Posts Tagged secret cia prisons
An international body last week unanimously adopted a resolution condemning U.S. secrecy regarding the CIA’s extraordinary program – secrecy that is effectively stonewalling a number of European investigations into the program of secret arrests and torture of terror suspects.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – a 320-member organization comprising lawmakers from Europe, North America and Central Asia – adopted the resolution in plenary session on July 9.
Supporting the criminal investigation carried out by Polish authorities into the rendition program and welcoming attempts by British parliamentarians to ascertain the level of the United Kingdom’s involvement, the resolution “insists that the United States Government co-operates with European investigations” and “calls upon the United States to release any pertinent information to appropriate investigators.”
In introducing the resolution on July 6, British parliamentarian Tony Lloyd recalled that when President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, one of his first acts was to issue executive orders prohibiting rendition and torture. However, he said, there are “strong evidential trails that suggest members of the OSCE family were involved in this practice of unlawful transfer of prisoners” throughout Europe, the Middle East and Afghanistan. He pointed to cases of prisoners being unlawfully detained by the CIA in Italy and the United Kingdom.
In the UK, he said, an official inquiry came to a “premature end” despite the fact that the practice of extraordinary rendition is “clearly illegal,” in violation of Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, which has been adopted by every member of the OSCE. He reminded OSCE parliamentarians that there were 1,245 CIA flights from European territory to countries where suspects faced torture.
In March, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed that his country’s former spy chief, Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, is facing criminal charges in connection with a probe by state prosecutors into the Polish role in the CIA’s rendition and secret prison program.
The future of the Polish investigation is in doubt, however, with U.S. authorities refusing to turn over relevant documents to the prosecution, reports the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
In April, U.S. intelligence agencies including the CIA and the FBI won a court ruling allowing them to continue withholding evidence from British MPs about UK involvement in the rendition.
In reaction to this court ruling, Lloyd, who co-chairs the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, said that “It’s an abuse of the spirit of freedom of information.” He claimed that the U.S. agencies were trying to avoid official embarrassment on both sides of the Atlantic by using a narrow legal exemption to prevent the disclosure of critical papers.
“This is still an ongoing issue,” Lloyd said in introducing the resolution last week. “This story of extraordinary rendition is not finished.” He pointed out that “it is clear that the United States was the author of these practices,” but noted that “it was the United States acting in concert with other members of the OSCE.”
It is therefore “necessary to keep up the political pressure for proper answers,” he said. “We need to know the truth of what took place. We need to give a strong signal that this type of activity is not something that has any role to play in the fight against terrorism.”
Toward this end, the resolution introduced by Lloyd reminds OSCE member states of their “binding obligations under international law to not only refrain from torture, or inhuman, cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment; but to also investigate allegations of torture.”
It further calls on all OSCE members to investigate allegations that their territory has been used to assist CIA-chartered flights secretly transporting detainees to countries where they may face torture or other ill-treatment.
Following Lloyd’s introduction, U.S. Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) took the floor largely in support of the resolution, stating that “No country should evade a discussion of its own domestic issues.” He said that the issues of rendition and torture “remain controversial in the United States” and welcomed Lloyd’s attempt to focus attention on the matter.
A resolution on European investigations into the CIA’s rendition program will be debated next week at the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, a 320-member inter-parliamentary organization spanning North America, Europe and Central Asia. The resolution is authored by British parliamentarian Tony Lloyd, who co-chairs the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.
Welcoming investigations being carried out in Poland and the United Kingdom, the resolution calls on other governments in the OSCE to fulfill their obligations to investigate their own roles in the program and for the United States to co-operate with these European investigations.
The measure criticizes the Obama administration’s stonewalling of the Polish and British probes, and insists that the U.S. release all pertinent information to investigators regarding rendition, torture and the use of so-called “black sites.”
Further, it condemns the the prosecution that U.S. authorities have launched against former CIA agent John Kiriakou, who is accused of providing journalists details regarding the capture of Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect who is said to have been tortured in a secret CIA prison in Poland. Zubaydah is one of two individuals granted “victim status” by prosecutors in Warsaw.
Members will debate and vote on the resolution at the Assembly’s Annual Session in Monaco on 5-9 July.
“Six years after the CIA’s secret prisons in Europe came to light, there is yet to be a full accounting of what the program entailed, who facilitated it and what laws may have been broken,” said Lloyd. “The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and many international organizations demanded official probes into this programme in 2006, but even as some of us try to investigate, we are stymied by a lack of co-operation by U.S. authorities.”
