Testimony from Bagram’s black jail

As reported on the Afghanistan Analysts Network:
After our arrest we were first taken to Tor Jail, or the Black Jail. It was terrible. They didn’t treat us like humans at all. They didn’t allow us to sleep. There was nothing to cover ourselves with. They insulted the Quran. Whenever we were taken to the bathroom, they left the door open. We never knew when it was time to pray or which direction we should face. We never saw sunlight. We were treated rudely during interrogation. Some people were also beaten, but that didn’t happen to me.

After 33 days in the Black Jail I was transferred to the big jail. Here we were visited by ICRC, which was good even though they had no authority. They brought letters, but they didn’t tell the press about us or about the circumstances we were in. The Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) didn’t come to the prison, maybe they were not allowed in. About a month before my release they came, but they were so young. What could they do?

Pakistan ex-president Musharraf says UK gave ‘tacit approval’ to use of torture

[JURIST] Former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf said that the UK gave “tacit approval” for torture of terror suspects, making the statements in a BBC documentary. Musharraf’s claims raise questions over UK’s public stance discouraging other countries from torturing UK citizens on its behalf. Musharraf, who was president of Pakistan from 1999-2008 and a key US ally against al Qaeda, told the BBC that he was never informed of the UK’s policy discouraging torture and defended the use of torture to fight al Qaeda. Claims that the UK allowed torture by other countries will be investigated by an independent commission set to begin work within the next two months.

Mathew Alexander on torture as a recruitment and radicalisation tool

Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander has a new book out Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious Al Qaeda Terrorist. In an interview with Scott Horton he offers some of his thoughts on how Egypt’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood strenghtened the extremist views of many Al Qaeda leaders.

Al Qaeda’s beginnings trace back to the prisons of Egypt and Mubarak’s persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sayyid Qutb, whose writings have inspired many Al Qaeda leaders including Osama bin Laden, was imprisoned for years and witnessed and experienced torture that convinced him that violent extremism is a legitimate response to authoritarian dictatorships. As I saw in Iraq, torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay were the number one reasons foreign fighters gave for coming there to fight. This was especially true because of the nature of the torture, which often included sexual, cultural, and religious humiliation. Anyone who says torture works is not looking at the long-term ramifications.

The recent successful revolution in Egypt started as a result of the torture of a regular citizen who planned to expose police corruption. Twenty-eight-year-old Egyptian blogger Khaled Said was taken by the police from an Internet café in Alexandria and beaten to death in a residential building as witnessed by several citizens. The death of Said became symbolic of the routine and widespread use of torture by Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

South Carolina judge rules that Padilla has no right to pursue torture charges in Padilla v. Rumsfeld

[ASIL] The U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina has dismissed all claims of torture and abuse by Jose Padilla against several current and former government officials stemming from his capture, interrogation, and subsequent classification as enemy combatant. The judge also ruled that, even if Padilla were allowed to sue, the current and former Pentagon officials he sued would be legally immune to all such charges, since the law governing detention was so uncertain at the time he was held.

Padilla, a U.S. citizen currently serving a prison sentence on various federal charges in connection with his support of Al Qaeda, sued numerous government officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, alleging that his detention as an enemy combatant and the treatment experienced during his detention violated his federal statutory and constitutional rights. The government defendants claimed, inter alia, that there exists no private right of action against them and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. 

Padilla was arrested in 2002 at O’Hare International Airport and held thereafter for several years without access to counsel. His case then traveled through the various federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He was eventually sentenced to seventeen years and four months imprisonment, a sentence he is currently appealing. Padilla is claiming that his detention and designation as an enemy combatant violated his rights to counsel, access to the courts, freedom of religion, freedom of association, due process, and his right against cruel and unusual punishment. 

The district court first recognized that Congress “never created a private right of action against federal officials based upon a deprivation of constitutional rights;” however, in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a private civil cause of action for money damages was implied in the U.S. Constitution. This ruling was later broadened to include civil claims against other federal agencies. Padilla claimed that Bivens and its progeny encompass his claims against the government officials for the alleged treatment he suffered at their hands.  The district court disagreed, ruling that subsequent jurisprudence by numerous federal circuits and the U.S. Supreme Court clearly demonstrated that Bivens is to be construed narrowly, thus excluding Padilla’s claims. 

