Blog: Deborah Popowski

September 24, 2013

Wednesday, Sept. 25: Peaceful Assembly, from Occupy to Taksim Square

Event Notice

September 25, 2013

“Peaceful Assembly: From Occupy to Taksim Square”

5:00 p.m.

WCC 2009

Harvard Law School

Poster for event has hands reaching up into air while sun poses a glare.

Even in the age of electronic communication, the physical presence of demonstrators is an important vehicle for political protest, as recent events around the world confirm. What ground rules should govern the political use of public space? This panel will discuss both First Amendment and international human rights approaches to peaceful assemblies, in general and in relation to the Occupy movement.

Panelists include: Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Charles Fried, Beneficial Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School; Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; and moderator Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, Harvard Law School.

Share By Email


September 3, 2013

Ohio Court Rules Licensing Board Need Not Investigate Torture Allegations Against Local Psychologist

Posted by Deborah Popowski

This summer, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio ruled that the state’s psychology licensing board did not have a legal obligation to conduct a meaningful investigation into whether Dr. Larry James had committed grave violations of professional ethics in his role as Guantánamo senior interrogation psychologist.

The state court dismissed the case on procedural grounds, meaning that, like the Ohio Psychology Board, it did not engage with the evidence of abuse and made no finding as to Dr. James’s conduct. After almost 18 months of silence, the court issued a decision that is three pages long, and, for reasons not explained or reflected in the docket, was not written by the judge to whom the case was assigned. It offers virtually no legal or factual reasoning to support its conclusion that the people of Ohio were insufficiently harmed by torture left unexamined and unaccounted for, and that they therefore lack standing to challenge the Board’s inaction.

Our clients have decided not to appeal the decision. They made this choice not because they agree with the ruling, but because this latest chapter in their legal fight has convinced them that the courts are not where justice, accountability and truth will be found—not on this issue, not at this time. As a lawyer and teacher of law, this saddens me. But, like them, I am not surprised. In the seven years that I’ve worked on human rights violations in the U.S. counterterrorism context, the greatest victories and examples of moral courage that I’ve seen have taken place far from the courtroom, thanks to people like Trudy and Josie, Colin and Michael, whose consciences move them to action when officials charged with accountability choose to remain silent.

Continue Reading…

June 7, 2013

Friend and Colleague Jim Cavallaro Elected to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Posted by Tyler Giannini, Deborah Popowski and Fernando Delgado

We send our warmest congratulations to Jim Cavallaro on his election yesterday to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Having worked closely with Jim for years on human rights in the Americas, including before the Inter-American Commission, we know firsthand the dedication, legal skill, and thoughtfulness Jim will bring to the post. We look forward to watching him do great things at the Commission in the years to come.


Share By Email


March 11, 2013

SAVE THE DATE: Special Event to Mark the 10th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq

March 26, 2013

“For Us, The Wars Aren’t Over: The Right to Heal Initiative”

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

Wasserstein 2012

Food will be served

Ten years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Human Rights Program and organizations from across the Harvard and Boston communities mark the anniversary with speakers from two groups still living with the consequences of the last decade of U.S.-led wars: Iraqis and U.S. veterans and service members.  Members of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and Iraq Veterans Against the War will speak about the costs of war they share.  Together with attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights and Harvard Law School, they will discuss the Right to Heal Initiative, the partnership they have formed to fight for redress.


Yanar Mohammed, President, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Ms. Mohammed is the founder of OWFI, a nongovernmental organization that promotes women’s rights and interests in Iraq.  She will speak about OWFI’s work in an Iraqi town near a U.S. military base that has seen dramatic increases in the incidence of birth defects, cancers, and other severe health ailments.

Matt Howard, Member, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Mr. Howard served two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps.  He will discuss the costs of war for U.S. service members and veterans, particularly the obstacles that prevent too many from receiving proper medical and mental health care.  IVAW and its subcommittee, Afghan Veterans Against the War, have advocated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for reparations to Iraqis for the costs of war.

Pamela Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights

Ms. Spees will discuss CCR’s role as a support player in the Right to Heal’s collaborative project to ensure the U.S. takes concrete steps for health care, accountability, and reparations.

