[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
By JOANNE MARINER
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."
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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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