The district court then went on to discuss the qualified immunity defense espoused by the government officials, concluding that all defendants were protected by the immunity because at the time the challenged governmental actions occurred, there were no “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights which a reasonable person would have known.”

As Lyle Deniston notes:

The decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Mark Gergel of Charleston conflicts directly with a ruling nearly two years ago by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White of San Francisco, in a nearly identical case also brought by Padilla. White allowed a lawsuit against former Justice Department official John Yoo to go forward, on the theory that Yoo wrote official memoes justifying “coercive interrogation” of detainees. including Padilla.  The White decision is now under review in the Ninth Circuit Court; Judge Gergel’s ruling is expected to be appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court.

Lawfare blog provides the transcript of the hearing here.

ACLU page on the case: here.

George Bush calls off trip to Switzerland amid fear of violence at demonstration… or an arrest warrant

The Guardian reports that George W Bush has had to call off a trip to Switzerland next weekend amid planned protests by human rights groups over the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and the threat of a warrant for his arrest. The visit would have been Bush’s first to Europe since he admitted in his autobiography, Decision Points, in November that he had authorised the use of waterboarding on detainees at Guantánamo accused of links with al-Qaida.

The Guardian:

“Whether out of concern over the protests or the arrest warrant, it is an extraordinary development for a former US president to have his travel plans curtailed in this way, and amounts to a victory for human rights campaigners.”

Amnesty International has published its memorandum to the Swiss authorities here.

1. Acts of torture (and, it may be noted, other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and enforced disappearance) were committed against detainees held in a secret detention and interrogation program operated by the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2002 and 2009.

2. The CIA established this secret program under the authorization of then-President George W. Bush.

3. Since leaving office, former President George W. Bush has said that he authorized the use of a number of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in the secret CIA program. The former President specifically admitted to authorizing the “water-boarding” of identified individuals, whose subjection to this torture technique has been confirmed.

4. Additionally, torture and other ill-treatment, and secret detention, by US forces occurred outside the confines of the CIA-run secret detention program, including against detainees held in military custody at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and in the context of armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

5. George W. Bush was Commander in Chief of all US armed forces at the relevant times.

6. The Administration of George W. Bush acted on the basis that he was essentially unrestrained by international or US law in determining the USA’s response to the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001. Among other things, President Bush decided that the protections of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including their common article 3, would not be applied to Taleban or al-Qa’ida detainees.

7. George W. Bush, as Commander in Chief at the relevant times, if he did not directly order or authorize such crimes, at least knew, or had reason to know, that US forces were about to commit or were committing such crimes and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures in his power as Commander in Chief and President to prevent their commission or, if the crimes had already been committed, ensure that all those who were alleged to be responsible for these crimes were brought to justice.

8. The USA has failed to conduct investigations capable of reaching former President George W. Bush, and all indications are that it will not do so, at least in the near future.

9. The facts summarized above, matters of public record, are sufficient to give rise to mandatory obligations on Switzerland under international law (including but not limited to the UN Convention against Torture), should former US President George W. Bush enter Swiss territory to:
· launch a criminal investigation;
· arrest former President Bush or otherwise secure his presence during that investigation; and
· submit the case to competent authorities in Switzerland for the purposes of prosecution if it does not extradite him to another state able and willing to do so.

EJIL Talk analyzes whether Bush is entitled to the immunity which, under international law, attaches to official acts of those who act on behalf of a State and prevents foreign prosecutions for those acts.

HRW: Indian torture tactics may boost militancy

Abusive counter-terrorism tactics, such as torture, are routinely used by Indian police and may actually be boosting militancy in the country, a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

“Allegations of torture are often used as propaganda for recruitment (by militant groups),” said HRW’s South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly.

“When torture happens, it is used to bring in other Muslims who are told that their community is under threat.”

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.