People who talk of outlawing the atomic bomb are mistaken — what needs to be outlawed is war.
Leslie Richard Groves
Original Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

October 12, 2004

Report: 11 'Disappeared' in U.S. War on Terror

by Jim Lobe

Eleven prisoners captured by the Bush administration in its "war on terrorism" have disappeared, opening a "gateway" to torture and other abuses prohibited by global law, says a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

U.S. officials have confirmed they have six of the detainees in custody, according to the document, "Disappeared: The CIA's Long-Term 'Ghost' Detainees," by the New York-based group.

"In each case, however, the United States has not only failed to register the detainees, but has also refused to disclose their fate or their whereabouts and thus removed them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time," adds the 46-page document.

That could open the door to torture, says HRW. But "the primary concern [about the 'ghosts'] must stem, first and foremost, from the acceptance of methods which are antithetical to a democracy and which betray the U.S.' identity as a nation of law," it adds, noting that the 11 "disappeared" are reportedly members of the al-Qaeda terrorist group.

"For al-Qaeda, the ends apparently justify the means, means which have included smashing hijacked planes into buildings and bombing train stations and places of worship. The United States should not endorse that logic."

"'Disappearances' were a trademark abuse of Latin American military dictatorships in their 'dirty war' on alleged subversion," said Reed Brody, special counsel with HRW, in a news release. "Now they have become a United States tactic in its conflict with al-Qaeda."

The report follows a June release by the U.S. organization Human Rights First, which described a series of secret jails worldwide where U.S. intelligence agencies have hidden terror suspects from scrutiny.

It predicted more strongly than the HRW report that the move would lead to abuse.

"What is unknown about this detention system still outweighs what is known about it," said Human Rights First. "But facilities within it share in common key features that – while having unclear benefits in the nation's struggle against terrorism – make inappropriate detention and abuse not only likely, but virtually inevitable."

The "ghost detainees" were first described in a U.S. military report released earlier this year that revealed the extent of abuse of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail, following the international publication of leaked photos that showed detainees being sexually humiliated by U.S. soldiers.

HRW quotes the military report's conclusion on the detainees: "This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to army doctrine, and in violation of international law."

Subsequent probes have put the number of "ghost" prisoners at anywhere from two dozen to 100.

Beyond the 11 detainees it describes, HRW suggests, "there may well be several or many more such detainees."

The organization says it "has no firsthand information on the treatment of these detainees, but press accounts have repeatedly cited unnamed government officials acknowledging the torture or mistreatment of some of the detainees."

One such report concerns Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, who the Bush administration has acknowledged is in custody.

HRW quotes from an account in the New York Times describing use of "graduated force" on Mohammed, "including a technique known as 'water boarding,' in which a prisoner is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water and made to believe he might drown."

"Mohammed's two young sons were also taken into custody and there have been reports that the CIA is holding them as an inducement to make him talk," adds the report.

The human rights group says it has repeatedly requested information on another detainee, Hambali, but has yet to get a response from the U.S. government. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also been stymied, adds HRW, quoting an ICRC official.

Hambali is implicated in the Bali bombings of 2002 and was arrested in Thailand last year. Soon after his arrest he was handed over, by Thai police, to U.S. authorities.

"We are more and more concerned about the lot of the unknown number of people captured in the context of what we would call 'the war against terror' and detained in secret places," ICRC's Erof Bosisio was quoted in news reports.

"We have asked for information on these people and access to them. Until now we have received no response from the Americans," he added.

Commenting on abuses at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. military jails, the HRW report suggests, "If abuses took place in these places, visited by the ICRC and subject, in theory at least, to various forms of oversight, it would not be surprising if abuse were also perpetrated against 'ghost detainees' in secret detention centers where the recognized protections against mistreatment are not present."

"More to the point, it is impossible to know whether more or less information, or information of greater accuracy, could have been gathered had the detainees been held and treated in accordance with the law. A number of doubts have been expressed regarding the accuracy of the accounts provided by the 'disappeared' detainees," adds the report.

It quotes James Schlesinger, chairman of an independent panel that reviewed the Pentagon's treatment of prisoners in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal. "The CIA was allowed to operate under different rules," Schlesinger told Congress.

"It is not clear what these rules are, however," says HRW, but suggests they can be traced to a secret Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department memorandum to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in response to a CIA request for guidance.

Among other things, "that memo, prepared by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee [now a federal appeals court judge] said that torturing al-Qaeda detainees in captivity abroad 'may be justified,' and that international laws against torture 'may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations' conducted in the war on terrorism," says HRW.

