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January 16, 2009

By All Means... Let's Not Close the Book On Torture

Of course, that means we'd have to go after Al Gore and Bill Clinton for their crimes against humanity:

In 1995, the U.S. orchestrated the capture of Gama`a leader Tal`at Fu'ad Qassim, also known as Abu Talal al-Qasimi. At the time of his abduction, Qassim was living in exile in Denmark, where he had been granted political asylum. Qassim was thirty-eight at the time of his abduction in Croatia in September 1995; he had been traveling to Bosnia to write about the conflict there. The Croatian foreign ministry told his wife, Amani Faruq, that Qassim had been expelled for violating Croatian residency laws.[62]

Richard Clarke has written that the decision by the U.S. government to take Tal`at Fu'ad Qassim into custody in 1995 was stirred by a recognition within the Clinton administration of the seriousness of the threat posed by international terrorism. Clarke refers to Qassim's capture as a "disappearance."[63] Clarke also states that, unbeknownst to the U.S. government at the time, Qassim and other foreign Muslims fighting in Bosnia were part of al-Qaeda.[64]

Before his forced transfer to Egypt, Qassim was allegedly questioned aboard a U.S. navy vessel and the handover to Egypt took place in the middle of the Adriatic Sea.[65] Qassim's case is the first known rendition by the U.S. government to a third country with a record of torture.

The Qassim case marked a first of sorts for the Egyptian government as well. Its handling of the Qassim case complete disappearance, refusing to allow any access to the individual, either by his family or his lawyers would be repeated many times in the years to come. After his return, the Egyptian government refused to answer questions about his whereabouts, and denied his attorney, Muntassir al-Zayyat, access to him:

I didn't seem him. I don't think that anyone managed to see him, except for security of course. And those who carried out the execution...We heard about [his abduction] as soon as he was kidnapped. But we didn't know where he was.[66]
In what would become standard procedure for renditions to Egypt, the Egyptian government also refused to release any information on Qassim's case:
Yes, we did present an official request. We also presented a request to the prosecutor and the ministry of interior. We asked for information about his arrest, and we asked for access, but as usual we didn't receive any reply.[67]
Because Qassim had already been tried and convicted in absentia by a military tribunal in 1992, he was not retried after his return to Egypt. Instead, the death sentence that he received after that trial was apparently carried out. He is believed to have been executed by the Egyptian government.[68]

After word of his death in custody leaked out, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights asked the Egyptian government to at least confirm his death. According to Hafez Abu Saeda, the secretary-general of EOHR:

We asked the government to tell us what happened, to answer whether or not he had been tortured to death. We had received information that he had died in custody. They never responded.[69]

Much better than Guantanamo Bay.

In July 1998, Albanian and U.S. agents made their move. In all, five alleged militants were captured, and one was killed in a shoot-out with Albanian security. The four captured militants, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Sayyid al-Naggar, Shawqi Salama Mustafa, Muhammad Hassan Mahmud Tita, and Ahmad Isma`il `Uthman, were questioned by U.S. agents and then handed over to Egypt's SSI.[72] In the same month, the CIA reportedly also rendered a fifth suspect, `Issam `Abd al-Tawab `Abd al-Alim, from the Bulgarian capital Sofia to Cairo.[73] Two of the rendered suspects, `Uthman and al-Naggar, had previously been sentenced to death in absentia by Egyptian military tribunals in March 1994 and October 1997 respectively.

Once the five men were returned to Egypt, they were all kept incommunicado, away from other Islamists then being tried. "These guys [the returnees from Albania] were kept in villas, the 'ghost' villas, we called them," said Zayyat.[74] All were held for an extended period in incommunicado detention before the trial, without access to their attorneys or to family members. "We saw them at trial," said EOHR's Hafez Abu Saeda, who defended some of the returnees. "We were not allowed to see them before that."[75]

The trial, featuring 107 defendants, sixty of whom were tried in absentia, began on February 2, 1999.In court, the five returnees showed no visible signs of torture or ill-treatment. Despite the lack of physical marks on the men once they arrived in court, their defense lawyers insisted that they had been abused. "They told us in court that they had been tortured and that their statements were coerced. But the court did nothing about this," Abu Saeda said.[76] Muntassir al-Zayyat, who also worked on the case, said that his client, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Sayyid al-Naggar, "told me that he was tortured inside one of these villas."[77]

