Tag Archives: human rights abuses

Italy Convicts CIA Operatives in Absentia

This must be the week that chickens come home to roost. First the five plaintiffs against Ashcroft et al win a victory, and now the Italian courts have convicted 23 CIA guys for just doing their thang on Italian soil.

An Italian court sentenced 23 former CIA agents to up to eight years in prison today for their role in the abduction of an Egyptian terrorist suspect in the first trial over “extraordinary renditions”.

The Americans were all tried in absentia, but the verdicts were nevertheless hailed by human rights campaigners as an important victory that could open the way to further prosecutions.

That’s 23 guys who can’t vacation in Italy, anyway. That’s something.

Classed under Italian law as “fugitives”, all were represented by Italian lawyers who had little or no contact with their clients.

“Fugitives.” Sweet.

The trial, which opened in June 2007, is the first in the world over the abduction of terror suspects during the Bush era by the CIA and its proxies and their subsequent “rendition flights” to third countries which permit or turn a blind eye to torture.

Abu Omar, an imam and militant Islamist whose real name is Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, was seized on a Milan street in February 2003. He was taken to the US air force base at Aviano in northeastern Italy, then flown to the US base at Ramstein in Germany, and eventually to Cairo. He claims he was tortured.

He was released after four years in prison without being charged, and now lives in Egypt. He told Human Rights Watch in 2007 that he had been “hung up like a slaughtered sheep and given electrical shocks” during his interrogations. “I was brutally tortured and I could hear the screams of others who were tortured too,” he said.

In June [former CIA station chief Robert Seldon] Lady spoke to Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by Mr Berlusconi’s brother Paolo, about the affair. “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re in a war against terrorism,” he said.

He added: “I am not guilty. I am only responsible for following an order I received from my superiors. It was not a criminal act, it was an affair of state.”

Interesting defense. Puts me in mind of what George W. Bush said at the advent of his war on Iraq: “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’.”

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U.S. Pays for Abuse of Muslims After 9/11

Reuters:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. government will pay $1.26 million to five Muslim men detained for months without charges after the September 11 attacks who sued for unlawful imprisonment and abuse, their lawyers said on Tuesday.

The men claimed they suffered inhumane and degrading treatment in a Brooklyn detention center, including solitary confinement, severe beatings, incessant verbal abuse and a blackout on communications with their families and attorneys.

Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights who brought the case in Brooklyn federal court, said it was the largest settlement so far for claims of abuse in the United States following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Justice Department agreed to settle the suit, which was filed in 2002 after hundreds of immigrants were rounded up and held for months following the attacks, according to the CCR.

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department was not immediately available to comment on the settlement, in which the U.S. government admits no liability or fault. The five men were all eventually released after being cleared of any connection to terrorism but then deported.

It’s a start.

The lawsuit, which sued top Bush administration officials including former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, was one of many that accused the Bush administration of disregarding constitutional rights.

The claims against Ashcroft and others are continuing. The CCR is also seeking to bring claims on behalf of five new plaintiffs.

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Amnesty Intl Report on Gaza Blitz

Reported in BBC News:

Israel committed war crimes and carried out reckless attacks and acts of wanton destruction in its Gaza offensive, an independent human rights report says.

Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed using high-precision weapons, while others were shot at close range, the group Amnesty International says.

Israel has attributed some civilian deaths to “professional mistakes”, but has dismissed wider criticism that its attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Amnesty says some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day Israeli offensive between 27 December 2008 and 17 January 2009, which agrees broadly with Palestinian figures.

More than 900 of these were civilians, including 300 children and 115 women, it says.

In March, Israel’s military said the overall Palestinian death toll was 1,166, of whom 295 were “uninvolved” civilians.

The 117-page report by Amnesty International says many of the hundreds of civilian deaths in the conflict “cannot simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’ incidental to otherwise lawful attacks – or as mistakes”.

It says “disturbing questions” remain unanswered as to why children playing on roofs and medical staff attending the wounded were killed by “highly accurate missiles” whose operators had detailed views of their targets.

Lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care,” the report says. It also reiterates previous condemnations of the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.

The destruction of homes, businesses and public buildings was in many cases “wanton and deliberate” and “could not be justified on the grounds of military necessity”, the report adds.

The document also gives details of several cases where it says people – including women and children posing no threat to troops – were shot at close range as they were fleeing their homes in search of shelter.

The Amnesty report says no evidence was found that Palestinian militants had forced civilians to stay in buildings being used for military purposes, contradicting Israeli claims that Hamas repeatedly used “human shields”.

In the cases it had investigated, Amnesty said civilian deaths “could not be explained as resulting from the presence of fighters shielding among civilians, as the Israeli army generally contends”.

