UN report confirms gap between law and reality, torture, secret detentions and police harassment in Tunisia under Ben Ali

The United Nations just published a report on its website which describes the fact-finding mission of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism in January 2010. On the basis of the evidence he gathered, he observed a pattern of unacknowledged detention being used vis-à-vis terrorist suspects. During the period of secret detention, terrorism suspects are at high risk of being subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The secrecy that surrounds custody and interrogations by the unit of the “Police Judiciare”, which is in charge of interrogating terrorism suspects (commonly referred to under its previous name “Directorate for State Security”, DSS), renders investigations into abuses improbable and, consequently, leads to a lack of accountability and to impunity. The Special Rapporteur further concludes that the judiciary does not effectively act as a safeguard against these practices, and that the restrictions on access to lawyer during police custody aggravate his concerns. The report will be discussed by the United Nationas Human Rights Council around the 7th of March 2011.

The report is the last official UN report to describe practices under the Ben Ali regime, and it was the first time in more than 15 years that the UN’s special procedures mechanisms visited the country for a fact finding mission.

Mission: no access to Ministry of Interior interrogation facilities
The Special Rapporteur met with the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Justice and Human Rights, Ministry of Interior officials, judges, parliamentarians, lawyers, academics and non-governmental organizations, in addition, he visited the Bouchoucha police detention facility and the Mornaguia Prison, where he interviewed several persons suspected of, or convicted for, terrorist crimes. More significant the Special Rapporteur was denied access to the interrogation facilities of the Sub-directorate for Criminal Affairs of the “Police Judiciaire”, also known as “Directorate of State Security”, DSS, where the overwhelming majority of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment took place.

The abuse of the definition of terrorism

In his assesment of Tunisia’s revised anti-terrorism law, the Special Rapporteur says clearly that the definition of terrorism does not fulfil the legality requirement contained in article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or article 13 of the Tunisian Constitution. The Rapporteur concludes:

The current wide definition clearly carries the risk of broad application of counterterrorism legislation, which in turn means that the term “terrorism” may become diluted and lose its distinguishing stigma. This may have possibly far-reaching consequences for the rights to freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

According to the SR, the combination of the wide definition of terrorism, combined with the criminalization of preparatory acts of terrorism “allow for targeting as “terrorists” people who simply hold radical and unpalatable views without posing a real danger in terms of planning any violent acts.”

In the view of the Special Rapporteur, it appears that the scope of application of the terrorism provisions in the law has grown too wide and should be reduced. Any anti-terrorism law that is not properly confined to the countering of terrorism within the limits of human rights law is problematic, not only because an overly expansive scope of such a law weakens its own legitimacy and ultimately may prove to be counter-productive, but particularly because it may unjustifiably restrict the enjoyment of human rights pertaining to the exercise of peaceful activities, including dissent and political opposition through legitimate associations. The Special
Rapporteur identified the danger of a ”slippery slope” which not only results in persons being convicted of “terrorism” who do not deserve that stigma, but also endangers the effectiveness of the fight against terrorism by trivializing the phenomenon.

First clear indication of number of persons detained under Tunisia’s anti-terrorism law, and Tunisia’s structure of the internal security forces under the Ministry of Interior

The Special Rapporteur indicates that perhaps one person per day was arrested and/or detained on the basis of the anti-terrorism law. The official statistics that the Special Rapporteur received showed that overall 214 cases have been brought before a court in the seven years since its adoption, in which 1,123 individuals were involved. (So this number does not include people who were never tried.)

Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur received information about a number of cases, where the main “crime” seems to have been to have visited certain countries or even mosques, downloaded or watched certain programmes online, having held prayers together, or having met with others to discuss religious issues.

Regarding the structure of the security forces of the Ministry of the Interior, the Special Rapporteur was expressed concerns about the myriad of agencies that were responsible for countering terrorism.

Elements rendering the practical operation of counter-terrorism policing opaque are the use of several common names for what appears to be the same entity, namely the Subdirectorate of Criminal Affairs, formerly known as “DSS”, standing for the “Directorate of State Security” and the lack of publicly available information on its status and organization.

