Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Who will rein in the CIA if not the Supreme Court ?

By refusing to hear the appeal from Khaled El-Masri, an illegal detainee of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), the US Supreme Court may have passed up an opportunity to rein in the CIA, and restore faith in the American way of life. El-Masri had appealed after the decision of lower courts not to hear his case against the CIA on national security grounds.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that a 2005 Justice Department memo endorsed interrogation techniques were some of the harshest ever used by the CIA. They included head-slapping, exposure to freezing temperatures and simulated drowning, known as water-boarding.

That was torture by any interpretation of the term, but frankly pales in its audacity and brutality when compared to the alleged torture of El-Masri under a CIA program called “extraordinary rendition”.

To get around US federal and international conventions, the CIA is said to have invented the concept of “extraordinary rendition”, the unlawful kidnapping of foreign citizens, and their transfer to secret prisons in countries that have little regard for human rights and legal niceties.

Suspects are detained and interrogated either by US personnel at US-run detention facilities outside US sovereign territory or, alternatively, are handed over to the custody of foreign agents for interrogation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In both instances, interrogation methods are employed that do not comport with federal and internationally recognized standards, ACLU added.

El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, by his account was abducted in Macedonia in 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation, under the “extraordinary rendition” program. The 44-year-old alleges he was tortured during five months in detention, four months of which were spent in a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, nicknamed the "salt pit".

On his flight to Afghanistan, he says, he was stripped, beaten, shackled, made to wear "diapers", drugged and chained to the floor of the plane.

By his account, he was finally released in Albania after the Americans realized they had got the wrong man. For a copy of El-Masri’s petition before US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia see here.

There are a number of people kidnapped tortured by the CIA under “extraordinary rendition”, according to civil liberties unions. Some were probably terrorists, but that does not make “extraordinary rendition” justified. If the US and other free countries do not follow norms of fair play, detention, and interrogation, and instead look for subterfuges, they will lose the high moral ground they have taken with regard to the terrorists. The free world is appearing to be just a brutal as the terrorists.

Rather than give the CIA cover under the "state secrets" privilege, US courts should have seized the opportunity to bring some accountability into the CIA and the US government.

There are dangerous man at large, and not all of them are Islamic terrorists. Some of them are in the pay of the US government.

Related article:

They torture prisoners in Myanmar, Iran, and yes the US

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