However, Amnesty does accuse Israel of using civilians, including children, as human shields in Gaza, forcing them to remain in houses which its troops were using as military positions, and to inspect sites suspected of being booby trapped.

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Handling Dissent in Egypt

I have no commentary of my own to add here, and these various articles say it very well.

A WaPo article from earlier this month: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/02/AR2008080201545.html

CAIRO, Aug. 2 — A prominent dissident who has urged the United States to tie financial aid to Egypt to democratic reform was sentenced to two years in prison Saturday.

The dissident, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, had harmed Egypt’s reputation through his writings in the “foreign press,” Judge Hisham Bashir ruled.

Ibrahim has been living in self-imposed exile since last summer, dividing his time between other Arab countries, the United States and Europe. He was not in court for the verdict.

In a telephone interview in June 2007, Ibrahim said he expected to be imprisoned if he ever returned to Egypt. Ibrahim, 69, said that his health had suffered from three previous stays in prison for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak’s 27-year administration and that he did not want to put his family through the experience again.

The ruling Saturday did not specify which of Ibrahim’s writings had been deemed damaging.

Despite the Bush administration’s frequent voicing of support for democracy

In March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice overrode a recommendation by Congress to withhold $100 million in U.S. aid to Egypt until the country improved its human rights record and strengthened measures against arms-smuggling to the Gaza Strip.

What are presumed to be the controversial writings in question are here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/20/AR2007082001500.html

By Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Tuesday, August 21, 2007; Page A15

This month marked the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal. Rumors about the involvement of a secret government death squad tasked with silencing detractors of the ruling Mubarak family in this and other disappearances — such as that of Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia in Cairo in 1993 — have spiked in recent weeks.

On Aug. 8, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported that it had confirmed more than 500 cases of police abuse since 1993, including 167 deaths — three of which took place this year — that the group “strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment.” The organization previously found that while Egypt’s population nearly doubled during the first 25 years of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the number of prisons grew more than fourfold and that the number of detainees held for more than one year without charge or indictment grew to more than 20,000.

Another reason for U.S. silence is Mubarak’s exploitation of Islamophobia, rampant in many Western circles. On Mubarak’s own turf, the banned opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily increased its support among voters, with its candidates, running as independents, garnering 20 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, despite the regime’s continuous harassment and arrest of Brotherhood leaders and rank-and-file members. Hamas, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Increasingly, in majority-Muslim countries where autocracies have bred inefficiency and corruption, populist groups such as the Brotherhood can attract a strong protest vote.

Yet in Egypt, the regime remains strong and is quick to silence critics. Recently it focused its attacks on the work of democracy activists and researchers at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which I founded nearly two decades ago. Nine members of the ruling party have filed legal requests to close the center. They want to see me and other staff members prosecuted, alleging that we have tarnished the country’s image abroad, shown contempt for religion, undermined the national interest and committed high treason.

Between 2000 and 2003, the center’s offices were ransacked by the State Security Agency, and 27 employees were jailed. It took three years, multiple trials and three tours in prison — where my health deteriorated — before Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the country’s sole remaining independent court, acquitted us of all charges. The egregious nature of the case led the court to rebuke those responsible, citing abuses emanating from the presidency.

More recently, similar attacks have been orchestrated against Ayman Nour, head of the Tomorrow Party, and two nephews of Anwar Sadat. The men, all members of the Egyptian parliament, were arrested on flimsy charges, tried and imprisoned. Nour is now in precarious health, and recently published photos show bruises he sustained from mistreatment while jailed.

I am a 68-year-old pacifist academic in poor health. I do not fit the profile of these other men. Yet, according to regime-controlled media accounts, I am very influential with oil-rich Gulf Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, the European Union, and, above all, the White House and the U.S. Congress. None of these media outlets admits that in my scholarly capacity as a student of social movements I see all kinds of activists and political actors.

My real crime is speaking out in defense of the democratic governance Egyptians deserve. In May, I helped organize a meeting of Arab democrats in Doha, Qatar. Soon after, I attended a conference of veteran European and Third World dissidents in Prague at which President Bush gave a speech. Afterward, Bush chatted with me and a few others for a couple of minutes. To some, this is “proof” of my “influence” in Washington. When the House Appropriations Committee voted a few days later to attach conditions — mainly regarding political reform and tighter security of the borders with Gaza — to the $1.3 billion annual aid package to Egypt, I was solely to blame, according to the regime. (Would that I had a fraction of the influence attributed to me by the state-controlled media!)

These are just exerpts; there is more information in the articles. Have a good Saturday.

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