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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Human Rights Violations - What Mainstream Media Doesn't Tell You: Outlawed Video

America is one of the first ports of call for those seeking asylum from oppressive regimes in which human rights violations make life unbearable. It is ironic, then, that in the post-9/11 landscape America has been responsible for hundreds - if not thousands - of breaches of basic human rights.

outlawed_guantanamo.jpg
Photo credit: Anonymous, Public Domain

The horrific images of Guantánamo Bay detainment camp leaked out into the public are just the tip of the iceberg. Over time news has emerged of the systematic kidnapping, extradordinary rendition, torture, and secret detention of innocent people under the supervision of the United States government.

Two such cases are the subject of the groundbreaking documentary Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the 'War on Terror'. This powerful documentary, funded by the human rights organization Witness, details the stories of two innocent men who had years of their lives stolen.

Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed tell of their grueling ordeals at the hands of US agencies, and the agents of other countries doing their bidding. Both men were abducted, flown off to far-flung locations, detained for an unthinkable length of time and repeatedly physically and mentally tortured.

The so-called 'War on Terror' gives the terrifying right of Extraordinary Rendition to agents of the US government. Wikipedia describes this process as:

''... an American extra-judicial procedure which involves the sending of untried criminal suspects, suspected terrorists or alleged supporters of groups which the US Government considers to be terrorist organizations, to countries other than the United States for imprisonment and interrogation.

Critics have accused the CIA of rendering suspects to other countries in order to avoid US laws prescribing due process and prohibiting torture, even though many of those countries have, like the US, signed or ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Critics have called this practice "torture by proxy" or "torture flights".''

In these selected video highlights from the Outlaw documentary, I have tried to capture the essence of these two men's harrowing, truly eye-opening tales.



Rendition

In this first clip we hear about the Rendition process from Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights, and the thinking behind it from Michael Scheuer, the Chief Architect of the CIA rendition program.

He claims that:

''The goals of the Rendition Program were only two at the beginning:
  • To get individuals off the street, who we knew were senior in Al Qaeda or its allies, and who posed a threat to the United States
  • The second goal of the Rendition Program was very simply at the time of the capture of any individual at the time a cell was disrupted, to seize whatever documents were available. Interrogation was never a central goal
  • ''

    Nevertheless, the two men featured in Outlawed were subject to long and brutal interrogations that cost them months and years of their lives.



    Khaled El-Masri's abduction

    Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen, was kidnapped, detained in Afghanistan, tortured and then - after several months - released without charges. In this first of two clips he tells of his initial abduction by US security agents.

    The Wikipedia entry on El-Masri's ordeal notes that:

    ''El-Masri wrote in the Los Angeles Times that, while held in Afghanistan, he was beaten and repeatedly interrogated. He has also claimed that he was raped. He was kept in a bare, squalid cell, given only meager rations to eat and putrid water to drink.

    In February, CIA officers in Kabul began to suspect his passport was genuine. The passport was sent to the CIA headquarters in Langley where in March the CIA's Office of Technical Services concluded it was indeed genuine. Discussion over what to do with El-Masri included secretly transporting him back to Macedonia, without informing German authorities, dumping him, and denying any claims he made.

    In the end they did inform the German government, without apologizing, and were able to persuade the Germans to remain silent.''



    Khaled El-Masri's rendition

    After being abducted while holidaying in Macedonia, El-Masri was beaten, shackled, blindfolded, drugged and put on a plane to Afghanistan, where civil rights can be effectively ignored, and the torture of innocent 'suspects' falls within the rights of interrogators. Here he was told that he could be killed, detained indefinitely or made to disappear from the face of the earth.

    Months later, he was finally released, as Wikipedia notes:

    ''In April 2004, CIA Director George Tenet learned that El-Masri was being wrongfully detained. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice learned of his detention shortly thereafter in early May and ordered his release.

    El-Masri was released on May 28 following a second order from Dr. Rice. American authorities met with him and agreed to release him if he agreed never to tell the story of his ordeal to anyone. They flew him out of Afghanistan and released him at night on a desolate road in Albania, without apology, or funds to return home. At the time he believed his release was a ruse, and he would be executed.''

    .

    Thus an innocent man lost months of his life, suffering brutal torture, detainment and daily fear for his life in the name of the 'war on terror'. But he was not alone.



    Binyam Mohamed's abduction

    Ethiopian national - and resident of the UK - Binyam Mohamed is still being detained in the now famous Guantánamo Bay prison. The diaries of his experiences at the hands of US security forces make for stomach-churning reading, and are read throughout Outlawed by Binyam Mohamed's brother.

    Denied a lawyer from the outset, when Mohamed refused to cooperate with his captors, he was flown to Morroco, where he was routinely interrogated and tortured to extract information about his suspected involvement with the Al-Quaeda network.



    Binyam Mohamed's torture

    In Morroco, Binyam Mohamed was subjected to horrific torture, which is recounted in his diary in this final clip from Outlawed. He tells of eighteen months spent in the darkness, without ever once seeing sunlight, and being subjected to extreme torture, including genital mutilation, at the hands of his Morrocan captors.

    Binyam Mohamed is still being detained, with no certain date of parole or being freed, under US counter terrorism regulations. His Wikipedia entry notes that:

    ''In December 2005 the declassification of his lawyer's notes permitted further claims of abusive interrogation to be made public. Binyam further claims include that he was transported to a black site known as "the dark prison", where captives were permanently chained to the wall, kept in constant darkness, and constantly bombarded by loud noises and rap & heavy metal music.

    Binyam claims that, while in the dark prison, his captors purposely injected him with heroin, to get him addicted, in order to use his addiction against him."''

    This in the name of preserving our freedom?



    They are not alone

    While the ordeals of the two men featured in Outlawed are horrific on a personal level, it would be short sighted to think that they are unique. The film concludes with the following harrowing message:

    ''It is unknown how many others like El-Masri and Mohamed have been exposed to the United States and its allies to the system of secret detention and renditions since September 11, 2001. Some estimate the number could be several hundred, or even over 1,000.''

    Whatever the number, it is one too many. Democracy and freedom are not built on torture, kidnapping and the denial of basic civil rights such as the right to legal representation. To continue to accept such behaviour on the part of our governments is if not an act of complicity, an act of crushing apathy on our parts.



    Take action

    If these men's stories have moved you to take action, Witness, the human rights organization that funded it urge you to do so against extraordinary rendition and torture in the world community. You can:



    Additional resources

    If you are interested in finding out more, you may wish to visit the following websites:


     
     
     
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    posted by Michael Pick on Saturday, December 30 2006, updated on Thursday, October 4 2007


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