As human right lawyers sought to block US government
efforts to stop a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary accused of flying detainees
to "black sites" where they were tortured, a legal advocacy group
published the first testimony of a victim of the Central Intelligence Agency's
"enhanced interrogation" program.
In the first-ever report of its kind, the Center for Human Rights and Global
Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law released a firsthand account
of a survivor of enforced disappearance and torture at several CIA "black
sites." The 63-page report, "Surviving the Darkness: Testimony from
the US 'Black Sites,'" is an in-depth account of a former CIA detainee's
experience in his own words.
The bone-chilling narrative tells the story of Mohammed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah,
a Yemeni national who spent more than a year and a half in the CIA's secret
detention program. He was never charged with a terrorism-related crime.
The CHRGJ charges that Bashmilah was "illegally detained by the Jordanian
intelligence service in October 2003, tortured into signing a false confession,
and then handed over to an American rendition team."
The group says he spent the next 18 months in the US secret detention network
– in sites believed to be in Afghanistan and possibly Eastern Europe. In May
2005, he was transferred to the custody of the Yemen government, which held
him in proxy detention at the behest of the US until he was put on trial and
finally released in March 2006.
Bashmilah's story was made public as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
filed legal papers opposing the CIA's attempt to throw out a lawsuit against
Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. for its participation in the CIA's
"extraordinary rendition" program.
The ACLU charged that the US government is improperly invoking the "state
secrets" privilege to avoid judicial scrutiny of this unlawful policy.
Steven Watt, an attorney with the ACLU's Human Rights Program, told IPS, "Five
men have been brutally abused with the help of a US corporation, and they are
entitled to their day in court."
"Jeppesen must not be given a free pass for its profitable participation
in a torture program," he said. "And the government should not be
allowed to use the national security defense as a way to cover up its mistakes
or, worse, its egregious abuses of human rights."
The ACLU filing comes in a lawsuit brought on behalf of five victims of the
rendition program. who were kidnapped and secretly transferred by the CIA to
US-run overseas prisons or foreign intelligence agencies where they were interrogated
According to the lawsuit, Jeppesen knowingly provided flight planning and essential
logistical support to aircraft and crew used by the CIA for the clandestine
After the lawsuit was filed, the US government intervened to seek its dismissal,
contending that further litigation of the case would be harmful to national
security. But the ACLU contends that the information needed to pursue this lawsuit,
including details about the rendition program., is already in the public domain.
It adds, "Jeppesen's involvement in the program. is also a matter of public
record. It has been confirmed by extensive documentary evidence and eyewitness
testimony, including the sworn declaration of a former senior Jeppesen employee,
which was submitted in support of the ACLU filing."
In recent years, the government has asserted the once-rare "state secrets"
claim with increasing regularity in an attempt to throw out lawsuits and justify
withholding information from the public not only about the rendition program,
but also about illegal wiretapping, torture, and other breaches of US and international
It has been 50 years since the United States Supreme Court last reviewed the
use of the "state secrets" privilege. The Supreme Court recently refused
to review the "state secrets" privilege in a lawsuit brought by Khaled
El-Masri, a German citizen also represented by the ACLU, who was kidnapped and
rendered to detention, interrogation, and torture in a CIA "black site"
prison in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, more than 250 people once held in Iraqi prisons, including Abu Ghraib,
have filed suit against a US military contractor for alleged torture of detainees.
The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the lawsuit seeking millions of dollars
in compensatory and punitive damages against CACI International Inc. of Arlington,
The complaint alleges that CACI interrogators who were sent to Iraqi prisons
directed and engaged in torture between 2003 and 2004. The lawsuit charges that
the detainees were repeatedly beaten, sodomized, threatened with rape, kept
naked in their cells, subjected to electric shock and attacked by unmuzzled
dogs, among other humiliations.
The court action also names two CACI employees – Stephen Stefanowski, known
as "Big Steve," and Daniel Johnson, known as "DJ" – accusing
them of participating in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The suit alleges
that the two CACI contractors directed Corporal Charles Graner and Sergeant
Ivan Frederick. Graner was sentenced to 10 years in prison for this role in
the Abu Ghraib scandal; Frederick is serving an eight-year jail term.
"These corporate guys worked in a conspiracy with those military guys
to torture people," said Susan Burke, the lead attorney in the case.
"And now the military have been held accountable, but the company guys
and the company have not been," she said.
The legal status of US private contractors in Iraq and elsewhere abroad remains
cloudy. The Iraqi government says they should be subject to Iraqi law, a position
rejected by the US. It remains unclear whether they are subject to US law. No
US court has yet decided a relevant case, though lawsuits have been brought
against a number of contractors, including Blackwater, whose employees are accused
of killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in a shooting incident in September.
In the CACI case, to the surprise of some legal observers, the government did
not intervene on behalf of the contractors and the court ruled that the litigation
could go forward.
In a related development, the New York Times reported Wednesday that
Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies, "apparently trying to avoid
acknowledging an elaborate secret detention system, have quietly set free nearly
100 men suspected of links to terrorism, few of whom were charged."
Human rights groups in Pakistan say those released are some of the nearly 500
Pakistanis presumed to have disappeared into the hands of the Pakistani intelligence
agencies cooperating with Washington's fight against terrorism since 2001.
The Times reported that no official reason has been given for the releases.
But it quoted Pakistani sources as saying that as pressure has mounted to bring
the cases into the courts, "the government has decided to jettison some
suspects and spare itself the embarrassment of having to reveal that people
have been held on flimsy evidence in the secret system."
Among those pressing to bring the cases into court was the chief justice of
Pakistan's Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. He was dismissed by President
Pervez Musharraf and remains in detention, although Musharraf last Saturday
lifted the state of emergency he imposed in November.
The Times reported that the prisoner releases were "particularly
galling to lawyers" because Musharraf had accused the courts of being soft
on terrorists, and had used that claim as one justification for imposing emergency
(Inter Press Service)