On Visit to Turkey, Vice President Biden Discusses Possible U.S. Extradition of Fethullah Gulen

As discussed in a prior post and two comments thereto, the United States and Turkey continue to be involved in discussions regarding Turkey’s request for the U.S. to extradite to Turkey a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who now is living in the U.S.

The subject also came up with respect to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s August 24 visit to Turkey: first in the White House Press Secretary’s August 22 press briefing; second in Biden’s August 24 joint press conference with Turkey’s Premier Binali Yildirim; third in Biden’s August 24 joint press conference with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; fourth at the White House Press Secretary’s August 24 press briefing; and fifth at the State Department’s August 24 Daily Press Briefing.

White House Press Briefing[1]

On August 22 White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest addressed Biden’s then upcoming visit to Turkey. He said that Biden will “indicate our continued, ongoing support for our allies in Turkey.  It’s a country that obviously is going through a lot.  This is a country that was subject to a failed coup attempt earlier this summer.  That is a coup attempt that was roundly and publicly condemned by the United States government.  And we continue to strongly support the democratic government of our allies in Turkey” and “the steps that Turkey has taken to make contributions to our counter-ISIL effort.”

As it relates to Mr. Gülen, the Press Secretary stated, Biden “will say what President Obama [already] has communicated directly to President Erdogan, which is that there is a treaty, an extradition treaty, that’s been on the books between the United States and Turkey for more than 30 years.  And the United States is committed to following the procedure and guidelines that are outlined in that treaty.” This includes “extensive coordination between officials at the Department of Justice and their Turkish counterparts.”  But extradition is “not a presidential decision.  There is a process that is codified in that treaty and in U.S. law. . . . But . . . [the decision] will be guided by the evidence and . . . by the rules and procedures that are codified in the extradition treaty and in United States law.”

Biden and Yildirim Press Conference[2]

BCiden+Premier

Upon his arrival in Ankara, Biden and Turkey’s Premier Yildirim held a joint press conference. To the right is a photograph of them.

Biden emphasized, “President Obama asked me to come to Turkey today in order to remind the world of the paramount importance that we place on the relationship between our nations as allies, as partners, and as friends. It is as an ally and a long-term friend of the Turkish people, that I’m here today to express in no uncertain terms the continuing, unwavering support of the United States for Turkey in the wake of last month’s attempted coup.”

“So on behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I want to once again, Mr. Prime Minister, extend to all the people of Turkey our condolences to the families and loved ones who were injured, but particularly those who lost a loved one.  We pay tribute to not only their bravery but their incredible resolve, their incredible commitment to their democracy, to ensuring that their country remains strong, vibrant and resilient, and democratic.”

“The . . . people of the United States of America abhor what happened, and under no circumstances would support anything remotely approaching the cowardly act of the treasonous members of your military who engaged in this behavior.  We did not have prior knowledge.  We did not support.  We immediately condemned.  And we continue, as we did before the coup, to stand shoulder to shoulder with not only the government of Turkey, but with the people of Turkey.”

“I understand the intense feeling your government and the people of Turkey have about [Mr. Gulen] . . . . We are cooperating with Turkish authorities.  Our legal experts are working right now with their Turkish counterparts on the production of and the evaluation of material and evidence that needs to be supplied to an American court to meet the requirements under our law and the extradition treaty to extradite Gulen. And we’re going to continue to do so as you continue to bring forward additional information.  We have . . . no interest whatsoever in protecting anyone who has done harm to an ally.  None.  But we need to meet the legal standard requirement under our law.”

“[U]nder American law:  No President of the United States has authority to extradite anyone on his own power.  That only an American court can do that.  Were a President to attempt to do that, it would be an impeachable offense.  But we have no reason to do anything other than cooperate with you and take every substantiating fact and make it available to the extent it exists to an American court.”

Premier Yildirim in his remarks welcomed the Vice President and recognized that “the relationship between Turkey and the United States has a very long history, a very deep-rooted history.   Therefore, from time to time, there might be incidents that tend to damage this relationship.  But on both sides, of course, we should never allow this to happen.”

“[T]his heinous coup attempt was, in our opinion, orchestrated and instructed by Fethullah Gulen.  And as per the treaties that we have between our two countries, the necessary steps should be taken with a view to his extradition to our country.  And we have taken the initial step in that process.  And you have had very frank remarks for the Turkish people and also for our government . . . of vital importance for a sound functioning of this process, and we are grateful to you for those remarks.”

“So having a [U.S.] technical team . . . here in Turkey, and talking to our judges and prosecutors here on the ground, is a clear sign from your side that you’re taking this very seriously, that you’re attaching great importance to this.  Therefore, I would like to once again thank you for being sensitive about the matter.”

“The process of extraditing the head of the terrorist organization that was behind the attempted coup, if it can be expedited and accelerated, and if we can have more cooperation in the process, I think the grief and grievances of the Turkish people, of the Turkish nation, will be remedied to a certain degree, and their overall sentiments about the issue will go back to being more positive.”

The Premier repeated this last thought in later responding to a journalist’s question: “I am sure that the healthy and sound functioning of the processes with regard to the extradition of the head of the terrorist organization will also, in a short amount of time, return or rectify the people’s perception back to their normal, positive situation.”

Biden and Erdogan Press Conference[3]

BidenErdogan

At the joint press conference after their private meeting, Biden opened by expressing his “personal condolences and the condolences of my country for the brutal, unconscionable attack in Turkey. . . .The attempted coup went to the heart of who your people are — principled, courageous and committed.  And for a people who have struggled so long to establish a true democracy, this was, from my perspective and the President’s perspective, the ultimate affront.  So my heart goes out to not just the government, but to the Turkish people.” He added, “the United States stands with our ally, Turkey.  We support the people of Turkey.  And our support is absolute and it is unwavering.” (Above is a photograph of the two men.)

“That’s why the United States.” Biden said, “is committed to doing everything we can to help [Turkey] through your justice [system] hold all those responsible for this coup attempt while adhering to the rule of law. . . . [O]ur American experts are on the ground, here in Ankara, meeting with your people, closely coordinating with our Turkish counterparts to evaluate and gather the material with regard to Turkish requests to extradite Gulen, in accordance with our bilateral extradition treaty.”

As “powerful as my country is, as powerful as Barack Obama is as President, he has no authority under our Constitution to extradite anyone.  Only a federal court can do that. . . . If the President were to take this into his own hands, . . . he would be impeached for violating the separation of powers.”

The U.S. has no “reason to protect Gulen or anyone else who, in fact, may have done something wrong. . . . [T]his case, like all others, is going to have to be assessed by an independent federal court along with evidence backing it up.  That’s what we’re working on together now.  And it takes time to work an extradition request, but there should be no doubt that we’ll continue to work closely with the Turkish government as this process unfolds.”

In response to a journalist’s question at the end of the press conference, Biden repeated these thoughts about extradition. “We are a nation of laws.  We are bound by a constitution. . . . The constitution and our laws require for someone to be extradited, that the court in the United States has to conclude with probable cause to be extradited.  Not only do we apply that standard as it relates to extradition; we apply that standard every day we do our country.”

Biden continued, “we have a team of our lawyers and experts who were here in Ankara yesterday, sitting down with your experts on the judiciary and your prosecutors, saying, give us the data we need in order to be able to bring these to a court of law that will say, yes, we must extradite [Mr. Gulen]. . . . What possible interest could the United States have in wanting to protect someone who, in fact, met the standard under our law of being deported?”

