Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Double-Standard For Jordan?

By William Fisher

When Jordan’s King Abdullah II addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in March 2007, his speech was filled with words like peace and justice.

He was, of course, referring to the plight of the Palestinian people in their ongoing struggle with Israel. He had a good case to make.

And Congress gave him a standing ovation for making it.

But what he left out was any reference to Jordan’s own state of peace and justice.

Now we learn that this small Mideast country –often described by the mainstream media as the most moderate of America’s allies in the region -- was the first to receive prisoners “as a true proxy jailer for the CIA”, has received more victims of “extraordinary rendition” than any other country in the world, and has systematically subjected detainees to torture.

These are the principal conclusions of a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a Washington-based advocacy organization.

The report charges that U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were aware that “Jordan was already notorious for torturing security detainees” because the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “already had a history of close relations” with Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID).”

HRW charges that “Torture and cruel or inhuman treatment seems to have been systematically used” against most of the detainees rendered by the CIA to Jordan. “Detainees claim they were threatened, beaten, insulted, deprived of sleep, and subjected to falaqa -- a form of torture in which the soles of the feet are beaten with an object,” HRW says.

The report claims that rendered prisoners were “hidden whenever the International Committee of the Red Cross visited.”

It adds that the CIA’s long-standing relationship with Jordanian security services may have given U.S. officials confidence that the Jordanians “would be particularly good at keeping the fact of the detentions secret.”

Joanne Mariner, Director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program for Human Rights Watch, told us, “The rendition cases we've documented in Jordan show the unreality of the Bush administration's claims that it did not hand people over to face torture.”

She added, “Not only did the CIA illegally detain prisoners in its own prisons in the years after September 11, it secretly outsourced the interrogation, detention, and torture of more than a dozen prisoners in Jordan.”

HRW says the precise number of people rendered to Jordan by the CIA is not known. But it asserts that rendered prisoners were taken to Jordan for one purpose only: to extract confessions of terrorist activities. “It is clear that many of the detainees were returned to CIA custody immediately after intensive periods of abusive interrogation in Jordan.”

Some of these people were then returned to custody in their home countries while others were taken to the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where some of them still remain. At least five men who are currently detained at Guantanamo were previously rendered to Jordan for some amount of time during the period of 2001 to 2004, HRW says.

In addition, at least two Yemeni prisoners who were later held in secret CIA prisons -- without being sent to Guantanamo -- were arrested in Jordan and held in the custody of the Jordanian security services for a few days or weeks prior to their transfer into U.S. custody.

HRW says “Some of the detainees who arrived in Jordan in 2002 were held for more than a year”, leaving Jordanian custody in 2004. Some former prisoners told Human Rights Watch that “for a while in 2002 and 2003 the detention facility was full of non-Jordanian prisoners who had been delivered by the CIA.”

The report says that after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the CIA quickly began rendering suspected terrorists to Jordan for interrogation.

Those rendered by the CIA to Jordan may have declined over time because the CIA developed its own detention capacity, opening secret facilities in Thailand, Afghanistan, Poland, and Romania, and had less need to rely on Jordan, the HRW report says.

The report concludes that U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, were well aware of the hollowness of the “diplomatic assurances” it received from Jordan that it would not subject rendered prisoners to torture.

The report recalls that Rice, under pressure from European allies because of press revelations about CIA activities in Europe, offered a vigorous defense of U.S. rendition practices in December 2005.

Asserting that the practice of rendition was a “vital tool in combating transnational terrorism,” Rice claimed that the United States and other countries have long relied on renditions to transport terrorist suspects from the country where they were arrested to their home country or to other countries where they can be held and questioned.

She insisted that the United States “does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture.” Instead, she explained that, where necessary, “the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.”

HRW says, “The systematic nature of the abuses suffered by prisoners rendered to Jordan contradicts Rice’s bland reassurances. If the Jordanians did indeed promise the US authorities that prisoners rendered there would not be tortured, it was a promise that neither the US nor Jordan believed.”

The Jordan chapter of the U.S. State Department’s 2001 human rights report states that prisoners in the custody of Jordanian police and security forces have alleged that “methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions, and extended solitary confinement.”

The report notes that Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who claims to have initiated the terrorist rendition program during the Clinton Administration, “rightly dismisses these assurances as ‘legal niceties’ -- pledges meant to look good on paper, which provide no real protection. He has said that both CIA agents and their superiors were aware that abuses were likely.”

HRW reports that Pakistan, and in particular the city of Karachi, was the source of at least six detainees believed to have been rendered to Jordan from U.S. custody. “The Pakistani authorities have made no secret of the fact that since September 2001 they have handed over several hundred terrorism suspects to the United States, boasting of the transfers as proof of Pakistan’s cooperation in US counterterrorism efforts,” HRW says.

“A large number of these men ended up at Guantanamo; some ended up in secret CIA prisons, and others were rendered to Jordan and other countries.”

The US practice of rendering terrorist suspects abroad -- transferring prisoners to foreign custody outside of normal legal proceedings -- predates the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, the CIA rendered a number of Egyptian terrorist suspects from countries such as Albania and Croatia to Egypt, where some of them had previously been sentenced to death in absentia.

HRW notes that after September 2001, the CIA’s rendition practices changed. “Rather than returning people to their home countries to face ‘justice’ (albeit justice that included torture and grossly unfair trials), the CIA began handing people over to third countries apparently to facilitate abusive interrogations.”

Following the September 11 attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush signed a classified presidential directive giving the CIA expanded authority to arrest, interrogate, detain, and render terrorist suspects arrested abroad. Since that time, the US is believed to have rendered terrorism suspects to the custody of Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and Syria, in addition to Jordan.

The HRW report calls on the U.S. government to repudiate the use of rendition to torture as a counterterrorism tactic, discontinue the CIA’s rendition program, and “disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001, including detainees who were rendered to Jordan.”

And it calls on Jordan’s government to repudiate its role as a proxy jailer in the CIA’s rendition program; disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons rendered to Jordan by the CIA since 2001; make public any audio recordings or videotapes made of interrogations of detainees rendered by the CIA to Jordan; and open an immediate independent judicial inquiry into the GID’s use of torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention.

Dare we hope that the young monarch – and his American partners -- will heed this advice before he comes before the next joint session of Congress?

Well, I wouldn’t hold my breath.