Some of the returnees owed their very appearance in court to the discovery that they were being held in villas outside Cairo. According to al-Zayyat:

Al-Naggar was in that villa for nine months, [even] while the case was going on. Then the news leaked that he was here, and some of the other defendants bumped into him at the State Security Bureau.[78]
All five of the Albania returnees were tortured, according to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. Al-Naggar was blindfolded for much of his detention period. At one point during his detention, SSI officials locked him in a room with dirty water up to his knees for twenty-four hours. During his stay in SSI headquarters in Lazughli Square, al-Naggar was tortured during interrogation. His hands were tied behind his back and his feet were shackled as security agents applied electric shocks to different parts of his body. Al-Naggar told his lawyers that his confessions were torture-induced.[79] The court did not order an investigation into the allegations of torture, and sentenced al-Naggar to twenty-five years in prison.

Ahmad Isma`il `Uthman was returned from Albania a month later than the others, on August 13, 1998. According to the EOHR, during two months in incommunicado detention, he was both beaten and subjected to electroshock during interrogation by SSI agents.[80]

`Uthman and al-Naggar were executed on the morning of February 23, 2000, on the basis of their earlier convictions and death sentences by military tribunals in 1994 and 1997.[81]

The London-based Islamic Observation Center, an organization that tracks the treatment of suspected Islamist militants, reported that Shawqi Salama Mustafa was held for several weeks in a room filled with water up to his knees, and he was also subjected to electroshock during interrogation. His interrogators tied his legs together and suspended him from the ceiling several times, and also dragged him from room to room with his face to the floor. The security forces also threatened to rape him during interrogation. Mustafa received a twenty-five year sentence.[82]

`Issam `Abd al-Tawab `Abd al-Alim was held incommunicado from July 13 to September 12, 1998. During his sixty-day detention, `Abd al-Alim was allegedly beaten by his interrogators during questioning. He received a fifteen-year sentence.[83]

Muhammad Hassan Mahmud Tita spent just under two months in incommunicado detention, and finally appeared before the Prosecutor General in mid-September. He told both the prosecutor and his lawyer that he was subjected to electroshock on several parts of his body while being hung from the ceiling. Tita was sentenced to ten years in prison.[84]

In all, 80 of the 107 were convicted, and nine were sentenced to death in absentia. Among those handed death sentences in absentia were Ayman al-Zawahri, his brother Muhammad, and `Abd al-`Aziz Musa Dawud al-Gamal, who was among those transferred from Yemen in 2004 as part of the Egyptian-Yemeni swap for former Yemeni Brigadier General Ahmad Salim `Ubaid.

Yes, compared to the Egyptian system, our military tribunals have been a farce. George Bush can't even seem to produce a conviction or a trial-in-absentia, let alone a decent execution. This is clearly no way to run a kangaroo court.

The first news that Muhammad might be alive came on February 28, 2004, five years after his forced transfer to Egypt, when the London-based daily al-Sharq al-Awsat broke the story that he was still alive and being held in the Tora prison complex. The report was accompanied by a recent photograph of Muhammad.[96]

The Egyptian Minister of Interior, Habib al-`Adli, confirmed the news in a press conference on March 4, 2004. Minister al-`Adli also announced at the conference that Muhammad would be retried in front of a military tribunal.[97]

After the government acknowledged that Muhammad al-Zawahiri was in custody, it allowed members of his family to visit him in detention. The first visit took place on March 18, after repeated requests by Muhammad's family.

During these visits his family learned that Muhammad had been tortured. Mahfuz `Azzam told Human Rights Watch that Muhammad's sister, Heba, a doctor by training, noticed that Muhammad had trouble shaking hands. Heba also saw scars on his wrists, and noted that his feet were swollen. She concluded that the marks were a result of being hung from the ceiling by his wrists.

Although Muhammad could not speak freely in front of the prison guards who monitored all of his visits with his family, he asked his mother to make a formal request to the Prosecutor General for a forensics exam. He wanted one to be done as soon as possible, before the marks on his body disappeared. His mother presented the formal request to the government on August 4, 2004; the family has yet to receive any response from the government. There was also no response from the government to Muhammad's separate request to be examined by a forensics expert.

