The Senate Torture Report Should Name Victims

The Senate Intelligence Committee finally appears ready to release a redacted summary of its report on CIA torture and abuse of suspected terrorists. The release of this document is a victory for anyone concerned about the rule of law in the United States, yet it will be an incomplete victory if the report doesn’t name the people who were abducted under the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.

Naming the more than 130 people alleged to have been secretly detained at CIA black sites in dozens of countries will give the US Senate’s backing to those who are seeking justice after being wrongly swept up in the rendition program.  

Take, for example, the case of Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a Yemeni man who has accused Djibouti of hosting a secret CIA prison where he was held under harsh conditions and interrogated by American spies.  On Tuesday, Asad’s lawyers requested that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights review its October decision not to hear his case in light of news reports that claiming that Djibouti is named as hosting a secret American prison in the Senate’s report.

Djibouti is home to Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion base that’s been dramatically enlarged by the US and, since 2001, has hosted American drones, spy planes, bombers, and special operations troops. The massive base is the largest US military facility in Africa and serves as the launchpad for counterterrorism operations throughout East Africa and the Middle East.

Asad claims that he was abducted from his home in Tanzania and flown to a prison in Djibouti where, over the course of two weeks in December 2003 and January 2004, he was interrogated by Americans before being flown to Afghanistan and held there under cruel conditions until being transferred to Yemen in 2005. He was finally released from prison in 2006. Asad claims the Americans were interested in his relationship with an Islamic charity called al Haramain that was accused by the US government, the UN, and Interpol of funneling money to al Qaeda. While he was convicted by a Yemeni court in 2005 of falsifying documents granting him Tanzanian citizenship, he’s never been charged with anything related to terrorism.

Asad’s attorneys, including Just Security contributor Meg Satterthwaite, argue in part, that the commission could overturn its decision after looking at al Jazeera America news articles that cite American officials as saying Senate investigators found that “several detainees had been held in Djibouti, and that at least two of them had been wrongfully detained.” Asad’s lawyers say he is one of these individuals.

The news reports constitute new evidence of Djiboutian government involvement in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program during the time Asad says he was held there and interrogated by American officials, claim his lawyers. “These reports demonstrate that Djibouti misrepresented its role in the CIA program to the Commission when it submitted through its national security director that ‘Djibouti has never participated in or collaborated with the United States or any of its agencies in a secret detention program [and]…had no knowledge of any such program until…2006,’” reads the request filed on Asad’s behalf by attorneys with the Global Justice Clinic at NYU Law School. (Disclosure, Satterthwaite is faculty co-director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School which houses Just Security’s offices.)

In “light of these misrepresentations, no weight can be accorded to Djibouti’s bald denials that the Complainant was present in its territory,” states the request.

The problem is, those news reports don’t prove that Asad was in Djibouti.

The African Commission already accepts that it’s “overwhelmingly” likely that Djibouti played a role in the rendition program. But the commission rejected his case, partially because “all the extensive evidence presented in this regard does not establish but one critical point: whether among the many states participating in the U.S. Government extraordinary rendition program, the Complainant was in fact in Djibouti as he alleges.”

Asad’s case is one of more than 130 where suspected terrorists were alleged to be secretly imprisoned and tortured at CIA “black sites” in dozens of countries. Without the weight of the Senate report telling who these people were, where they were taken, and what was done to them, it will be all the more difficult to hold anyone accountable for wrongful abductions and torture.

In a statement announcing the new request, Satterthwaite acknowledged that Asad’s case shows that “releasing the still classified report will have a real impact on victims still seeking the truth. The abuses committed by CIA partners must no longer be hidden behind a veil of official secrecy.” Withholding official details about who was wronged will only get in the way of attempts to uncover the truth and provide justice. 

About the Author(s)

John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).