Tag Archive | extraordinary rendition

International community reiterates calls for Guantanamo’s closure as Congress moves to keep it open

Amnesty International USA activists protest the 10th anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, Washington DC, USA, 11 January 2012. - AIUSA

Amnesty International USA activists protest the 10th anniversary of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, Washington DC, USA, 11 January 2012. – AIUSA

Two major developments took place on Tuesday regarding the ongoing travesty of justice known as Guantanamo Bay. Taken together, the developments once again demonstrate how drastically out of step the United States is with the global community when it comes to human rights and international norms, and in particular how contemptuous the U.S. Congress remains of nearly universal international opinion on the Guantanamo Bay abomination.

On the same day that the U.S. Senate voted 91-3 in favor of a military spending bill that obstructs President Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo prison camp by prohibiting transfers of detainees, one of Europe’s leading human rights bodies issued a comprehensive report reiterating the international community’s calls to close the detention facility and to either bring the remaining detainees to trial or free them.

The scathing 280-page report issued by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also calls for the full investigation of human rights violations at the prison, including torture, as well as prosecutions of those responsible.

“There is a clear need for full transparency and accountability in addressing the violations of the human rights of detainees, including torture, that have occurred at the Guantanamo detention facility, and as part of the CIA rendition program,” said Omer Fisher, Deputy Head of ODIHR’s Human Rights Department. “Detainees have a right to redress, including access to justice, to compensation, and to medical rehabilitation.”

The report analyses compliance with international human rights standards of the detention and proceedings before U.S. military commissions, demands accountability for human rights violations both at Guantanamo and in the CIA’s illegal rendition and torture program, and specifies the right of victims to claim redress for arbitrary detention and ill-treatment. Regarding the CIA’s rendition and torture program, the report makes clear not only the United States but 27 other OSCE countries are guilty of participating and enabling this gross violation of human rights.

Detention and interrogation practices are examined in some detail. According to the report’s executive summary:

A wide variety of sources, including leaked ICRC reports and official reports have pointed to numerous instances of abuse at Guantánamo under the Bush administration. Interviews with former Guantánamo detainees have provided ODIHR with further information on the severity of abuses inflicted upon them during their detention and interrogations. Practices were reportedly designed to break detainees’ will, cause stress and make them co-operate with and wholly dependent on their interrogators who had total control over their level of isolation, access to comfort items and basic needs such as access to food, drinkable water, sunlight or fresh air. The lack of co-operation with interrogators and non-compliance with constantly changing prison rules were punished, including by the removal of basic items and prolonged isolation. Documented cases corroborated by ODIHR interviews of former detainees indicate the routine use of excessive force against detainees by the Initial Reaction Forces and during the force-feeding of hunger strikers.

Other areas of focus of the report include the use of physical isolation, which “remains the norm for a number of detainees kept in segregated cells with access to two to four hours of recreation per day, alone or with one other detainee.”

The OSCE takes issue with U.S. claims that single-cell confinement does not amount to solitary confinement, noting that “all detainees who spend 22 hours a day in segregated cells are undoubtedly held in solitary confinement.” This isolation “can lead to severe impact on detainees’ health and its effect can be even more pronounced in cases of individuals suffering mental distress from past abuses,” the OSCE points out.

“Solitary confinement combined with the prospect of indefinite detention is even more likely to amount to torture or ill-treatment,” notes the OSCE.

Hunger strikes and force feeding are another area of concern. According to the executive summary:

The reportedly substantial deterioration of confinement conditions during hunger strikes, including the most recent mass hunger strike of 2013 seems to constitute a system of punishment or reward implemented to break the hunger strike and discourage detainees from continuing to protest. Should gathered information be true, such practices would be unjustifiable and would violate a number of international human rights standards, including prison standards and the right of detainees to peacefully protest. It may also violate the prohibition of torture or ill-treatment.

As this report was being published yesterday, the Senate was voting overwhelmingly to thwart Obama’s plans to shutter the Guantanamo facility by maintaining a ban on transferring detainees. The bill adopted Tuesday imposes restrictions on moving any of the 112 remaining detainees to the United States or foreign countries. The measure had passed the house by a vote of 370-58 last week, and although Obama officially opposes the Guantanamo provisions, the White House has indicated that he will sign it into law anyway.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook however said that it is premature to say that Congress has blocked the efforts to close Guantanamo. “Let’s wait to see what the plan finally looks like,” he said. “The folks who are crafting that plan have been working very hard on this for months. … This is not going to deter the department from moving forward.”