Back-dating of arrest dates resulting in a pattern of secret detention

Numerous testimonies collected by the SR indicated – and it was admitted by the authorities – that dates of arrest are routinely post-dated, thereby circumventing the rules about the allowed length of police detention and taking detainees out of the protection framework.

When the Special Rapporteur visited Bouchoucha, the police station in Tunis through which terrorism suspects pass before being transferred to pretrial detention, he discovered that all of the 25 detainees whose names were contained in the custody record in relation to terrorist crimes had been brought there by members of the “Police Judiciaire” in the late afternoon or evening and taken out once during the following night for an unspecified period (the officials present during the visit explained that such temporary transfers were indicated in pencil only and erased once the person returned) before finally being transferred before a judge in the morning of the next day. The recorded practice of very short official police custody in terrorism cases is in stark contradiction with reports by detainees and families about interrogations ranging from several days to a number of weeksbefore being brought before a judge. The police officers in Bouchoucha also denied
knowing where the “Police Judiciaire” holds the suspects before bringing them to Bouchoucha for registration into official detention. This pattern appears to be compatible with the many allegations received by the Special Rapporteur that people under investigation are typically in terrorism cases first held in unacknowledged police custody.

In a damning paragraph, the Special Rapporteur highlights that evidence brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur indicated that suspected terrorists are routinely held in secret in a building of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis.

Detainees allegedly sleep either on the ground floor in rudimentary conditions in a number of cells grouped around a larger room, or in smaller cells in the basement. Interrogations also take place on upper floors. No person from the outside has access to these premises, so detainees are at the mercy of their custodians, which, in itself, puts pressure on them and may constitute inhuman treatment. The authorities, however, continue to deny that the Ministry of Interior detains persons within or close to its official premises. Despite repeated requests, they did not allow the Special Rapporteur access to the interrogation facilities of the Ministry.

The Rapporteur concludes:

On the basis of the evidence gathered, he observed a pattern of unacknowledged detention, operating in the city of Tunis under the interrogation authority of the Ministry of Interior, being used to detain terrorist suspects. During this period that precedes detainees’ official registration in police custody, they are also routinely subjected to torture and ill-treatment and denied access to a lawyer.

Torture and the use of confessions obtained under torture

Numerous cases of terrorism suspects brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention indicate that ill-treatment and/or torture is perpetrated during initial, unacknowledged police custody or interrogations by what is commonly referred to as “DSS”, in particular if the suspects refuse to confess.

The details of these accounts suggest that these practices occur under the direct control of the Ministry of Interior and possibly even within or next to the premises of the Ministry. According to consistent allegations, suspects are regularly subjected to severe beatings on different parts of the body, including genitals, with fists, cables and batons, kicking, slapping, often combined with stripping of their clothes and suspensions (including in the so-called poulet rôti (“roast chicken”) position), even in ordinary offices of the Ministry. Some reports also described electroshocks and mock-drowning taking place in one particular room in the basement, especially in cases, where suspects resisted to making confessions. Other methods used included extended periods of sleep deprivation, burning with cigarettes, threats with rape, threats to family members and anal rape. The treatment was allegedly perpetrated by plainclothes officers of DSS.

The main purpose of the torture was to extract confessions, and sometimes testimonies about third persons. It normally stopped with the signing of papers that most suspects had not been allowed to read. However, the Special Rapporteur received allegations about instances of reprisals occurring in official places of detention in terms of beatings, threats and solitary confinement, for instance, for prisoners that had made calls for prayer or submitted complaints. In several cases, detainees were transferred from prisons back to the premises of the Ministry of Interior for interrogation and ill-treatment.

The testimonies also indicated that existing safeguards are ineffective in practice. Apart from the fact that the ill-treatment normally happens prior to the registration of police arrest, access to independent medical examinations, although provided for by law upon authorization by a judge, is practically never granted, and can therefore not be considered an effective safeguard. If at all, medical examinations take place months after the illtreatment was perpetrated, and therefore fail to produce evidence that can be used in court. The resulting “lack of proof” is then used by prosecutors and judges to ignore claims about torture and ill-treatment and, on that basis to reject requests for investigations.

