In the first ever public hearing, Europe’s human rights court examined Poland’s role in CIA ‘black site’ prisons and torture of suspects.
Lawyers of two terror suspects currently held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, accused Poland of abuse during Tuesday’s hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
The hearing examined claims that Warsaw allowed the CIA to operate a jail for suspected terrorists, who were tortured, in Stare Kiejkuty, a remote village in north-east Poland.
Both suspects said at the hearing that they were brought to Poland in December 2002 with the knowledge of the Polish authorities.
Poland declined to reveal to the court any information saying that it could compromise a separate investigation by Polish prosecutors, and because the court could not guarantee the information would be kept confidential.
“The government does not wish to confirm or deny the facts cited by the applicants,” said Artur Nowak-Far, Under-Secretary of State in the Polish foreign ministry.
The Polish investigation has gone on for five years without an outcome. Polish authorities have never disclosed the investigation’s terms or scope, while human rights groups have accused Warsaw of deliberately postponing the investigation.
The UN Committee Against Torture has criticized the “lengthy delays” and said that it was “also concerned about the secrecy surrounding the investigation and failure to ensure accountability in these cases.”
The lawyers of the two detainees said that the evidence of torture presented to the judges at the hearing will make it harder for the Polish government to close its eyes to the case.
“A really strong and compelling case has been put here, so in that sense the hearing was very encouraging,” said lawyer Helen Duffy, on behalf of Interrights, a human rights group, Reuters reported.
The ECHR is to take several months before issuing a ruling, while no further hearings have been scheduled.
The CIA’s post 9/11 extraordinary rendition and secret detention programs are believed to have involved up to 54 foreign governments which aided the US in its operations in a variety of ways. This included hosting CIA black sites on their territories, detaining, interrogating and torturing suspects, allowing the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees, and providing intelligence which aided efforts to the detain and rendition individuals.
American lawmakers have never said where the ‘black site’ prisons were based, but intelligence officials, aviation reports and human rights groups said they included Afghanistan and Thailand as well as Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
Investigators believe a military base in north-eastern Poland was the location of one of the CIA secret prisons between December 2002 and September 2003.
Former US President George W. Bush first acknowledged the secret prisons in 2006 after numerous media reports on the issue. He ordered their closure and announced that many of the detainees would be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The two detainees – Abd al-Rahim Hussayn Muhammad al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian national of Yemeni descent and a Palestinian, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah – claim that they were waterboarded at the Polish facility during the interrogations. Currently, the two detainees are held under ultra-secure conditions in a section of Guantanamo known as Camp 7 according to a declassified report released in 2009.
The largest criminal organizations in the world are governments. The bigger they are, the more capable of perpetrating atrocities. Not only do they obtain great wealth through compulsion (taxation), they also have an ideological mystique that permits them uniquely to get away with murder, torture, and theft.
The U.S. government is no exception. This is demonstrated by, among many other things, the atomic bombings of noncombatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World II. But let’s examine a lesser-known case, one we might know nothing about were it not for David Vine, who teaches anthropology at the American University. Vine has written a book, Island of Shame, and a follow-up article at the Huffington Post about the savage treatment of the people of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Americans may know Diego Garcia as a U.S. military base. It “helped launch the Afghan and Iraq wars and was part of the CIA’s secret ‘rendition’ program for captured terrorist suspects,” Vine writes.
What’s not widely known is that the island was once home to a couple of thousand people who were forcibly removed to make room for the U.S. military. The victims’ 40-year effort to return or to be compensated for their losses have been futile.
Great Britain claims the island. According to Vine, African slaves, indentured Indians, and their descendants had been living on the Chagos islands for about 200 years. “In 1965, after years of secret negotiations, Britain agreed to separate Chagos from colonial Mauritius (contravening UN decolonization rules) to create a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory. In a secret 1966 agreement, Britain gave U.S. officials base rights on Diego Garcia.”
But it did more than that. Britain “agreed to take those ‘administrative measures’ necessary to remove the nearly 2,000 Chagossians in exchange for $14 million in secret U.S. payments.”
The British kept their end of the bargain. In 1968, Britain began blocking the return of Chagossians who left to obtain medical treatment or to go on vacation, “marooning them often without family members and almost all their possessions,” Vine writes.
British officials soon began restricting food and medical supplies to Chagos. Anglo-American officials designed a public relations plan aimed at, as one British bureaucrat said, “maintaining the fiction” that Chagossians were migrant laborers rather than a people with roots in Chagos for five generations or more. Another British official called them “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays.”
Then, in 1971, the final order came down, reminiscent of a Russian czar expelling Jews from their village. “The U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, issued … a three-word memo.… ‘Absolutely must go.’”
British agents, with the help of Navy Seabees, quickly rounded up the islanders’ pet dogs, gassing and burning them in sealed cargo sheds. They ordered … the remaining Chagossians onto overcrowded cargo ships. During the deportations, which took place in stages until May 1973, most Chagossians slept in the ship’s hold atop guano — bird crap. Prized horses stayed on deck. By the end of the five-day trip, vomit, urine, and excrement were everywhere. At least one woman miscarried.
Arriving in Mauritius and the Seychelles, Chagossians were literally left on the docks. They were homeless, jobless, and had little money, and they received no resettlement assistance.
Remember, this was happening, not in the 18th or 19th century, but in the late 20th century. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the last of the expulsions.
The personal toll has been great. The Chagossians remain poor, and many suffer from illnesses traced to their dispossession. “Scores more Chagossians have reported deaths from sadness and sagren,” or “profound sorrow,” according to Vine.
