[Ppnews] Torture, Rendition and International Law

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 7 12:28:37 EDT 2008

May 7, 2008

Torture, Rendition and International Law

Torture After Dark


In September 2001, five days after the terrorist 
attacks that shocked the nation, Vice-President 
Dick Cheney announced on "Meet the Press" that 
the US government would need to start working "the dark side."

"We've got to spend time in the shadows in the 
intelligence world," he explained. "A lot of what 
needs to be done here will have to be done 
quietly, without any discussion, using sources 
and methods that are available to our 
intelligence agencies, if we're going to be 
successful. That's the world these folks operate 
in, and so it's going to be vital for us to use 
any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

In the months and years that followed, the public 
got occasional glimpses of Cheney's shadowy, 
no-holds-barred world. Even though, as Cheney 
promised, that world was shrouded in secrecy, 
journalists and human rights activists sometimes managed to see into it.

Maher Arar, a Canadian-Syrian telecommunications 
engineer, gave the public a detailed picture of 
that world in November 2003, when he told the 
story of his rendition to torture. Arar was 
detained at JFK Airport in September 2002, and 
then sent by the United States to Syria, via 
Jordan. He was held there in a dark, coffin-like 
cell, and brought out to be beaten with electrical cables.

"The cable is a black electrical cable, about two 
inches thick," Arar explained in a narrative of 
his experiences. "They hit me with it everywhere on my body."

Convention Against Torture

More stories like Arar's have since emerged. We 
now know that the CIA rendered people to several 
countries that practice torture as a matter of 
routine­countries that include Egypt, Jordan, Libya and Syria.

These renditions are and were illegal under 
international law. In particular, they violate 
U.S. obligations under the 
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or 
Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the 
United States ratified in 1994.

According to the Convention against Torture, 
torture is "any act by which severe pain or 
suffering, whether physical or mental, is 
intentionally inflicted on a person for such 
purposes as obtaining from him or a third person 
information or a confession," when it is 
"inflicted by or at the instigation of or with 
the consent or acquiescence of a public official 
or other person acting in an official capacity." 
States violate the Convention against Torture not 
only by directly inflicting torture, but also, 
under article 3, when they "expel, return 
('refouler') or extradite a person to another 
State where there are substantial grounds for 
believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."

Rendition to torture is thus a clear violation of 
the prohibition against torture. Indeed, in a 
2006 report, the UN Committee against Torture, 
the international expert body responsible for 
monitoring state compliance with the Convention 
against Torture, condemned U.S. use of the 
practice. It specifically found that the U.S. 
government's "rendition of suspects, without any 
judicial procedure, to States where they face a 
real risk of torture" violated the treaty.

The committee called upon the United States to 
"cease the rendition of suspects, in particular 
by its intelligence agencies, to States where 
they face a real risk of torture."

Diplomatic Assurances

U.S. officials have tried to justify the CIA 
rendition practices by arguing that, where 
necessary, the CIA obtains assurances from the 
receiving country that detainees will not be 
tortured. Yet Human Rights Watch and other groups 
have shown, as an empirical matter, that such 
assurances are unreliable and do not provide 
effective protection against torture.

In a number of documented cases, people who have 
been returned to their home countries on the 
basis of such assurances have faced torture and other abuses.

One such case involves two suspects, Ahmed Agiza 
and Muhammad al-Zery, who were rendered by the 
United States to Egypt in December 2001. In a 
ruling on the case, the Committee against Torture 
rejected the claim that diplomatic assurances 
from the Egyptian government were sufficient to 
protect against torture. As the Committee 
emphasized, the "procurement of diplomatic 
assurances, which, moreover, provided no 
mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice 
to protect against this manifest risk."

Apology and Redress

International human rights law recognizes that 
victims of rights violations should be granted 
effective remedies, and the Convention against 
Torture specifically provides that torture 
victims have a right of access to the courts in 
order to obtain fair and adequate compensation.

To date, however, the US courts have proven 
hostile to victims of rendition, dismissing a 
lawsuit brought by a group of rendition victims 
that included Ahmed Agiza, as well as an earlier 
suit brought by Maher Arar. While the Canadian 
government acknowledged wrongdoing and 
compensated Arar for his suffering, the U.S. government did neither.

In choosing the dark side over compliance with 
the law, this administration has been unapologetic.

Joanne Mariner is a human rights lawyer.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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