Yemen Wants Their Guantanamo Detainees Back
In some regards, the Yemeni government’s recent demand for the repatriation of Yemeni detainees who have been languishing in Guantanamo Bay for nearly a decade seemed to come out of left field, as did the prison hunger strikes that prompted it. President Obama’s 2008-election-campaign promises to close the notorious prison remain unfulfilled. According to recent polls, roughly 70 percent of Americans back the president’s decision to ignore his pledge and keep the prison open; polls taken at the start of his 2012 term put support for Guantanamo’s closure at a tepid 53 percent.
It’s a mistake, however, to say that the detainees have completely disappeared from most Yemenis’ minds. Of the 166 detainees who remain held without charge in Guantanamo Bay, 91 are Yemeni. It’s not quite as popular an issue as the drone strikes, but Yemenis still bring up Guantanamo on a nearly weekly basis. Many see the legal limbo of their fellow countrymen as a kind of tragicomic joke.
Recently in Sanaa, dozens of family members of Guantanamo detainees gathered at the American embassy to protest their internment.
“We demand that the American government release all detainees,” one father said, holding up a poster of his son. “The Yemeni government should do everything in its power to pressure them. Does Obama think that there’s a Yemeni exception when it comes to human rights?”
My Lunch with One of the World’s Top Human Rights Violators
I don’t ever remember getting a call. I don’t remember what they told us on the way. All I can remember is being hurried through to a back room of some regional Russian airport and waiting.
You’ll have to forgive me, a lot of this story is blurry. See, when a Russian offers you vodka, you must accept. Now, I’m not one to turn down a free drink regardless of international diplomacy, but in early 2007 I wasespecially eager to improve the image of Americans abroad (which, at the time, was “Jabba the Hut wearing a cowboy hat screeching ‘WHY DON’T YOU TALK ENGLISH.’”)
I asked our translator when we’d be arriving in Sochi, and he just smiled and shook his head. He said goodbye, wished me luck and safety, and left. My two lead producers, Eric— a charming little schmoozer whose habit of partying like he was still in college never got in the way of his work, and Debbie— a depressing, oblivious, lump who hyphenated her three syllable long maiden name to her husband’s three syllable long surname even though they fucking rhymed, were called over to a corner to talk with Vlad, our fixer. When shooting a show abroad, it pays to have a local on your team to navigate the sea of con-men wearing official uniforms — and Vlad, an imposing scowl of a man, almost certainly ex-KGB, was as good as you could get. The conversation was in heated whispers; short, angry bursts of air punctuated by flailing arm gestures.
Eric, visibly shaking off the news, approached me.
“The Russians gave away our fucking hotel rooms to the IOC. There’s not a goddamned room left in all of Sochi.”
I stuttered a bit before I could even get out a “Wait— what? Where are we—”
“Oh don’t worry,” he sneered, “they’ve got a plan for us. They’re sending us to Chechnya.”
Now, at this point, my only knowledge of Chechnya was a vague recollection of that Moscow theater hostage crisis— y’know, the one where like 50 Chechen rebels stormed a theater and the Russians unceremoniously gassed the shit out of everyone, killing like 150 people? Yeah, that one. As we made preparations to board the small twin-engine jet, I had no idea what we were getting into. For all I knew, Chechnya was a full-on fucking war-zone. Rumors started swirling that the last American to set in foot in Chechnya was sent home in a body bag, some AP reporter who got herself exploded at a soccer game. This was NOT what I signed up for. We weren’t here to shoot goddamned Restrepo, we were here to produce a fucking beauty pageant.
NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?
Bahrain’s PR Campaign Is Doomed to Fail
Hey, do you happen to be the proprietor of a family-run dictatorship in the Middle East? Tired of seeing stories about your country that are all, “Bahrain Princess Accused of Torture” and “Teenager Killed in Bahrain Anniversary Protests” and “The US Sold a Bunch of Weapons to Bahrain During Its Brutal Crackdown” and even “King of Bahrain Beats Up Arab Pop Star on a Yacht”? That sure is some bad “optics,” as they say in the business, and you probably can’t repair your reputation solely through articles titled “Bahrain a Land of tolerance…” in government-run media outlets, especially when that ellipsis might be an indication that even the “journalists” on your payroll can barely believe the shit they’re writing.
One way to solve your image problem would to welcome reform and stop committing gross human rights violations—ha, ha, just kidding! Clearly that’s not on the table, so you need to spend millions on PR and invite journalists to your brand new Formula 1 race track to see how lovely it is. According to Bahrain Watch, that’s what the country’s regime has been doing: It’s spent at least $32 million on image management since the start of the Arab Spring. I’m familiar with this because one of these companies threatened to sue the Guardianfor libel after I wrote an article with Nabeel Rajab which accused the Bahraini security forces of torturing employees at the F1 track. The PR firm did not question that torture had taken place, just that it had not happened on the premises of the F1 track. The libel threat was eventually withdrawn after a footnote was added to the article, but the point was made: We have money and we will bully and threaten you if you criticize us.
I Was Tortured as a Bahraini Political Prisoner
Thirty-six-year-old Bahraini journalist Ahmed Radhi was one of the roughly 500 prisoners of conscience who were detained following the citizen uprising against Bahrain’s government that began in February 2011. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights estimates that the country has the highest number of political prisoners per capita worldwide. Ahmed told us about the supposed reasons for his detention and the extremely poor conditions he faced while in prison.