Until yesterday, the Vice President added, “[T]here has been no evidence presented about the coup.  When you go to an American court, you can’t go into a court and say, this is a bad guy, generally.  You have to say this is a guy or a woman who committed the following explicit crime.  That’s what we’re working with President [Erdogan] right now to gather the evidence that will establish in a court of law probable cause to believe he may have done this.  We are determined — we are determined to listen to every scrap of evidence that Turkey can provide or that we can find out about.”

“We will continue to abide by [our] system.  And God willing, there will be enough data and evidence to be able to meet the criteria that you all believe exists.  We have no reason to shelter someone who would attack an ally and try to overthrow a democracy.” (Emphasis added.)

President Erdogan thanked the Vice President for coming and saluted him with “all my most heartfelt emotions.”

Erdogan then stressed that the “leader of the FETO terrorist organization [Gulen] needs to be extradited to Turkey as soon as possible.  That is the first measure that needs to be taken.  There are references made to the verdicts to be issued by courts, and we have previously submitted all of the folders regarding the actions engaged in by these terrorists before July the 15th.  And right now, we are amassing certain documents pointing out to their involvement in this failed coup that took place on July the 15th.”

Under the U.S.-Turkey extradition treaty, Erdogan said, “those individuals should be taken into pretrial detention, they should be arrested, and throughout the trial they need to remain in custody.  This person [Gulen], however, is currently managing and directing the terrorist organization where he lives.  They are present in more than 170 countries around the world, and they are present through school associations and other sorts of educational institutions. . . . [He] is still providing interviews to media outlets in the United States.  Some journalists are being taken into the Pennsylvania residence, and he is still continuing his actions around the world, and he’s shaping his actions for the future using these outlets.  That’s why it is very important for him to be contained through pretrial detention, which is actually part of the bilateral extradition treaty that was signed between our two countries, which we should not ignore.  And that is something I especially feel that I need to remind you of.  And I’m confident that the United States will take the necessary measures to cater to our expectations in that regard.”

Another White House Press Briefing[4]

Biden’s “God willing” comment came up in a question at the Wednesday afternoon, August 24, White House press briefing. Josh Earnest responded that the “point that the Vice President was making is that this is not going to be a decision that is made by the executive branch.  The decision about the evidence that Turkey has compiled is one that will follow the guidelines of the extradition treaty, and will ultimately involve a federal judge who will have to render [his or her] . . . own judgment, [his or her] . . . own assessment of the situation consistent with U.S. law and consistent with the terms of the extradition treaty.”

The White House Press Secretary also said that the U.S. has “concerns about the Turkish government’s activity since the coup have been a reflection of our longstanding concerns about protection of human rights inside of Turkey.  Turkey is a valuable NATO ally, and we’re able to work effectively with them on a variety of issues in a way that advances the interests of both our countries.  But even in the midst of our progress in pursuit of those shared priorities, the President has periodically raised concerns directly with President Erdogan, particularly on issues like freedom of the press inside of Turkey.” Nevertheless, “since the coup, we’ve understood the significant concerns that have been raised in Turkey and the need for a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.”

With respect to Mr. Gülen, “there is a well-established process, and both the United States and Turkey are engaged in that process.  That process is governed by an extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey that’s been on the books for 35 years or so. . . . [T]here is a rather high bar, a high evidentiary standard that’s required.  So considering that the coup took place — what was it — six or eight weeks ago, I think it’s understandable that Turkey wouldn’t be able to build such a robust case, if there is one to be presented, against Mr. Gülen in such a short period of time.”

In addition, “Turkey has longstanding concerns with Mr. Gülen’s activity and they have presented significant evidence to the United States, and Department of Justice officials are carefully reviewing that evidence.  In fact, Justice officials are in Turkey this week, meeting with their counterparts to discuss and review that evidence.  What we have said all along is that the terms of the treaty and the law on the books here will ultimately determine how this is resolved.”

State Department Daily Briefing[5]

The Department’s spokesman said “our legal experts are working right now with their Turkish counterparts to evaluate the material, the evidence that needs to be supplied to meet the standards for extradition under our treaty. . . . As we’ve said, Turkey has provided materials relating to Mr. Gulen. We continue to analyze those materials. Under our laws, extradition requests must be assessed by an independent federal court along with the evidence backing it up. . . . It always takes time to work through an extradition request. However, there should be no doubt that we will continue to work through this working with our Turkish counterparts.”

Conclusion

Vice President Biden, President Obama and other U.S. officials consistently and rightly have emphasized that Turkey’s requested extradition of Gulen will be handled in accordance with the U.S.-Turkey extradition treaty and U.S. law, which were explained in a prior post and which were illustrated in February 6 and August 22 posts about the ongoing proceedings for extradition of a former Salvadoran military officer to Spain for the criminal case regarding the 1989 murder of the Jesuit priests.[6]

Turkey’s refusal to make a public acknowledgement of this reality cannot be based on ignorance of its extradition treaty or U.S. law. Instead it has to be based in part on Erdogan’s wanting to appear to the Turkish people as a strong leader and fomenting Turkish public pressure for the extradition. Perhaps too it is based upon Erdogan’s apparently increasing belief in his own power to control everything.

In any event, at least one Turkish journal had a very negative reaction to Biden’s remarks in their country.[7] An editorial in Istanbul’s Daily Sabah stated, Biden “came all the way from the U.S. just to mention the importance of rule of law of his own definition.” He “parroted the same stale remarks Turkey has heard since July 15. . . . Unfortunately, Biden came and went without leaving a trace. His sly smile, insincere apology about not having come sooner and feeble remarks of friendship between the people will deservedly fall on deaf ears.”

The Daily Sabah editorial even claimed the U.S. was not abiding by Article 9 of the bilateral extradition by not detaining Gulen. That Article states, “The Contracting Parties shall take all necessary measures after the information and documents related to the request for extradition have been received, including a search for the person sought. When located the person sought shall be detained until the competent authorities of the Requested Party reach their decision. If the request for extradition is granted, the detention shall be continued until surrender.”[8]

Yes, the editorial accurately quotes Article 9, but that Article states the obligation to detain arises only “after the information and documents related to the request for extradition have been received” (here, by the U.S.). The published reports indicate that some information and documents regarding Gulen have been provided to the U.S. by Turkey, but it is unclear if Turkey has completed that process. Moreover, as indicated above, the U.S. is meeting with Turkish officials to aid them in providing the necessary materials for the application.

The editorial also fails to examine Article 10(1) of the treaty, which provides, “In cases of urgency, either Contracting Party may apply for the provisional arrest or detention of the person sought before the request for extradition has been submitted to the Requested Party through diplomatic channels. The request for provisional arrest or detention may be made either through diplomatic channels or directly between the Department of Justice of the United States and the Ministry of Justice of Turkey.” Article 10(2) then goes on to list what needs to be in such an application. Public information has not indicated that Turkey has availed itself of this remedy.

Relevant here, but unacknowledged by the Daily Sabah, is the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual that covers the procedures for detention or arrests of persons potentially subject to extradition in these situations.[9]

Therefore, the Daily Sabah editorial, in this blogger’s judgment, is not well founded.

========================================================

[1] Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/22/16.