Moderator: Deborah Alejandra Popowski, Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School

This event is being co-sponsored by: HLS Advocates for Human Rights, Harvard National Security and Law Association, Islamic Society of Boston, National Lawyers Guild (Mass. Chapter), Veterans for Peace (Ch. 9, Smedley D. Butler Brigade), BC Law Holocaust/Human Rights Project, HKS Human Rights Professional Interest Council, HLS American Constitution Society, HLS Democrats, HLS Human Rights Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, HLS Muslim Law Students Association, Harvard Women’s Law Association, HSPH Muslim Student Group, MIT Amnesty International, MIT Center for International Studies, MIT Muslim Student Association, Northeastern Univ. Arab Student Association, Human Rights Caucus at Northeastern Univ. School of Law, Tufts Univ. New Initiative for Middle East Peace, Tufts Univ. Fletcher School Human Rights Project

November 9, 2012

International Experts Criticize U.S. Response to Occupy; Clinic Presents at Conference on Protest Rights


International Experts Call for U.S. to Respect Protest Rights; Criticize Officials’ Responses to Occupy Movement

(Vienna, Austria, 9 November 2012) – Today, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued a report finding that some U.S. authorities’ responses to the Occupy Wall Street movement involved excessive police force, unjustified mass arrests, disproportionately large numbers of police, and violated the rights of journalists.

“The OSCE report confirms recent findings by U.S. groups of violations of protest rights, and demonstrates the urgent need to reform the way some cities, including New York, regulate and police protests,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey of New York University (NYU) School of Law, who co-led an eight-month investigation by law school clinics into the treatment of Occupy Wall Street in New York.

The OSCE findings result from the organization’s first investigations of assembly rights in the United States, and were presented at a meeting of government and civil society representatives from over 50 countries. The United States is a member state of the OSCE, and has committed to guarantee the freedom of peaceful assembly.

The OSCE report issued today recommends that U.S. authorities ensure the right to free assembly, including by facilitating protest camps and marches as much as possible, limiting police use of force, promptly investigating police misconduct, and not dispersing assemblies merely for lack of permits.

The OSCE’s findings follow extensive U.S. civil society reporting of protest rights violations, including a detailed report by law clinics at NYU and Fordham Law Schools, Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street. Professors and students from NYU and Harvard Law School were invited to the OSCE this week to present their findings, and to discuss concerns and reforms with civil society and representatives from governments, the OSCE, and the United Nations. The Clinics, on behalf of U.S. groups, also voiced support for OSCE work monitoring freedom of assembly, and called for continued OSCE work in the United States.

“Attending the OSCE forum gave us an opportunity to hear accounts from people around the world who, like the U.S. Occupy movement, are using public space to voice dissent. These accounts made clear that while peaceful protests are proliferating, so are governments’ tactics of repression,” said Deborah Popowski, Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

“There is no part of the world where suppression of protest is not a problem, and the U.S. is no exception,” said Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, who attended the OSCE meetings.

“Fighting for a meaningful right of free assembly is vital because there can be no democracy without this right. There is no choice – we have to succeed if we want to leave the world a better place for those who come after us,” said Kiai.

Share By Email


October 10, 2012

Today, October 11: Documentary and Discussion of Doctors’ Role in Torture of U.S. Detainees

Event Notice

“Doctors of the Dark Side”

A Screening and Panel Discussion

6- 8:30 pm

Langdell 225 North

Event poster shows an illustration of two military men crouched over a detainee in a black box while a man in a white coat meant to suggest a psychologist peers across the landscape from the side.

Doctors of the Dark Side exposes the scandal behind the torture scandal — how psychologists and physicians implemented and covered up the torture of detainees in US controlled military prisons. The stories of four detainees and the doctors involved in their abuse show how essential doctors have been to the torture program. Director Martha Davis spent four years investigating the controversy and produced the documentary with an award-winning team.

Deborah Popowski, Clinical Instructor with the Human Rights Program, makes an appearance in the film, and will lead a panel discussion afterward with Martha Davis and Dr. Trudy Bond, an Ohio-based psychologist, of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.

This event is being co-sponsored by HLS Advocates for Human Rights and Harvard Law Documentary Studio.

Share By Email


September 28, 2012

Performance Art (and Other Pictures from HRP Orientation)

Posted by Cara Solomon

Here’s a Friday afternoon treat for you: an iconic image from the law school experience.

a textbook, a bare candy wrapper, and some pens sit at a desk. in front of the desk there is a tent card that reads, "please do not remove my stuff. I am in the next class. thank you"

When Fernando spotted this display at our recent HRP Orientation, he rightly described it as a piece of performance art—except, of course, that it wasn’t.

Below are some other images from the event. Apologies in advance for the poor picture quality, and a belated thanks to all who came, learned, and ate. We were so happy to have you there.

