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Rendition Victims Seek Justice Before International Tribunal

Francesca Corbacho,
NYU Global Justice Clinic
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November 15, 2011

Four victims of “extraordinary rendition” — a Bush administration CIA-run program of abduction, enforced disappearance, and torture — are demanding justice in a case filed yesterday against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

On behalf of our clients — Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi, Abou Elkassim Britel, and Mohamed Bashmilah — the petition seeks an apology for and acknowledgment of their forced disappearance and torture. The case also challenges the U.S. government’s misuse of the “state secrets” privilege in its effort to block the victims’ cases for redress from being heard in U.S. courts. The government used the “state secrets” privilege to persuade U.S. courts to dismiss the case previously brought in the federal courts by the ACLU on behalf of the same victims against Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a flight logistics company that facilitated CIA “torture flights” across the globe.

“I want to get justice for what the American CIA did to me, because they were responsible for everything that happened,” said Mohamed Bashmilah, when asked about his decision to pursue a claim before the human rights Commission.

After 9/11, the CIA devised and implemented a program involving abduction, secret detention and torture of individuals it suspected of having links to terrorism. Many of these men were held for years — before being released without charge or explanation. Our clients recounted the torture they experienced in the CIA-run program as part of their federal suit against Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. The men were beaten, kicked, cut with scalpels, chained to the walls and floors of filthy cells, left naked for extended periods in frigid temperatures, and deprived of sleep for days on end. These abuses all violate the most basic human rights protections that the United States government is obligated to uphold.

Although the Obama Administration has ended the practice of “extraordinary rendition” and shut down secret prisons, the U.S. government has waged a legal battle to keep survivors from having their day in U.S. court. As in the earlier cases of Maher Arar and Khaled El-Masri, the United States used claims of national security and the “state secrets” privilege to torpedo the litigation immediately after it had begun. Claiming that U.S. national security interests would be undermined if the government were forced to discuss the issues of these cases in court (despite the whole world being aware of much of the information related to their rendition and torture), the government has successfully blocked any U.S. court from ruling on the legality of the Bush administration’s torture program.

The Inter-American Commission case offers another opportunity for Mohamed Bashmilah, Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi, and Abou Elkassim Britel to have their day in court, and for the United States to finally acknowledge and apologize for their abduction and years of secret detention and torture. Stay tuned for more information about their case.

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