[2] White House, Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim at a Press Availability (Aug. 25, 2016); Reuters, Biden Says U.S. Cooperating With Turkey on Evidence Against Gulen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 24, 2016); Assoc. Press, Biden Calls on Turkey to Be Patient in Gulen Case, N.Y. Times (Aug. 24, 2016); Kraychik, Biden Apologizes To Turkey For US Constitution, Daily Wire (Aug. 24, 2016).

[3] White House, Remarks by Vice President Biden and President Erdogan of Turkey in Pool Spray (Aug. 25, 2016); Reuters, Biden Tells Turkey’s Erdogan: Only a Federal Court Can Extradite Gulen, N.Y. Times (Aug. 24, 2016); Reuters, Turkey Must Control Its Own Border, U.S. Vice President Biden Says, N.Y. Times (Aug. 24, 2016); Reuters, Turkey’s Erdogan Says U.S. Agreements Require Coup Suspect Arrest, N.Y. Times (Aug. 24, 2016); Wayne & Sink, Biden Met by Snubs as He Seeks to Mollify Turkey’s Angry Erdogan, Bloomberg News (Aug. 24, 2016).

[4] Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/24/16; Reuters, U.S. Reviewing Turkey’s Evidence on Coup Suspect Gulen: White House, N.Y. Times (Aug. 24, 2016).

[5] U.S. State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (Aug. 24, 2016).

[6] See also Assoc. Press, U.S., Turkey at an Impasse Over Extraditing Muslim Cleric, N.Y. Times (Aug. 25, 2016).

[7] Editorial, Biden wasted a trip, Turkey wasted time, Daily Sabah (Aug. 25, 2016). Daily Sabah also published two articles about the alleged Gülinist involvement in the recent attempted coup. One is a special report on the subject. The other asserts that a prosecutor who has been arrested for membership in the alleged Gülenist terror group says that it first started plans to topple President Erdoğan in 2011, instigated two coup attempts in 2013 and an attempted assassination of Erdoğan in the recent attempted coup. (Turkey coup attempt of Gülinist explained in special report, Daily Sabah (Aug. 24, 2016); Karaman, Güllenist prosecutor says group has sought to topple Erdoğan since 2011, Daily Sabah (Aug. 24, 2016).)

[8] U.S.-Turkey Extradition Treaty, 32 U.S.T. 3111.

[9] U.S. Attorneys’ Manual § 9-15.700.

 

Turkey Presses U.S. to Extradite Muslim Cleric in U.S.

In the wake of the July 15 failed coup in Turkey, its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others in his government have been pressing the United States as soon as possible to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric now living in Pennsylvania. This request is based upon Turkey’s allegations that Gülen was the mastermind of the attempted coup.[1] The U.S., however, has not done so, stressing instead that the established U.S. legal procedures for extradition need to be followed. Turkey publicly has not accepted this response and repeatedly has criticized the U.S. for not extraditing Gülen.[2]

As explained in an earlier post, extradition is the legal process “by which one country (the requesting country) may seek from another country (the requested country) the surrender of a person who is wanted for prosecution, or to serve a sentence following conviction, for a criminal offense.  In the U.S., international extradition is treaty based, meaning that the U.S. must have an extradition treaty with the requesting country in order to consider the request for extradition.”[3]

Here then is a preliminary analysis of the U.S. legal issues governing any such extradition request by Turkey.

The U.S.-Turkey Extradition Treaty[4]

 The U.S. and Turkey do have such an extradition treaty that was signed in Ankara, Turkey on June 7, 1979, and entered into force on January 1, 1981.

Under Article 1 of the treaty each party has an obligation “to surrender to each other, in accordance with the provisions and conditions laid down in this Treaty, all persons who are found within the territory of the Requested Party [here, the U.S.] and who are being prosecuted for or have been charged with an offense, or convicted of an offense, or are sought by the other Party [here, Turkey] for the enforcement of a judicially pronounced penalty for an offense . . . .”

Here, Mr. Gülen apparently is found in the U.S. (the territory of the Requested Party) and is being prosecuted by Turkey (the Requesting Party). Thus, the preliminary condition of the treaty is satisfied.

Thus, the next issue is where did Mr. Gülen allegedly commit the offense. Since he apparently has not been in Turkey for many years, it would appear that whatever alleged offense he allegedly has committed was done “outside the territory of the Requesting Party” (Turkey).

That presents the next issue. Is Mr. Gülen still a citizen and thus a “national” of Turkey (the Requesting Party)? If he is, it would appear that Turkey “has jurisdiction, according to its laws, to try” him. Thus, the issue becomes whether the U.S. has an obligation to extradite him under other provisions of the treaty.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Gülen no longer is a national of Turkey, then the issue is whether “the laws of the Requested Party [the U.S.] provide for the punishment of such an offense committed in similar circumstances” and if so, whether the U.S. has an obligation to extradite him under other provisions of the treaty. Analysis of this issue would have to start with the particulars of the criminal charges under Turkish law, which so far are not readily available in public sources.

A potential treaty-based ground for the U.S. refusing to extradite Gülen is found in Article 3 (a), which states that extradition is not required, “If the offense for which extradition is requested is regarded by the Requested Party [here, the U.S.] to be of a political character or an offense connected with such an offense; or if the Requested Party concludes that the request for extradition has, in fact, been made to prosecute or punish the person sought for an offense of a political character or on account of his political opinions.” However, Article 3 (a) goes on to provide that “any offense committed or attempted against a Head of State or a Head of Government or against a member of their families shall not be deemed to be an offense of a political character.” Here, the public statements by the Turkish government certainly indicate that this exception might apply.

Another potential ground for a U.S. refusal to extradite is found in Article 3 (e): “If the offense for which extradition is requested has, according to the laws of the Requested Party [here, the U.S.], been committed in its territory and has been or will be submitted to its appropriate judicial authorities for prosecution.” (Emphasis added.) This obviously would require a U.S. prosecution, which has not yet happened and probably will not happen, in my opinion.

Yet another potential ground for a U.S. refusal to extradite Gülen is in Article 4(1): “Neither of the Contracting Parties shall be bound to extradite its own nationals.” This would require him to be a naturalized U.S. citizen, and the public information does not indicate if Gülen is such a citizen. There was a source that said he obtained a U.S. “green card” or permanent residency status in 2001, and the U.S. ambassador to Turkey in January 2015 said he believed that Gülen was not a U.S. citizen.[5]

Article 7 of the treaty has great details about the evidence that needs to be submitted, here by Turkey, to initiate a formal request for extradition. The public information to date indicates that Turkey has provided the U.S. with certain information and evidence, but whether it satisfies the requirements of Article 7 is not clear.

U.S. Obligations Under the Torture Treaty

As discussed in prior posts, the U.S. is a party to the multilateral Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and under Article 2(1) of that treaty the U.S. is obligated not “to extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture [as defined in Article 1 of that treaty].”

As indicated in a prior post, the final step in the U.S. process of determining whether an individual should be extradited includes the Secretary of State examining whether extradition would violate the U.S. obligations under the torture treaty.

With respect to Turkey this is a serious concern.

A. Concerns Raised by the U.S. State Department

The most recent U.S. State Department report on human rights around the world said this about Turkey and torture in 2015.[6] “The [Turkish] constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, but there were reports that some government officials employed them. Human rights organizations continued to report allegations of torture and abuse, especially of persons who were in police custody but not in a place of detention, and during demonstrations and transfers to prison, where such practices were more difficult to document.”

