The Fierce Urgency Of Now: Closing Glaring Gaps In US Surveillance Data On COVID-19
Nancy Krieger, Gregg Gonsalves, Mary T. Bassett, William Hanage, and Harlan M. Krumholz. 4/14/2020. “The Fierce Urgency Of Now: Closing Glaring Gaps In US Surveillance Data On COVID-19.” Health Affairs . See full text.Abstract
In order to have a robust understanding of the impacts of COVID-19, data on racial, economic, and gender inequities must be collected. 

It is insufficient to ask simply whether the virus is or is not present. Social data about who is infected are crucial for responding to needs now and will allow for better estimation of the likely spread and impact of COVID-19, the toll of which will be measured not only in deaths but also in the second-order, socially disparate spill-over effects on people’s economic well-being and safety. Real-time fast journalistic reporting and advocacy groups in the US and other countries are pointing to the critical importance of racial/ethnic, economic, and gender inequities to shaping COVID-19 risks. In the past week, calls for data on COVID-19 by race/ethnicity have been issued by leading politicians, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Ayana Pressley, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and by journalists. Why aren’t the public health data documenting these risks available?

Read the full article. 

“May You Rise to It”: A Love Letter to Students in an Unprecedented Time
Timothy McCarthy. 3/30/2020. ““May You Rise to It”: A Love Letter to Students in an Unprecedented Time.” Medium. See full text. Abstract
In a letter to his students, Timothy McCarthy calls for a serious commitment to compassion.

My dear students,
Let me say this first: I love you — and I hope all of you are somewhere safe right now.
I know this doesn’t find any of us well. This global pandemic has profoundly upended our lives and livelihoods and routines and responsibilities, to say nothing of our capacity to work and dream together to build a better world. The corona crisis has catapulted us into complete chaos, accompanied by a disorienting mix of emotions: fear and despair, anxiety and anger, uncertainty and longing, concern and compassion. If you are like me, you’re experiencing all these things at once on any given day. As one friend put it: “I didn’t realize I could have so many mood swings before my first cup of coffee.” As a historian, I rarely use the word unprecedented — after all, almost everything has some kind of precedent — but I dusted it off last week and have been using it more and more with each passing day. History will have time to take full account of this moment, but first we must survive it.

After 17 Years, Justice For 9/11 Remains Elusive
Sushma Raman. 9/27/2018. “After 17 Years, Justice For 9/11 Remains Elusive.” Human Rights First. See full text.Abstract
Sushma Raman discusses the government’s twin challenges—upholding both the rule of law and national security—and the resulting delays in the trails of the 9/11 suspects.

“My father, along with many residents of the New Jersey town we are from, died on 9/11.  My mother died recently, without seeing justice.  It is possible that we will not see justice in my lifetime.”

—Family member of victim, September 15, 2018 

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? You mean he is still alive and that trial hasn’t even started?” 

—A colleague of mine, who is a retired senior U.S. government official, September 17, 2018 


Earlier this month, as an independent observer for Human Rights First, I attended a pre-trial hearing in the Guantanamo military commission for the 9/11 suspects. The proceedings fell on the week of September 10, and it was particularly poignant to be there on the anniversary of the attacks. Seventeen years later, there is no start date for the trial of the five men accused of orchestrating the attacks, and the long-serving judge has just been replaced. 

The week’s highlights included a “voir dire” of the new judge, in which he was questioned by the prosecution and defense, and a hearing on the dismissal of the former Military Commissions Convening Authority, Harvey Rishikof. 

Judge Pohl, an Army colonel, announced his retirement in August and assigned Keith Parrella, a military judge with two years’ judicial experience, to replace him. Just before stepping down, Judge Pohl ordered the exclusion of statements the defendants made to FBI interrogators after their transfer from CIA secret prisons, also called “black sites,” to Guantanamo. 

Lawyers for the defendants questioned incoming Judge Parrella on his limited experience as a military judge and in death penalty cases. They also raised the potential for conflict of interest, given Parella’s prior work at the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a fellow alongside several members of the 9/11 prosecution team. 

