Posted by: Castan Centre | April 26, 2016

Second Month at CCR

By Sarah Sacher – posted at Centre for Constitutional Rights, NY

The most memorable event of my second month in New York was the East Coast blizzard that came down like a reckoning over the course of a weekend. Trapped in the apartment where I was living with my cousin, we could do nothing but stare out the window as snow blanketed every surface, stopping the city and plunging it into a surreal silence. We had stocked up on supplies (read: chocolate) and spent the two days watching the West Wing on Netflix. I ventured outside for approximately 0.001 seconds which was enough to get the gist:

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Two experiences I had in my second month at CCR illustrate the combination of hope and despair that often colours international human rights work.

The first involves the release of a man called Fahd Ghazy from his detention at Guantanamo bay. Fahd was 17 years old when he was captured along with his father in February 2002. He was one of the many detainees captured by locals who received a cash reward in exchange for handing people over to the U.S military. Fahd spent 14 years at Guantanamo.  In all that time he was never charged.

In 2007, the Bush administration finally cleared Fahd for transfer; he was again cleared for transfer in 2009 under Obama. Yet it was only on January 13 2016 that he was finally moved out of Guantanamo to Oman.  The short film Waiting for Fahd provides an insight into the experience of detention for Fahd and the impact on Fahd’s family.

I was privileged to be at CCR at the time of Fahd’s release. The attorneys held a small, somewhat muted celebration in the office kitchen. As an observer, I was struck by the combination of anger and relief that accompanied this long overdue event. Fahd’s release was facilitated by the intense investment of the CCR staff on the Guantanamo docket, who got to know him and his family on a close basis over many years. His transfer was the culmination of years of litigation and advocacy work. This was a victory no doubt, but the horrible reality and frustration over the length of time it took to rectify Fahd’s wrongful detention was not lost on anyone. In the face of wide spread government mandated and institutionalised human rights abuses, human rights lawyers face a continuous uphill battle. The transfer of Fahd served as an injection of hope and a reminder of the importance and necessity of the work.

Although the number of prisoners at Guantanamo continues to shrink, indefinite detention practises have been replaced by equally unsettling policies aimed at fighting terror overseas. I am speaking of the unmanned drone program that has grown exponentially under the Obama administration. This is an excellent article outlining the nature of the program in Pakistan. Of course it is shrouded in secrecy, but what information is available is highly disturbing. One of the members of the Guantanamo docket at CCR visited Pakistan to view the effects of targeted drone strikes overseas. He was interviewed for a documentary that set for release later this year, and I was able to sit in on the conversation. One of the most alarming facts that came out of the interview is the US policy of targeting lower level individuals believed to be in terror groups, so they can then follow up by targeting their funerals – which are attended by the primary high-level targets. The lack of transparency and accountability regarding the drone program is alarming to say the least, and it is the new frontier in the fight against humanitarian violations by the United States.

The other event that stood out to me in my second month was CCR’s screening of the film Spotlight. During my internship I was able to be part of some of the work CCR does for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP). CCR was responsible for bringing a complaint against Vatican Officials before the ICC charging Crimes against Humanity, in addition to bringing claims before the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The Spotlight screening is part of CCR’s broader advocacy on this topic – information about CCR’s ongoing work can be found here.

Spotlight follows the investigative team at the Boston Globe that exposed the widespread child sex abuse scandal and cover up within Catholic Archdiocese in Boston. Focusing largely on the nature of the journalistic investigation and the conspiracy to conceal by the Catholic Church, the film also shines a light on the survivors that contributed to the investigation, including the role played by SNAP.

In attendance at the screening of Spotlight was both the founder of the New England chapter of SNAP Phil Saviano and the actor who portrays him in the film, Neal Huff. They both participated in a Q and A after the screening. In addition to talking about their involvement with making the film, they discussed the many international abuse scandals that were exposed after the Boston Globe’s initial story on the Boston community. Phil Saviano said that the movie, despite its grim revelations regarding the continuing impunity of perpetrators, has a “happy ending.” This is because the Boston Globe story was successful in exposing the rampant and institutional nature of the sexual abuse. Both the initial newspaper story and the movie itself set the ball rolling for survivors to speak out and for stronger calls for accountability. The fact that the film went on to win the Oscar in February goes a long way towards the advocacy component of the work directed towards holding the Catholic Church accountable.  The act of drawing attention to the events through the film and validating the experiences of those impacted helps to encourage survivors to speak out, and be better understood. It pushes the message that there is a mountain to climb when it comes to dealing with the repercussions of institutional sexual abuse, and helps to chip away at cultures of silence and denial.  At the end of the Q and A session multiple survivors in attendance spontaneously shared their stories with the audience. That in itself was a profound and intense experience that helped to inform my SNAP related work.







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