04-10-2006, 09:02 PM
"The U.S. government is systematically outsourcing torture," says Bill Goodman, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Commenting on the release of an Amnesty International report earlier this week that provides evidence for the CIA's use of " torture flights" to evacuate terror suspects secretly to locations where interrogators are not bound by US laws against prisoner abuse, Goodman added, "It is shameful that the Bush Administration has used the CIA and private aircraft operators to send people abroad for torture."
According to the Amnesty International report, "the CIA used private aircraft operators and front companies to preserve the secrecy of these 'rendition' flights." The report defines "rendition" as "the transfer of individuals from one country to another, by means that bypass all judicial and administrative due process."
The report cites the case of Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, who was arrested by Indonesian intelligence agents in January 2002. Seeking to appear to be an ally of the US in the so-called war on terror, Indonesian authorities apparently followed CIA instructions to fly him from Jakarta to Egypt. There he was rumored to have died. In fact, Amnesty reports, he had been secretly returned to Afghanistan via Pakistan in April 2002 and held there for 11 months before being sent to the US prison camps at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in March 2003.
The report also tells of three Yemeni men released earlier this year who say they were transported to unknown locations for interrogations, perhaps Europe or Central Asia. Held altogether for two years, Muhammad Al-Assad, Muhammad Bashmilah and Salah 'Ali Qaru spent 13 months in one secret facility before being flown to Yemen in May 2005 and, because no evidence could be found that they were involved in terrorism, eventually released last month.
The case of Muhammad Haydar Zammar who was secretly arrest and subsequent "disappeared," Amnesty reports, "has all the hallmarks of a case in which an individual has been rendered for the purposes of interrogation under torture."
Zammar, a citizen of Germany, was arrested in Morocco by Moroccan authorities in October 2001 and was interrogated by US authorities for weeks. That December, he was placed on board a CIA jet and sent to Syria, unbeknownst to the German government. Six months later, US officials admitted to the German government that Zammar was in Syria.
Former CIA agent Robert Baer admitted that Zammar, because US interrogators could not elicit enough information from him to hold him permanently for connections to terrorism, was sent to Syria for further interrogations.
Interviews of former prisoners held in the same facility in Syria conducted by Amnesty revealed a widespread system of torture and abuse. Near starvation, dirty conditions, lack of health care, torture and other abuses appear to be commonplace in the Syrian prison in which he reportedly has been held.
Zammar remains in custody without access to his family or to due process.
Amnesty reports that nearly 1,000 such rendition are linked to the CIA. Most of these flights appear to have used European airspace, and were operated by the CIA through front companies. One such company, Premier Executive Transport, has been based in both Delaware and Massachusetts.
An additional 600 flights were done using planes "confirmed as having been used at least temporarily by the CIA."
The former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Vincent Cannistraro, openly admitted to the US media that in certain cases, prisoners were rendered in this secretive manner to countries where torture is permitted. Cannistraro admitted that at least one prisoner was sent to Egypt where intelligence officials there promptly pulled out his fingernails in order to get him to talk.
Other former CIA operatives have stated that Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan are among the states where rendition flights are sent. Classified information leaked to the media in recent months indicates that secrets sites in Europe were also used.
Cannistraro's and other’s admissions contradict Bush administration claims that the US has not and will not transport anyone to a country where torture is permitted.
Because the main purpose of rendition is to evade legal protections for prisoners and their treatment, the use of torture and abuse is a major human rights concern. The Amnesty report notes that rendition flights "are crimes under international law, involving multiple human rights violations."
"In certain circumstances," the report reads, "they are crimes against humanity, and can be prosecuted in international criminal proceedings."
Specifically, rendition flights, such as those apparently ordered by the CIA, violate the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This convention defines enforced disappearance as the: "arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law."
"The US administration has tried to circumvent the ban on torture and other ill-treatment in many ways," said Amnesty International Secretary General, Irene Khan. "The latest evidence shows how the administration is manipulating commercial arrangements in order to be able to transfer people in violation of international law. It demonstrates the length to which the US government will go to conceal these abductions,"
Amnesty called on all states not to tolerate rendition flights and "for the transfer of any detainee to other countries to take place with proper safeguards, including judicial oversight, and the use of official aircraft."
Further, Amnesty called on aviation companies "to take specific and immediate action to ensure that aviation companies do not lease their aircraft in circumstances in which they may be used in renditions."
--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and will be door-knocking and phone-banking this fall to bring down the corrupt Republican Congress.
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