They also inquired about his knowledge of “mitigation”—evidence from the defense geared to persuade the court that the defendants should not receive a death sentence. The defendants spent years in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program. Their brutal treatment will undoubtedly be raised as a mitigating factor during any sentencing phase. Defense attorneys also questioned Parella’s ability to come up to speed on past rulings. He would have to review more than 20,000 pages of transcripts of the last six years of pre-trial proceedings. 

On September 10th, all five defendants were present at the start of the day, along with their defense counsel. The new judge agreed to, among other things, allow the defendants to be unshackled (unless there was probable cause) and keep breaks in the day that coincide with the defendants’ prayer times.

On Tuesday, September 11th, all five defendants were absent in the morning. Judge Parrella set forth his findings that he possessed the requisite skills and experience to preside in the case, that his DOJ fellowship did not pose a conflict, and that he has no personal bias against the defendants or prior affiliation with the case. 

Another key matter was the firing of Convening Authority Harvey Rishikof. The government argued that Rishikof was fired due to concerns about judgment, temperament, and a lack of appropriate coordination with superiors. The court heard testimony from Lieutenant Doug Newman, an investigator assigned to the office that oversees the defense teams, who described his investigation into Rishikof’s firing. Newman discussed his interviews with former Obama Administration officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and former White House Counsel Neil Eggleston. According to Newman, Eggleston indicated that President Obama had become frustrated with the slow pace and cost of the process and asked for a path to move the case forward. 

Defense counsel said that Rishikof had been exploring plea deals that would have taken the death penalty off the table and expedited proceedings. They questioned whether his firing constituted unlawful command influence from political appointees who sought to shape the judicial workings of the case and thus, compromise the independence of the proceedings. 

Upholding both the rule of law and national security are the twin challenges facing the government in this case. The use of torture, as well as alleged government surveillance and intrusion into attorney-client conversations, may result in delays for years to come, with justice remaining elusive for the victims, their families, and the American public. 

Sushma Raman is the Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and served as an independent observer representing Human Rights First. This blog does not reflect the official opinion or position of Harvard Kennedy School or the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. 


170 Years Ago in Seneca Falls New York, Voting Was a Radical Idea
Kathryn Sikkink. 7/31/2018. “170 Years Ago in Seneca Falls New York, Voting Was a Radical Idea.” Medium. See full text.Abstract

Original publication via Harvard's Ash Center.

On July 19th, we celebrated the 170th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, a gathering that launched a global movement to secure the right to vote for women. As people in the US and around the world lament the state of our democracy, now is a good time to reflect on an anniversary that reminds us of how democratic change occurs.

Women’s suffrage was the most radical demand that Elizabeth Cady Stanton included in the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments in 1848. When Stanton first suggested a suffrage resolution at the Seneca Falls Convention, even her most resolute supporters were afraid that it might make the women’s movement look ridiculous and compromise their other goals. Voting was considered the quintessential male domain of action. Resolutions on other issues at Seneca Falls, such as equal access to jobs and education for women, passed unanimously, while the suffrage resolution carried by a small majority and only after eloquent speeches by Stanton and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It would take decades of struggle, including parades, protests, arrests, hunger strikes, and force feeding, before the US acknowledged women’s right to vote in 1920. The struggle to secure the vote for African Americans is an even longer story that can be traced from the Civil War to current voter suppression in states like North Carolina.

Our appreciation of voting as a radical demand secured through decades of struggle has been lost in US politics today, as reflected in low voter registration and turnout. At Harvard, where I teach, 59% of eligible students voted in the 2016 presidential election and only 24% in the 2014 midterm elections. This spring, I did a small set of focus groups with Harvard undergraduates to gauge their attitudes toward voting in an attempt to understand these low numbers. In every group, at least one person clearly articulated the belief that voting is a privilege and duty of citizenship. A small number argued that there was no duty whatsoever to vote and that there might be good reasons not to vote. Most students, however, fell in between these two positions. They argued that voting is the right thing to do, but that it is optional and that there are many reasons why it is acceptable not to vote. These reasons include lack of compelling candidates, lack of information, lack of interest, and lack of a personal stake in the matter.

