Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Egypt, the U.S. and Renditions

This being the fourth anniversary of the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it's appropriate to mention the network of renditions and secret detentions, its role in affecting U.S.-Egyptian relations and what it means for human rights in Egypt.

Let's start with two cases. Sami al-Laithi has been held in Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for over three and a half years. On 10 May, US authorities determined that he is not an ‘enemy combatant’ through the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) procedure. He remains held at Guantánamo until his transfer is complete.

According to reports, Sami al-Laithi has been sexually abused while in Guantánamo and consistently threatened with return to Egypt. On one occasion a visiting Egyptian delegation are reported to have told him that he would “certainly come back to Egypt” where he was told he would be subjected to military trial. He is currently held at Camp V, a prison block for about 80 detainees who are held for up to 24 hours a day in solitary confinement in a concrete cell approximately four metres by two metres.

Sami al-Laithi is believed to have left Egypt in 1986 to stay with his sister in Pakistan. He has never returned, fearing persecution for his criticism of the Egyptian authorities. He is said to have fled from Pakistan to Afghanistan after two Egyptian officials were sent to find him. In Afghanistan he taught English and Arabic at Kabul University until the US-led invasion of Iraq when he fled back to Pakistan. Shortly after this he is believed to have been seized in Pakistan and subsequently sold to US forces. Soon after this he was transferred to Guantánamo Bay. For more, click here.

Case two, the flip side of long-term detentions: Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan was abducted on a street in Milan and allegedly driven to the US air base in Aviano, Italy, where he was interrogated and drugged before being taken to the US military base in Ramstein in Germany. From there he was flown to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured, including with electric shocks. Although released in 2004 he was rearrested and remains held in an unknown place of detention, although it has been suggested that he may again be detained in Damanhour prison, Egypt, where he may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. On 24 June 2005 an Italian judge ordered the arrest of 13 CIA officers for their alleged involvement in his abduction. For more, click here.

Last week, news reports indicated that Egyptian government fax intercepted by Swiss intelligence offers the first "real evidence" that the US interrogated suspected terrorists at secret prisons in Eastern Europe. The report provides more evidence of the links between U.S. and Egyptian security officials in the mistreatment of prisoners in the war on terror.

The evidence is growing that the U.S. is using a variety of means: detention at Guantamano, renditions to countries where prisoners risk torture, and detention in secret prisons. In many cases, these efforts require the cooperation of foreign security officers.

I believe this effort is a significant obstacle to the stated U.S. effort to bring more democracy and human rights to the Middle East, Egypt specifically. In my opinion, no U.S. president has given more speeches on Middle East human rights than George W. Bush. He has eloquently and repeatedly stated what needs to be said.

And yet, I continue to believe that what little progress we have seen deserves to be credited to the work of Egyptian human rights activists, far more than the efforts of the U.S. government. The work and messages made by the Egyptian activists have the beauty of being powerful and consistent: End torture now.

U.S. policy contravene the public statements of support for human rights. You can not ask Egypt to bring an end to torture on one hand, and on the other hand be directly complicit in the use of torture, both in Egypt and of Egyptians in foreign detention centers. It simply doesn't work. Why would the Egyptian government listen?

Click here to read observations last week from an AI observer at Guantamano military trials.

Click here to read AI's report on the fourth anniversary of Guantamano detentions.

Click here to read AI's report on CIA black sites.


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