Change We Can Believe In, XXXVI
Change We Can Believe In: Hear No Evil, See No Evil (And, Secrecy)
You may have missed news of the unanimous ruling last month by the European Court of Human Rights that the CIA tortured Khaled el-Masri. That he was wrongly arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated isn’t in doubt. The CIA admitted as much and released him. What’s new is that the CIA actions have now been found to be torture (not that that was really in doubt either).
From Richard Norton-Taylor’s report at The Guardian:
CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on, the European court of human rights said in a historic judgment released on Thursday.
In a unanimous ruling, it also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin allegedly linked to terrorist organisations.
Masri was seized in Macedonia in December 2003 and handed over to a CIA “rendition team” at Skopje airport and secretly flown to Afghanistan.
It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.
“The grand chamber of the European court of human rights unanimously found that Mr el-Masri was subjected to forced disappearance, unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition outside any judicial process, and inhuman and degrading treatment,” said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
He described the judgment as “an authoritative condemnation of some of the most objectionable tactics employed in the post-9/11 war on terror”. It should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and US courts, he told the Guardian. For them to continue to avoid serious scrutiny of CIA activities was “simply unacceptable”, he said.
Masri was released in April 2004. He was taken, blindfolded and handcuffed, by plane to Albania and subsequently to Germany, after the CIA admitted he was wrongly detained. The Macedonian government, which the court ordered must pay Masri €60,000 (£49,000) in compensation, has denied involvement in kidnapping.
UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, described the ruling as “a key milestone in the long struggle to secure accountability of public officials implicated in human rights violations committed by the Bush administration CIA in its policy of secret detention, rendition and torture”.
He said the US government must issue an apology for its “central role in a web of systematic crimes and human rights violations by the Bush-era CIA, and to pay voluntary compensation to Mr el-Masri”.
President Obama and Attorney General Holder have already made clear their lack of interest in looking backward. Scott Horton wrote immediately after the European Court’s decision:
The El-Masri ruling is a watershed event principally because it reflects the first high-profile, binding judicial determination that the CIA used torture practices in connection with its renditions program. Thus far, litigation of the issue in the United States has failed as federal courts — deferring to the executive’s attempts to avoid scrutiny of well-documented and severe human rights abuses by invoking secrecy — have generally refused to allow cases to proceed to trial.
… the perpetrators of El-Masri’s torture have not been held to account under criminal law. According to an investigation run by the Associated Press, CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky played a key role in El-Masri’s abusive treatment, ignoring his protests because her “gut told her” he was a terrorist. Bikowsky was quickly promoted following the El-Masri incident, and she now occupies a senior counterterrorism post, from which she exercises great influence on sensitive operations.
Recall too Holder’s announcement last August that he would not prosecute CIA interrogators.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday [August 30, 2012] that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations [i.e., torture, but the NYT doesn’t call it that; see next sentence though] carried out by the C.I.A.
Mr. Holder had already ruled out any charges related to the use of waterboarding and other methods that most human rights experts consider to be torture. His announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The closing of the two cases means that the Obama administration’s limited effort to scrutinize the counterterrorism programs carried out under President George W. Bush has come to an end.
That’s moral leadership for you.