Eminent Jurists Panel

Adele Welty delivered these remarks on September 8th, 2006

The Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, a high-level and independent legal body appointed by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), opened three days of hearings in Washington, D.C., on US counter-terrorism laws and policies, as it began the US leg of its investigations. The hearings took place Sept. 6-8, 2006.

“Both terrorist attacks and counter-terrorism measures are having a profound impact on our societies. In the US, as in every country the Panel is visiting, we have come to listen to all views, to reflect on the last five years and ask how terrorism can be confronted while respecting human rights and the rule of law,” said Justice Arthur Chaskalskon, former Chief Justice of South Africa and Chair of the Panel. “For many people around the world, the legal traditions of the United States embody a strong respect for the rule of law and human rights. It is important that it should be, and should be seen to be, meticulous in crafting anti-terrorism measures that comply with international human rights and humanitarian law,” he added.

In the course of the three-day public proceedings the Panel listened to a wide range of perspectives, including victims of 9/11, leading US lawyers, academics, doctors, professional associations, national and international human rights organizations, counter-terrorism experts and US foundations. In the week following the hearings the Panel members will also meet with key government representatives in private and will travel to New York for high-level meetings with the United Nations. The hearings in Washington, D.C. were held at American University Washington College of Law and were open to the public and the media.

Peaceful Tomorrows was fortunate to have the testimony of steering committee member Adele Welty as part of these proceedings. Her testimony is below.

“My name is Adele Welty. I am a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group that was founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating non violent actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. We acknowledge our unity as human beings with all those of every nation affected by violence We are reaching out to them in the spirit of common humanity and stressing the experiences we share, we are working together to create a more peaceful and secure world.

This past week, thirty people from countries around the world were convened by Peaceful Tomorrows in Garrison New York. These are people who were directly affected by terror attacks from Bali to Beslan;  South Africa to Northern Ireland; people who lost family members in the train bombings in Madrid and people from Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq who continue to suffer under occupation and the terror of war. They exchanged ideas with each other about their work creating organizations in their own countries that seek peace and reconciliation. During those three days they elected an interim steering committee to work toward the formalization of an international network of organizations for peace and reconciliation. As I speak, in New York City they are appearing at public forums to deliver their messages of peace.

My son, Firefighter Timothy Matthew Welty was lost in the line of duty at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. He was killed while trying to save the lives of those trapped in the burning towers, regardless of race, color, religion, political affiliation or immigration status. Since his death, tens of thousands of innocent civilians, most of them women and children, have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. These people have been killed in the name of my son and in the names of all the precious souls who died in the attacks of Sept. 11th in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

I visited Afghanistan in 2004, and met many families who had lost loved ones in the American bombing. These people embraced me as a grieving mother, not as the enemy, as Muslims are often viewed in this country. They, like the families of 9/11, understand the true impact of the term civilian casualties. In 2005, I was part of a humanitarian delegation to Amman, Jordan, arranged by Global Exchange, where we met with Iraqi doctors, journalists, and families of slain Iraqis. We encountered only compassion for our losses and immense sadness for the horrors they must endure every day, because for them, every day is like September 11th.  There, the Iraqis told stories of early morning raids on their homes, the shooting of all young males in a household, the rape of teenage girls. We heard of coalition tanks rolling over cars filled with people. We saw pictures of bodies in the streets of Fallujah being eaten by dogs. Doctors told of patients being dragged off gurneys in the Emergency Room and shot. Sixty percent of the population of Iraq consists of minor children, and as the death toll rises, the future of the country is lost in the rubble. Their eyes see a different face of terror.

In the United States, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, this country began rounding up immigrants and detaining them without Due Process of Law. Bias crimes against South Asians occurred nationwide. Men were beaten, businesses destroyed, children tormented in schools. Thousands were deported without a hearing, many of them heads of households, leaving families without a safety net of support. Many had lived and worked in this country for many years. Children, born in the United States, saw their families torn apart. Reform of our immigration laws was debated in terms of national security.

Members of Peaceful Tomorrows came to Washington to educate lawmakers about the impact the proposed legislation would have on the immigrant community. But in  2005, for the first time in U. S. history, the U. S. Congress voted on the implementation of a national ID card system, legislation that was passed after being added on to an Iraq war and tsunami relief appropriations bill. It requires the states to link their databases together for the mutual sharing of data from these IDs. This is, in effect, a national database, available to all the states and to the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security, expects to have the card contain  a remotely readable RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip to  make  access and tracking easier, even from a remote area.  Privacy groups believe that this national ID card will make observation of all American residents routine, whether they are citizens or immigrants. This is not an effective way to stop terrorism, which was the pretext of enacting the bill into law.

There is currently legislation in Congress (H.R. 4437) waiting to become law. The House version is even more restrictive than REAL ID.

In 1996 the U. S. Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Prior to the passage of that legislation, there were an estimated 8,500 immigrants in detention. By 1998, there were an estimated 16,000 immigrants in detention. On September 10, 2001, there were an estimated 20,000 immigrants in detention.

Today, it is estimated by Detention Watch, that there are at least 22,000 people in immigration detention in this country.  The vast majority committed no crime and are guilty only of having an expired visa. Those held in detention since 9/11 are primarily Muslims. These people include vulnerable asylum seekers, torture survivors and over a thousand unaccompanied children, for whom there is no legal mechanism to protect their interests such as a Guardian Ad Litem.

The families of those who have been deported often do not have the resources to go back to their native lands with the deportee. Detainees are routinely transferred from one detention center to another around the country, making it difficult for their families to keep track of them. There are humane alternatives to detention and research. Project VERA has shown that such alternatives are cost effective. These alternatives include: parole, release on Order of Recognizance, release on bond, halfway houses, electronic monitoring.

Because of the overwhelming cost of the war on terror, Americans have seen jobs, the environment, education, health care and the lives of our sons sacrificed. We should be focusing our resources to find those who have come here to hurt us, not on decent, hardworking immigrants who have only come to enjoy the freedom we hold out as our guiding light. If we do not defend and uphold the principles upon which our country stakes its claim to the moral high ground, we have defeated ourselves.

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, stands in solidarity with those who hold dear the liberty defined by our founders. We believe these human rights abuses simply worsen the cycle of violence and human trauma. Repression does not increase security and we do not justify these abuses in the names of our loved ones.”

For more information on the the Eminent Jurists Panel on Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, visit: http://ejp.icj.org/hearing.php3?id_rubrique=10

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