Continue Reading…

September 13, 2012

Adnan Latif Died on Saturday

Posted by Deborah Popowski

Adnan Latif died on Saturday. He died in Guantánamo.  The Pentagon says he was 32 years old. David Remes, one of his lawyers, says that his documents show that he was 35 or 36 years old.  Given the U.S. government’s dismal track record in getting its facts straight on the people they have rendered, tortured and detained for years without charge, I’ll go with David’s assessment.

A man with a beard wearing orange.
Adnan Latif, who died on Saturday in Guantánamo after being held there since 2002, without charge or trial.

Either way, Adnan and I were close in age.

Of all the things I could write about, this is what I keep coming back to.  I’m trying to figure out what it is about this particular piece of horror news that is making me cry.  This is a question worth asking when reading horror news is a big part of what you do for a living, and the things that once made you cry – the things that you imagined would make everyone cry – stop doing so as regularly, probably because crying all the time, every day, would be too hard.

Last night, I taught my first class of the semester, and today, the mad, exhilarating rush of project work begins, but all I can think about is how long a decade is.  I’ve been thinking about how when Adnan was 25, or maybe 24, my government bought Adnan from the Pakistanis for $5000, and flew him, shackled and drugged, to Guantánamo. And how it was around the same time that this same government flew me to Niger to serve in the Peace Corps, where I explained to Muslims that, never mind what they heard on the radio, my country was not at war with Islam.

The series of images flickers by, our decades in review in split-screen, the realization that for the last ten years, while I made my way through nine homes and a dozen countries; while I explored two other careers before applying to, attending, graduating from and coming back to teach law school; while I was meeting, befriending, falling in love with and marrying my husband—Adnan was sitting, pacing, writing, and fighting in a cell, ill and far from his loved ones.

His lawyer David, who spent the better part of the last few years fighting alongside Adnan for justice, released this statement about him:

“Slightly built and gentle, he was a father and husband. He was a talented poet and was devoutly religious. He never posed a threat to the United States, and he never should have been brought to Guantanamo. The military has not stated a cause of death. However Adnan died, it was Guantanamo that killed him. His death is a reminder of the human cost of the government’s Guantanamo detention policy and underscores the urgency of releasing detainees the government does not intend to prosecute.”

Adam Cohen of The Atlantic summarizes here, with devastating efficiency, the perversity of the system that brought him to this death.

Share By Email


August 16, 2012

Reckoning With Torture: A Free Public Reading on August 21

Event Notice

August 21, 2012

“Reckoning with Torture”

8 pm

Central Square Theater

450 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, MA

This free public event will feature a dramatic reading of official documents, including testimonies of torture from the “War on Terror.” These declassified documents are among more than 130,000 obtained by the ACLU and partners, who litigated for years to make them public. Following the readings, Clinical Instructor Deborah Popowski, of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, will moderate a conversation with the audience and the actors involved.

This performance is part of the ACLU’s larger “Reckoning with Torture” project, based on the premise that engaging with the documentary record is a key step towards coming to terms with the human rights abuses committed by the U.S. government. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) will produce a film from the footage of readings by professional actors, former military officials, and ordinary people. To learn how you can contribute your own reading and submit the footage, click here.

Share By Email


May 23, 2012

Big Moments, Small Moments That Make Up A Year

Posted by Tyler Giannini

Big moments, small moments; during graduation week, we are often flooded with the memories we have created over the past year, working closely with students.  It seems like a natural time to reflect.  But where to start when there are so many good memories?

I think about the small moments in the field, like when a student makes a breakthrough.  Earlier this year, I was shadowing two students in Thailand as they interviewed a refugee through a translator, and the student leading the interview kept turning to me, asking for advice.  I told her to stop; I told her she could do this—I had seen her do it—and that she needed to work now with her partner, not me.  She finally got it, trusting herself and the talent and skills she already possessed.

I think about the seemingly small moments in advocacy work that do not get a lot of media attention but are major victories for the protection of civilians, like when Bonnie and her team of students joined a group of nongovernmental organizations in defeating a proposal that would have weakened the absolute ban on cluster munitions.  For the students in Geneva who opposed the proposal, the moment—indeed the precise minute—it was defeated is indelibly etched in their minds: 7:05pm on Friday, November 25, 2011. The students wrote about it here.

I think about the big moments that come together after years of effort with partners, like the groundbreaking work out of Latin America that Fernando and Deborah did this year with several crack teams of students.  In August, they obtained critical measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect prisoners at the largest detention center in Latin America. Then, within weeks, they turned around and, working with their local partners, helped strike a landmark settlement with the state of Brazil that promises large-scale reform within the infamous Urso Branco Prison.

Continue Reading…