The Commission on Human Rights should condemn "disappearances," torture and other mistreatment of detainees by the United States in the "global war on terrorism" and request that the United States grant the Commission's Special Procedures access to terrorism suspects held by the United States around the world.
The United States continues to reject the applicability of fundamental rights and protections found in U.S. and international law to persons apprehended in its global campaign against terrorism. The U.S. refuses to apply either laws of war or human rights standards to the nearly 550 men at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, held in indefinite and largely incommunicado detention; it has begun proceedings to try terrorist suspects before military commissions that do not meet fair trial standards; it has sent or assisted in the return of individuals to countries where they face torture; and a number of suspects have “disappeared.” Top U.S. officials, including the Secretary of Defense, have approved the use of coercive interrogation tactics that violate the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). In January 2005, now-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that the CAT’s prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment does not apply to U.S. personnel in the treatment of non-citizens abroad, indicating that no law would prohibit the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from engaging in cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment when it interrogates non-Americans outside the United States.
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. More than three years after the first detainees were brought to Guantánamo, the U.S. government continues to detain nearly 550 people indefinitely without charge or trial or without applying the Geneva Conventions. There is growing evidence that detainees at Guantánamo have suffered torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Accounts by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents who witnessed detainee abuse – including chained detainees forced to sit in their own excrement – have recently emerged, adding to the statements of former detainees describing the use of painful stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, use of military dogs to threaten detainees, threats of torture and death, and prolonged exposure to extremes of heat, cold and noise. Videotapes of riot squads subduing suspects reportedly show the guards punching some detainees, tying one to a gurney for questioning and forcing a dozen to strip from the waist down. The International Committee of the Red Cross reportedly told the U.S. government in a confidential report that some abuses of detainees were “tantamount to torture.”
Detention Practices Abroad. As a result of policies designed to “soften up” detainees for interrogation, United States officials have tortured and mistreated detainees in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison and other locations. In Afghanistan, six detainees are now known to have died in U.S. custody—including four known cases of murder or manslaughter—and former detainees have made scores of other claims of torture and other mistreatment. There is no indication, however, that senior military or civilian officials who designed the policies leading to these abuses will be brought to justice.
Military Commissions. Under an order issued by President George W. Bush in November 2001, non-U.S. citizens accused of involvement in terrorism can be tried by ad hoc military commissions. In August 2004, the military began legal proceedings against four Guantánamo detainees, the first to be charged with crimes. The commissions permit the executive branch broad powers to be prosecutor, judge, and jury without any judicial oversight. They sharply limit a defendant’s rights to present a defense, allowing the use of evidence that the accused may not see nor confront. In November 2004, a federal district court ordered military commission proceedings halted in one case because of the military’s failure to determine the defendant’s legal status under the Geneva Conventions and because the commission rules of evidence violated fair trial standards. The government has appealed, and the Department of Defense has suspended all military commission proceedings pending the outcome. These deeply flawed commissions should be terminated; persons responsible for acts of terrorism or violations of the laws of war should be prosecuted as appropriate by federal courts or courts-martial in accordance with fair trial standards.
“Disappearances.” At least eleven Al-Qaeda suspects, and most likely many more, have “disappeared” in U.S. custody. The CIA is holding the detainees in undisclosed locations, with no notification to their families, no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross or oversight of any sort of their treatment, and in some cases, no acknowledgement that they are even being held. One detainee, Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, was reportedly subjected to “water boarding” in which a person is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water, and made to believe he might drown. It was also reported that U.S. officials initially withheld painkillers from Abu Zubayda, who was shot during his capture, as an interrogation device.
“Extraordinary Renditions.” The CIA has regularly transferred detainees without legal proceedings to countries in the Middle East, including Egypt and Syria, known to practice torture routinely. In one case, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen in transit in New York, was detained by U.S. authorities and sent to Syria. He was released without charge from Syrian custody ten months later and has described repeated torture, often with cables and electrical cords. In another case, a U.S. government-leased airplane transported two Egyptian suspects who were blindfolded, hooded, drugged, and diapered by hooded operatives, from Sweden to Egypt. According to the two men, they were held incommunicado in Egypt for five weeks and were tortured, including by electric shock. In a third case, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian in U.S. custody, was transported from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Egypt to Guantanamo Bay. Now back home in Australia, Habib alleges that he was tortured during his six months in Egypt with beatings and electric shocks, and hung from the walls by hooks.
United Nations Access. The United States has thus far refused to grant the Commission’s Special Procedures access to terrorism detainees despite several requests and repeated joint statements of concern regarding human rights protections in the U.S. campaign against terrorism. Since 2002, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has sought to visit Guantánamo. In June 2004, the Working Group reiterated its request made to the United States, as well as to Iraq and Afghanistan, to visit those persons detained on grounds of terrorism, including at Guantánamo Bay, jointly with the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. While the United States has indicated an interest in establishing a dialogue with the experts, it has not accepted such a visit.
On February 4, several Special Procedures jointly expressed deep concern about conditions of detention at Guantanamo Bay that amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment and which places detainees at serious risk of “irreversible psychiatric symptoms.”
In addition, the United States has failed to provide owed reports to both the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.
The Commission on Human Rights should:
- Condemn the use of “disappearances,” torture, and other prohibited mistreatment of detainees by the United States;
- Call on the United States to reject all forms of torture and other prohibited mistreatment, either in the United States or abroad;
- Call on the United States to fully and impartially investigate, in accordance with the CAT, all allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;
- Request that the United States grant the Commission’s Special Procedures access to terrorism suspects held by the United States anywhere in the world;
- Request that the United States provide without delay due reports to the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.