In Historic Ruling, Case of Four Survivors of CIA Rendition and “Black Site” Torture To Be Heard By Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Four of the men subjected to rendition and torture in the “war on terror’ that the United States declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From L to R: British residents Binyam Mohamed and Bisher al-Rawi, Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen, and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

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.

When it comes to the crimes committed by the US government in the brutal “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the wheels of justice move so slowly that their motion is almost imperceptible.

A case in point involves four survivors of the CIA’s rendition and torture program — British residents Binyam Mohamed and Bisher al-Rawi, Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen, and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni. Also see my extensive archive about Binyam Mohamed’s case, which I covered in great detail in 2008 and 2009.

Last month, on July 8, in what the ACLU accurately described as a “historic decision,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — an international human rights tribunal based in Washington, D.C., which reviews cases throughout the Americas, and whose judgments are meant to be binding on the states involved — determined that the four men, “survivors of the US secret detention and torture program,” have “the right to present their case before the regional tribunal.”

And those wheels of justice? Well, here goes. The case was only submitted to the IACHR — in November 2011 — after a long quest for justice in the US had been exhausted. The ACLU had first filed a lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of three of the men — against Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing whose role as “The CIA’s Travel Agent” was first exposed, through statements made by a former Jeppesen employee, in an article by Jane Mayer for the New Yorker in October 2006.

As I explained in an article ten years ago:

In statements that were later submitted to the court, Sean Belcher, a former employee, said that the director of Jeppesen International Trip Planning Services, Bob Overby, had told him, “We do all the extraordinary rendition flights,” which he also referred to as “the torture flights” or “spook flights.” Belcher stated that “there were some employees who were not comfortable with that aspect of Jeppesen’s business” because they knew “some of these flights end up” with the passengers being tortured, but added that Overby had explained, “that’s just the way it is, we’re doing them” because “the rendition flights paid very well.”

In its press release last month, the ACLU explained how, “During rendition flights, victims were often stripped naked, sexually assaulted, diapered, chained, and strapped down to the floor of an airplane as part of a brutal procedure known as ‘capture shock’ treatment.”

As the ACLU explained in its page relating to the case, in February 2008 the District Court “dismisse[d] the ACLU’s case against Jeppesen after the government intervened, inappropriately invoking the ‘states secrets privilege’ to avoid legal scrutiny of an unlawful program.” The ACLU appealed, and in February 2009 a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case. Barack Obama was now president, but the Department of Justice “once again assert[ed] that the entire subject matter of the case [was] a state secret.”

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — led by Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, and also including Judges Mary M. Schroeder and William C. Canby, Jr. — reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the case, “ruling that the government cannot invoke the state secrets privilege to dismiss the entire suit, rather, the privilege can only be invoked with respect to specific evidence,” as the ACLU described it.

I wrote about it at the time, 100 days into Obama’s presidency, citing pertinent passages from the ruling, including the following:

At base, the government argues … that state secrets form the subject matter of a lawsuit, and therefore require dismissal, any time a complaint contains allegations, the truth or falsity of which has been classified as secret by a government official. The district court agreed, dismissing the case exclusively because it “involves allegations” about [secret] conduct by the CIA. This sweeping characterization of the “very subject matter” bar has no logical limit — it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.

Following the April 2009 ruling, the case was remanded back to the District Court, but before that could happen the government asked the full appeals court — an 11-judge panel — to hear the case. That happened in December 2009, and in September 2010 the court reversed the April 2009 decision, as I explained in my article at the time, By One Vote, US Court OKs Torture and “Extraordinary Rendition”.

As I explained in my article, “when asked to rule on whether these five men should have their day in court, or whether the government should be allowed to dismiss their lawsuit by claiming that the exposure of any information relating to ‘extraordinary rendition’ and torture threatened the national security of the United States, American justice contemplated looking at itself squarely in the mirror, telling truth to power, and allowing these men the opportunity to address what had happened to them in a court of law, but, at the last minute, flinched and turned away. By six votes to five, the Court decided that, in the interests of national security, the men’s day in court would be denied.”

