GILEE Letter discussed in December meeting


Hello folks,

I couldn’t figure out how to do attachments, so see below for the text of the letter we discussed at the last meeting.

The Honorable Keisha Lance Bottoms
Mayor of the City of Atlanta
55 Trinity Avenue SW
Atlanta, GA 30303

    	Re: Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE)

Dear Mayor Bottoms:
On behalf of the faith leaders, civil rights groups, human rights activists, and other signatories to this letter, congratulations on completing your first year of service as Mayor of the City of Atlanta. Over the past twelve months, your administration has made important progress for our city, particularly in the areas of criminal justice reform and immigrants’ rights. Implementing bail reforms in the Municipal Court of Atlanta, ending the City of Atlanta’s partnership with Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and pursuing the closure of the Atlanta Detention Center were brave and laudable steps forward.
Despite the progress made in Atlanta, many problems remain unsolved across our city, state, and nation. Mass incarceration, racial profiling, and the militarization of local law enforcement agencies represent serious and persistent threats to our community. Racial and economic disparities in rates of arrests, prosecution, and punishment continue to grow. As of last summer, Georgia was already on pace to double the number of deadly police shootings from 2017 to 2018.[1]
As a diverse city with a strong history of civil and human rights activism, Atlanta can and should serve as a model of success for cities that seek to improve the way their law enforcement agencies interact with the public. In order to do so, we must first ensure that Atlanta Police Department officers receive proper training throughout their law enforcement careers.
To that end, we write to request that the City of Atlanta end its participation in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program. During the 2017 mayoral campaign, you and five other candidates completed a candidate survey in which you agreed, if elected, to pause the city’s participation in GILEE, and meet with community leaders concerned about it to learn more.[2]
GILEE is a privately funded program housed within the Criminal Justice School of Georgia State University.[3] Every year, the program arranges for American police officers to engage in training with foreign nations, including the Chinese, Colombian, Egyptian, Hungarian, Kazakh, Uzbek, and Israeli governments, the last of which is the original and primary focus of the program.
Since the program’s inception in 1992, at least 1,600 participants have engaged in 240 GILEE training programs, including officers from the Atlanta Police Department.[4] When those officers travel to the Middle East for training, they study at least 28 different topics. Although GILEE has long refused to share details about what officers learn through the program,[5] open records requests have forced GILEE to disclose that the 28 topics include border policing, community policing, and urban policing.[6]
All of this is troubling for two major reasons. First, GILEE partners with several governments which use their law enforcement agencies to restrict civil liberties and commit human rights violations.
In Egypt, police officers acting alongside army soldiers have arrested activists, tortured dissidents, performed “virginity tests” on detained women, [8] and crushed peaceful protests, including a 2013 assault on a sit-in demonstration that killed over 800 people, including journalists.[9]
Kazakhstan—which has been led by the same president since 1991—imprisons government critics, tortures the imprisoned, and restricts freedom of speech, assembly and religion.[7] So does its neighbor Uzbekistan, where “grave rights violations such as torture, politically-motivated prosecutions, and forced labor in the cotton fields remain common.”