“[Turkish] Prosecutors investigated allegations of abuse and torture by security forces during the year but rarely indicted accused offenders. The National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) is administratively responsible for investigating human rights violations, including allegations of torture, excessive use of force, or extrajudicial killings. Domestic human rights organizations claimed the NHRI’s failure to follow through in investigating potential human rights violations deterred victims of abuse from filing complaints. Authorities regularly allowed officers accused of abuse to remain on duty during their trial.”

“Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged in a report published in September [2015] that [Turkish] police abused detainees in August and September while responding to perceived security threats in the Southeast. It documented three cases in which police severely beat detainees, forced men to remain in kneeling positions for hours, and threatened them with torture and execution. In another case police detained a boy who had a severe gunshot wound and for several hours denied him medical treatment.”

“[Turkish] Police in several parts of the country sometimes used disproportionate force to disrupt protests, often leading to injury.”

“Human rights groups alleged that although torture and mistreatment in police custody decreased following installation of closed-circuit cameras in 2012, police continued to abuse detainees outside police stations. On July 13, [2015] a media report included footage from security cameras showing police beating 24-year-old university student Tevfik Caner Ertay multiple times in 2013 during the Gezi Park protests before transporting him to a police station in the trunk of a police car. Ertay suffered multiple injuries, including a broken nose. Police perpetrators included some of the same officers later accused of killing fellow university student Ali Ismail Korkmaz.”

“Some human rights observers reported detainees often refrained from reporting torture and abuse because they feared retaliation or believed complaining to authorities would be futile. Human rights organizations documented cases of prison guards beating inmates and maintained those arrested for ordinary crimes were as likely to suffer torture and mistreatment as those arrested for political offenses, such as speaking out against the government.”

“Through the first nine months of the year [2015], the [Turkish] Ministry of Justice reported 98 investigations regarding allegations of torture, 26 of which resulted in indictments.”

“The HRA reported receiving hundreds of allegations of torture and excessive use of force, including 213 cases through September 21 [2015] that involved the alleged abuse of detainees. For example, on January 29, in Sirnak, police reportedly beat four citizens whom they had detained during raids of their homes.”

B. Concerns Raised by the U.N. Committee Against Torture

As explained in an earlier post, the multilateral treaty against torture created a Committee Against Torture, one of whose responsibilities is to review the records of the parties to the treaty. That Committee on June 4, 2016, did just that for Turkey by issuing 20 numbered paragraphs of “principal subjects of concern.”[7] Here are the key concerns for purposes of the pending extradition request.

“The Committee is concerned that, despite the fact that the State party has amended its law to the effect that torture is no longer subject to a statute of limitations, it has not received sufficient information on prosecutions for torture, including in the context of cases involving allegations of torture that have been the subject of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee is also concerned that there is a significant disparity between the high number of allegations of torture reported by non-governmental organizations and the data provided by the State party in its periodic report . . ., suggesting that not all allegations of torture have been investigated during the reporting period. Further, while the State party has undertaken many investigations into allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by its officials, these have resulted in relatively few cases of disciplinary sanctions, and in fines and imprisonment in only a small number of cases. The Committee regrets that the State party did not provide information requested by the Committee on the six cases in which officials received sentences of imprisonment for ill-treatment between 2011 and 2013, nor on any cases in which officials received sentences of imprisonment for ill-treatment in 2014 or 2015. The Committee further regrets that State party did not respond to the concern raised by Committee members that law enforcement authorities have on many cases brought ‘countercharges,’ such as ‘resisting’ or ‘insulting’ police officers, against those individuals lodging complains of torture, ill-treatment and other police brutality. The Committee further regrets, with reference to its previous recommendations . . . that the State party has not yet created an independent State body to investigate complaints of torture and ill-treatment against law enforcement officers.”

“The Committee is seriously concerned about numerous credible reports of law enforcement officials engaging in torture and ill-treatment of detainees while responding to perceived and alleged security threats in the south-eastern part of the country . . . in the context of the resurgence of violence between the Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) following the breakdown of the peace process in 2015 and terrorist attacks perpetrated by individuals linked to the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Committee is further concerned at the reported impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of such acts.”

“In addition to the allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees noted above, the Committee is concerned at reports it has received concerning the commission of extrajudicial killings of civilians by the State party’s authorities in the course of carrying out counter-terrorism operations in the south-eastern part of the country. The Committee regrets that the State party did not respond to requests for information as to whether investigations are under way into widely reported cases, such as the alleged killing by police snipers of two unarmed women, . . . on 8 September 2015. The Committee also regrets the failure by the State party to ensure accountability for the perpetrators of killings in cases previously raised by the Committee, such as the killing by security forces of . . . in November 2004, which was the subject of a decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee is further concerned at reports that family members of those killed in clashes between security forces and members of armed groups have been denied the ability to retrieve their bodies, which has the effect of impeding investigations into the circumstances surrounding those deaths.”

“The Committee is concerned that allegations of excessive use of force against demonstrators have increased dramatically during the period under review. The Committee notes with regret that the State party’s investigations into the conduct of officials in the context of the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and Ankara have not resulted in any prosecutions, despite the allegations of excessive use of force noted by observers, including the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Committee also regrets that the State party did not provide any data on the specific sentences, if any, that police officers tried on charges of excessive use of force during the reporting period had received. It further expresses concern over the recent legislative amendments in the Domestic Security Package granting additional powers to the police, in particular the expanded power to use firearms against demonstrators.”

“Although the Criminal Code defines torture as a specific offence, the Committee notes that the definition set out in article 94 [of the Code] is incomplete inasmuch as it fails to mention the purpose of the act in question. There is also no specific mention of the act of torture carried out in order to intimidate, to coerce or to obtain information or a confession from a person other than the person who was tortured.”

“While taking note of the legal safeguards enshrined in Turkish legislation, the Committee is concerned at recent amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which give the police greater powers to detain individuals without judicial oversight during police custody. Placing suspects under constant video surveillance in their cells is another matter of concern.”

“The Committee is concerned at the ‘almost complete lack of accountability for cases of enforced disappearance’ in the State party and its ‘palpable lack of interest [in] seriously investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating these cases’, as reported by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in its preliminary observations publicly . . . announced at the end of its visit to Turkey from 14 to 18 March 2016. . . .”

“The Committee regrets the lack of complete information on suicides and other sudden deaths in detention facilities during the period under review.”

“The Committee is concerned by the restrictive conditions of detention for persons sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment, a sentence that was established after the abolition of the death penalty in 2004.”