Five years ago the Chagossians had some ray of hope when three British courts declared the deportations illegal. But the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom overruled the lower courts. “Last year,” Vine adds, “the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the Chagossians’ final appeal on procedural grounds.…”
“A day after the European court ruling, the Obama administration rejected the demands of an online petition signed by some 30,000 asking the White House to ‘redress wrongs against the Chagossians.’”
The British were adequately looking after the matter, the administration said.
Here is government in all its glory.
- Shame, Lies and Secrecy on Diego Garcia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
NEW YORK – In a historic ruling, the European Court of Human Rights today condemned Macedonia’s illegal transfer of Khaled El-Masri into CIA custody and found that his abusive treatment at Macedonia’s airport by the U.S. rendition team “amounted to torture.” The court also found that his abduction and detention – including the time he was in U.S. custody – constituted “enforced disappearance” under international law.
“Today’s landmark decision is a stark reminder of America’s utter failure to hold its own officials accountable for serious violations of both U.S. and international law. Continued lack of accountability is turning the United States into an outlier among its European allies, which is an appalling outcome for a nation that prides itself as a global leader on the rule of law and human rights,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program. “Today’s ruling makes it harder for the United States to continue burying its head in the sand and ignoring domestic and global calls for full accountability for torture. This remarkable decision will no doubt put greater pressure on European nations to fully account for their complicity in cooperating with the illegal CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’ program, and to hold responsible those who violated the human rights of El-Masri and those like him.”
El-Masri is a German citizen who in 2003 was mistaken for another person and abducted by Macedonian authorities at a border crossing and held incommunicado for 23 days. He was then handed over to CIA operatives who put him on a secret flight to a “black site” in Afghanistan where he was secretly held, tortured and abused for about four months.
The ACLU currently represents El-Masri in a case against the U.S. now being considered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and also represented him in a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, which was dismissed. His case before the ECHR was brought by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
In a unanimous decision awarding El-Masri 60,000 Euros, the European court said that the court “underlines the great importance of the present case not only for the applicant and his family, but also for other victims of similar crimes and the general public, who had the right to know what had happened… The concept of ‘State secrets’ has often been invoked to obstruct the search for the truth. State secret privilege was also asserted by the US government in the applicant’s case before the US courts.”
The court’s ruling is available at:
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; email@example.com
- CIA ‘tortured and sodomised’ terror suspect, European court rules (guardian.co.uk)
Thousands of veterans of Britain’s atomic and hydrogen bomb tests are to take the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the European Court of Human Rights, accusing it of exposing them to radiation.
Over 1,000 victims of UK’s nuclear tests, which were carried out in the South Pacific in the 1950s, will ask Europe to intervene, as the British premier David Cameron ignores the terms of the Military Covenant and courts ban hearings into their cases.
Servicemen, who were ordered to witness nuclear bomb tests in the South Pacific, have since suffered cancers and rare medical conditions, with their children suffering from leukemia and birth defects.
Describing the news as “brilliant,” widow Shirley Denson, whose RAF ace husband was ordered to fly through mushroom clouds at Christmas Island in 1958, said, “This is one of our final chances to appeal for the right to present our case.”
“We have tried for 30 years to be heard, and every time the MoD has denied there is anything wrong with us. Now we have vital scientific evidence, and they say we have left it too late,” she added.
Earlier on May, Britain’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown also criticized the MoD for trying to evade its responsibility for cleaning up the radioactive waste contamination from old military bases and factories.
According to a survey conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), the number of contaminated sites across England and Wales was far higher than previously estimated.
A German citizen, who says was abducted in Macedonia by the CIA and taken to a prison in Afghanistan and tortured, has demanded justice from Europe’s human rights court.
Khaled El-Masri of Lebanese descent says he was brutally tortured and interrogated at a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for more than four months after being kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, the Associated Press reported.
On Wednesday, Masri took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“Mr. El-Masri has spent the last eight years seeking legal redress for the crimes that were committed against him,” said James Goldston, who is the executive director of the Open Justice Initiative, a rights group that campaigns against the US extraordinary rendition practice.
Extraordinary rendition is a practice enabling the US apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another.
He noted, “There is abundant evidence, including data on CIA flights to and from [Macedonia's capital] Skopje.”
Masri was eventually released after the CIA realized it had mistaken him for another suspect.
He is also suing the Macedonian government for its role in the kidnapping, an accusation that the authorities in Skopje deny.
The court will consider whether Macedonian agents actually kidnapped Masri, and, if they did, whether they knew what would happen to him after they handed him over to US authorities.
The family of Babar Ahmad, a British citizen who has been held without charge or trial for eight years, have said they will appeal the ruling on his extradition to the US over terrorism charges.
The family members of Ahmad promised to fight his extradition, after the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that he and four others can be transferred to the US.
The family of the 36-year-old computer expert said in a statement that they were “very disappointed” by the court’s ruling and asked the British authorities to try Ahmad in the UK.
“Babar is a British citizen accused of a crime said to have been committed in the UK and all the evidence against him was gathered in this country,” the statement read.
“Nevertheless, British justice appears to have been subcontracted to the US. This should be immediately rectified by putting Babar on trial in the UK and ordering a full public inquiry into the matter.”
The US officials have accused Ahmad of fundraising for terrorists. He has been held pending extradition since 2004, reportedly the longest time a British national has been detained without trial in modern times.
He was first arrested at his home in 2003 by London’s Metropolitan Police. He said he was the victim of a sustained and brutal assault by officers who intended to humiliate him and make him fear for his life.
Amna Ahmad, Babar’s sister, voiced her concerns over what would happen to his brother’s mental health if he was extradited to the US.
“I’m worried that if he’s sent across to the United States firstly they’ll hold him in solitary confinement pre-trial like they did to Chris Tappin, they’ll probably be worse on Babar than they are to Chris Tappin,” she said.