European Court of Human Rights Delivers Powerful Condemnation of US Torture Program and Poland’s Role Hosting a CIA “Black Site”

Last week there was some extremely important news for those of us who have spent many long years hoping to hold senior US officials — up to and including former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney — accountable for approving and implementing a torture program in the “war on terror,” when the European Court of Human Rights unanimously condemned the US for implementing a program of extraordinary rendition and torture, and condemned Poland for its involvement in the program by hosting a secret torture prison — a CIA “black site” –  on its soil in 2002-03.

The rulings were delivered in the cases of two men, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and Abu Zubaydah (a Saudi-born Palestinian whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), mistakenly described as al-Qaeda’s number 3 after his capture in March 2002. In its report on the rulings, the New York Times provided a more appropriate description of Zubaydah as someone who is “believed to have overseen the operation of guesthouses in Pakistan,” who vetted recruits and “provided letters of recommendation allowing them to be accepted for training at a paramilitary camp in Afghanistan” — which, it should be noted, was not affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Both men are currently held at Guantánamo, where they have been since September 2006, but they were held for over four years in “black sites” where they were subjected to torture, including the site in Poland that the European Court of Human Rights highlighted in its rulings. Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: Read the rest of this entry »

Poland and Lithuania Haunted by Their Involvement in Hosting CIA Torture Prisons

In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.

Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.

Court cases were also launched in Spain, although they were suppressed, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama), and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.” Read the rest of this entry »

Two Sudanese Prisoners Released from Guantánamo, 79 Cleared Prisoners Remain

As the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches (on January 11, 2014), the run of good news regarding the situation at the prison continues, with the news that two prisoners — Ibrahim Idris, 52, and Noor Uthman Muhammed, 51, have been released to Sudan, and the Senate has voted to ease restrictions imposed by Congress over the last three years. The release of the two men brings the number of prisoners released this year to eight, and the total number of prisoners still held to 158.

Until recently, there had been three years of inaction regarding Guantánamo, when just five prisoners were released by President Obama. This inaction had been caused because of opposition in Congress and the president’s refusal to spend political capital overcoming that opposition. Of the five men released, two — Ibrahim al-Qosi and Omar Khadr — were amongst the handful of prisoners regarded as so significant that they had been put forward for military commission trials, and had agreed to plea deals that stipulated how much longer they should be held, and three — an Algerian and two Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — had their release ordered by a US judge, after they had their habeas corpus petitions granted (before the appeals court in Washington D.C. rewrote the habeas rules, so that no prisoner could be released through a legal challenge).

The three years of inaction came to an end in August, when two Algerian men — Nabil Hadjarab and Mutia Sayyab — were released, who, like over half the men still held, had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009. Their release followed a promise to resume releasing prisoners that President Obama made in a major speech on national security issues in May. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the European Court of Human Rights’ Hearing About Poland’s CIA Torture Prison on Voice of Russia

On Monday and Tuesday, as I explained in a subsequent article, “an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ to be held accountable for their actions,” when a ground-breaking hearing took place in Strasbourg. For the first time since the start of the “war on terror” and the abuses that, in particular, took place between 2002 and 2006, the European Court of Human Rights listened to evidence about the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Both men were held at a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty in the northeast of the country, between December 2002, when they were moved from a previous CIA “black site” in Thailand, until October 2003, when they were moved for five months to “Strawberry Fields,” a secret facility in Guantánamo, until the Bush administration realized that the Supreme Court was about to grant the Guantánamo prisoners habeas corpus rights, thereby allowing lawyers to visit and to shatter the secrecy that was necessary for torture abuse to take place unchallenged. They were then shunted around other “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco, until they were returned to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 12 other “high-value detainees” held in “black sites” for several years.

Writing about the hearing, Crofton Black, an investigator with Reprieve, one of the organizations representing Abu Zubaydah, stated that the court had “heard overwhelming and uncontested evidence that the CIA was running a secret torture prison on Polish soil, with the Polish government’s knowledge.” As I wrote in my article, “although I am prepared for disappointment, I certainly hope that the European Court of Human Rights will find that the Polish authorities acted unlawfully in hosting a CIA ‘black site’ on their territory.” Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Hears Evidence About CIA Torture Prison in Poland

Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in a secret CIA "black site" in Poland, whose cases were heard by the European Court of Human Rights in December 2013.On Monday and Tuesday, an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” to be held accountable for their actions, when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held a hearing to examine the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Both men are amongst the 14 “high-value detainees” who arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006 after years of incommunicado detention and torture in a variety of CIA “black sites,” one of which was in Poland, and as Interights, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, explained in a news release, “This historic court hearing [is] the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing the CIA to run a torture site on its territory and comes after years of silence from the Polish government about the CIA’s prison there.”