No real accountability for torture

While noting the importance of at least some trials and convictions, the Special Rapporteur considers that the number of prosecutions or other clear findings related to torture remains disturbingly low when compared to the frequency and severity of the allegations he received. He is concerned that there are remnants of a climate of impunity within law-enforcement structures. This is all the more troubling in light of allegations that confessions are frequently used as evidence in court. He is therefore concerned that the lack of effective investigations into allegations of torture may have led and continue to lead to unfair trials and illegitimate court judgements, on the basis of which persons may be deprived of their liberty – one of the most severe interferences with fundamental freedoms – for years, sometimes decades. He therefore calls upon the authorities to reopen.

Overall, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that the judiciary appears to fail to act as an effective remedy when it comes to allegations of torture or ill-treatment. Numerous persons indicated that raising such allegations during trial practically never leads to any action by the judges. Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur’s meetings with judges of the Appeals Court in Tunis did not take away his concern of that protocols that mention torture allegations and other written submissions on the issue are routinely ignored by the court.

This raises serious concerns in terms of the independence of the judiciary, guaranteed by article 65 of the Constitution and the Law No. 29 of 1967, exacerbated by indications thatthe Executive Branch, through the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (which is composed of the President, who is the Chairman, and the Minister of Justice as Vice-chairman, plus a majority of members either representing or appointed by the Executive Branch) controls many aspects of the judiciary, including appointments, promotions, transfers and disciplinary measures.

Clarification of rendition case of Laid Saidi

Concerning Tunisia’s participation in illegal forms of cooperation in counterterrorism, the Special Rapporteur has received allegations that Tunisian authorities were involved in holding a detainee sent to Tunisia by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, who was then transferred to other countries. Laid Saidi was reportedly seized in the United Republic of Tanzania, transferred to Malawi, then rendered to Afghanistan and further to Tunisia, where he was held for 75 days before being returned to his home country Algeria (see A/HRC/13/42, para. 133). According to the Government however Laid Saidi had arrived with a “special flight” on the 9 June 2004, where he was presented by four foreign security officials to Tunisian authorities at the airport of Tunis Carthage under the name of Ramzi Ben Fredj. The Tunisian security services conducted an audit and concluded that the person had usurped the identity of the real Ramzi Ben Fredj.

The person then acknowledged that he was actually Laid Saidi. The next day, on the 10 June 2004, Said was sent back with the same special flight to a “foreign country”; he was then still accompanied by the same foreign agents. Similarly, it has been alleged that Tunisian intelligence officials participated in interrogations of terrorist suspects in Afghanistan (see interview with Bisher Al-Rawi, A/HRC/13/42, annex II, case 4). The
Special Rapporteur regrets that, according to his information, the Government of Tunisia has not started any investigation into these allegations.

Harassment of defence lawyers

The Special Rapporteur received a number of allegations regarding obstruction of the work of defence lawyers, e.g. concerning restrictions on access to their clients and their clients’ files, but also about harassment in more general terms, in particular vis-à-vis those who defend terrorism suspects. This can take the form of interference with their correspondence, non-issuance of passports for international travel, but also go further to not allowing them to enter certain places, pressuring family members, etc.

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Sri Lanka Tamil Tiger spokesman ‘missing after arrest’

The BBC reports that two prominent Tamil Tiger leaders in Sri Lanka are missing after arrest by the army last year, their wives have told a presidential commission. LTTE spokesman Rasiah Ilantherian and head of the Tiger intelligence wing in Batticaloa, Prabha have not been seen since being detained, they said. The two wives were among hundreds of Tamil and Muslims testifying to the panel in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka.

Detainees confirm torture in secret Muthanna detention facility in Iraq

Detainees in a secret Baghdad detention facility were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomized, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report which adds more proof to earlier revelations that torture was being committed in a secret prison under PM’s Maliki’s control.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the men in the Al Rusafa Detention Center on April 26, 2010. They were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad to Al Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks, after the existence of the secret prison was revealed by the LA Times on the 19th of April. All prisoners were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions. More than 100 prisoners are allegedly still in the prison.

The men interviewed said the Iraqi army detained them between September and December 2009 after sweeps in and around Mosul, a stronghold of Sunni Arab militants, including Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The provincial governor alleged at the time that ordinary citizens had been detained as well, often without a warrant.They said torture was most intense during their first week at Muthanna.