In December 2010, the ACLU “file[d] a cert petition, asking the US Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision dismissing the lawsuit,” but in May 2011 the Supreme Court turned down the request, exhausting the legal options in the US, and leading the ACLU — with the NYU Global Justice Clinic — to approach the IACHR instead.

Meanwhile, in the US, the truth of the men’s claims was further highlighted with the publication, in December 2014, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, which took five years to complete, and which, damningly for the CIA and the Bush administration, condemned the program for being brutal and counter-productive. 119 victims of rendition and torture were named in the report, including Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, although, like an untold number of other prisoners who were not held in specific CIA “black sites,” but in facilities in, for example, Morocco, Jordan, Syria or Egypt, Abou Elkassim Britel (held in Morocco) was not. Mohamed and al-Rawi were also the only two of the four to also be held at Guantánamo.

Following the recent IACHR ruling, the ACLU explained that, “In ordering the case to move forward, the Inter-American Commission found that ‘insurmountable obstacles within the US legal system’ prevent victims of US counterterrorism operations from obtaining remedies before US courts.”

Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, said, “Unlike US courts, the Commission found that victims of US extraordinary rendition and torture can have their claims heard. Our clients’ decades-long pursuit of justice has finally paid off.”

The ACLU noted that the IACHR “found that the US is responsible under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man to respect the rights of everyone under US control, even when such persons are located outside the country.” Following its decision to proceed, the IACHR “will now consider the merits of the survivors’ legal claims, including any US violations of the rights enshrined in the American Declaration.”

Professor Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the NYU Global Justice Clinic, and counsel for Mr. Bashmilah, said, “At a time when the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to thwart accountability for US torture, this decision demonstrates that the US is not above the law. President Trump has relentlessly attacked international justice institutions, most recently with an executive order authorizing sanctions against the International Criminal Court for even investigating US war crimes. The Inter-American Commission’s decision to accept this case shows that the quest for accountability will not be quashed.”

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Military Judge Rules That Terrorism Sentence at Guantánamo Can Be Reduced Because of CIA Torture

Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, in a photo taken at the prison in 2018, and the military commissions judge, Army Col. Douglas K. Watkins, who has ruled that his sentence, based on a plea deal agreed in 2012, can be reduced because he was tortured in “black sites” by the CIA.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

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.

It’s been nearly two years since I last reported on the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, which is less an oversight than a tacit acknowledgement that the entire system is broken, a facsimile of justice in which the defense teams for those put forward for trials are committed to exposing the torture to which their clients were subjected in secret CIA “black sites,” while the prosecutors are just as committed to keeping that information hidden.

I’m pleased to be discussing the commissions again, however, because, in a recent ruling in the case of “high-value detainee” Majid Khan, a judge ruled that, as Carol Rosenberg described it for the New York Times, “war court judges have the power to reduce the prison sentence of a Qaeda operative at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a remedy for torture by the CIA.”

When I last visited the commissions, the chief judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, who had also been the judge on the case of the five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks since the men were arraigned in May 2012, had just caused a stir by ruling that confessions obtained by so-called “clean teams” of FBI agents, after the men were moved to Guantánamo from the CIA “black sites” where their initial confessions were obtained through the use of torture, would not be admitted as evidence. In a second blow, he announced his resignation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Uzair Paracha, Victim of Tortured Terrorism Lies, is Freed from US Jail; Why Is His Father Still at Guantánamo?

Uzair Paracha, left, photographed at the time of his arrest in 2003, and his father Saifullah, still held at Guantánamo, in a photo taken a few years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

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.

For anyone who has been paying attention not only to the long and horribly unjust Guantánamo saga, but also to the stories of others held in other circumstances as part of the “tangled web” of the “war on terror,” the recent announcement that Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani national, has been released from a US jail and repatriated after 17 years in prison, with a judge throwing his conviction out of court, is extremely good news.

