Watching the Shadows
On Dec. 31, US Judge John G. Koeltl granted the Bureau of Prisons' request for the compassionate release of Lynne Stewart. Now 74 years old and struggling with terminal cancer, Stewart is said to have a life expectancy of less than 18 months. She has been serving a 10-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Tex., in connection with her defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. As her condition has deteriorated, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has repeatedly called on Attorney General Eric Holder to direct the BoP to grant compassionate release. Said NLG executive director Heidi Boghosian: "From arrest to sentencing, Lynne Stewart's case was used by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to attorneys: think twice about who you represent! For speaking to a Reuters reporter about her client’s viewpoints—in violation of an administrative order—an ailing Ms. Stewart was sentenced to a decade in prison. Today's small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented." (NLG, Dec. 31)
The US Department of Defense announced Dec. 16 that two Guantánamo Bay detainees have been transferred to Saudi Arabia. Saad Muhammad Husayn Qahtani and Hamood Abdulla Hamood had been held since 2002, but neither had been charged with a crime. The two men were recommended for transfer in 2009 after a review by the the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force. According to a statement:
Lawyers for two Guantánamo detainees, arguing before the European Court of Human Rights on Dec. 3, accused Poland of providing a secret torture site for the Central Intelligence Agency's "extraordinary rendition" program. The case involves 48-year-old Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national facing terror charges in connection with the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and 42-year-old Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who has never been charged with a crime. According to their lawyers, Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were victims of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" and waterboarding techniques, as well as mock executions. Crofton Black, a researcher with the human rights organization Reprieve and witness to the closed trial, called the Polish government's investigation into the matter nothing more than a smoke-screen.
The attorney for Belkacem Bensayah and Djamel Ameziane, two Algerian detainees being held in Guantánamo Bay said on Nov. 29 the two will oppose their release back to Algeria, which could take place as early as this week. The two claim they would likely face persecution should they be released back to their home country. The US is bound by its international obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, as well as other international conventions, to prevent returning a national to a state where he or she will likely face persecution or torture. Bensayah has requested he be released to Bosnia, while Ameziane has asked to be released to Canada.
Egyptian cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr (AKA Abu Omar) has gone on trial in absentia in Italy on charges of criminal association with the goal of terrorism and aiding illegal emigration with the goal of terrorism, based on an investigation from 2002. Before the investigation could be concluded and charges filed, Nasr was kidnapped from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, through the US Central Intelligence Agency's "extraordinary rendition" program. Prosecutors requested a prison sentence of six years and eight months for Nasr's alleged role in organizing false documents in order to recruit people for a terror camp. A verdict is expected within the next month.
Doctors and psychologists working in US military detention centers helped to design methods of torture for terrorism suspects, according to an independent report supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations that was released Nov. 4. The report, entitled "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror," examines various charges that the Department of Defense (DoD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "improperly demanded that US military and intelligence agency health professionals collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in US custody." Such methods, the report asserts, forced doctors to violate ethical and medical principles in order to inflict "torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" on detainees. While acknowledging that some steps toward improvement have been taken by the DoD in recent years, the report urges that further changes need to be made so that medical professionals are not made to undermine their own ethical standards.
The lawyer for five Guantánamo Bay prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 attacks has asked President Barack Obama to declassify the CIA interrogation program that allegedly subjected prisoners to torture. The letter (PDF), made public on Oct. 25, calls upon Obama to make the details of the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program public. This program has been linked to certain interrogation techniques that have been said constitute torture. In the letter, the lawyer for the defendants argues:
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled (PDF) Oct. 7 that the Detainee Treatment Act prevents the court from having jurisdiction over a former Guantánamo Bay detainee's lawsuit for damages. Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese national, was captured in 2002 and transferred to Guantánamo prior to an agreement an agreement to transfer him to Sudan in 2007. Hamad states that that he was wrongfully detained and subjected to torture while held and filed the lawsuit to seek damages stemming from his detention. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's orders and directed the district court to render a judgment dismissing the lawsuit. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2001 ruled that Hamad could not continue to litigate a habeas corpus petition and refused to order the government to rescind their designations as "enemy combatants."