China runs a massive surveillance state that monitors, censors, and restricts the civil liberties of its citizens. Public protests are forbidden. So is voting. Human rights activists, including artists and writers, are subject to arrest and execution.[10] One million Chinese Muslims sit in concentration camps.[11]
In Colombia, a human rights activist is murdered every three days, over 10,000 civilians were recently killed in fighting between Colombian forces and rebels, and Colombian forces have been accused of “false-positive killings.” That is, killing civilians, and portraying them as rebel guerillas afterward.[12]
Since 2010, an extremist political party that espouses anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic bigotry has led Hungary.[13] Government representatives “are increasingly hostile to journalists and critics and engage in anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric including through publicly funded campaigns. Authorities have introduced legislation targeting civil society organizations and universities receiving funding from abroad.”[14]
As for the Israeli government currently led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Human Rights Watch reports: “Fifty years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it controls these areas through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population’s rights… At least five categories of major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law characterize the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.”
According to an Amnesty International report documenting events from 2017 to early 2018: “Israeli forces, including undercover units, used excessive and sometimes lethal force when they used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition against Palestinian protesters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, killing at least 20, and injuring thousands. Many protesters threw rocks or other projectiles but were posing no threat to the lives of well-protected Israeli soldiers when they were shot.”
By allowing Atlanta police officers to train with governments that violate human rights in these ways, we are running the serious risk that our officers will learn dangerous policing methods, bring those methods back home, and apply them to the residents of Atlanta. Religious profiling, mass surveillance, unlawful shootings, violence against protesters, militarization, and excessive force have no place in the City of Atlanta. Our officers must learn to serve and protect, not occupy and control.
Other local governments have reached the same conclusion. In April, the Durham City Council unanimously voted to oppose “international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham." [18] More recently, the Vermont State Police and the Northampton, Massachusetts police department cancelled plans to travel overseas and train with Israeli military and police forces. [19]
Another problem with the City of Atlanta’s participation in GILEE is symbolic. Whenever Atlanta participates in formal exchange programs with repressive governments, we legitimize the policies of those governments, send a message of indifference towards—or support for—their human rights violations, and undermine human rights activists in those countries by collaborating with the very officers and officials who oppress them. Perhaps most significantly, we also undermine Atlanta’s reputation as a beacon of civil and human rights. Unless and until these foreign governments change their repressive policies, we should not give them our city’s symbolic stamp of approval.
Atlanta sits at the intersection of a national conversation about police tactics, human rights, and criminal justice reform. Given our city’s strong history of leadership on these issues, we should set the standards for others to follow, and we should start by ensuring that our officers engage in appropriate training with only those nations which share our values.
We therefore request that you suspend the City of Atlanta’s participation in GILEE, meet with us to discuss our concerns, and, ultimately, end Atlanta’s participation in the program altogether.
Thank you for your consideration of these issues. We hope to hear from you soon so that we can work together to continue advancing justice for all Atlanta residents.

With thanks,

Alliance for Black Lives

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta

Black Lives Matter Atlanta

CAIR Georgia

Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions

Jewish Voice for Peace

Project South


[1] Stevens, Alexis. “Georgia on Pace to Double Deadly Officer-Involved Shootings in 2018,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 5, 2018.
[2] “Atlanta Muslims Learn Where the Mayoral Candidates Stand,” CAIR Georgia. Nov. 2, 2017.
[3] “GILEE,” Georgia State University. October 9, 2018. Background, Impact, Mission - Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE)
[4] “Overview & Stats,” Georgia State University. October 9, 2018. Overview & Stats - Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE)
[5] “State: Info Requested By Students Could Leak to Terrorists,” WSB TV. May 24, 2011. (Then-Attorney General Olens claimed that GSU students who filed an open records request about GILEE would give the information to “terrorists.” Olens then backed a law to protect GILEE from detailed open record requests.)
[6] “List of Topics,” Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange. Memorandum. July 28, 2015
[7] “World Report 2015: Kazakhstan,” Human Rights Watch.
[8] Kato, Miwa. “Women of Egypt,” The Cairo Review of Global Affairs. 2017.
[9] “All According To Plan, Human Rights Watch. August 2014.
[10] “China Events of 2017,” Human Rights Watch World Report 2018. January 2018.
[11] “A Million Muslims Are Held in Detention Camps that China Now Portrays As Humane,” NBC News. October 2018.
[12] Colombia: Killings of Human Rights Defenders Continue Under a Cloak of Impunity and the Silent Complicity of the State,” Amnesty International. July 9, 2018.
[13] Hungary’s Viktor Orban Fosters Anti-Semitism,” The Jerusalem Post. July 29, 2018.
[14] “Hungary,” Human Rights Watch.
[15] “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Amnesty International.