C. Human Rights NGOs and Others

 Especially after the failed coup, human rights NGOs have raised increasing concerns about human rights in Turkey. These concerns were heightened by the Turkish government’s July 20 declaration of a state of emergency for the next three months. This gives the government the power to impose rule by decrees that are published and rushed through parliament for approval the same day. The possibility of review by the Constitutional Court is curbed. Human Rights Watch expressed its alarm over this development: “A state of emergency imposed where there are clear signs that the government is ready to crack down more broadly – combined with far more scope for unchecked executive action – is an alarming prospect. It risks further undermining democracy by providing a legal – if not justifiable – basis for a crackdown on rights.”[8]

Amnesty International (AI) on July 18 (only three days after the attempted coup) said that several Turkish “government officials have suggested reinstating the death penalty as punishment for those found responsible for the failed coup, and . . . [AI] is now investigating reports that detainees in Ankara and Istanbul have been subjected to a series of abuses, including ill-treatment in custody and being denied access to lawyers.” Two days later AI stated, “We are witnessing a crackdown of exceptional proportions in Turkey,” including freedom of expression.[9]

On July 24 AI reported that it had “gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centers in the country.” According to these accounts, “police held detainees in stress positions, denied them food, water and medical treatment, verbally abused and threatened them and subjected them to beatings and torture, including rape and sexual assault.”[10]

On August 2 President Erdogan in a public speech challenged AI’s research underlying its assertion that some detainees had been tortured. In response AI’s Secretary General stated, ““The serious human rights violations documented by an . . . [AI] team on the ground in Turkey are alarming. These findings are based on detailed interviews with lawyers, doctors, family members and an eyewitness to torture in a detention facility.”[11]

A Turkish bar group in the capital of Ankara has stated that some of its members have reported alleged abuses of their clients in detention while other lawyers and human rights organizations have made similar allegations.[12]

The Turkey-U.S. Dispute Over the Requested Extradition of Gülen

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has to be aware of the terms of its extradition treaty with the U.S. and the latter’s procedures for handling extradition requests. Thus, Erdogran and his government’s strident complaints about the U.S. not immediately granting the request for Gülen has to be intended to show Turkish citizens the strength and resolve of the regime. There even have been rumors that the U.S. was behind the attempted coup.

In any event, “Usually deeply polarized, the two sides [of Turkey’s population] are largely united in their opposition to military coups and the . . . [extradition] of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania and has been accused by Turkey of orchestrating the failed uprising.” There even is widespread support for the “sweeping purge of suspected followers of Mr. Gülen from the state bureaucracy and other professions” and Mr. Erdogan’s asking “Turks to inform on those they believe are connected to Mr. Gülen.”

Istanbul

The unity was on vivid display at a recent Istanbul rally of at least two million Turks who put aside their political differences to express solidarity.”[13] (To the right is a photograph of that rally.)

 

The U.S., however, needs to continue to resist acquiescence in these strong-arm tactics and to insist on following U.S. law and procedures for such requests. Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama have done just that.[14] So too have State Department spokespeople at daily press briefings.[15] This is not easy since the U.S. has a strong national security interest in maintaining Turkey as an ally in the fight against ISIS/ISIL.

Tomorrow U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting Turkey to see President Erdogan. The Associated Press opines that Biden will have difficulties in persuading Turkey that the U.S. values Turkey as a key NATO ally amid worrying signs that Turkey is flirting with having closer ties with Russia and that the U.S. and Turkish approaches to the Syrian conflict may be diverging.[16]

Today, says the Associated Press, a U.S. Justice Department team is meeting with Turkish officials in Ankara to discuss U.S. technical requirements of Turkey’s extradition request. This includes firm evidence of Gülen’s involvement in the coup whereas senior officials in the Obama administration say Turkey’s extradition requests to date have been based on allegations of other crimes against Gülen, not evidence of involvement in the coup attempt. A Turkish professor of international relations said that Turkish “people have an expectation that Gülen should be returned to Turkey immediately. If the extradition request is refused or delayed I’m afraid that’s going to have serious repercussions.”

The Washington Post editorial board urges the Vice President “to reassure Mr. Erdogan once again that the two nations share vital interests, not the least of which are fighting the Islamic State and ending the conflagration that has consumed Syria.” The Vice President also “should make clear he understands how much Turkish civilians are suffering from terrorist attacks” and “convince Mr. Erdogan that the United States does not desire to destabilize Turkey.”[17]

The Washington Post editorial further urges Biden “to candidly tell his host that the United States did not instigate the coup and that it will not relinquish Mr. Gülen to a witchhunt. Mr. Erdogan may not want to hear it, but he also should be reminded that crushing the rule of law will dim Turkey’s prospects.”

In the midst of this high-stakes squabble between the two countries, Gülen wrote an article for the New York Times in which he stated, “During the attempted military coup in Turkey this month, I condemned it in the strongest terms. ‘Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force.’ I said, ‘I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.’” President Erdogan’s suggestion that I was the mastermind of the coup “run[s] afoul of everything I believe in, it is also irresponsible and wrong. My philosophy — inclusive and pluralist Islam, dedicated to service to human beings from every faith — is antithetical to armed rebellion.”[18]

Moreover, Gülen said, “Throughout my life, I have publicly and privately denounced military interventions in domestic politics. In fact, I have been advocating for democracy for decades. Having suffered through four military coups in four decades in Turkey — and having been subjected by those military regimes to harassment and wrongful imprisonment — I would never want my fellow citizens to endure such an ordeal again. If somebody who appears to be [my] . . . sympathizer has been involved in an attempted coup, he betrays my ideals.”

Gülen concluded his article with this plea to the U.S. government. The U.S. “must not accommodate an autocrat [Erdogan] who is turning a failed putsch into a slow-motion coup of his own against constitutional government.”

===========================================================

[1] Reuters, Turkey to Ready Dossier for Gulen Extradition in 10 Days: Foreign Minister, N.Y. Times (July 23, 2016); Dugan, Turkey’s Failed Coup Puts Spotlight on a Rural Pennsylvania Town,W.S.J. (July 24, 2016); Fethullah Gullen Website, https://www.fgulen.com/en/Fethullah Güllen; Wikipedia. Fethullah Güllen; LaPorte, Watson & Tuysusz, Who is Fethullah Gulen, the man blamed for coup attempt in Turkey? CNN (July 16, 2016).

[2] E.g., Reuters, Turkey Says U.S. Could Extradite Cleric Gulen Quickly if Wants to, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2016); Assoc. Press, Turkey Criticizes U.S. Over Cleric Accused of Coup Plot, N.Y. Times (July 22, 2016); Kalin, The Coup Leader Must Be Held Accountable, N.Y. Times (July 24, 2016); Coker, Turkish Premier Demands U.S. Help with Gulen, W.S.J. (July 26, 2016).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Report on International Extradition Submitted to the Congress Pursuant to Section 211 of the Admiral James W. Nance and Meg Donovan Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001 (Public Law 106-113) (2001); U.S. Justice Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Extradition.

[4] U.S.-Turkey Extradition Treaty, 32 U.S.T. 3111.

[5] Fathullah Gullen, Wikipedia; U.S. Embassy to Turkey, Transcript of Ambassador Bass’s Interview with Sabah Ankara Bureau Chief Okan Muderrisoglu and Daily Sabah Correspondent Alli Unal (Jan. 12, 2015).

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015 (updated 4/18/16 & 6/14/16).

[7] Comm Agst Torture, Concluding observations on Turkey (June 2, 2016).

[8] Human Rights Watch, Dispatches: Turkey’s State of Emergency (July 22, 2016); Yeginsu & Arango, Turkey Cracks Down on Journalists, Its Next Target After Crushing the Coup, N.Y. Times (July 25, 2016).

[9] Amnesty Int’l, Human rights in grave danger following coup attempt and subsequent crackdown in Turkey (July 18, 2016); Amnesty Int’l, Media purge threatens freedom of expression in Turkey (July 20, 2016); Amnesty Int’l, Turkey: Intensified crackdown on media increases atmosphere of fear (July 28, 2016).

[10] Amnesty Int’l, Turkey: Independent monitors must be allowed to access detainees amid torture allegations (July 24, 2016).