Lloyd co-chairs the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, an investigative body which comprises about 50 MPs and peers. While investigating British complicity in rendition and torture, the group submitted information requests to U.S. intelligence agencies. U.S. authorities denied the requests, citing the U.S. Freedom of Information Act exemptions for requests by “foreign government entities.”
“I hope this resolution spurs greater transparency from the U.S. government and reminds OSCE participating States of their obligation to investigate possible violations of the law regarding this program,” said Lloyd.
The OSCE PA’s 2006 Brussels Declaration called on participating States to investigate whether their territory was used to assist the CIA in secretly transporting detainees to countries where they may be tortured.
The resolution to be debated in Monaco reiterates that all OSCE participating States – including the U.S. – have binding obligations under international law to investigate allegations of torture and restates its previous call to thoroughly probe allegations that their territory has been used to assist the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
The debate on the resolution comes just after President Obama renewed the U.S. pledge to work with the international community toward ending torture. Yesterday, the White House put out a statement on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, stating that “the United States rejects torture as unlawful, counter to our values, and inconsistent with the universal rights and freedoms that should be enjoyed by all men, women, and children wherever they live.”
“In keeping with our laws, principles, and the Convention Against Torture,” says the statement,
the United States continues to work with our international partners to end torture. With the development and enforcement of strong domestic laws, effective training of law enforcement and military personnel, and systematic review of interrogation, detention, and transfer practices, together we can turn over to our children a world in which no justification for torture is accepted. We will also continue to support efforts like the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
As the Center for Constitutional Rights pointed out, however, the statement “comes after three years of continued efforts by the Obama administration to block any investigation or accountability for U.S. torture practices.”
The OSCE PA resolution, signed by 27 members of parliament from 14 countries, also points out that “without proper co-operation from U.S. officials, a full accounting of European governments’ complicity” in the CIA’s rendition and torture program may not be possible.
An official probe into the CIA’s use of a secret prison in Poland offers a grim reminder of one of the global war on terror’s darkest chapters – the use of Eastern European allies to assist in illegal extraordinary renditions and torture of suspected terrorists.
But the fact that the probe is being carried out by Polish authorities, with no comparable investigation by the U.S. government, offers perhaps an even starker reminder that democratic accountability is in some ways stronger in the former Soviet Bloc than it is in the United States of America.
Despite some feeble attempts from Congress to ensure greater oversight of the CIA’s program of clandestine prisons, there have been no investigations of possible violations of the law. An amendment to require reports on clandestine detention facilities was attached to the 2006 supplemental military spending bill, but as this amendment only required that classified reports be submitted to relevant congressional committees, did little to raise general public awareness of the issue.
A 2009 Senate review of the program promised to “assess lessons learned” but assured the CIA that employees who participated in the program would not be held to account. CIA Director Leon Panetta vowed to block “an inquiry designed to punish those who acted in accord with guidance from the Department of Justice.”
First revealed in November 2005 by the Washington Post, the clandestine network of CIA prisons was acknowledged by President George W. Bush in September 2006. At the time, Bush claimed that torture was not part of the program.
Investigations by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, however, revealed that torture had been used extensively in the prisons.
While deploring “the concepts of state secrecy or national security” invoked by the United States to obstruct the investigation into “grave allegations of human rights violations,” the Council of Europe nevertheless ascertained that detainees in the prisons “were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, sometimes protracted.”
“Certain ‘enhanced’ interrogation methods used fulfil the definition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture,” said the report.
A subsequent investigation by the European Parliament further confirmed the use of torture in the secret prisons. Following its investigation, the EP adopted a strongly worded resolution condemning the U.S. policies and the European governments that participated in the program.
“[E]xtraordinary rendition and secret detention involve numerous violations of human rights in particular violations of the right to liberty and security, the freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to an effective remedy, and, in extreme cases, the right to life; whereas, in some cases, where rendition leads to secret detention, it constitutes enforced disappearance,” the resolution stated.
The EP reminded its member states that “the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens) from which no derogation is possible,” and criticized “European countries [that] may have received, knowingly or unknowingly, information obtained under torture.”
In Poland, the notion that the former Communist country would tolerate a secret CIA prison in which torture was being used was for years derided by the country’s politicians, journalists and the public as a crackpot conspiracy theory. Polish officials consistently denied the existence of any such prison.
But a string of recent revelations and political statements by Polish leaders appear to acknowledge for the first time that the United States did indeed run a secret interrogation facility for terror suspects in 2002 and 2003 in a remote region of the country.
