Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Human Rights Watch Asks Pres. Bush To Account for Disappeared Detainees' Whereabouts

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Human Rights Watch released a report yesterday called "Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention." The report is a detailed account of conditions in one of the CIA's "black site" detention and interrogation centers, obtained from Marwan Jabour, a Palestinian who was there for two years.

Before being transferred to the CIA prison, which was probably in Afghanistan, Jabour was held in two separate interrogation facilities, both in Pakistan, where he was physically and psychologically tortured:

Jabour said that as soon as the men got him inside the station [in the first facility], they started beating him badly. “There were seven or eight officers in the room with me,” Jabour told Human Rights Watch. “If I said I didn’t know anything, they beat me: they slapped me, kicked me, and hit me with a stick. They insulted and threatened me. They kept me awake all night long.”

Jabour said that the men also used an electric prod on him, continually questioning him about the whereabouts of suspected terrorists.

At about 6 a.m., he said, they sent him to a cell, leaving him there with shackles on his legs. There were three small cells in a row together. Jabour was alone in his cell, and his two friends were in the other cells. “They had been beaten too, but not as badly as I was,” Jabour said. “I was bruised from the beating.”

In addition, the interrogators used a red hot metal rod to burn Jabour's left arm and leg. He received no medical treatment for the burns. In the four days he spent at this first facility, Jabour was allowed to sleep four hours at most, and he was not allowed to urinate for the entire four days. (His tormentors tied a rubber string on his penis to prevent him from peeing. Jabour has continuing kidney problems now as a result.)

In the next facility, things did not get better:

The forced sleeplessness that Jabour endured in Lahore continued in Islamabad. Jabour told Human Rights Watch that during his first seven days in Islamabad his captors did not allow him to sleep, except for the occasional hour-long doze. ...
Jabour said that the Americans appeared to be in charge of the facility. They would question him during the day, sometimes showing him photos of suspected militants, and after midnight the Pakistanis would take over. At first Jabour was held alone in a cell that was like a room, and was attached to the wall by a chain about two meters long.

“The Pakistanis beat me almost every night,” he said. “Once they threatened to pull out my fingernails. Other times they would be friendly, and promise to release me if I talked.” He was forced to stand for long periods.

The Americans did not beat Jabour, but they made him stay awake. “They would say: ‘If you cooperate, we’ll let you sleep.’ And: ‘If you work with us, we’ll make you really rich.’ They never threatened to take me to Guantanamo, but they did say that I’d be taken away somewhere and would never see my children again. I was thinking that my life was finished.”

“I was thinking about my oldest daughter the whole time,” he said. “I thought that I’d never see her again. I was afraid that I’d be sent to Guantánamo.”
Jabour collapsed twice during this first week in Islamabad; he believes that he had two heart attacks. The first time was on his fourth day of detention; the second time was at the end of seven days. “I fell unconscious both times, with my heart pounding out of my chest,” he said. The doctor, a Pakistani, checked his heart and gave him something called “glivet.”

After Jabour’s first collapse, they moved him to a cell with another prisoner, an Algerian named Adnan, who took care of him. (Jabour knew him as Adnan “al-Jazeeri,” or Adnan the Algerian.) Jabour was in such bad shape that he could not walk or feed himself. He was allowed to sleep for about four hours.

After his second collapse, three days later, he was allowed an entire day’s rest. “After the second collapse, I was hysterical,” he said.

After more than a month of this kind of treatment, Jabour was moved to the secret CIA facility. After the first six months there, the worst abuse ceased, and his living conditions got gradually better. But he was held there for another 19 months, and in all that time he was never allowed to contact his family.

On July 30, 2006 -- more than two years after he had first been disappeared -- Jabour was released from the American phase of his captivity. He was flown to Jordan, where, two weeks after his arrival, he was visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and was told he could write to his family.

But he was not free yet.

On September 18, 2006, the Jordanians transferred Jabour to Israeli custody. That morning, they told Jabour that he was being released. “They said congratulations, I was free,” Jabour said. “But I was still in handcuffs. And then they took me to a car and drove me to the King Hussein Bridge [on the border of Jordan and the Israeli-occupied West Bank].” Israeli agents were waiting for Jabour at the bridge, and the Jordanians handed him over to them.