[11] Amnesty Int’l, Turkey: Response to President Erdogan’s speech challenging Amnesty International’s findings (Aug. 2, 2016).

[12] Morris, ‘Law is suspended’: Turkish lawyers report abuse of coup detainees, Wash. Post (July 24, 2016).

[13] Yeginsu, After Failed Coup, Turkey Settles Into a Rare Period of Unity, N.Y. Times (Aug. 23, 2016).

[14] Assoc. Press, Kerry to Turkey: Send Us Evidence, Not Allegations on Gulen, N.Y. Times (July 20, 2016); White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Peno Nieto of Mexico in Joint Press Conference (July 22, 2016).

[15] E.g., State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (July 21, 2016); State Dep’t, Daily Press Briefing (July 22, 2016).

[16] Assoc. Press, U.S., Biden Face Tough Task to Mend Relations with Turkey, N.Y. Times (Aug. 23, 2016).

[17] Editorial, Biden needs to give Turkey’s Erdogan tough advice, Wash. Post (Aug. 22, 2016).

[18] Gulen, Fethullah Gulen: I Condemn All Threats to Turkey’s Democracy, N.Y. Times (July 25, 2016).

 

 

 

 

The Third Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

September 24 marked the third day of Pope Francis’ mission to the American people. The highlight was his morning appearance before the U.S. Congress, which was much anticipated by all members of Congress, 31% of whom are Roman Catholic along with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who serves as president of the Senate. Immediately afterwards the Pope greeted the American people from the west front of the U.S. Capitol followed by a visit to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C. and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington before his flight to New York City. There he participated in an evening prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Speech to the U.S. Congress[1]

 

Pope Francis @ U.S. Congress
Pope Francis @ U.S. Congress

With the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives packed with Senators and Representatives and with invited guests in its Gallery, Pope Francis made the following lengthy remarks.

“I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

“Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

“Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, as the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel he symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”

“Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and – one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations that offer a helping hand to those most in need.”

“I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.”

“My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self- sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.”

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

“This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that ‘this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom.’ Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”

“All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.”

“Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

“The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”

“In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

[Editor’s Note: The following section, which was in the prepared remarks, was not included in the speech.] [“Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.]

“Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of ‘dreams.’ Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.”

“In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

“Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).”

“This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

“This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

“In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”

“How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”

“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. ‘Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good’ (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to ‘enter into dialogue with all people about our common home’ (ibid., 3). ‘We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all’ (ibid., 14).”

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a ‘culture of care’ (ibid., 231) and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature’ (ibid., 139). ‘We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology’ (ibid., 112); ‘to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power’ (ibid., 78); and to put technology ‘at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral’ (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”

“A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a ‘pointless slaughter,’ another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: ‘I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.’ Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”

“From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries that have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).”

“Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

“Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

“I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

“In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.”

“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”

“In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.”

“God bless America!”

Greeting to the American People[2]

Pope @ U.S. Capitol
Pope @ U.S. Capitol

Immediately after the speech to the Congress, Pope Francis was escorted to the West Front of the Capitol, where he could see the thousands of people who wanted at least a glimpse of the Pope. “Buenos días,” he said. “I am so grateful for your presence here, most importantly the children. I have asked God to bless them. Father of all, bless each of them, bless the families. I ask you all, please, to pray for me. And if there are any who do not believe or who cannot pray, I ask you to send good wishes my way.”

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C.[3]

Pope @ St. Patrick's Church
Pope @ St. Patrick’s Church

Pope & bishops 9.27

 

 

 

 

 

At the church, the Pope first sent greetings to his Muslim brothers and sisters as they celebrate the feast of sacrifice and a prayer of closeness as they faced the tragedy of suffering at Mecca. He then delivered the following homily.

“Here I think of a person whom I love, someone who is, and has been, very important throughout my life. He has been a support and an inspiration. He is the one I go to whenever I am ‘in a fix.’ You make me think of Saint Joseph. Your faces remind me of his.”

“Joseph had to face some difficult situations in his life. One of them was the time when Mary was about to give birth, to have Jesus. The Bible tells us that, ‘while they were [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’ (Lk 2:6-7).”

“The Bible is very clear about this: there was no room for them. I can imagine Joseph, with his wife about to have a child, with no shelter, no home, no place to stay. The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head. We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing? These are questions which many of you may ask daily. Like Saint Joseph, you may ask: Why are we homeless, without a place to live? These are questions which all of us might well ask. Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live? Why are these brothers and sisters of ours homeless?”

“Joseph’s questions are timely even today; they accompany all those who throughout history have been, and are, homeless.”

“Joseph was someone who asked questions. But first and foremost, he was a man of faith. Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life. Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.”

“In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness. As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation. God is present in every one of you, in each one of us.”

“We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing. There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.”

“We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person. He wanted everyone to experience his companionship, his help, his love. He identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice. He tells us this clearly: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35).”

“Faith makes us know that God is at our side, that God is in our midst and his presence spurs us to charity. Charity is born of the call of a God who continues to knock on our door, the door of all people, to invite us to love, to compassion, to service of one another.”

“Jesus keeps knocking on our doors, the doors of our lives. He doesn’t do this by magic, with special effects, with flashing lights and fireworks. Jesus keeps knocking on our door in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbors, in the faces of those at our side.”

“Dear friends, one of the most effective ways we have to help is that of prayer. Prayer unites us; it makes us brothers and sisters. It opens our hearts and reminds us of a beautiful truth which we sometimes forget. In prayer, we all learn to say ‘Father.’ ‘Dad.’ We learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. In prayer, there are no rich and poor people, there are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. In prayer, there is no first or second class, there is brotherhood.”

“It is in prayer that our hearts find the strength not to be cold and insensitive in the face of injustice. In prayer, God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity.”

“How good it is for us to pray together. How good it is to encounter one another in this place where we see one another as brothers and sisters, where we realize that we need one another. Today I want to be one with you. I need your support, your closeness. I would like to invite you to pray together, for one another, with one another. That way we can keep helping one another to experience the joy of knowing that Jesus is in our midst. Are you ready?”

“’Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day and our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. An do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. Amen.’” (NRSV)

“Before leaving you, I would like to give you God’s blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace’ (Num 6:24-26). And, please, don’t forget to pray for me.”

Pope & people

Immediately afterwards the Pope went to a luncheon for the homeless outside the church, blessed the meal and greeted the people, as shown in photograph to the right.. This luncheon was sponsored by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Vespers Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral[4]

The Pope arrived around 5:00 p.m. (EST) at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and then traveled by helicopter to lower Manhattan. The popemobile then took him by waving crowds on Fifth Avenue to 50th and 51st Street’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.   There he was greeted by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York’s U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.

Pope @ St. Patrick's Cathedral
Pope @ St. Patrick’s Cathedral

At the Cathedral the Pope participated in a vespers prayer service for nearly 2,500 worshipers, including clergy members, brothers and nuns, and delivered the following homily.

“’There is a cause for rejoicing here”, although ‘you may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials’ (1 Pet 1:6). These words of the Apostle remind us of something essential. Our vocation is to be lived in joy.”

“This beautiful Cathedral of Saint Patrick, built up over many years through the sacrifices of many men and women, can serve as a symbol of the work of generations of American priests and religious, and lay faithful who helped build up the Church in the United States. In the field of education alone, how many priests and religious in this country played a central role, assisting parents in handing on to their children the food that nourishes them for life! Many did so at the cost of extraordinary sacrifice and with heroic charity. I think for example of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the first free Catholic school for girls in America, or Saint John Neumann, the founder of the first system of Catholic education in the United States.”