As the AP reports, the debate within Poland is marked by a streak of disappointment that Washington had led the young democracy led astray both ethically and legally, and then abandoned the Polish government to deal with the fallout.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said March 29 that Poland has been the “political victim” of leaks from U.S. officials that brought to light aspects of the secret rendition program. He said that an ongoing investigation into the case demonstrates Poland’s democratic credentials and that Poland will not be used in the future for such clandestine enterprises.
“Poland will no longer be a country where politicians — even if they are working arm-in-arm with the world’s greatest superpower — could make some deal somewhere under the table and then it would never see daylight,” said Tusk, who took office four years after the prison was shuttered.
The Polish frustration with the United States follows a long-established feeling of disillusionment that first emerged in 2004 during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and the height of the Iraqi insurgency. As David Ost reported in The Nation magazine on Sept. 16, 2004,
George W. Bush has managed to do what forty-five years of Communist rule could not: puncture the image of essential American goodness that has always been the United States’ key selling point. Polish journalists now ask questions like, “How can we explain America’s transformation from a country that introduced international law to one that intervenes militarily wherever it likes?” Or, more plaintively: “Does it really pay to be America’s friend?” It is an astonishing turnabout: In more than twenty-five years of traveling to Poland I have never heard these kinds of criticisms.
Poland committed 2,400 troops to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, but Polish supporters of the war, such as Marek Beylin, chief of the editorial section of Gazeta Wyborcza, began wondering whether they were duped into cooperating with the United States.
“It seems we were naïve,” Beylin said in 2004. “It turns out they had no idea what to do with the Shiites, the Kurds, the resistance, the infrastructure. A superpower should be able to do this! That it can’t do it – this changes all our calculations.”
It appears now that Poland is following through on the recalculations it began making eight years ago, and choosing the rule of law over its alliance with the world’s lawless superpower.
“Poland is a democracy where national and international law must be observed,” Tusk said on March 29. “This issue must be explained. Let there be no doubt about it either in Poland or on the other side of the ocean.”
Tusk also pledged that Polish official involvement in activities by the CIA would be thoroughly scrutinized and prosecuted. He indirectly confirmed that his country’s former spy chief, Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, is facing criminal charges in connection with a probe by state prosecutors into the Polish role in CIA’s secret prison.
Poland’s prime minister at the time of the prison’s operation, Leszek Miller, has denied any knowledge of the CIA program in Poland.
Although many sordid details of the program have been public for years, the U.S. continues to not only fail to investigate those responsible, but also stonewall investigations by others, including Poland. The future of the investigation of Siemiątkowski is in some doubt, with the U.S. authorities refusing to cooperate with the investigation, reports the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
The refusal to cooperate with the investigation follows a well-established pattern by the administration of Barack Obama, who upon taking office in 2009 promised that he would “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” regarding crimes committed by the previous administration.
President-elect Obama said in Jan. 2009 that there should be prosecutions if “somebody has blatantly broken the law” but that CIA employees who participated in questionable policies of “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation” should not be overly concerned.
“Part of my job,” he said, “is to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”
In the three-plus years since then, it has become abundantly clear that those who may have engaged in unlawful interrogation or extrajudicial detention during the Bush years have nothing to worry about. In fact, the only CIA employees who have been prosecuted under the Obama administration are those who have attempted to blow the whistle on abuses at the agency.
The most recent example is that of John C. Kiriakou, a CIA agent made famous by his public opposition to waterboarding, who was indicted last week by a grand jury for leaking government secrets to reporters. Kiriakou is accused of giving journalists the name of another CIA operative and his role in the capture of al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah shortly after 9/11.
Abu Zubaydah is said to have been tortured in the CIA’s secret prison in Poland and is one of two individuals granted “victim status” by prosecutors in Warsaw. This will allow their lawyers to review evidence and question witnesses as part of the prosecutors’ investigation.
The indictment of Kiriakou is part of an aggressive Justice Department crackdown on leakers and is one of a half-dozen such cases opened during the Obama administration. Coupled with the administration’s refusal to cooperate with the Polish authorities in its investigation of secret CIA prisons, it appears to be part of a concerted effort to prevent any more details about this program from seeing the light of day.
Still, human rights activists and lawyers are coming to view Poland and its courts as one of the best chances to uncover the truth about U.S. rendition and torture in Eastern Europe.
“In Poland, the democratic system has turned out to be much more mature than in other countries,” said Adam Bodnar of the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. “There’s a group of people — judges, prosecutors, journalists, some politicians — who take the constitution seriously.”
Considering the lack of any such seriousness on the other side of the Atlantic, the Polish investigation may also be Americans’ best hope for learning the truth about the CIA’s secret prisons, as well as its broader rendition and torture program.