If there is any justice, Uzair Paracha’s release ought to secure the release from Guantánamo of his father, Saifullah, although, when it comes to Guantánamo, of course, it has rarely been the case that anything involving that prison has ever had any meaningful connection to justice.

I first came across Saifullah Paracha’s story in 2006, while researching my book The Guantánamo Files, and I came across his son’s story in 2007, which prompted me to write about a possible miscarriage of justice in my article, Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man.

Read the rest of this entry »

International Criminal Court Authorizes Investigation into War Crimes in Afghanistan, Including US Torture Program

The logo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and an image of a secret prison.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

Good news from The Hague, as the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has approved an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003 “by US armed forces and members of the CIA, the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, and Afghan government forces,” as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release.

The investigation, as CCR also explained, will include “crimes against humanity and war crimes … committed as part of the US torture program,” not only in Afghanistan but also in “the territory of other States Parties to the Rome Statute implicated in the US torture program”; in other words, other sites in the CIA’s global network of “black site” torture prisons, which, notoriously, included facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. As CCR explained, “Although the United States is not a party to the ICC Statute, the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed by US actors on the territory of a State Party to the ICC,” and this aspect of the investigation will look at crimes committed since July 1, 2002.

AS CCR also explained, “The investigation marks the first time senior US officials may face criminal liability for their involvement in the torture program.”

Read the rest of this entry »

In Abu Zubaydah Court Case, US Judges Admit That He Was Tortured

An image of Abu Zubaydah by Brigid Barrett for an article in Wired in 2013. The original photo is from the classified US military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

When it comes to the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men are held — on a seemingly endlessly basis — without charge or trial, and where many of the 40 men still held were the victims of torture in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at the prison, the dominant reaction, from the mainstream US media and the American people in general, as Guantánamo nears the 18th anniversary of its opening, is one of amnesia.

With the valiant exception of Carol Rosenberg, who has been visiting the prison since it opened, and who, these days, is often the only journalist visiting and paying attention to its despairing prisoners and its broken trials, the mainstream media largely pays little or no attention to Guantánamo, as was apparent in June, when a significant court victory for the prisoners — challenging the long-standing nullification of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights, dating back to 2011 — was completely ignored. I wrote about it here for Close Guantánamo, and also posted it here, where it secured significant interest from the small community of people who still care about the injustices of Guantánamo, but it was dispiriting that no one else noticed.

Two weeks ago, the mainstream US media once more largely failed to notice a significant court ruling relating to Guantánamo — and the US torture program — which was delivered by judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in relation to Abu Zubaydah, held at Guantánamo since September 2006, and the prisoner for whom the CIA’s torture program was first developed back in 2002.

Read the rest of this entry »

17 Years Since the Notorious Yoo-Bybee “Torture Memos,” the US Still Finds Itself Unable to Successfully Prosecute the Men It Tortured

John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and prisoners on a rendition plane.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

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.

August 1 was the 17th anniversary of a particularly grotesque and dispiriting event in modern US history, one that has ramifications that are still being felt today, even though it was completely unnoticed — or ignored — by the US media. 

On August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, then the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the branch of the Justice Department responsible for advising the executive branch on what is, and what is not legal, signed off on two blatantly unlawful memos written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which attempted to re-define torture, and approved its use on Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner of the “war on terror” that the US declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who was being held in a secret prison — a “black site” — run by the CIA.

The memos remained secret until June 2004, when, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photos were leaked of torture in a US-run prison in Iraq, one of the Yoo-Bybee memos was also leaked, provoking widespread disgust, although Yoo and Bybee escaped the criticism unscathed. For his services, Bybee was made a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while Yoo kept his job as a law professor at the University of Berkeley. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo’s 17th Anniversary and Gina Haspel’s War Crimes as a Torturer on RT

A screenshot of Andy Worthington discussing Guantanamo, black sites and Gina Haspel with Scottie Nell Hughes on RT America on January 15, 2019.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

On my recent US visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 17th anniversary of its opening, I was interviewed for RT in New York on January 15, and have only just found the video, which is posted below. I appeared on ‘News. Views. Hughes,’ which the channel describes as “a special daily afternoon broadcast hosted by journalist and political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes.”