‘Secret’ prison?
Iraqi Defense Minister Abd Al-Qadir Al-Obeidi denied that the prisons were secret or that the prisoners had been kidnapped. He said that they had been arrested “in keeping with proper legal procedures and that the investigation of some of the prisoners yielded the information that resulted in the killing of two key terrorist figures early this week.”

The LA Times however described the situation as follows:

Worried  that courts would order the detainees’ release, security forces obtained a court order and transferred them to Baghdad, where they were held in  isolation. Human rights officials learned of the facility in March from  family members searching for missing relatives.
(…)
Commanders  initially resisted efforts to inspect the prison but relented and  allowed visits by two teams of inspectors, including Human Rights  Minister Wijdan Salim. Inspectors said they found that the 431 prisoners had been subjected to appalling conditions and quoted prisoners as  saying that one of them, a former colonel in President Saddam Hussein’s  army, had died in January as a result of torture.

Mr. Maliki himself described the prison at Muthanna as a “transit site under the  control of the Ministry of Defense”, which used it for a “specific  period.”

However, according to sources of the LA Times and Human Rights Watch, the prison was not under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Interior, but under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s military office, the Baghdad Operations Command, which only answers to him.

Maliki will continue to use this private force, but stated that he was committed to stamping out torture.

Maliki vowed to shut down the prison and ordered the arrest of the officers working there after Salim presented him with a report this month. Since then, 75 detainees have been freed and an additional 275 transferred to regular jails, Iraqi officials said. Maliki said in an interview that he had been unaware of the abuses. He said the prisoners had been sent to Baghdad because of concerns about corruption in Mosul.

“Our reforms continue, and we have the Human Rights Ministry to monitor this,” he said. “We will hold accountable anybody who was proven involved in such acts.”

“America is the symbol of democracy, but then you have the abuses at Abu Ghraib,” Mr. Maliki said. “The American government took tough measures, and we are doing the same, so where is the problem and why this  raucousness?”

Judges present in the prison
Maliki further stated seven judges operated at the prison. While investigative  judges were indeed stationed at the secret prison, they  appeared to be complicit in the torture, according to Human Rights  Watch.

A judge “heard cases in a room down the hall from one of the torture  chambers,” the prisoners told Human Rights Watch.

Iraq’s investigations record into human rights violations is rather bleak
While Maliki’s promises are welcome, a recent Amnesty report criticised the persisent failure of Iraqi authorities for not conducting independent investigations into human rights abuses. Amnesty points out that in 2005, 168 detainees were found in appalling conditions at an Iraqi secret detention facility in the al-Jadiriya district of Baghdad. The findings of an investigation into the incident launched shortly afterwards were never made public and no one has been prosecuted in connection with the abuses that took place at the prison. Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

Al-Maliki’s government has repeatedly pledged to investigate incidents  of torture and other serious human rights abuses by the Iraqi security  forces, but no outcome of such investigations has ever been made  public,” .

“This has encouraged a  widespread culture of impunity but this time, Iraq must investigate the  torture allegations thoroughly and bring to justice those responsible  for carrying out any abuses.”

“The existence of secret jails indicates that military units in Iraq are allowed to commit human rights abuses unchecked,”

The UN has criticized as well the fact that no investigation ever has been made public.

The Camp Honor Detention Facility
The controversy over the secret prison, located at the Old Muthanna airport in west Baghdad, has also pushed Maliki to begin relinquishing control of two other detention facilities at Camp Honor, a base in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The base belongs to the Baghdad Brigade and the Counter-Terrorism Force, elite units that report to the prime minister and are responsible for holding high-level suspects.

Families and lawyers say they find it nearly impossible to visit the Camp Honor facilities. The Justice Ministry is now assuming supervision of the Green Zone jails, although Maliki’s offices will continue to command directly the military units.

Camp Honor was apparently a transit-place for detainees on the way to Muthanna. In December 2009, the Human Rights Ministry asked the judiciary to investigate Baghdad Brigade interrogators over allegations of torture at Camp Honor, but hasn’t received an answer, Iraqi officials said.

UN earlier confirmed existence of secret prisons in Iraq
The recent UN report on the use of secret detentions in the context of fighting terrorism has singled out Iraq as well for its use of secret prisons. The report is scheduled to be discussed in the Human Rights Council in June 2010.