The report recommends that Washington provide the ICRC "unrestricted access" to all prisoners of anti-terrorist operations and ensure that all such detentions are subject to periodic judicial oversight or to the protections of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Finally, "take the necessary legislative steps to ensure that the commission of a 'disappearance' constitutes a criminal offense, punishable by sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the practice," urges the report.

(Inter Press Service)

comments on this article?

  • US Jews Open to Palestinian Unity Govt

  • Bipartisan Experts Urge 'Partnership' With Russia

  • Obama Administration Insists It's Neutral in Salvador Poll

  • NGOs Hail Congressional Moves to Ease Embargo

  • Call to 'Resist and Deter' Nuclear Iran Gains Key Support

  • Washington Ends Diplomatic Embargo of Syria

  • Diplomatic, Aid Spending Set to Rise Under Obama Budget

  • Many Muslims Reject Terror Tactics, Back Some Goals

  • Lugar Report Calls for New Cuba Policy

  • U.S.-Israel Storm Clouds Ahead?

  • Calls Mount for Obama to Appoint 'Truth Commission'

  • Washington's Praise of Venezuelan Vote Suggests Détente

  • Rightward Shift in Israeli Polls Creates New Headaches

  • US Advised to Back Somalia Reconciliation Efforts

  • Hawks Urge Boosting Military Spending

  • More Troops, More Worries,
    Less Consensus on Afghanistan

  • Report: Most Citizens Kept in Dark on Govt Spending

  • Obama Raises Hopes of
    Mideast Experts

  • Obama Picks Israel-Arab, Afghanistan-Pakistan Negotiators

  • Rights Groups Applaud Move to Halt Gitmo Trials

  • Obama Offers Internationalist Vision

  • Around the World, High Hopes for Obama

  • Liberals, Realists Set to Clash in Obama Administration

  • Obama Urged to Take Bold Steps Toward Cuba Normalization

  • Clinton Stresses 'Cooperative Engagement,' 'Smart Power'

  • Bush Foreign Policy Legacy Widely Seen as Disastrous

  • Networks' Int'l News Coverage at Record Low in 2008

  • Amnesty Calls on Rice to Drop 'Lopsided' Gaza Stance

  • Israeli Attack May Complicate Obama's Plans

  • Report: Recognizing Hamas Could Help Peace

  • Business Groups Support Dismantling Cuba Embargo

  • Mumbai Massacre Seen as Major Blow to Regional Strategy

  • Obama Urged to Quickly Engage Iran, Syria

  • Diplomacy, Multilateralism Stressed by Obama Team

  • Obama Foreign Policy: Realists to Reign?

  • Hemispheric Group Calls for Major Changes in Americas Policy

  • Greybeards Urge Overhaul of Global Governance

  • Intelligence Analysts See Multi-Polar, Risky World By 2025

  • Obama Urged to Strengthen Ties with UN

  • Obama-Tied Think-Tank Calls for Pakistan Shift

  • Obama Advised to Forgo More Threats to Iran

  • First, Close Gitmo,
    Say Rights Groups

  • Obama's Foreign Policy:
    No Sharp Break From Bush

  • Coca Cultivation Up Despite Six Years of Plan Colombia

  • Obama to Seek Global Re-engagement, But How Much?

  • Two, Three, Many Grand Bargains?

  • Moving Towards a 'Grand Bargain' in Afghanistan

  • Top Ex-Diplomats Slam 'Militarization' of Foreign Policy

  • Bush Set to Go With a Whimper, Not a Bang

  • Pakistan 'Greatest Single Challenge' to Next President

  • Senate Passes Nuke Deal Over Escalation Fears

  • Brief Talks With Syria Spur Speculation

  • Iran Resolution Shelved in Rare Defeat for AIPAC

  • Bipartisan Group Urges Deeper Diplomacy with Muslim World

  • White House Still Cautious on Georgia

  • US' Somalia Policy Likely to Bring Blowback

  • Iran Could Reap Benefits of U.S.-Russian Tensions

  • A Really Bad Couple of Weeks for Pax Americana

  • Success of Attack on Iran's Nuclear Program Doubtful

  • US Gets No Traction in the Middle East

  • Gates Strategy Stresses Unconventional Warfare

  • Air Force Think Tank Advises Against Iran Attack

  • Pakistani PM May Be Pincushion for U.S. Frustration

  • Realists Urge Bush to Drop Iran Precondition

  • McCain Knee-Capped by Maliki

  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2003 Antiwar.com