The Pentagon’s announcement that it has charged six “high-value” detainees at Guantánamo Bay raises yet more questions about the USA’s conduct in the “war on terror”, Amnesty International said today.
“Ever since the crime against humanity that was committed on 11 September 2001, Amnesty International has called on the USA to pursue justice and security within a framework of respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on USA. “The US government’s systematic failure to do this is illustrated not only by the treatment of these six detainees over the past five years or more, but also by the military commissions before which they are set to appear.”
Five of the six men charged were held for more than three years in secret CIA custody at unknown locations before being transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006. They were victims of enforced disappearance – a crime under international law – and the CIA has confirmed that at least one of them, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to “waterboarding”, simulated drowning.
“Waterboarding is torture, and torture is an international crime. No one has been held accountable for such crimes. Impunity in relation to the CIA program remains a hallmark of the USA’s conduct in the ‘war on terror,’” said Rob Freer.
The sixth man charged is Mohamed al-Qahtani, who was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in Guantánamo in late 2002. Despite suffering sexual and other humiliation, sleep deprivation, hooding, stripping, loud music, white noise, and extremes of heat and cold, the Pentagon concluded that his treatment did not amount to inhumane treatment.
“The Pentagon, along with the President, has overarching influence over the operation of the military commissions,” said Rob Freer. “In other words, these sub-standard tribunals lack independence from the same executive branch that has authorized and condoned systematic human rights violations committed against these detainees.”
Amnesty International is gravely concerned that information obtained under torture or other ill-treatment will form part of the case against these detainees. This is just one flaw of a commission system set up precisely to obtain convictions under lower standards than would apply in normal courts. No US citizen would be tried under these military commissions, rendering them discriminatory, in violation of international law.
Guantánamo, already an icon of lawlessness, may yet be the location for executions after trials that fail to meet international standards. The government is seeking to pursue the death penalty against these six men. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. More than half of the countries of the world are now abolitionist in law or practice.
“A matter of weeks after the United Nations General Assembly voted for an end to executions, the USA is raising the spectre of death sentences after fundamentally flawed trials in Guantánamo. The international community must challenge the USA to drop these military commissions and conduct trials in front of independent and impartial courts, without resort to the death penalty.”