“This evening, my brothers and sisters, I have come to join you in prayer that our vocations will continue to build up the great edifice of God’s Kingdom in this country. I know that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the Church in the most vulnerable of her members… In the words of the Book of Revelation, I know well that you ‘have come forth from the great tribulation’ (Rev 7:14). I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people. In the hope of helping you to persevere on the path of fidelity to Jesus Christ, I would like to offer two brief reflections.”

“The first concerns the spirit of gratitude. The joy of men and women who love God attracts others to them; priests and religious are called to find and radiate lasting satisfaction in their vocation. Joy springs from a grateful heart. Truly, we have received much, so many graces, so many blessings, and we rejoice in this. It will do us good to think back on our lives with the grace of remembrance. Remembrance of when we were first called, remembrance of the road travelled, remembrance of graces received… and, above all, remembrance of our encounter with Jesus Christ so often along the way. Remembrance of the amazement which our encounter with Jesus Christ awakens in our hearts. To seek the grace of remembrance so as to grow in the spirit of gratitude. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: are we good at counting our blessings?”

“A second area is the spirit of hard work. A grateful heart is spontaneously impelled to serve the Lord and to find expression in a life of commitment to our work. Once we come to realize how much God has given us, a life of self-sacrifice, of working for him and for others, becomes a privileged way of responding to his great love.”

“Yet, if we are honest, we know how easily this spirit of generous self-sacrifice can be dampened. There are a couple of ways that this can happen; both are examples of that ‘spiritual worldliness’ which weakens our commitment to serve and diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ.”

“We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.”

“Another danger comes when we become jealous of our free time, when we think that surrounding ourselves with worldly comforts will help us serve better. The problem with this reasoning is that it can blunt the power of God’s daily call to conversion, to encounter with him. Slowly but surely, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, renunciation and hard work. It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves. Rest is needed, as are moments of leisure and self-enrichment, but we need to learn how to rest in a way that deepens our desire to serve with generosity. Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous.”

“Gratitude and hard work: these are two pillars of the spiritual life which I have wanted to share with you this evening. I thank you for prayers and work, and the daily sacrifices you make in the various areas of your apostolate. Many of these are known only to God, but they bear rich fruit for the life of the Church. In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you… and to tell you that I love you very much.” (Emphasis added to these words that drew applause from the people in the pews.)

“I know that many of you are in the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape. Whatever difficulties and trials you face, I ask you, like Saint Peter, to be at peace and to respond to them as Christ did: he thanked the Father, took up his cross and looked forward!”

“Dear brothers and sisters, in a few moments we will sing the Magnificat. Let us commend to Our Lady the work we have been entrusted to do; let us join her in thanking God for the great things he has done, and for the great things he will continue to do in us and in those whom we have the privilege to serve.”

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[1] Beckwith, Transcript: Read the Speech Pope Francis Gave to Congress, Time (Sept. 24, 2015); Assoc. Press, Pope’s Full Speech to Congress, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015) (video); Hulse, Herszenhorn & Steinhauer, Across Political Divide, Finding Much to Cheer in Pope’s Speech, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015); Baker, Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress Comes at Time of Political Division, N.Y. Times (Sept. 2015); Goodstein, Yardley, Cave & Davenport, Inside Pope Francis’ Address to Congress, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015).

[2] Reuters, Pope greets well-wishers from Capitol balcony, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015) (video).

[3] Pope Francis’ Remarks at St. Patrick’s church in Washington, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015); Assoc. Press, Pope Francis at St. Patrick’s Church, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015)(video); Reuters, ‘No Justification Whatsoever’ for Homelessness, Pope Says in Washington, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015); Pope blesses meal at Catholic charity event, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015) (video).

[4] Agence France-Presse, Pope Francis Arrives in New York, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015) (video of airport arrival); Agence France-Presse, Pope Visits St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Sept. 25, 2015) (video of parade to the Cathedral and part of the service); Reuters, Pope expresses closeness to world’s Muslims after haj stampede, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015)(video); Santora & Otterman, Arriving in Manhattan, Pope Tells Clergy to Serve Humbly, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015); Pope Francis’ Homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2015).

The First Day of Pope Francis’ Mission to the American People

The first day of Pope Francis’ mission to the American people (Tuesday, September 22) was brief.

His plane from Cuba arrived around 4:00 p.m. (EST)  at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County, Maryland. There he was greeted by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and their families. Francis then left the Base in a modest Fiat 500L hatchback for the ride to the Apostolic Nunciature, the equivalent of an embassy, where he was staying in Washington, D.C. Below are photographs of his welcome at the airport and of his ride in the front passenger seat of the Fiat. [1]

PopeUS 9.22

Pope in Fiat

 

 

 

 

On the plane to the U.S., the Pope told journalists “I have never said anything that is not in the social doctrine of the church. Maybe some things sounded slightly leftish, but that would be the wrong interpretation.”

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[1] Baker, Ahmed & Yardley, Pope’s Arrival in the U.S. Is a Low-Key Prelude to Pageantry, N.Y. Times (Sept. 22, 2015).

Additional Details About White House’s Announcement of U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation

White House
White House

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama in a nationally televised speech announced the historic agreement with Cuba to restore diplomatic relations as one part of a reconciliation with Cuba. That same day the White House website had (a) “FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba;” (b) “Background Conference Call on Policy Changes in Cuba and Release of Alan Gross;” and (c) “Readout of the Vice President’s Calls to the Presidents of Colombia and Mexico on the Administration’s Cuba Policy Changes.”

After reviewing these documents, the post will conclude with observations on some of the points raised in these documents.

“FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course in Cuba”

The introduction to the FACT SHEET, among other things, said, “It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. . . . It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.” (Emphasis added.)

The FACT SHEET then provided the following “Key Components of the Updated Policy Approach:”

“Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, which were severed in January 1961.
  • In the coming months, we will re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between our two governments as part of the normalization process.  As an initial step, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs will lead the U.S. Delegation to the next round of U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks in January 2015, in Havana.
  • U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people. (Emphasis added.)
  • The United States will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern and that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, counternarcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons, among other issues.” (Emphasis added.)

“Adjusting regulations to more effectively empower the Cuban people-

  • The changes announced today will soon be implemented via amendments to regulations of the Departments of the Treasury and Commerce.   Our new policy changes will further enhance our goal of empowering the Cuban population.
  • Our travel and remittance policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information and opportunities for self-employment and private property ownership, and by strengthening independent civil society. 
  • These measures will further increase people-to-people contact; further support civil society in Cuba; and further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.  Persons must comply with all provisions of the revised regulations; violations of the terms and conditions are enforceable under U.S. law.”

“Facilitating an expansion of travel under general licenses for the 12 existing categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law-

  • General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines. 
  • Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services. 
  • The policy changes make it easier for Americans to provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers and provide other support for the growth of Cuba’s nascent private sector.  Additional options for promoting the growth of entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba will be explored.”

Facilitating remittances to Cuba by U.S. persons

  • Remittance levels will be raised from $500 to $2,000 per quarter for general donative remittances to Cuban nationals (except to certain officials of the government or the Communist party); and donative remittances for humanitarian projects, support for the Cuban people, and support for the development of private businesses in Cuba will no longer require a specific license.
  • Remittance forwarders will no longer require a specific license.”