In April 2004, Mahfuz `Azzam managed to win his first and only visit with his nephew. The visit lasted only a few minutes, and the entire conversation took place in the presence of the SSI liaison officer in Tora prison. In those few minutes, Muhammad briefly conveyed to his uncle glimpses of the torture and ill-treatment that he had endured:

He stayed for four years and half in an underground detention facility run by the mukhabarat, where he did not see sunlight, and could not distinguish between day and night. The interrogation and torture went hand in hand. He lost hope in seeing the sun again.[98]
After four-and-half years, Egyptian intelligence handed Muhammad over to the SSI, which detained him for six months, either in their main headquarters in Lazughli Square in downtown Cairo, or in their new citadel-like premise in NasrCity, an eastern suburb of the capital.

Despite allowing his family some access to him, the government otherwise gave little ground on Muhammad's due process rights. Notwithstanding repeated requests from Muhammad himself, the government refused to allow him access to an attorney. It also refused to clarify his legal situation, which, given that he had been sentenced to death in 1999, was a matter of some concern. According to his lawyer, Mamduh Isma`il:

Even after the Ministry of Interior announced that they have Muhammad al-Zawahiri in custody, I went to the military judiciary committee to get information on his whereabouts. But they told me that they haven't yet been officially notified that he is in custody. This is still the case today.[99]
Muhammad's legal defense remains paralyzed by the government's refusal to set the wheels of the legal process in motion:

The security services should notify the court that they have him, and then I have sixty days to file a petition on his behalf. But I can't do that because the state security hasn't notified the court, and so they haven't contacted me, even though the newspapers are flooded with stories about him.
This is a big problem. He is in a serious legal situation. He has been sentenced to death by a military tribunal, but they have put all of the legal procedures aside.[100]
For Muhammad, the legal limbo has created a sense of uncertainty. "He wanted to know his legal status: is he going to be retried or not? Is he going to be executed?" asked Mamduh Isma`il. "But I couldn't tell him anything. We are just waiting for the state to act first, so that we can respond. But up to now, it's been a dead end."

His uncle shared the same concerns about his nephew's unclear status. In his view, no branch of the Egyptian government will do anything on the case, despite their legal obligation to do so:

If you go to the military tribunal which sentenced Muhammad and you present a complaint, and say that this sentence was based on an unconstitutional article, and should be overturned, then the military tribunal would just reject us. If you go to the Prosecutor General, you'll get the same result... If you go to the Prosecutor General and ask for a visit, he will basically say I don't know anything about this. So where should I go?[101]

As a result, Muhammad al-Zawahiri does not know if he will ever be allowed out of prison, or even whether or not the government will carry out the 1999 death sentence, still hanging over him.

For once, I agree with Dahlia Lithwick: this changes everything we know. After all, as Al Gore remarked,

'That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.'" ”

Oh dear. You mean she didn't want that uncovered?

Is it possible that trials in absentia, torture by electric shock and death sentences carried out by kangaroo courts are actually more forgivably than keeping someone in a chilly room and humiliating him?

Apparently so. It just requires an infinitely flexible urban viewpoint. Or is it just an incredible amount of cynicism?

Because anything: torture, murder, violations of the so-sacred international law, are acceptable if the right people are in charge.

Posted by Cassandra at January 16, 2009 02:45 PM

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Isn't this in line with the antics of "Boy George" and his Culture Club that recently landed him in jail? You want to waterboard yourself, take Tamiflu or fall down on your butt while waterskiing. Now that is water boarding.

Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry,ai ai...

It hurts so good...

Posted by: vet66 at January 17, 2009 11:11 AM

Just another manifestation of BDS. I swear to god, I'll be glad when the insanity stops and people start reasoning again.

In a nearby town, a republican turned independent mayor was asked about dredging certain waters, and he agreed that it needed to be done, but that the dems/libs/greens would scream bloody murder. Now that a dem/lib is mayor, dredging is being talked about and no one is protesting.

What can we do with people who automatically assume that republicans and libertarians are EVIL, and that anything they propose must be bad?

Posted by: Rex at January 20, 2009 12:27 PM