The cases of these two men are enormously significant for everyone seeking accountability, as they are two of only three prisoners whom the US had admitted were subjected to waterboarding, the ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning. With another “high-value detainee,” Ramzi bin al-Shibh, they were the only men held at a CIA “black site” in Thailand prior to their transfer to Poland in December 2002. In October 2003, they were moved to a secret “black site” within Guantánamo, identified as “Strawberry Fields,” and were then moved around a number of other CIA “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco until their eventual return to Guantánamo in 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Third Victim of CIA Torture in Poland Granted Victim Status, as European Court of Human Rights Prepares to Hear Evidence

It’s almost exactly eight years since Dana Priest of the Washington Post first broke the story, on November 2, 2005, that, “according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents,” the CIA had been “hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe … part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba.”

The Post bowed to pressure from the Bush administration not to reveal the name of any of the countries in Eastern Europe, but just days later, on November 7, 2005, Human Rights Watch announced that the facilities were in Poland — on the grounds of an intelligence training facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty, in the north east of the country — and Romania. In June 2007, Council of Europe special investigator Dick Marty issued a detailed report about Europe’s role in the US rendition and torture program in which he stated that he had “enough evidence to state” that there definitely had been CIA prisons in Poland and Romania. It later emerged, in December 2009, that a third European torture prison was in Lithuania, but to this day no one in the Bush administration or the CIA has been held accountable for America’s post-9/11 torture program.

Since the stories of the secret prisons first emerged, only Poland has shown any willingness to tackle the revelations with anything approaching the rigor they deserve. The Romanian government has refused to even acknowledge the existence of its prison, despite a detailed investigation exposing its existence, conducted by the Associated Press and Germany’s ARD Panorama, and although the Lithuanian government opened an official investigation, it was closed in 2011 when the government claimed that there was insufficient evidence, also citing restrictions imposed by its statute of limitations. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Wants to be Prosecuted Rather than Rot in Legal Limbo

Throughout the spring and summer, while the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo raged, taking up most of my attention, as I reported prisoners’ accounts, and campaigned to get President Obama to release the 86 prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, I missed some other developments, which I intend to revisit over the next few weeks, beginning with an article by Jess Bravin for the Wall Street Journal in July.

Bravin, the Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the acclaimed book The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, wrote an article entitled, “Guantánamo Detainee Begs to Be Charged as Legal Limbo Worsens,” which perfectly captured the Alice in Wonderland-style absurdity of the prison, eleven and half years after it opened, with the remaining 164 prisoners no closer to securing justice than they were when George W. Bush set up the prison, which, at the time, was intended to be a place where they could be held without any rights whatsoever.

Highlighting one aspect of this ongoing injustice, Bravin looked at the case of Sufyian Barhoumi, identified in his article as Sufiyan Barhoumi, who, as he described it, “has decided to plead guilty to war crimes, throw himself on the mercy of the court and serve whatever sentence a US military commission deems just.” As Bravin added, however, “There’s just one problem: The Pentagon refuses to charge him.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Culture of Impunity – New Online Film Includes Andy Worthington Talking About Guantánamo, Torture and Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi

As today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote a newly released half-hour documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.

The film, the first of a two-part documentary (with the second part to follow later in the year) was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.

Dealing with the illegal invasion of Iraq, the establishment of Guantánamo, “extraordinary rendition,” CIA “black sites,” America’s secret torture program, and the guilt of those responsible for initiating the war, the arbitrary detention and the torture — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice  — the film also covers the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who I spoke about. Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Admits Only 2.5 Percent of All Prisoners Ever Held at Guantánamo Will Be Tried

So it’s official, then. Eleven and a half years after the “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo, the maximum number of prisoners that the US military intends to prosecute, or has already prosecuted, is 20 — or just 2.5 percent of the 779 men held at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

The news was announced on Monday June 10 by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo, and it is a humiliating climbdown for the authorities.

When President Obama appointed an inter-agency task force to review the cases of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, which issued its report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 36 of the remaining prisoners should be tried.

Just five of the 36 have since been to trial — one in the US, and four through plea deals in their military commissions at Guantánamo. Another man — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul — had already been tried and convicted, in the dying days of George W. Bush’s second term, and two others had been sent home after their trials — David Hicks after a plea deal in March 2007, and Salim Hamdan after a trial in July 2008 — making a total of 39 prosecutions, or intended prosecutions, after eleven and a half years of the prison’s existence. That was just 5 percent of the men held throughout Guantánamo’s history, but now that figure, which was, in itself, an extremely poor reflection on the efficacy of the prison and its relationship to any acceptable notions of justice, has been halved.

As Reuters described it, Brig. Gen. Martins explained that the number set by the task force was “ambitious” in light of two rulings last October and in January this year by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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