The report took up the case of several former collaborators of ex-MEP Mr. al-Dainy, who was arrested with his collaborators in February 2009 and held in secret detention at a number of different locations. In particular, they were detained in a prison in the Green Zone run by the Baghdad Brigade.

par. 228: While held at the Baghdad Brigade prison, most of them were subjected to severe ill-treatment, including beating with cables, suspension from the ceiling by either the feet or hands for up to two days at a time, or electroshocks. Some had black bags put over their heads and were suffocated for several minutes until their bodies became blue several times in a row. Also, some had plastic sticks introduced into their rectum. They were also threatened with the rape of members of their families. They were forced to sign and fingerprint pre-prepared confessions. As a result of the ill-treatment, several of them had visible injuries on several parts of their bodies. Many lost a considerable amount of weight.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) referred to “unofficial detention” by Iraqi authorities, notably the Ministry of the Interior, in several of its reports, highlighting the existence of two other facilities namely f the al-Jadiriya facility and ‘site 4’.

News fans sectarian sections
According to the NY Times:

The prison’s discovery comes at a delicate time for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who is vigorously working to keep power after his  coalition narrowly lost the March 7 national elections.

The revelations could further polarize Iraqis, still coming to grips  with the scars of the sectarian conflict between 2005 and 2007. All  those held at the secret prison before it was shut down were brought to  Baghdad from Sunni Arab areas in Nineveh where Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, is  largely perceived as a sectarian leader with a personal vendetta against anyone associated with the former Sunni-led government of Saddam Hussein.

Sheik Abdullah Humedi, the tribal leader from Nineveh, warned that  the torture revelations had once more inflamed sectarian passions and  could plunge the country into a fresh cycle of violence.
“This breeds extremism,” he said. “In our country a man who is raped  will commit suicide, and how do you think he will do it?”

At least 505 cases of torture were documented in Iraqi prisons in 2009,  according to a  report released by the State Department in March. Recently 251 cases of disappeared terrorist suspects in Iraq were handed over to the UN for investigation as well.

Seven Chamber Judgments against Russia Concerning Chechnya and Dagestan

The European Court of Human Rights recently issued seven judgments concerning allegations of unlawful disappearances and deaths in Chechnya and Dagestan. Seven applicants separately alleged that Russian agents operating in Chechnya and Dagestan had violated Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), 5 (right to liberty and security), and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. According to the applicants, close relatives had disappeared after being detained by Russian agents during a security operation. In addition, the applicants claimed that responsible authorities had failed to carry out effective investigations into the disappearances and deaths of their relatives.

In the majority of the cases, the Court found that Russia had violated Articles 2, 3, 5, and 13 of the Convention and awarded the applicants damages.

More details about the cases are available on the Court’s web site.

Sudanese man sues US after release from Guantanamo

A Sudanese aid worker freed from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 sued U.S. government officials Wednesday 7 April over what he called his forced disappearance and torture.

Lawyers for Adel Hassan Hamad, 52, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle seeking damages for ongoing physical and emotional problems and compensation for lost wages and loss of reputation. It names as defendants nearly two dozen current and former U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Similar cases have been filed — and dismissed — in federal court in Washington, D.C., where judges have ruled that such claims are barred by the Military Commissions Act.

Lawyers for Hamad said his case was the first brought outside of Washington, D.C.

Gwynne Skinner, a member of Hamad’s legal team and a professor in the International Human Rights Clinic at Willamette University College of Law in Oregon, said the case was filed in Seattle because Gates owns property in Washington state. She also said she hopes the judges in the 9th U.S. Circuit, which has historically been less hostile to claims brought by foreigners than the D.C. Circuit, would be willing to let Hamad’s case proceed.

Hamad alleges he was a humanitarian worker based in Pakistan in 2002 when he was seized from his apartment, tortured and eventually shipped to Guantanamo. He was detained for more than five years. Before he was returned to his native Sudan in 2007, his lawyers learned he had actually been cleared to return home two years earlier, the lawsuit said.

