Last Wednesday, in Amman, Jordan, 12 years of British hysteria about terrorism was thoroughly undermined when the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who was returned to Jordan from the UK in July 2013, was acquitted of terrorism charges and freed.
Abu Qatada (real name Omar Mahmoud Othman) was arrested in October 2002 — as were a handful of other foreign nationals — and imprisoned without charge or trial in Belmarsh Prison, under terrorism legislation passed in 2001. In 2005, the system of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial was replaced with control orders, a form of house arrest, and Abu Qatada was released from Belmarsh, but after the London terrorist attacks in July 2005, he and other men were rounded up and imprisoned once more.
This time around the intention was to deport the men imprisoned without charge or trial, but although a secret terrorism court — the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) — ruled that he could be deported in February 2007, that decision was overturned by the appeals court in April 2008. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Injustices do not become any less unjust the longer they are not addressed, and when it comes to the “war on terror” launched by President Bush following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those injustices continue to fester, and to poison America’s soul.
One of those injustices is Guantánamo, where 166 men are still imprisoned, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by a task force established by the President four years ago, and another is Bagram in Afghanistan (renamed and rebranded the Parwan Detention Facility), where the Geneva Conventions were torn up by George W. Bush, and have not been reinstated, and where foreign prisoners seized elsewhere and rendered to US custody in Afghanistan remain imprisoned. Some of these men have been held for as long as the men in Guantánamo, but without being allowed the rights to be visited by civilian lawyers, which the men in Cuba were twice granted by the Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2008 — even if those rights have now been taken away by judges in the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., demonstrating a susceptibility to the general hysteria regarding the “war on terror,” rather than a desire to bring justice to the men in Guantánamo.
Another profound injustice — involving the kidnapping of prisoners anywhere in the world, and their rendition to “black sites” run by the CIA, or to torture dungeons in other countries — also remains unaddressed. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
On Thursday, I’ll be taking part in an event in London to raise awareness of the plight of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen, and a poet who suffers from Asberger’s Syndrome. Talha, who also gained a first class honours degree in Arabic from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London), planned to become a librarian, but has been imprisoned for six years without charge or trial in the UK, while pursuing legal challenges to prevent his proposed extradition to the US. The event is taking place on the sixth anniversary of his arrest at his home, on July 19, 2006.
This will be my second appearance at an event in support of Talha. Two weeks ago, I took part in a moving event in Bethnal Green, in East London, The event in Bethnal Green, at the premises of the arts organisation no.w.here, involved a screening of the new documentary film, “Extradition,” directed by Turab Shah, which tells the stories of Talha Ahsan and also of Babar Ahmad, imprisoned for eight years without charge or trial, who also faces extradition to the US. The film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry, and at the event on July 4, there was a palpable feeling that, within days, Talha and Babar might find their last appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, leading to their imminent extradition to the US — and solitary confinement in a Supermax prison.
Fortunately, the date that a decision on the appeal was to be made — July 10 — has now been extended to September, allowing campaigners some more time to try to persuade the British government to intervene. Talha and Babar Ahmad are accused of hosting a website from 1997 to 2004 promoting jihad in countries where Muslims faced oppression, but it is difficult to see what justification there is for extraditing them to the US, where a biased judicial system will probably sentence them to decades in solitary confinement, for two particular reasons. Read the rest of this entry »
Postscript July 6: I have just been informed that Talha and Babar’s lawyers have asked people NOT to send letters to the European Court of Human Rights, as they are submitting their own formal appeal. New campaigning tools will be announced soon.
As part of the campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad — who, along with others, including Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon — face extradition to the US under the terms of the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty, Talha’s brother Hamja has been working flat-out to promote a new documentary film, “Extradition,” which tells the stories of his brother and of Babar Ahmad, with screenings up and down the country. Directed by Turab Shah, the film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry.
On Wednesday July 4, and later in the month, I will be taking part in Q&A sessions following screenings in London, and I also want to alert readers in the London area to other screenings this week, on Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7.
As I explained in an article two weeks ago, promoting a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, it has been “a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.” Read the rest of this entry »
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