Released Guantanamo detainee accuses U.S. and U.K. and Morocco of torture

Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born refugee with British residency, was released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Cuba — and put on a chartered plane heading to a British military base in the early morning today.

He is being accompanied on the flight “by officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter-terrorism Command, a uniformed police escort team and a doctor”, but is not expected to be detained once he arrives in the U.K., according to a report by The Times of London. He will reportedly report regularly to U.K. police and will be kept under surveillance, but will be able to live at home. At one time he was accused — perhaps without sufficient basis, it now appears — of working with others [including Jose Padilla] while in Pakistan on the construction of an “improvised radioactive bomb” or a “dirty bomb” that would be detonated in the U.S.

Arrested at Karachi airport Pakistan on 10 April 2002 while attempting to fly out using a fake or false passport — he said his had been lost — Mohamed has since “been held in US custody for a total of eight years”, according to the report in The Times published here — first in Pakistan, then taken in extraordinary rendition to Morocco, Afghanistan, and, finally, September 2004, in Guantanamo.

His detention was never reviewed by a court or tribunal.
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"America will not torture"

Among the things U.S. Vice President said at the Munich security conference is this: “America will not torture”.

The Politico blog reported that Biden said in Munich: “We will uphold the rights of those we bring to justice. And we will close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay” … In return for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, as the administration has promised to do within a year, he said, the United States will ask other countries to accept the transfer of prisoners now held in the facility. While some European government have promised to consider the ideas, none has yet committed itself to accepting transfers of prisoners now at Guantanamo”. This can be read in full here.

One year is way too long — the special detention facilities at Guantanamo should be closed down now.

The most unforgivable actions of George W. Bush’s recently-departed administration were the introduction of “legalized” torture and the opening of special detention facilitiies to hold those unfortunate enough to have been put in the new and indeterminate category of “illegal combattants” — including at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba — as well as the vile and evil policy of secret rendition that allowed the movement of suspected “illegal combattants” into and out of secret facilities around the world, as well as into Guantanamo.

UPDATE: A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT — The New York Times wrote scathingly in an editorial on 10 February that “The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law. On Monday, a Justice Department lawyer dispatched by the new attorney general, Eric Holder, appeared before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The case before them involves serious allegations of torture by five victims of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. The five were seized and transported to American facilities abroad or to countries known for torturing prisoners. Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred. Voters have good reason to feel betrayed if they took Mr. Obama seriously on the campaign trail when he criticized the Bush administration’s tactic of stretching the state-secrets privilege to get lawsuits tossed out of court. Even judges on the panel seemed surprised by the administration’s decision to go forward instead of requesting a delay to reconsider the government’s position and, perhaps, file new briefs.  The argument is that the very subject matter of the suit is a state secret so sensitive that it cannot be discussed in court, and it is no more persuasive now than it was when the Bush team pioneered it. For one thing, there is ample public information available about the C.I.A.’s rendition, detention and coercive interrogation programs. The fact that some of the evidence might be legitimately excluded on national security grounds need not preclude the case from being tried, and allowing the judge to make that determination. More fundamentally, the Obama administration should not be invoking state secrets to cover up charges of rendition and torture. President Obama has taken some important steps to repair Mr. Bush’s damaging legacy — issuing executive orders to prohibit torture, shut secret prisons overseas and direct closure of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It would have been good if he and Mr. Holder had shown the same determination in that federal court, rather than defending the indefensible”.   This NYTimes editorial is posted on the web here.

Cuba signs the two most basic human rights treaties

Apparently, Cuba announced on 10 December – International Human Rights Day — its intention to sign the two most basic human rights treaties.

The two treaties — the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — are both derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or UDHR (see UN-Truth here), adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948 at a meeting in Paris at the culmination of two years of intensive drafting work. The U.S. then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and a French diplomat were the two prime movers in those negotiations.

As the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights puts it,the UDHR, together with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [for full text see here], and its two Optional Protocols [see the first one here and the second one, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty here ], and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [for full text see here ], “form the so-called [sic] International Bill of Human Rights“.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, looking very relaxed and confident in the photos that accompanied the news story, was at UNHQ/NY for the brief signing ceremony. At a news conference later, he said, according to the Associated Press, that “Cuba was signing the covenants now because the UN Human Rights Commission — which he claimed the U.S. used for ‘brutal pressure and blackmail’ against Cuba — had been ‘defeated’ in what he called ‘a historic victory for the Cuban people’.”

The AP reported that Perez Roque stated “that Cuba would later specify some reservations about treaty provisions”, and the AP noted that in 2001, Fidel Castro criticized the International Covenant on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights, saying it “could serve as a weapon and a pretext for imperialism to try to divide and fracture the workers, create artificial unions, and decrease their political and social power and influence.”

At the news conference, the AP reported, Cuban Foreign Minister was asked by journalists “whether Fidel’s opposition to parts of the two covenants, including the right to form independent trade unions, had changed now that Raul is president, Perez Roque said no. He reiterated that Cuba would later specify some reservations about treaty provisions … A statement Cuba submitted when it signed the two treaties said its constitution and laws ‘guarantee the effective realization and protection of these rights for all Cubans’, but also stressed that the government would register ‘reservations or interpretative declarations it considers relevant’… According to this Cuban statement submitted at the signing, the United States’ economic embargo [which has been in place 46 years] and hostility to Cuba’s communist government ‘constitutes the most serious obstacle to the enjoyment by the Cuban people of the rights protected by the covenants’.” This AP report is published here.