Discovering the “Disappeared” and Other Detainees: Ghost Prisoners, Shadowy Jails & Secret Trials

There’s a new sheriff in town–and it’s neither the U.S. nor a U.S.-sponsored surrogate “invited” by the U.S. It’s another of those pesky international conventions the administration loves to hate and refuses to join–but still cannot stop from taking effect. Fifteen years in the making, the pact outlaws state terrorism of a type frequently practiced by the United States: “extraordinary rendition.”

On this topic, February was a month of unwelcome revelations (from the administration’s perspective) and long overdue (from the people’s perspective) media attention on the policies and programs the White House created and justified for incarcerating “known” or suspected terrorists in the extensive acknowledged and unacknowledged Defense Department and CIA prison systems created nearly 5 years ago.

This is an interesting juxtaposition of dates. Work on the treaty started some nine years before 9/11. This suggests at least two possibilities: the French (the chief UN Security Council sponsor of the treaty) were prescient about the flow of events to come, or they were aware that some governments (e.g., the United States), unknown to their people, were systematically and on a large scale violating (or at least were preparing to violate) fundamental human rights of individuals alleged to pose a dire threat to a country’s “national security.”

We may never know just how extensive these prison systems were prior to 9/11 anymore than after that date. Some numbers but few exact locations have come to light because of the abuses perpetrated in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the CIA’s 14 (or more) “black sites” in Europe and other locations abroad. There are also a few U.S. legal residents and even citizens that have been incarcerated for aiding and abetting or providing “material support” for terror activities. Nonetheless, enough is known to suggest that the Bush administration has gravely over-reached itself in its claims that it is only exercising the inherent “right of self-defense” which absolves it of all counterclaims that its actions constitute international crimes. What does the record of the last few months show?

Exposing Overreach Abroad

The 2007 record chronologically opens on January 31 when German prosecutors issued warrants for 13 CIA agents suspected of engineering the “extraordinary rendition” of Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese heritage, who was “disappeared” at the Serbian-Macedonian border in December 2003. Khaled says he was flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan where he says–as do many others who were caught up in the CIA’s global “black prison” complex–that he suffered abusive treatment for a number of months before being turned over to Lebanese security personnel.

As February opened, in Brussels, the European Parliament approved the findings of an internal European Union investigation ordered by the Council of Europe into the complicity of European nations in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program in violation of EU policy–citing Britain, Germany, and Italy in particular but also noting that others knew of but ignored CIA flights carrying drugged and kidnapped victims such as al-Masri through their national airspace.

While these two threads evolved, Italian courts were proceeding with preliminary enquiries in a criminal complaint against 26 CIA agents (in absentia) and five Italian security agents (present in court) accused of kidnapping and transporting from Milan to Cairo the Egyptian cleric and U.S. terror “suspect” Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr (also known as Abu Omar). Nasr, who entered Italy seeking asylum, claims in an eleven-page letter that he was tortured repeatedly by Egyptian security personnel.

By February’s midpoint, the Swiss government (the Federal Council) had given a green light to the country’s courts to begin criminal prosecution of anyone involved in transporting Nasr through Swiss air space. (Allegedly, the CIA flew Nasr from Aviano Airbase in Italy to Ramstein Airbase in Germany and thence to Egypt.)

Three weeks later, on March 6, Representative Ed Markey (MA) introduced “reciprocal” legislation intended to halt arbitrary kidnappings by the CIA. Entitled the “Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act,” the legislation (H.R. 1352) “prohibits the return or other transfer of persons by the United States, for the purpose of detention, interrogation, trial, or otherwise, to countries where torture or other inhuman treatment of prisons occurs.”

And to ensure no misunderstandings occur as to who is covered by the proposed legislation, it singles out “the intelligence communitythe Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, the United States Secret Service, the United States Marshals Service, and any other law enforcement, national security, intelligence, or homeland security agency that imprisons, detains, or transfers prisoners or detainees.”

Read the rest of this excellent article here.

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