Hughes was a paid CNN commentator and vocal Donald Trump supporter during the 2016 presidential election, and, as GQ explained in an article in 2016, “served as one of Trump’s most faithful and pervasive campaign surrogates” on the campaign trail. Her questioning showed an effort to challenge my assessment of the situation at Guantánamo, but, as a long-standing campaigner for the closure of the prison, it isn’t difficult for me to point out that only dictators hold people indefinitely without charge or trial, and that the American people deserve better from their leaders, who are supposed to have a fundamental respect for the rule of law.

I also discussed the unsuitability of Gina Haspel to be the director of the CIA — something that was abundantly clear to me throughout the period of her nomination an her eventual confirmation, and which I wrote about at the time in two articles, The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA and Torture on Trial in the US Senate, as the UK Government Unreservedly Apologizes for Its Role in Libyan Rendition. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Four Years Since the Executive Summary of the Senate Torture Report Was Published: Where’s the Full Report?

A cleaner at CIA headquarters.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Today, December 9, marks four years since the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was published. Although this 500-page document was quite heavily redacted, its release was nevertheless something of a triumph for America’s notion of itself as having a government whose actions are subjected to checks and balances.

The full 6,000-page report, which took five years and $40 million to compile, was approved by nine members of the committee to six on December 13, 2012, and the executive summary was released eight months after the committee voted to release significant parts of the report — key findings and an executive summary.

What was released was devastating for the CIA.

As I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, ‘Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report’, which was published the day after the executive summary was published: Read the rest of this entry »

16 Years Since John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s “Torture Memos” Were Issued, Abu Zubaydah Remains in Guantánamo, Silenced and Alone

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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 was on vacation recently when a terrible anniversary passed unnoticed by the mainstream media — the 16th anniversary of two official US government memos authorizing the use of torture, and specifically approving it for use on Abu Zubaydah, which were issued on August 1, 2002.

A Saudi-born Palestinian, Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” until, in September 2006, he was sent to Guantánamo, where he remains to this day, held largely incommunicado, and without being charged or put on trial. 

In a useful article for the generally dreadful Lawfare blog, whose existence normalizes the notion of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, one of his lawyers, Charles R. Church, recently wrote an article entitled, “What Politics and the Media Still Get Wrong About Abu Zubaydah,” in which he wrote, “Perhaps not since the French political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair, at the turn of the 20th century, has there been such a concerted campaign to promulgate false information about a prisoner. In our client’s case, the motive was to gain permission to torture Abu Zubaydah and to provide a basis for holding him incommunicado and in isolation.” Read the rest of this entry »

“The World Has Forgotten Me” Says Ahmed Rabbani, 95-Pound Hunger Striker in Guantánamo

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.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.




 

Over 16 and a half years since the ill-conceived prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and over two and a half years into the presidency of Donald Trump, the terrible injustice of Guantánamo has, sadly, largely slipped off the radar.

The reasons are many — and none reflect well on the US, its institutions and its people. The American people have never cared sufficiently about what is being done in their name at Guantánamo, where the fundamental right not to be imprisoned without due process has been done away with since the prison opened, a product of the country’s all-consuming vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Few people, it seems, either know or care that very few people accused of terrorism have actually been held at Guantánamo, and that most of those held were foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan, or civilians swept up in incompetent dragnets, and that the majority — whether soldiers or civilians — were not “captured on the battlefield,” but were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies.

When it comes to America’s institutions, everyone has failed to live up to their responsibilities — President Obama, for example, who took eight years to fail to close the prison, despite promising to do so on his second day in office; Congress, where lawmakers generally take little interest in anything other than appeasing big business; and the courts, who have failed to fundamentally challenge the lawlessness of Guantánamo. 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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