Today is the 20th Anniversary of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Will the Torture and the Impunity Ever Stop?

No free pass for torture: an image prepared by the ACLU.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and today marks its 20th anniversary. When it first took place in 1998, the date was chosen because it is a particularly significant day in the field of human rights. Eleven years previously, on June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture, came into effect, and June 26 also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).

The establishment of the UN and of key pledges regarding human rights has been a high point for the aspiration for a better world, which, of course, came about as a response to the horrors of the Second World War. After the UN was founded, the next major milestone in this quest was the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, and in 1950, in a similar vein, the newly formed Council of Europe established the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (originally known as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), which entered into force on September 3, 1953.

Unfortunately, although aspirations for a better world are profoundly worthwhile, they constantly jostle with the political realities of a world in which the thirst for power, paranoia, nationalism and capitalism seek to undermine them. Nevertheless, they constantly provide a benchmark for higher human ideals, and it is always reassuring when human rights are prominently observed. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture on Trial in the US Senate, as the UK Government Unreservedly Apologizes for Its Role in Libyan Rendition

Sen. John McCain gives his reason for refusing the nomination of Gina Haspel as the next Director of the CIA (graphic by CBS News).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the last few days, two very different approaches to torture have been on display in the US and the UK.

On Wednesday, the US Senate conducted confirmation hearings for Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nomination as the next Director of the CIA, who has attracted widespread criticism since her nomination was announced back in March, for two particularly valid reasons: firstly, because, towards the end of 2002, she was in charge of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, where several “high-value detainees” were held and tortured, and secondly because, in 2005, she was involved in the destruction of videotapes documenting the torture of prisoners, even though a court had ordered the tapes to be preserved.

At the time of her nomination, we signed up to a letter from a number of rights groups opposing her nomination, and also published an article on our website, entitled, The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Appeals Court Rules Abdel Hakim Belhaj, Rendered to Torture in Gaddafi’s Libya, Can Sue British Government

What a long road to justice this is turning out to be. Back in December 2011, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (aka Belhadj), a former opponent of the Gaddafi regime, who, in 2004, in an operation that involved the British security services, was kidnapped in China with his pregnant wife and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi, first attempted to sue the British government — and, specifically, the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and MI5.

Since then, the government has fought to prevent him having his day in court, but on Thursday the court of appeal ruled, as the Guardian described it, that the case “should go ahead despite government attempts to resist it on grounds of the ‘act of state doctrine’, arguing that the courts could not inquire into what happened because it involved a foreign state.” The Guardian added that the ruling “establishes a significant precedent for other claims,” although it is possible, of course, that the Foreign Office will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Guardian also noted that the British government had “maintained that the UK’s relations with the US would be seriously damaged if Belhaj was allowed to sue and make his case in a British court.” However, the judgment said that “while the trial relating to the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, that was no reason to bar the claim.” Read the rest of this entry »

Torture, Torture Everywhere

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Libyan Rebel Leader, Rendered by UK to Torture by US in Thailand and Gaddafi in Libya, Sues British Government

This week, Abdel Hakim Belhadj (aka Belhaj), a Libyan military commander and rebel leader, who is the head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, initiated legal proceedings against the British government and the security forces for their key role in his illegal abduction, rendition and barbaric treatment — and that of his pregnant wife Fatima Bouchar — in March 2004.

Mr. Belhadj, also identified as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, has instructed solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to take legal action, and the legal action charity Reprieve are acting as US counsel and are also providing investigative support.

In 2004, when Mr. Belhadj’s ordeal at the hands of the British, the Americans and the Gaddafi regime began, he was living in Beijing, China, having previously led the resistance to the Gaddafi regime, and having, for a while, lived in Afghanistan. In early 2004, when Fatima Bouchar began to fear they were under surveillance, they decided to try to seek asylum in the UK. At the airport, however, they were detained and deported to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, their previous destination before China.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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