”- Jennifer Turner

 

RESTRICTED ACCESS TO GUANTANAMO. 4:47

Jennifer Turner talks about her first impression of visiting Guantanamo, the highly restricted access to the facilities and prisoners, and the lack of political engagement of  military service people stationed at Guantanamo.

It felt hypocritical to be meeting with government officials in the middle east and telling them they need to reform x,y or z policy...”-

Jennifer Turner

STUDYING HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES. 2:51

 

Jennifer Turner talks about her study and work in Human Rights beginning with South America, Asia, Africa and the ultimately the return to the U.S. The U.S., while historically supporting torturing regimes around the world,  eventually came to advocate its own use of torture after September 11. 2001.

...how ridiculous it is that we would sentence a 20 yr. old man to serve the rest of his life in prison because of the possession of a small amount of marijuana.” - Jennifer Turner

STORYTELLING IN HUMAN RIGHTS WORK. 4:17

Jennifer Turner talks about the role of storytelling in her current work on police brutality in Puerto Rico, the use of lethal force at the US Mexico Border, life sentences for non-violent offenses.
 

We're doing far too little too late.” - Jennifer Turner

WAR CRIMES IN RWANDA AND SIERRA LEONE. 3:12

 

Jennifer Turner discusses her role in war crimes trials in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, the failure of the UN to stop the Rwandan Genocide and the need for a self-reflexive criticality when doing international humanitarian work.

Jennifer Turner is the Human Rights Researcher in the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. Prior to joining the ACLU, she was a fellow in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, where she researched and reported on abuses against Asian migrant domestic workers in the Middle East. She has also worked in the asylum program of Human Rights First assisting refugees seeking asylum in the US to obtain pro bono legal representation, at the Latin American Workers Project in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was in the NYU Law Immigrants’ Rights Clinic as a law student. Jennifer has also worked at the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the Defense Office of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

JAMEEL JAFFER

"The mere threat of government surveillance has a real effect on the vitality of any democracy. " - Jameel Jaffer

CLAPPER V. AMNESTY. 15:53

 

This interview with ​Jameel Jaffer, the Director of ACLU’s Center For Democracy, was commissioned by Creative Time Reports. On Monday October 29, the United States Supreme Court  heard oral arguments on whether a coalition of human rights workers, lawyers and journalists represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The law allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor and retain Americans’ international communications without a warrant. Congress is now deliberating the renewal of the law, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

First enacted by Congress in 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) regulated the U.S. government’s surveillance of intelligence in the country. In its first incarnation, the law demanded that the government—prior to collecting and monitoring Americans’ communications—obtain warrants. With President George W. Bush’s authorization just after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the law’s scope greatly expanded, facilitating the launch of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. In 2008, Congress not only backed the NSA’s role, but also expanded it, giving it unprecedented foreign intelligence surveillance powers.

 

Democratic governments now have too much information about citizens and I would like them to have less." - Jameel Jaffer

CLAPPER V. AMNESTY, PART 2.  19:41

 

This interview was commissioned by Creative Time Reports and is the second interview with Jameel Jaffer about the Supreme Court Oral argument, Clapper v. Amnesty.

Not yet able to question the constitutionality of the FISA Amendment Act, Jameel Jaffer, attorney and director of the ACLU’s Center For Democracy,  representing a broad coalition of human rights workers, journalists and lawyers, must first argue over whether his clients even have the right to challenge the law in court. This narrow issue is what will be decided by the Supreme Court.  If successful in it’s  argument, the ACLU will then be able to return to the district courts and begin the work of creating a legal challenge to the actual constitutionality of the FISA Amendment Act of 2008. If the ACLU loses here, it is difficult to see who will ever  have standing or the right to challenge the law in the future. However there were reasons for optimism after Monday’s oral argument. Within seconds of Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.’s opening remarks on why the group of human rights workers, journalists and lawyers represented by the ACLU should not be granted standing in court to challenge the FISA Amendment Act, Chief Justice Sotomayor interrupted him by asking the central question of the day, “Is there anybody who has standing?” Justices Ginsburg, Kagan and Kennedy all appeared to understand what was at stake in the case and frequently challenged Verrilli.  We spoke about the psychology behind preparing for his first Supreme Court oral argument, his suprise at the sympathetic and engaged response from five  judges on the Supreme Court Bench, and what he’d like to see change in terms of surveillance issues in democratic societies.

Jaffer directed the National Security Project from 2007 – 2010 and is currently the Director of the ACLU's Center for Democracy. He has testified before Congress about issues relating to government surveillance and, since 2004, has served as a human rights monitor for the military commissions at Guantánamo. His book, Administration of Torture (co-authored with Open Society Justice Institute attorney Amrit Singh), was published by Columbia University Press in 2007. Prior to joining the ACLU, he clerked for Amalya L. Kearse, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, and Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada. He is a graduate of Williams College, Cambridge University, and Harvard Law School.