Thursday, June 17, 2010

UN Report Documents Secret Detention Practices by U.S., Other Countries

Also posted at FDL/The Seminal

Andy Worthington is posting portions of the United Nations’ “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Counter-Terrorism,” a detailed, 186-page report issued last February (PDF). As he explains it, he’s "posting the section of the report that deals with US secret detention policies since the 9/11 attacks [section 4 of the original report], in the hope that it might reach a new audience — and provide useful research opportunities — as an HTML document." Andy adds:

I do, however, urge everyone to read the whole report, because the introduction and conclusions are important, as are the sections establishing the legal approach to secret detention and its historical context, the section detailing current practices in 25 other countries worldwide, and the annexes, which contain government responses to a questionnaire about secret detention, and a number of case studies.

The report concludes:

In many contexts, intelligence agencies operate in a legal vacuum with no law, or no publicly available law, governing their actions….

Secret detention as such may constitute torture or ill-treatment for the direct victims as well as for their families. As many of the interviews and cases included in the present study illustrate, however, the very purpose of secret detention is to facilitate and, ultimately, cover up torture and inhuman and degrading treatment used either to obtain information or to silence people….

The generalized fear of secret detention and its corollaries, such as torture and ill-treatment, tends to effectively result in limiting the exercise of a large number of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Part One of the report is here. Part Two is linked here. I’ll post the link to Part Three when he uploads it. All links are easy to download HTML.

I’d follow Andy’s advice and download the whole thing, especially as the full details for all the footnotes can only be followed in the original report. He says he’s added what he can in square brackets, and also kindly supplied some hyperlinks — a distinct bonus over the report itself!

The report was prepared by "Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Shaheen Ali, the vice-chair of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and Jeremy Sarkin, the chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances." The scope of the report is quite large, including 66 countries, including various European states, China, Canada, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Israel, Libya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and many more.

The UN experts’ conclusions were criticized by a number of countries, including some grumbling over the report’s "methodology" from Eileen Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council. As Worthington noted in his original story on the report on June 15:

Despite the experts’ hopes, Deutsche Welle noted that a detailed questionnaire that experts sent to the UN’s 192 member countries was only answered by 44 of those countries, and, moreover, “Of these, not one admitted to the existence of secret prisons. The report’s authors depended on independent sources for their investigation and many countries denied them any kind of access to relevant materials or sources.”

The article also noted, “During the debate, China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Algeria and other African nations denied that any secret detention facilities existed on their territory.” Revisiting the complaints they made when the report was first published, “They accused the report’s authors of sloppy research, of overstepping their mandate and of compiling the report without being commissioned to do so by the UN Human Rights Council"….

Nevertheless, reflecting on the discussion, Martin Scheinin told IPS, “It went better than expected. The report has been very controversial and now there appears to be acknowledgement that the issue is serious enough not to be trivialized by procedural filibustery.”

While the UN experts were dismayed over the U.S. failure to close Guantanamo, as promised by President Obama, they reportedly were somewhat understanding, in that they believed "The [U.S.] government is unable to do anything when the legislature prohibits part of the options available: namely taking a single person from Guantanamo to the mainland United States." Maybe the report’s authors were simply pleased the U.S. had not opposed the report in general. Given the fact that in the past year new secret prisons have been revealed at both Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base, the role of the current administration in relation to secret detention sites and abuse of prisoners in U.S.-run secret prisons, and those of its allies, like Iraq, remains the least reported scandal of the Obama years.

The UN report on secret detentions in the name of "counter-terrorism" was hardly reported by either the U.S. press or the blogosphere. This is not a subject fit for discussion in the era of Obama. While part of the country chokes on a diet of corporate-supplied oil swill, the military-industrial-technical might of the country is engaged in military adventures and empire-building that is bankrupting the nation, and sowing ill-will world-wide.

What the UN report also demonstrates is that the U.S. practice of holding "ghost prisoners" in undocumented and hidden prisons is by no means unusual, that in a world run by corrupt elites and nationalist dictators dreaming revanchist dreams, and running ethnic cleansing enterprises, the practice of secret detention has a wide dissemination. In this we can see the U.S. is only one among many malefactors, if perhaps more responsible (or more cynical) for the breadth of their enterprise, their use of allies utilizing secret prisons for the rendition program, and their long practice of such detentions, going back to the secret backing for Operation Condor, the kidnapping-assassination-secret detention program in South America in the 1970s. (See the article Operation Condor: Deciphering the U.S. Role, by historian J. Patrice McSherry.) Condor is specifically singled out in the UN report as a precursor to the current practice of secret detentions in a number of countries.

According to an IPS article on the report, "The study’s recommendations included an explicit prohibition of secret detention, and the keeping of clear detention records, even at times of armed conflict, as stipulated by the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war." Both the report itself and its recommendations should be broadcast widely and well. I thank Andy Worthington for his tireless pursuit of the issue of prisoners held without legal standing, as his long reporting on Guantanamo demonstrates.

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