Even if the plan goes forward, it’s not clear exactly how much impact it would have on ensuring U.S. compliance with international law. Since Obama’s plan would essentially import Guantanamo to the United States while keeping intact the system of indefinite arbitrary detention without charge, the physical closing of the facility in Cuba would largely be symbolic. As a recent letter to the New York Times by Steven W. Hawkins, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, explained:

The purpose of closing Guantánamo should be to end the human rights violation of indefinite detention without charge — not merely move it to a new location and change Guantanámo’s ZIP code. If the United States does not intend to prosecute a detainee in a fair trial, it should release him. No exceptions.

This call for charging and trying Gitmo detainees or releasing them was echoed by the OSCE report released Tuesday. “Notwithstanding the complexity of the cases before the military commissions, the right to be tried without undue delay has likely been violated in a number of cases,” explained the OSCE. The report goes on:

This right, as recognized under international human rights and humanitarian law and contained in OSCE commitments, applies from the first official charges until the final judgment on appeal. ODIHR is gravely concerned that the US government has intentionally deprived the Guantánamo detainees of this right by excluding the applicability of certain speedy trial rights to cases before the military commissions. The lack of longstanding established procedures and precedent of the military commissions and the hindrances to holding regular hearings due to the remote location of Guantánamo are examples of US government actions that have contributed to the slow path of the proceedings. ODIHR is not aware of particular conduct of the defendants that had led to significant delays. Moreover, lengthy detention, including of 12-13 years in some cases, is likely a violation of the right to liberty and security which applies to pre-trial detention and provides individuals arrested or detained for criminal charges with the right to be tried within a reasonable time or released.

The Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Georg Link, will present the findings of the report Thursday at OSCE headquarters in Vienna. The OSCE is an intergovernmental organization whose membership includes all of the member countries of the European Union, NATO and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The U.S. is one of its charter members, having signed its founding document, the Helsinki Final Act, in 1975.

To join the international grassroots campaign to close Guantanamo, click here.

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International criticism of war on terror persists despite Obama’s assurances

war-on-terrorOver the past week, international bodies such as the European Parliament and the UN Human Rights Committee have raised grave concerns over continuing U.S. lawlessness in its prosecution of the war on terror, and in particular the travesty of justice known as Guantanamo Bay.

In a resolution adopted last Thursday, the day of President Obama’s big speech attempting to reassure the American public and the international community about drones and Gitmo, the European Parliament noted concern for the well-being of the hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo and especially those being force-fed. The EP expressed anxiety in particular over the mental and physical condition of the prisoners, “a number of whom have been subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The European Parliament reiterated its call on the US authorities “to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp immediately and prohibit the use of torture and ill-treatment in all circumstances” and called “for those inmates who have been cleared for release to be released, transferred to their home countries or other countries for resettlement, and for the remaining detainees to be charged in a civil court with fair trial standards.”

The body also criticized the military commissions that have been set up to try some Guantanamo detainees, as these commissions “do not meet international fair trial standards.”

It further pointed out that the continuing detention without charge or trial of these 166 men is contrary to basic principles of justice.  Arbitrary detention “is in clear breach of international law and that this severely undermines the United States’ stance as an upholder of human rights,” noted the resolution.

As British journalist Andy Worthington explained,

As far as current action is concerned, involving European countries directly, the European Parliament resolution is noteworthy for its call for the coordination of “a joint EU Member States’ initiative” not only “to urge the US President to act” on revisiting his failed promise to close Guantánamo, but also to offer to “receive additional Guantánamo inmates on European soil, especially the approximately dozen men cleared for release who cannot return to their home countries.”

Testifying at the UN Human Rights Committee today, High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that U.S. counter-terror policies are violating human rights and undermining international law. She criticized in particular Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo and admonished European nations for participating in the forced disappearance program dubbed “extraordinary rendition” by the United States.

“The United States’ failure to shut down the Guantanamo detention centre has been an example of the struggle against terrorism failing to uphold human rights, among them the right to a fair trial,” Pillay said.

She continued:

The continuing indefinite detention of many of these individuals amounts to arbitrary detention, in breach of international law, and the injustice embodied in this detention centre has become an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists. I have repeatedly urged the Government of the United States of America to close Guantanamo Bay in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law. I therefore acknowledge President Obama’s statement last Thursday outlining practical steps towards closing the detention facility, such as the lifting of the moratorium on transferring relevant detainees to Yemen. I encourage the United States to ensure that all such measures are carried out in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law. In the meantime, so long as Guantanamo remains open, the authorities must make every effort to ensure full respect for the human rights of detainees, including those who choose to go on hunger strike.

I am dismayed by the continuing failure of many European States to undertake public and independent investigations of past involvement in the U.S. renditions programme, under which terrorist suspects were captured and delivered to interrogation centres without regard for due process. Some of them still languish in Guantanamo. Last September, the European Parliament denounced obstacles that have been encountered by a number of parliamentary and judicial inquiries into this topic. Credible and independent investigations are a vital first step towards accountability, and I call on States to make this a priority.

