James Mitchell looked almost wistful as he described the various ways he had tortured some of the men sitting across from him. In front of a packed courtroom at the Guantánamo detention facility, Mitchell recalled waterboarding 9/11 defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed dozens of times, and “walling” detainees by slamming them repeatedly into a wall. He described subjecting detainees to days of standing sleep deprivation, slapping, screaming and cursing at them; and threatening to slit the throat of one defendant’s son.
James Mitchell looked almost wistful as he described the various ways he had tortured some of the men sitting across from himJulia Hall, Amnesty International
This gruesome testimony was part of the evidence given by Mitchell at pre-trial hearings for five men due to go on trial in over the 9/11 attacks. All five defendants – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shaibh, Walid bin Attash, Ammar al-Baluchi and Mustafa al-Hawsawi – could face the death penalty if they are found guilty by Guantánamo’s military commissions. Lawyers for the defendants want any statements extracted under torture excluded, including those taken by the FBI after the men arrived at Guantánamo. They argue that the FBI cooperated in CIA interrogations and any statements to its agents are tainted by torture.
Mitchell and his business partner, John “Bruce” Jessen had a leading role in designing and implementing the notorious “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used to torture men in black sites around the globe. No one responsible for the US torture programme has been held to account.
The men in the Guantánamo courtroom had been tortured and ill-treated in Poland, Lithuania and RomaniaJulia Hall, Amnesty International
But the US did not act alone. At least three EU member states hosted secret CIA sites as part of the global “war on terror”. The men in the Guantánamo courtroom had been tortured and ill-treated in Poland, Lithuania and Romania. But the complicity of these countries in torture, a crime under international law, was not mentioned once in the courtroom. Everyone in the courtroom was forbidden from saying or indicating that European countries hosted black sites and facilitated the abuse that went on in them. No individual in any of these countries has been charged for facilitating these crimes.
The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled in a civil case against Poland for complicity in the enforced disappearance and torture of CIA detainees Mohammed al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, both of whom are still in Guantánamo. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash and Ramzi bin al-Shaibh were also held in the Polish black site, located in Stare Kiejkuty, which operated between 2002 and 2004.
Now is the time to hold to account the European States which hosted key black sites, helped to “disappear” detainees, and facilitated torture and ill-treatmentJulia Hall, Amnesty International
Al-Nashiri was subjected to mock execution and had a gun held to his head; interrogators threatened to sexually assault his mother. James Mitchell would say that those “techniques” exceeded what was “authorized” in legal memos drummed up by the White House Office of Legal Counsel to justify the unjustifiable. But it is evident from the range of sadistic behaviors revealed in a 2014 Senate report that the “authorized” enhanced interrogation techniques often served to embolden interrogators – and gave them the momentum and cover to inflict ever more vicious abuse on some detainees.
Mustafa al-Hawsawi, one of the 9/11 defendants in the courtroom, suffered new heights of barbarism in CIA custody. The 2014 Senate report documented some of Mustafa al-Hawsawi’s ongoing health problems, specifically related to a “rectal exam” which was conducted with “excessive force” while he was in a secret prison in Afghanistan. “CIA records indicate that one of the detainees, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, was later diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomatic rectal prolapse.”
Al-Hawsawi was anally raped in CIA custody and the ongoing effects of the physical damage he suffered were a key issue when he was transferred to a secret prison in Lithuania in 2005. The Lithuanian authorities refused medical treatment for al-Hawsawi’s and other prisoners’ acute ailments and the US was forced to contract with other governments for that treatment.
The ECHR has also ruled against Lithuania for its willing facilitation of the disappearance and torture of Abu Zubaydah in the secret CIA prison it hosted. This year, Mustafal-Hawsawi’s civil case against Lithuania will also be heard by the ECHR.
Watching Mustafa al-Hawsawi in the courtroom, the impact of the torture he suffered was clearJulia Hall, Amnesty International
Watching Mustafa al-Hawsawi in the courtroom, the impact of the torture he suffered was clear. He moved with a slow gait and needed to sit on a pillow while listening to John Mitchell’s testimony. Here in Guantánamo he filed a motion in the military commission requesting that his case be thrown out due to “outrageous government conduct.”
Amnesty has repeatedly said that detainees at Guantánamo should be given fair trials in US federal courts or released – Guantánamo’s military tribunals do not meet international fair trial standards.
But this renewed spotlight on Guantánamo is also an opportunity to hold to account the US’s European friends which hosted key black sites, helped to “disappear” detainees, and facilitated torture and ill-treatment. The fact that they watch the proceedings at Guantánamo from afar – unscathed and unaccountable – is also an outrage.
This article first appeared here in Newsweek.