29 August 2014

Ten CIA rendition victims urge Obama to name them in Senate torture report


Abdel Hakim Belhadj

Ten victims of CIA rendition and torture have signed an open letter to President Obama asking him to declassify the upcoming Senate report into the program. Two of the signatories – Abdel-Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi – were rendered with their entire families, including a pregnant woman and four children between the ages of six and twelve.

“Despite living thousands of miles apart and leading different lives today, a shared experience unites us: the CIA abducted each of us in the past and flew us to secret prisons for torture. Some of us were kidnapped with our pregnant wives or children. All of us were later released without charge, redress or apology from the US. We now want the American public to read that story, in full, and without redactions”, says the letter, coordinated by international human rights charity Reprieve.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) has produced the most extensive report into the CIA’s torture program to date. The publication of the report's executive summary has been delayed because of a dispute between Senators and the CIA over the extent of black-outs, or 'redactions', from the public version. The SSCI has indicated that the report contains no sensitive names – that pseudonyms were substituted for agents and countries. The CIA has reportedly sought to have even pseudonyms, such as 'Country A', redacted from the public version of the report.

Tensions between the SSCI and the CIA have run high since it emerged that the CIA spied on top Senate staffers involved with the report, an act Sen. Dianne Feinstein said "may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution." CIA Director John Brennan initially denied these charges – a denial he later retracted when the CIA's Inspector General found the charges of agency spying to be correct.

The report – and the final say over the extent of any redactions – is now thought to be on the desk of the White House. During a speech on August 1, President Obama offered a rare comment about the CIA's torture program since taking office, saying simply that after September 11, the US government had "tortured some folks." Generally, however, individual victims of CIA rendition have not been identified.

None of the ten signatories, all victims of CIA rendition, have been officially acknowledged by the US government. They include Mr Belhadj, a former opponent of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who was rendered to a Libyan prison and tortured alongside his heavily pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar. Speaking to the Guardian yesterday, Belhadj said, “I ask that there be admission of what went on or an apology for it.”

Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director and an attorney for rendition victims, said: “'We tortured some folks' is the beginning, not the end, of justice. The 'folks' are having their say in this letter – surely the very least we owe them is to print their names in black and white. Reprieve's clients include people rendered as children, or pregnant women; the American people ought to know this and confront it, so we never walk down this dark road again."

ENDS

1. For further information please contact Reprieve’s press office: (US) clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk / (001) 929 258 2754 or (UK) alice.gillham@reprieve.org.uk / (0044) 207 553 8160

2. The full letter, as sent, can be seen here.

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