Skinner said Hamad’s case was bolstered by a declaration provided last week by retired Army Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Wilkerson testified that certain officials, including Rumsfeld, “knew that they had seized and were holding innocent men at Guantanamo Bay, and that they simply refused to release them out of fear of political repercussions,” Hamad’s complaint states.

Skinner declined to immediately release a copy of the declaration. But she said it supports the notion that government officials knew or should have known Hamad was innocent.

The lawsuit said Hamad has five living children, but one daughter was born shortly after he was seized and died before he was released because the family could not afford proper medical care.

The torture he alleges includes exposure to extremely cold temperature, being forced to eat rotten food and drink dirty water, and being forced to stand for three straight days without sleep or food.

Guatemala: ICRC calls for creation of a national search committee, urges gvt to accept ‘absence through disappearance as legal concept’

The vice-president of the ICRC, Ms Christine Beerli, has submitted a report to the vice-president of Guatemala, Mr Rafael Espada, and the president of the country’s Congress, Mr Roberto Alejos, highlighting the needs of the families of the missing. As part of her official visit to Guatemala, Ms Beerli will also meet with civil-society organizations.

“The relatives of those who went missing during the armed conflict are still in great distress; the story is not over yet,” declared Ms Beerli as she submitted the report. “The Guatemalan government has a responsibility towards these thousands of families still hoping to clarify the fate of their missing loved ones and awaiting full compensation through the national reparations programme.”

The report, which discusses the benefits and limitations of this programme, puts particular emphasis on the plight of the relatives of the missing and the anguish they have suffered for over three decades. It urges the government to establish “absence through disappearance” as a legal concept, to introduce tracing mechanisms and to speed up exhumations.

In her discussions with the Guatemalan authorities, Ms Beerli pushed for the creation of a national search committee, as outlined in bill 3590, which has been pending approval in Congress since 2007. This committee would be responsible for coordinating the government’s response to the issue – in cooperation with family associations and other civil-society organizations – as well as for implementing a policy based on international standards to tend fully to the needs of affected families.

In Guatemala, the ICRC supports civil-society organizations in their efforts to trace those who disappeared during the armed conflict and offers legal advice to the government. In 2009, the ICRC succeeded in reuniting separated relatives in 37 cases, facilitated over 150 exhumations and burials, and helped procure 570 legal documents – mainly birth and death certificates.

Pakistan update

1. Investigations of disappearance cases

Experts say an ongoing hearing in Pakistan’s Supreme Court tests the limits of the judiciary’s ability to curb the influence of Pakistan’s security agencies, including the all-powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) which has in the past been termed a “state within a state.”

In the years since the 2001 attacks in the US, several hundred people suspected of links to militant groups have been held in secret detention centers and some were transferred to the the United States for cash. The Pakistani government also imprisoned hundreds of activists fighting for autonomy in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

The case of Mr Masood Anwar is fairly typical. According to his wife Janjua, the travel-agency owner stepped out on the evening of July 30, 2005, along with Faisal Fayyaz to catch a bus. She hasn’t heard from him or seen him since. A leaked confirmation of his detention from a senior intelligence officer and the testimony of a former detainee who claims he briefly shared a cell with Mr. Janjua keeps her hope alive.

“This [case] is important in the sense that this would result in accountability of the intelligence agencies because intelligence agencies would be scrutinized,” says Hassan Askari-Rizwi, a political analyst based in Lahore.

Pakistan’s civilian establishment was rocked last month when the Supreme Court ruled a political amnesty known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance was unconstitutional. That ruling paved the way for a revival of corruption cases against senior politicians, bureaucrats, and diplomats. Among them are several cabinet members and Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington.

Mr. Rizwi says the missing person’s case has the potential to challenge Pakistan’s security establishment, and by extension the Army, in the same way the amnesty case challenged the civilian politicians. But, he cautions: “This is happening for the first time. I don’t know if they will be able to succeed.”

Up to 1,600 people went missing. The so-called missing persons case was earlier headed by Ifthikar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s iconic chief justice, before he was sacked in 2008. He was restored as a result of the so-called lawyers’ movement in the spring of 2009 and the case was reopened in late November.