Being a journalist in Bahrain comes with many risks. The press has no freedom to move and work independently without being harassed by the regime. I was investigated by the Ministry of Information for reporting on the US presence in Bahrain, but it was a May 13 phone interview with the BBC, during which I criticized a proposed union of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, that led to my recent arrest. Clearly, America and Saudi Arabia are topics that the Bahraini regime doesn’t want anyone to discuss.
I was arrested on May 16—police and masked civilians surrounded and broke into my father’s house at around 3:30 AM without a court order. I was interrogated from the moment I was arrested until I reached the Criminal Investigation Department building.
I Spoke to the Author of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
David Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, which, depending on who you ask, may or may not included language that would sentence gay people to death and a bunch of other stuff that sets society back by about 200 years, is due to be tabled in Uganda’s Parliament any day now. This, obviously, is terrible news for gay people in Uganda and human rights in general.
Clare Byarugaba, co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constituional Law (CSHRCL), is mentally exhausted with the “mind-fuck” of checking parliament’s order papers every day, and pessimistic. “Hope for gay rights in Uganda is like expecting corruption in Uganda to end. It will never end. The population is behind the bill and MPs go with the majority.”
I recently met up with Morgan, Bad Black, and Joseph, friends I made in August while covering the country’s first Gay Pride, and they’re terrified about the consequences of the bill passing. They have already been chased out of the one-room house they all shared in the Bwaise slum because the police believe that they’re “recruiting” young people into homosexuality. The issue of “recruitment” is one of the Ugandan government’s principal concerns, with David Bahati telling Clare that he believes homosexuality is an addiction and that people, particularly children, are lured into it.
It took David two weeks to get back to me, but the day before I left Uganda, he granted me an interview.
VICE: Hi David. Can you run me through this bill?
David Bahati: The bill basically has four components. The first component is to outlaw homosexuality. The second component is about the emerging issues within homosexuality we’ve seen over time, including the promotion of it. The bill also concentrates on the inducement of children. There’s no law that stops same-sex marriage, so we want to outlaw and prohibit it and see rehabilitation and counselling for the victims of this grave, evil practice.
Has the death penalty been taken out?
Yes. [NB: according to Clare Byarugaba / CSCHRCL the bill that will be tabled still has the death penalty in.]
What evidence has been taken to the Legal Affairs Committee that people are recruiting children into homosexuality?
The committee has considered the bill and passed it and got all the necessary information it needed to make a decision. We have abundant evidence of what is happening in our community—parents and children have come to us. We’re in the business of defending the family between man and woman, as the holy scripture and Qur’an dictates.
What research is the bill based on?
We have enough information about how our society works. Family is between man and woman. Anything beyond that should be outlawed. Most of the research we have is just from life. My mom was with my dad. I know the Bible and the Qur’an are against homosexuality. When an anal organ is used for things it’s not supposed to be used for, it’s hazardous. I don’t need to be taught anything beyond that.
Hey Justice Scalia, Are These Sex Acts Okay?
Antonin Scalia is a Supreme Court Justice, which means he’s an important guy. He’s such a big shot he gets to wear a robe at work and no one says anything, and he also gets invited to speak at places like Princeton University. “Come talk in front of our students and just say whatever you want!” the people in charge of Princeton said, probably. “Like, whatever. You’re such a good thinker that you literally run the country, so whatever you say is going to be so fucking awesome. Can’t wait!”
But the downside to being an important guy who gets invited to speak at Princeton is that when you say something that sounds kind of weird—or kinda dumb—it spreads all over the internet. In this case, the weird- and dumb-sounding thing he said was that the government can ban stuff that is “immoral” and, while attempting to illustrate his point, he compared bans on homosexuality with bans on murder. Ha ha, what? He explained it this way to the Princeton student who asked him about that comparison, and didn’t waste the chance to be kind of a dick:
“It’s a form of argument that I thought you would have known, which is called the ‘reduction to the absurd’… If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
I thought Scalia would have known the difference between murder and sodomy—whereas both are things that involve two or more people doing stuff to each other, in sodomy’s case everyone wants it to happen (“Hey, please put that doohickey in that hole, please”), and in murder’s case one guy really, really doesn’t want it to. If we use the “reduction to the absurd” technique that Scalia loves so much, he’s saying that you can make a law against literally anything that a bunch of people find immoral, even if what you’re outlawing is a private activity between consenting adults. So, presumably, according to Scalia we could ban all of these sex acts, none of which are “gay” but are probably “immoral”:
Masturbating while your cat is watching.
Having sex in your old room while staying at your parents’ house for the holidays.
Doing that thing where she’s like, “I’m an innocent elf maiden in peril!” and you’re like, “I’ll save you, for I am Galathor the Liberator!” and then you fuck like crazy and it’s really good and you have a talk afterward like, “Hey, is this weird? It’s not weird, right? I’m so glad we figured out we’re both into this! I love you.”
In the first episode, we fly to Tel Aviv to meet young members of Israel’s growing radical left, in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of the biggest protest in Israel’s history. Soon after landing, we follow Ronnie, an Israeli Jew who fights for Palestinian rights, to a protest in the West Bank. After that, we’re invited to a rooftop party at the house of protest leader and spokesperson Stav Shaffir.