Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights

The clinic’s Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights program works to ensure that the United States complies with international human rights standards in its efforts to combat terrorism. The program has involved:

  • studying the challenges that extremist violence poses to the United States and the impact of existing and proposed counter-terrorism policies;
  • developing pragmatic policy solutions that both promote security and respect human rights;
  • educating policymakers, the media, and the public about the United States’ relevant obligations under international human rights law; and
  • advocating policies that protect the country while preserving its core values.

The clinic’s work on counter-terrorism rests on a conviction that the United States’ founding principle of adherence to a rule of law requires that its counter-terrorism activities comply with international norms. Many of the challenges posed by terrorism against democracies are not new, and international standards codify policy choices and value tradeoffs that embody wisdom from our own and other countries’ struggles with similar problems in the past. Our activities in this area are listed in reverse chronological order below:


Shadow Report on U.S. Obligations under the CAT with Respect to Guantánamo Detainees

The Convention against Torture (CAT) establishes obligations of states not only to prohibit torture, but also to take adequate steps to respond to it, including providing redress for victims. The United States has ratified CAT and the expert committee that monitors state compliance reviewed the United States in the fall of 2014.  Since its last review of the United States, the clinic in partnership with the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley School of Law and the Center for Constitutional Rights, conducted an interview study of former Guantanamo detainees. The findings of this study were released as a book, the Guantánamo Effect: Exposing the Consequences of U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices; in addition, the clinic issued a policy report about the needs of detainees after their release and recommending revisions to U.S. policy in this regard. Drawing on the interview data from these sources and the abuses reported by detainees, clinic students prepared a shadow report to the expert committee of the CAT in October 2014 and assisted advocacy organizations to prepare for the committee’s hearings. In November 2014, clinic students attended the committee’s hearings in Geneva where the clinic’s report informed questions put to U.S. representatives (see video footage here). A news story further details the clinic’s work on this project.


Do No Harm? Intelligence Ethics, Health Professional and the Torture Debate

Health care professionals’ ethical obligation to do no harm is generating more attention amid reports on the role psychologists have played in designing and implementing interrogation practices of detainees taken into U.S. custody since 9/11. In response, in spring 2010, clinic students developed a new website—in collaboration with the Center for Justice and Accountability—which offers myriad resources to educate the public on this topic and promote a national discussion on how best to address it. The site provides audio interviews with expert psychologists about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and outlines their history, impact, and implications. It also offers topical background materials related to accountability for health professionals complicit in torture.


“Returning Home: Resettlement and Reintegration of Detainees Released from the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba”: Policy Paper and Briefings

In March 2009, the clinic and UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center released a policy paper  recommending that the United States promote programs to assist former detainees released from the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to reintegrate into their communities. These programs should be an integral part of any comprehensive plan to close the camp. The paper follows up on the November 2008 report “Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: A Study of Detainees Released from U.S. Custody,” the culmination of two years of research by clinic and Human Rights Center researchers. “Returning Home” is based on that report and analysis of reintegration programs for prisoners released from U.S. prisons, former prisoners of war, and ex-combatants. The paper finds that assistance to released Guantánamo detainees will help support U.S. national security, repair America’s image abroad, and provide an appropriate humanitarian response to former detainees held for years in U.S. custody without trial or conviction. Immediately after the release of the paper, three clinic students and two faculty members spent three days in Washington, D.C.,  briefing policymakers on its findings and recommendations. The group met with staff in numerous Congressional offices, including among others those of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Richard Durbin, Richard Lugar, and Arlen Specter; Representatives Barbara Lee and Silvestre Reyes; and members of the Senate Foreign Relations, Senate Intelligence, and House Foreign Affairs Committees. It also briefed the Departments of Defense and State and several non-profit organizations and think tanks. One of the students, Jonas Lerman ’10, commented: “Few students get to produce a policy paper on an issue of such prominence, travel to Washington, present their recommendations to policymakers, and hear that it will help them in their work. The project was a formative experience, and tremendously gratifying.”

Guantánamo and Its Aftermath: A Study of Detainees Released from U.S. Custody

Clinic students worked with UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center on a two-year study of detainees released from the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The final report was released in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2008.  Previously, no systematic study had been made of Guantánamo detainees after they had left U.S. custody and returned to their countries of origin or other locations. The study developed a factual record of the long-term impact of U.S. detention practices on detainees during their confinement at the Guantánamo Bay facility and after their release from U.S. custody; assessed the perception of detainees on how their incarceration has affected their families and communities; and recommended appropriate U.S. government policies. The New York Times published an op-ed by Professors Laurel E. Fletcher and Eric Stover about the report.


A Former Guantánamo Detainee Speaks Out, Demanding Accountability

In January, 2002, Moazzam Begg, a British citizen of Pakistani descent, was seized in Islamabad. Although never officially charged with a crime, the United States alleged that he had terrorist ties. A married father of two, with a new baby on the way, Begg spent eleven months at Bagram Air Base and two years in Guantánamo, largely in solitary confinement in a six-by-eight foot cell, before being released in 2005. Well-educated and multilingual, Begg has become a human rights advocate and often speaks on behalf of other detainees. In 2006, he published a memoir, Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantánamo, Bagram, and Kandahar. Begg spoke with freelance journalist Kara Platoni by telephone from his home in London.  An excerpt from this interview was printed in the 2008 fall-winter issue of the Transcript, Berkeley’s alumni magazine.  Read the full transcript.