“All of us have to collaborate in helping people exercise their legal right and their civic duty to vote”

These students revealed disillusionment with the political system, saying their vote would not make a difference. Voting was one option for participation in a democratic society, but for many of the students it held little meaning or impact. The passion of Seneca Falls was missing. One student mused, “I wish that there was a way … to make people more enthusiastic about voting. … apathy is a huge problem…”

People often assume college students don’t need advice or help to vote, especially Ivy League students. But many of the students found the US voting system genuinely complicated, and antiquated, especially in the case of absentee voting. At times, what the students described reached the level of voter suppression.

We need to continue the struggles launched by the activists in Seneca Falls to expand voting. If some of the smartest and most motivated young people in America today find voting difficult, we have a responsibility to help them and many others as they navigate the often complicated and sometimes hostile terrain of the US voting system. Voter suppression has been a conscious and well-orchestrated set of policies in many states; voter encouragement must be no less conscious or collective. Ensuring that US citizens enjoy the right to vote is very much the work of our government and political parties, but should not be left only to them. All of us have to collaborate in helping people exercise their legal right and their civic duty to vote.

Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Radcliffe

Disinformation Campaigns Target Tech-Enabled Citizen Journalists
Steven Livingston. 3/2/2017. “Disinformation Campaigns Target Tech-Enabled Citizen Journalists.” Brookings.Abstract
New blog post by Carr Center Senior Fellow Steven Livingston published on Brookings. 

"Governments hoping to evade responsibility for war crimes and rights abuses are having a much tougher time of it these days. Denying entry to nettlesome investigators is still standard while many places are simply too dangerous to investigate. But even where investigators cannot go, digital technologies can sometimes overcome barriers to investigation. A recent Harvard Kennedy School report published by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy underscores how various digital technologies undermine attempts to hide abuses and war crimes. Commercial high-resolution remote sensing satellites, some capable of distinguishing objects on the ground as small as 30-cm across, allow human rights groups to document military forces deployments, mass graves, forced population displacements, and damage to physical infrastructure."

Read the full blog at Brookings.

Trump Repeats Sad History on Immigration
Kathryn Sikkink. 2/6/2017. “Trump Repeats Sad History on Immigration.” SC Times.Abstract
Trump repeats sad history on immigration by Carr Center's Kathryn Sikkink.

"When I was growing in St. Cloud in the 1960s and 1970s, I was already dimly aware that we were an immigrant community.

In particular, I knew the parents and grandparents of many of my schoolmates had come from Germany because I was always in the homeroom full of the kids with German last names — the Schmidts, Schneiders, and Schwartzs. A number of these students came from poor farms outside town. They had to be up very early in the morning before school to help on the farm, before the long bus trip to school, and they came to homeroom, the first class of the day, smelling like the barn.

If I could, I would apologize to those students today for my cruel remarks behind their backs; I, who had the luxury of spending too long every morning in the bathroom getting ready for school (according to my older brother).

Many of the immigrant families in St. Cloud were Catholic, not only from Germany, but from Poland and Ireland. To this day, Census figures show that well over half of the individuals in the St. Cloud metropolitan area trace their ancestry to those three countries."

Read the full article.

Facts Aren’t Enough to Save Liberal Democracy
Chistopher Robichaud. 1/17/2017. “Facts Aren’t Enough to Save Liberal Democracy.” Niskanen Center .Abstract
Facts Aren’t Enough to Save Liberal Democracy by Carr Center's Christopher Robichaud.

"Facts these days are taking a beating in politics. A month or so back, Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes shared on “The Diane Rehm Show” that “[t]here’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.” She was pilloried in the press over this, not unsurprisingly, though her words, taken at face value, do at least convey a sense of loss over our purported predicament—it’s unfortunate that there aren’t any facts anymore. Unfortunate or not, is she right that truth has left the building?

Well, no, of course not. We still have death and taxes, if nothing else, two stubborn, non-negotiable facts of modern life. And even if Republicans somehow manage to do away entirely with the latter in the first hundred days of Trump’s presidency, I’m pretty sure we’ll be stuck with our own mortality for at least a little while longer.

The really real world, in other words, didn’t suddenly slip away during the 2016 election cycle, impressions to the contrary notwithstanding. Be that as it may, it’s hard to deny that something funny is going on."
Read the full post on the Niskanen Center website.