Junio 11, 2007

Groups Sue US Over Fate of 39 'Disappeared'

by Jim Lobe

Three human rights groups sued the US government Thursday to force it to disclose what it knows about the fate of more than three dozen detainees in the "global war on terror" who are believed to have been held by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret prisons at some point over the past five years and who remain unaccounted for.

The three New York-based groups – Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law – filed their suit under the Freedom of Information Act, alleging that the government is withholding documents that can shed light on what happened to the 39 "disappeared" detainees and where they might be found.

"What we're asking is where are these 39 people now, and what's happened to them since they 'disappeared'?" said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, which, while not a plaintiff in the case, contributed to a report, also released Thursday, that forms the basis of the lawsuit.

"It is already a serious abuse to hold them in secret CIA prisons. Now we fear they may have been transferred to countries where they face further secret detention and abuse," she added.

The 21-page report, to which two other groups – London-based Cageprisoners and Reprieve – also contributed, details the names and other information about 39 people who "disappeared" after their apprehension. Most were detained in Pakistan between 2001 and 2005.

The report, entitled "Off the Record", also records the detention of the wives or young children – in one case, as young as six months old – of several of the detainees. The six groups said it was the most comprehensive listing of detainees who have disappeared that has been compiled since the launch of the war on terror in late 2001.

"The duty of governments to protect people from acts of terrorism is not in question," said Amnesty's senior research director, Claudio Cordone, in London. "But seizing men, women and even children, and placing people in secret locations deprived of the most basic safeguards for any detainees most definitely is. The US administration must end this illegal and morally repugnant practice once and for all."

For its part, the CIA declined to confirm or deny the accuracy of the information presented in the rights groups' report.

"When it comes to the CIA and the fight against terror, there's no shortage of inaccurate allegations," said the agency's spokesman, Paul Gimigliano. "The plain truth is that we act in strict accord with American law, and that our counter-terror initiatives – which are subject to careful review and oversight – have been very effective in disrupting plots and saving lives."

The report comes amid renewed controversy over the George W. Bush administration's detention practices on a number of fronts.

On Friday, the long-awaited prosecution in absentia of 25 CIA operatives, as well as Italy's former intelligence head, alleged to have abducted an imam off the streets of Milan in February 2003 as part of Washington's program of "extraordinary rendition", will get underway in northern Italy's largest metropolis. The imam, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, was flown to Egypt where, according to his account, he was severely tortured during interrogation before being released to house arrest.

On the same day, the Council of Europe's chief investigator of the extraordinary rendition program's operations in Europe, Swiss senator Dick Marty, is expected to release his latest report on the CIA's use of secret prisons, or so-called "black sites", in Europe, notably in Poland and Romania.

At home, the CIA's methods have also come under renewed attack. Late last month, the government's Intelligence Science Board released a blistering report criticizing the harsher interrogation techniques used by the CIA – ranging from stress positions and sleep deprivation to exposure to heat and cold and so-called water-boarding – as ineffective and even counterproductive. Rights groups have called such methods torture, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's former counselor, Philip Zelikow, denounced them as "immoral" during a widely-noted lecture the previous month.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report just last week which questioned the value of the CIA's secret detention and interrogation program, suggesting that whatever gains it has made in obtaining intelligence are outweighed by the negative publicity it has generated and the likelihood that it has also elicited false information.

Finally, the American Civil Liberties Union last week sued a subsidiary of Boeing involved in the CIA's rendition program on behalf of three individuals, including an Egyptian, Ethiopian, and an Italian who were captured in one country and then sent to secret detention sites where they were allegedly tortured.

Like torture, enforced disappearance – a practice initiated by the Nazis under the notorious "Night and Fog" decrees that became widely used by military dictatorships against suspected political dissidents in Latin America in the 1970's – violates a number of human rights treaties ratified by the US

"Since the end of Latin America's dirty wars, the world has rejected the use of 'disappearances' as a fundamental violation of international law," said Meg Satterthwaite, director of New York University's human rights program"Despite this universal condemnation, our research shows that the United States has tried to vanish both the people in this report, and the rule of law. Enforced disappearances are illegal, regardless of who carries them out."

Bush himself publicly acknowledged for the first time last September that the CIA has operated secret prisons in various parts of the world, when he announced the transfer of 14 "high-value" detainees, including the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from CIA custody to the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the time, he insisted that no other detainees were being held by the CIA, although the agency reportedly transferred yet another alleged senior al-Qaeda operative, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi to Guantanamo in April. This suggested that he had also been held for some time, although probably in some form of "proxy detention" in a third country, rather than a CIA-controlled "black site".

More than a hundred terrorist suspects are believed to have been subject to the rendition program, but most of those eventually were sent to Guantanamo or released or otherwise have been accounted for.

Of the 39 who remain unaccounted for, the report divided them into three groups – three whose detention by the US was officially acknowledged at one time; 18 about whom there is strong evidence, including witness testimony, that the US held them in secret detention; and the remainder about whom there is some evidence of their being held by the US in secret detention.

Although most of the individuals on the list were originally detained in Pakistan, many are nationals from other countries, including Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, and Spain. Other initial seizures took place in Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.

Regarding cases where family members of terrorist suspects have been held, the report noted that some have been released, while others remain unaccounted for.

The seven- and nine-year-old sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were reportedly apprehended by Pakistani security forces in September 2002 and subsequently questioned about his possible whereabouts. After his capture, according to the report, they were used by the CIA as "leverage to force their father to cooperate with the United States."

(Inter Press Service)

Posted by marga at Junio 11, 2007 3:04 PM | TrackBack
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