Thursday’s hearing directed the government to provide a full list of Pakistanis handed over to the US as well as those in jail in Afghanistan, India and other countries. Attorney General Mansoor Khan told the court that up to 1,600 people went missing between 2001 and 2008 though most have now been recovered. According to Janjua, who now heads an organization called the Defence of Human Rights and Public Services Pakistan, some 172 people remain missing. Justice Iqbal, who heads the three-member bench which is overseeing the case, said on Thursday that answers provided by the ISI are likely to be unreliable.

Some analysts here predict that the judiciary will be no match for the army and the ISI.

“They don’t have the resolve or power to bring the military establishment to account,” says Badar Alam, a senior editor for Pakistan’s Herald magazine, noting that the heads of the ISI and IB were called before the court in 2008 in connection with the case, without resolution.

2. Amnesty judgment for terrorism cases
(Jurist) The Supreme Court of Pakistan released its detailed judgment regarding the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) on Wednesday. The ordinance granted President Asif Ali Zardari [official website] and 8,000 other government officials immunity from charges including corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism between January 1986, and October 1999. A special 17-member panel of court unanimously ruled the NRO unconstitutional in December, paving the way for corruption charges to be brought against Zardari. Zardari is immune from prosecution while in office, but challenges to his eligibility as a presidential candidate are expected. Many other government officials could face immediate prosecution.

Last month, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant for Interior Minister Rehman Malik [official profile] on corruption charges. Malik is among 19 officials whose corruption cases the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has petitioned to reopen in an anti-corruption court in Rawalpindi. The NAB has also petitioned a Lahore court to reopen the cases of 32 individuals, including that of Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar. The NRO was signed [JURIST report] by former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in 2007 as part of a power-sharing accord allowing former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto to return to the country despite corruption charges she had faced.

3. US and Pakistan coordinate military operations against terrorists

The top U.S. military officer says the United States and Pakistan are working together more closely to fight terrorist groups whose operations span the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Admiral Mike Mullen spoke in Washington on Monday at a meeting of senior officers from the region, sponsored by the U.S. military.

Admiral Mullen called on the military officers from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and other regional powers to work together more closely because, he said, the terrorist groups are cooperating more in their efforts to hurt those countries.

“I would almost call it the harmonization of the terrorists, the collaboration of the terrorists,” he said. “These groups that didn’t work with each other at all, now are more and more collaborative. And that requires us to be much more harmonious.”

Mullen said the U.S. and Pakistani militaries are already cooperating more, working to avoid misunderstanding about troop movements and activities in the border zone, and to ensure that their operations complement each other, rather than just push the terrorists back and forth across the Afghan border.

“We are now reviewing campaign plans together, so we can see what those plans are and how we can best make them work together,” said the admiral.

Mullen also called for more exchanges among the militaries represented at the meeting. He particularly praised the Indian representative, Vice Army Chief Lieutenant General P.C. Bhardwaj, for attending the event.

The admiral urged all of the senior officers in attendance to avoid the kind of public disputes that have hurt regional relations in the past.

“I think it’s really important that we work as hard as we can with each other, and that any kind of public accusations or public finger pointing, quite frankly, that does not serve any of us well,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have disagreements. But I hope that we can do that privately, and not publicly.”

Mullen also stressed the U.S. intention to develop long-term relations with the countries of Central and South Asia – a theme also stressed by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates during his visit to the region last week. The admiral said countries in the region are understandably waiting to see the United States demonstrate that commitment over time, and to see the outcome of its effort to defeat the Taliban and help establish an effective government in Afghanistan.

4. Economic costs of the terror war

President Asif Ali Zardari told US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates that the economic cost of the war against terror, amounting to US $ 35 billion for the last eight years, had impacted Pakistan’s economy adversely, Presidential spokesman said.

“Pakistan has been facing delays in payments of Coalition Support Fund claims”, the President informed the Defence Secretary and urged timely reimbursement of arrears, Farhatullah Babar said.

Reviewing the overall security situation, the President welcomed the US affirmation of commitment to Pakistan’s stability and security, adding also, “It must be based on mutual respect and trust.”

Briefing the media about the meeting, Spokesperson to the President former Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the President emphasized that the issue of arrears in Coalition Support Fund amounting to over 1.3 billion dollars be resolved at the earliest.