“Authorizing expanded commercial sales/exports from the United States of certain goods and services-

  • The expansion will seek to empower the nascent Cuban private sector.  Items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers.  This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.”

“Authorizing American citizens to import additional goods from Cuba-

  • Licensed U.S. travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.”

Facilitating authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba-

  • U.S. institutions will be permitted to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to facilitate the processing of authorized transactions.
  • The regulatory definition of the statutory term “cash in advance” will be revised to specify that it means “cash before transfer of title”; this will provide more efficient financing of authorized trade with Cuba.
  • U.S. credit and debit cards will be permitted for use by travelers to Cuba.
  • These measures will improve the speed, efficiency, and oversight of authorized payments between the United States and Cuba.”

“Initiating new efforts to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely-

  • Cuba has an internet penetration of about five percent—one of the lowest rates in the world.  The cost of telecommunications in Cuba is exorbitantly high, while the services offered are extremely limited.
  • The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized.  This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
  •  Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”

“Updating the application of Cuba sanctions in third countries-

  • U.S.-owned or -controlled entities in third countries will be generally licensed to provide services to, and engage in financial transactions with, Cuban individuals in third countries.  In addition, general licenses will unblock the accounts at U.S. banks of Cuban nationals who have relocated outside of Cuba; permit U.S. persons to participate in third-country professional meetings and conferences related to Cuba; and, allow foreign vessels to enter the United States after engaging in certain humanitarian trade with Cuba, among other measures.”

“Pursuing discussions with the Cuban and Mexican governments to discuss our unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico-

  • Previous agreements between the United States and Cuba delimit the maritime space between the two countries within 200 nautical miles from shore.  The United States, Cuba, and Mexico have extended continental shelf in an area within the Gulf of Mexico where the three countries have not yet delimited any boundaries.
  • The United States is prepared to invite the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss shared maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Mexico”

“Initiating a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism-

  • The President has instructed the Secretary of State to immediately launch such a review, and provide a report to the President within six months regarding Cuba’s support for international terrorism.  Cuba was placed on the list in 1982.”[1]

“Addressing Cuba’s participation in the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama-

  • President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit, consistent with the region’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  The United States welcomes a constructive dialogue among Summit governments on the Summit’s principles.” (Emphasis added.)

“Unwavering Commitment to Democracy, Human Rights, and Civil Society

A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state. (Emphasis added.)

The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials. (Emphasis added.)

The United States encourages all nations and organizations engaged in diplomatic dialogue with the Cuban government to take every opportunity both publicly and privately to support increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba. 

Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms.  That is why President Obama took steps to increase the flow of resources and information to ordinary Cuban citizens in 2009, 2011, and today.  The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

Background Conference Call 

On December 17 two hours before President Obama’s speech to the nation, the White House conducted an hour-long “background” conference call with journalists and seven unnamed senior administration officials regarding these matters.

Among other things, one of the officials said the U.S. expects that “we’ll continue to have strong differences, particularly on issues related to democracy and human rights.  The [U.S.] will continue to promote our values.  We will continue to support civil society in Cuba.  We’ll continue our democracy programming.” In President Obama’s December 16th telephone call with President Raúl Castro, Obama “made clear his intent . . . to continue our advocacy for human rights in Cuba.”

A State Department official stated the U.S. would not reduce its “emphasis on human rights, on democracy, on the importance of civil society. . . . In fact, our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy.  We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

For example, the State Department official stated a U.S. diplomat in Havana “will be meeting with members of Cuban society and dissidents later today to walk them through the President’s initiatives of today, and to emphasize to them, as well, that their efforts on behalf of democracy and human rights in Cuba not only won’t be forgotten in these initiatives, but will, in fact, take center stage.”

In response to a question as to whether there were discussions with Cuba about “USAID programs that have been pretty controversial in Cuba,” an administration official said U.S. “democracy programming . . . did factor into the discussions [with Cuba].  The Cubans do not like our democracy programming.  They consistently protest those initiatives. . . . [The U.S., however,] made clear that we’re going to continue our support for civil society for the advancement of our values in Cuba.  [This] . . . was an issue of difference that we will continue to have with Cuba, and we fully expect them to raise those issues just as we will raise issues with the Cubans about democracy and human rights.  However, we’re going to do that through a normal relationship.  We’re going to do that through our embassy in Havana.  We’re going to do that through contacts between our various agencies.”[2]

Vice President Biden’s Telephone Calls with Presidents of Colombia and Mexico

The White House reported that Vice President Joe Biden made telephone calls about the new initiatives with Cuba  to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and to President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico. After outlining the agreement, Biden told each of them that President Obama intended to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” In the call to President Nieto, Biden said that the U.S. would initiate discussions with Cuba and Mexico about the unresolved maritime boundary of the Gulf of Mexico.

Conclusion

I concur in most of the FACT SHEET’s assertions about democracy and human rights that suggest that the U.S. will engage and work with the Cuban government to improve the Cuban people’s political, social and economic rights and that the U.S. no longer will seek to impose such rights or values on the Cuban people through covert or “discreet” programs. These statements are the following:

  • (i)  “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.  With our actions today, we are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.”
  • (ii)  “U.S. engagement will be critical when appropriate and will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba and other measures aimed at fostering improved conditions for the Cuban people.”
  • (iii) “A critical focus of our increased engagement will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba.  The promotion of democracy supports universal human rights by empowering civil society and a person’s right to speak freely, peacefully assemble, and associate, and by supporting the ability of people to freely determine their future.   Our efforts are aimed at promoting the independence of the Cuban people so they do not need to rely on the Cuban state.”
  • (iv) The U.S. “will encourage [such] reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials.”

Other statements in the FACT SHEET, however, seems to undercut this benign interpretation: (i) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba. . . .” (ii) “The U.S. Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and support the free flow of information in places where it is restricted and censored.  The Administration will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba.” [3]

According to the FACT SHEET, “President Obama will participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama.  Human rights and democracy will be key Summit themes.  Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate along with civil society from other countries participating in the Summit.” The account of the Vice President’s telephone calls, however, seems to add that President Obama intends to attend the Summit of the Americas in Panama next April “as long as Cuban civil society is allowed to participate and human rights and democracy are on the agenda.” I was surprised and disappointed to read that there was a precondition to Obama’s attending the summit: Cuba’s allowing members of its civil society to attend and participate in the Summit. While it may be a good idea to have civil society representatives from all countries, including Cuba, attend and participate, I think it unwise for the U.S. to provide Cuba with a veto on Obama’s attendance if it does not have such representatives there. I hope that this interpretation of the Vice President’s remarks is unfounded.

I am unaware of the details of the dispute about the maritime boundaries of the Gulf of Mexico, but assume that it relates to oil or other resources under the Caribbean.

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[1] Prior posts discussed the legal and political issues of rescinding the designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and the U.S.’ previous concessions that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not commit future acts of terrorism.

[2] On December 20th Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew co-authored an article in the Miami Herald. It said the U.S. would have “continued strong support for improved human-rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” and would “continue to implement programs to promote positive change in Cuba.”

[3] The previous democracy/human rights programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State will be part of a subsequent post about the recent controversy about Cuba’s cancellation of n “open-microphone” event and arrests of its organizers.