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Pinochet is gone, but his methods are still
A new report collating
first-hand accounts gives us the clearest view yet of the torture going on in
the US's secret prisons
By Adnan Siddiqui and
(Published on Wednesday,
December 13, 2006 by the
Guardian / UK )
Torture, secret prisons and
disappearances: all feature prominently in the legacy of Augusto Pinochet. It is
a matter of great regret that the former Chilean dictator -- brought to power in
a CIA-backed coup on September 11 1973 -- avoided trial for gross abuses of
human rights in his ravenous pursuit of power. But it is a matter of even
greater regret that the same tools and the same sponsors are back in action
today, with the same impunity, as part of the "war on terror" launched after
September 11 2001.
When the Bush
administration brought 14 of its most highly valued terrorism suspects to
Guantánamo Bay from secret prisons in various countries in September, the U.S.
president himself acknowledged for the first time the existence of a network of
CIA prisons. This was intended to close a chapter that had become embarrassing
to Washington. The U.S. practice of illegal kidnapping known as "extraordinary
rendition", and the secret detention and torture that was part of it, had --
after more than four years -- finally become a scandal condemned by many
European politicians, UN officials and international lawyers, as well as
US-based human-rights groups.
But, as a new report from
the British monitoring group Cageprisoners reveals, the men held in Guantánamo
Bay are only the tip of the iceberg: thousands more are hidden elsewhere,
outside the law. The "war on terror" is taking a terrible toll on Muslim
families and societies through a vast program of secret detention and torture.
Since January 2002, when
the first Muslim men were flown from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, an estimated
14,000 men have been held. They have been hidden in prisons, army barracks,
holes in the ground, private houses, hotels and schools. Those responsible for
them have been in overlapping chains of command, including the US department of
defense, the CIA and the national intelligence services of many countries, such
The Cageprisoners report is
a meticulous record of information cross-correlated from the testimony of
numerous released prisoners in many countries and of lawyers such as Clive
Stafford Smith and his team at Reprieve, who represent some of the men in
Guantánamo and have been able to talk to them. But Stafford Smith's own
statement that as many as three-quarters of the men in Guantánamo have never
seen a lawyer, and that the Guantánamo men represent only 4% of all those
imprisoned in the war on terror, is a chilling reminder of just how little
outsiders have been able to penetrate this dark, illegal world.
None the less, we now have
a mass of detail, much of it new, that has never been collated before. The
foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, should publicly dissociate Britain from the
wholesale violations of human-rights law and the Geneva conventions that have
taken place in the last five years.
The countries listed as
being used by the U.S. include Thailand, Germany, Greece, Dubai, Jordan, Egypt
and Syria, while some men have been held on U.S. navy vessels. Different prisons
and other detention centres are listed for each country, and in many cases the
names of prisoners who were held there. But in some cases the prisoners giving
the testimony had no idea where they had been held, and could only describe the
temperature, the accents of the guards, and other clues. Muhammad al-Assad, for
instance, was flown about three hours from Tanzania to somewhere very hot where
the accents of the guards in Arabic seemed to be Somali or Ethiopian, as was the
bread. He was interrogated by a white western man who spoke good Arabic.
Two women prisoners
rendered from Pakistan are reported to have been held in Syria's Far'Falastin
prison in Damascus. Canadians who were rendered there by the U.S., including
Mahar Arar and Abdullah al-Maliki, have described this and other Syrian prisons
and the appalling conditions, including torture, under which they were held.
Syria and Yemen use only their own nationals in their prisons. But in
Afghanistan, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco,
Bosnia and Dubai, CIA and other U.S. or UK personnel are heavily involved in the
prisons. One thread running through the report is the presence of British
intelligence personnel in many of the interrogations. The experiences of
prisoners such as Muhammad al-Assad, Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah and Salah
Nasir Salim Ali Qaru, who suffered extreme sensory deprivation during months in
a "black site", are also described. All the guards covered their faces and said
nothing, so there was no way to even guess their nationality.
Innocent men such as Mahar
Arar, from Canada, and Khaled el-Masri, from Germany, were lucky to be released
from this archipelago of secret prisons, but have had no apology or
compensation, nor seen any hint of charges being brought against those
responsible for their kidnapping and torture. But, like Pinochet's victims, they
will not give up the fight for justice.
Few tears were shed at news
of Pinochet's death, which came, aptly enough, on International Human Rights
Day. But the near unanimous condemnation of his U.S.-sponsored crimes loses its
moral weight if not accompanied by an equally vociferous denunciation of the
similar abuses being perpetrated today.
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui is a
London-based General Practitioner and trustee of Cageprisoners.
and Victoria Brittain was the co-author of Moazzam Begg's book Enemy