Last July, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – a 323-member organization comprising lawmakers from Europe, North America and Central Asia – also adopted a resolution condemning the Obama administration’s blocking of European investigations into extraordinary rendition.

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.”

Needless to say, since then, the U.S. has not adequately dealt with the rendition question. A 213-page report published earlier this year by the Open Society Justice Initiative documented how the CIA conspired with dozens of governments around the world to build a secret extraordinary rendition and detention program that spanned the globe and that the United States has failed to conduct effective investigations into these policies.

To date, the U.S. and the vast majority of the other 54 governments involved have refused to acknowledge their participation, much less compensate the victims, or hold accountable those most responsible for the program and its abuses, the Open Society concluded.

In its report on the U.S. human rights situation released last week, Amnesty International criticized the lack of accountability for deaths that have occurred in secret detention by the United States.

“The absence of accountability for crimes under international law committed under the administration of President George W. Bush in relation to the CIA’s programme of secret detention was further entrenched,” lamented Amnesty, noting in particular the lack of investigations into the deaths of two men who were believed to be tortured to death in U.S. custody.

Further, Amnesty International expressed concern over the use of drone strikes by the U.S. which amount to a policy of “extrajudicial executions in violation of international human rights law.”

Report exposes new details on U.S. extraordinary rendition and torture programs

A recent protest of torture and extraordinary rendition advocate John Brennan, who President Obama has nominated to head the CIA.

A recent protest of torture and extraordinary rendition advocate John Brennan, who President Obama has nominated to head the CIA.

A 213-page report just released by the Open Society Justice Initiative provides the most comprehensive account to date of the extraordinary rendition program run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The report, entitled “Globalizing Torture,” documents how the CIA conspired with dozens of governments around the world to build a secret extraordinary rendition and detention program that spanned the globe.

Defining “extraordinary rendition” as the transfer without legal process of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention and interrogation, Open Society notes that both the secret detention program and the extraordinary rendition program were designed to place detainee interrogations beyond the reach of the law. Torture was a hallmark of both, the report points out.

“Today, more than a decade after September 11, 2001, it is well-established that high-ranking Bush administration officials are responsible for torture and other human rights violations associated with the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations,” reads the report. “The failure of U.S. authorities to hold these officials accountable remains a matter of significant concern.”

By engaging in extraordinary rendition, secret detention and widespread torture, the U.S. government violated international law and its own domestic laws. And by enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the U.S. further eroded longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law, especially the preemptory norm against torture.

But despite the scale of torture and other human rights abuses associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, the Open Society report notes that the United States has failed to conduct effective investigations into these criminal policies.

To date, the U.S. and the vast majority of the other 54 governments involved have refused to acknowledge their participation, much less compensate the victims, or hold accountable those most responsible for the program and its abuses. Further, the report laments, despite a promise from Barack Obama soon after being sworn in as president in January 2009, it appears that the Obama administration did not in fact end extraordinary rendition. Instead, it simply chose to rely on anti-torture diplomatic assurances from recipient countries.

Open Society therefore recommends to the U.S. government that it ceases relying on “diplomatic assurances” against torture as a basis for transferring individuals to foreign countries, and that it discloses information relating to human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations.

Further, the U.S. administration and senate should work to declassify, to the maximum extent possible, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA detention and interrogation.

“The taint of torture associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations will continue to cling to the United States and its partner governments as long as they fail to air the truth and hold their officials accountable,” Open Society concludes. “The impunity currently enjoyed by responsible parties also paves the way for future abuses in counterterrorism operations.”

The Guardian pointed out that the report’s publication appears to have been timed to coincide with the Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday of John Brennan, who Obama has chosen to head the CIA. Brennan is one of the architects of the torture regime of the previous administration and is widely expected to be questioned about his association with those policies.

In 2005, he offered a robust defense of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition policy, stating:

I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.

The Open Society report takes issue with this position, noting that “torture is not only illegal and immoral, but also ineffective for producing reliable intelligence.” The report points to the case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who had been rendered by the United States to Egypt in 2002. Under threat of torture at the hands of Egyptian officials, al-Libi fabricated information relating to Iraq’s provision of chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda. This fabricated information was then used by the U.S. as part of its justification for invading Iraq.

As Jane Mayer of The New Yorker wrote in her book, The Dark Side, “The extraordinary rendition program produced a file of confessions from prisoners claiming to have suffered unimaginable torment.” Much of the intelligence gathered from what Brennan asserted as a “vital program” proved to be “demonstrably false.”

Resolution unanimously adopted on extraordinary rendition

Terror suspects being transferred on U.S. military plane.

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.

Resolution condemns U.S. secrecy, calls for investigations of extraordinary rendition program

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.

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