5. Al Qaeda’s targets

America’s defense secretary is warning that al-Qaida, and what he calls its “syndicate” in South Asia, could provoke a new war between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting India, is delivering a bleak assessment of the security situation in what he calls the “very dangerous region.” Speaking to reporters in the Indian capital, he warned a syndication of terrorist groups under the al-Qaida umbrella – benefiting from the successes of each other – intends to destabilize the region with further attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

In his meetings with Indian government leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Gates praised New Delhi’s statesmanship and restraint following the Mumbai attack, which is blamed on Pakistani-based insurgents. But the defense chief is cautioning that such restraint cannot be expected again, if India suffers a similar assault.

6. Iran-Pakistan Joint Declaration

Following the Afghanistan-Iran-Pakistan Trilateral Ministerial Meeting in Islamabad on 16 January 2010, a Joint Declaration has been issued, related to the security ans stability in the region.

7. Pakistan objects to the new US screening law

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Wednesday raised objections to new screening laws for Pakistanis travelling to the United States and said it would have bad impact on relations.

Addressing a joint news conference with US special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Hoolbroke, the foreign minister said that despite positive gestures he apprised the US Special Envoy of some of the steps taken which have negative fall out on relationship and one of them is enhanced security screening in the US.

8. New academic reports

Pakistan: Balochistan Assessment 2010
South Asia Terrorism Portal

The strategic and resource-rich Balochistan province continues to remain on the periphery of Pakistan’s projects and perceptions. With both the “dialogue with those who are up in the mountains” and the counter-insurgency (CI) operations failing, the Baloch insurrection persists. Worse, subversion from the Taliban-Al Qaeda in the north of the province has added to the region’s complexities. There has, however, been some reduction in violence during 2009. At least 268 persons, including 148 civilians and 83 Security Force (SF) personnel, have died in the current year (till November 20) according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). Significantly, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of insurgents killed, an indication that CI operations are not yielding results. espite the reduced levels of violence, the insurgency continues to simmer, with a steady stream of bomb and rocket attacks on gas pipelines, railway tracks, power transmission lines, bridges, and communications infrastructure, as well as on military establishments and Government facilities. While there have been at least 126 bomb blasts and grenade explosions across the province in 2009 [data till November 20 (Source: SATP)], there have also been rocket attacks (numbers for which are not available currently) targeting state installations reported almost on a daily basis in the province. Baloch insurgents have also targeted Government officials and politicians.

The year 2009 ended with two attacks by suicide bombers on processions to mark the culmination of the period of Muhurrum observed by the Shias of Pakistan. Fifteen persons were killed in the first incident at Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), on December 27. Forty-two were killed in the second incident in Karachi on December 28. Sectarian clashes between Shias and Sunnis occur frequently in the Northern Areas consisting of Gilgit and Baltistan, where the Shias constitute the largest single sectarian group. To counter the growing influence of Shia sectarian organizations such as the Tehrik-e-Jaffria Pakistan and its militant wing called the Sipah Mohammad, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had over the years encouraged and helped Sunni extremist organizations such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) to set up a presence in the Gilgit area. This has led to periodic clashes between the two communities.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Reining the Risk
Strategic Studies Institute//United States Army War College

These analyses offer a window into what is possible and why Pakistani nuclear terrorism is best seen as a lesser included threat to war, and terrorism more generally. Could the United States do more with Pakistan to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons holdings against possible seizure? News reports indicate that the United States has already spent $100 million toward this end. It is unclear what this money has bought. If policymakers view the lack of specific intelligence on Pakistani nuclear terrorist plots against the United States as cold comfort and believe that such strikes are imminent, then the answer is not much. If, conventional acts of terrorism and war are far more likely than acts of nuclear terrorism, then there is almost too much to do. In the later case, nuclear terrorism would not be a primary, stand-alone peril, but a lesser included threat. What sort of Pakistan would that be? A country that was significantly more prosperous, educated, and far more secure against internal political strife and from external security threats than it currently is. How might one bring about such a state? The short answer is by doing more to prevent the worst. Nuclear use may not be the likeliest bad thing that might occur in Pakistan, but it is by far the nastiest. Certainly in the near- to mid-term, it is at least as likely as any act of nuclear terrorism. More important, it is more amenable to remediation.