A few days after his transfer to Israel, Jabour was allowed to see a lawyer, and soon after that he was brought before a judge. After six weeks in Israeli custody, he was released into Gaza, where some of his family members lived. Two-and-a-half years after he was first arrested, he was finally able to speak to his wife and children on the phone.

There is no argument -- moral, pragmatic, or legal -- that can justify what was done to Marwan Jabour:

"The practice of disappearing people -- keeping them in secret detention without any legal process -- is fundamentally illegal under international law," said Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism program at Human Rights Watch in New York. "The kind of physical mistreatment Jabour described is also illegal." [...]

And it is almost certainly still going on, despite Pres. Bush's claim that the CIA secret detention program was discontinued in September when 14 men were transferred out of that program and into Guantanamo:

"There are now no terrorists in the CIA program," the president said, adding that after the prisoners held were determined to have "little or no additional intelligence value, many of them have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments."

But Jabour's experience -- also chronicled by Human Rights Watch, which yesterday issued a report on the fate of former "black site" detainees -- often does not accord with the portrait the administration has offered of the CIA system, such as the number of people it held and the threat detainees posed. Although 14 detainees were publicly moved from CIA custody to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, scores more have not been publicly identified by the U.S. government, and their whereabouts remain secret. Nor has the administration acknowledged that detainees such as Jabour, considered so dangerous and valuable that their detentions were kept secret, were freed.

After 28 months of incarceration, Jabour -- who was described by a counterterrorism official in the U.S. government as "a committed jihadist and a hard-core terrorist who was intent on doing harm to innocent people, including Americans" -- was released eight months ago. U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials confirmed his incarceration and that he was held in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would not discuss conditions inside black sites or the treatment of any detainee.

Two days ago, Joanne Mariner, Director of HRW's Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program, sent a letter to Pres. Bush requesting that he provide information on the whereabouts of 16 individuals who are known to have been held in secret CIA detention, and 22 individuals who may have been so held. Here is part of the letter:

It is beyond dispute that more than 14 people were imprisoned by the CIA at some point prior to September 2006. Indeed, in April 2006, just a few months before your speech, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte publicly acknowledged that the CIA was holding some three dozen persons in detention.

Given the close secrecy surrounding the CIA’s detention practices, Human Rights
Watch does not believe that it has information about every person who, since 2001,
has been held in CIA detention. But based on accounts from former detainees, press
articles, and other sources, Human Rights Watch has put together a list of 16 people
whom we believe were once held in CIA prisons and whose current whereabouts are
unknown. We have also compiled a separate list of 22 people who were possibly once held in CIA prisons and whose current whereabouts are also unknown.
Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned about the fate of these people. One
possibility is that the CIA may have transferred some of them to foreign prisons
where for practical purposes they remain under CIA control. Another worrying
alternative is that prisoners were transferred from CIA custody to places where they
face a serious risk of torture, in violation of the fundamental prohibition on returns to torture. We note that some of the missing prisoners are from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, countries where the torture of terrorism suspects is common.

Enforced disappearance violates both international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It has long been recognized that enforced disappearance is a “continuous crime until the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person becomes known.”

We note, therefore, that persons “disappeared” in US custody who have since been transferred elsewhere remain the legal obligation of the United States so long as their fate or whereabouts remain unknown.

I would also like to point out that refusing to reveal the whereabouts of these people is extraordinarily cruel to their families. To take one small but telling detail, the wife of a man who has not been seen since he was believed to have been taken into CIA custody told Human Rights Watch that she has continually lied to her four children about her husband’s absence. She explained that she could not bear telling them that she did not know where he was: “[W]hat I’m hoping is if they find out their father has been detained, that I’ll at least be able to tell them what country he’s being held in, and in what conditions.”

As you may know, the CIA’s detention program has inflicted great harm on the
reputation, moral standing, and integrity of the United States. By revealing
information about the fate and whereabouts of people formerly held in CIA custody,
you could begin to repair the damage this abusive program has caused.

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