European Parliament Slams U.S. on Guantanamo Death Penalty Case

NEW YORK—Today the European Parliament called on U.S. authorities not to seek the death penalty for Saudi national and Guantanamo prisoner Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in a military commission trial to be held in the coming weeks. Members of Parliament said al-Nashiri should instead be given a fair trial in accordance with international standards of the rule of law.

The resolution comes on the heels of a case the Open Society Justice Initiative filed in May on al-Nashiri’s behalf  before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which asked the court to direct Poland to “use all available means at its disposal to ensure that the United States does not subject him to the death penalty.” The case argues that Poland violated the European Convention of Human Rights by enabling al-Nashiri’s torture and  incommunicado detention on Polish soil and his transfer out of the country in the face of the risk of the death penalty.

The Open Society Justice Initiative welcomed the parliament's action. 

"The European Parliament has taken an important stand against impunity for abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. “We call on governments in Europe and the United States to reveal the truth and bring perpetrators of abuse to account."

The resolution calls on the “convening authority” for the military commissions “not to apply the death penalty on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri on the grounds that the military commission trials do not meet the standards internationally required for the application of the death sentence.” It also calls for the US "to review the military commissions system to ensure fair trials, to close Guantánamo, to prohibit in any circumstances the use of torture, ill-treatment, incommunicado detention, indefinite detention without trial and enforced disappearances, and reminds the EU institutions and Member States of their duty not to collaborate in, or cover up, such acts.”

“This is a critical step towards preventing the stain of U.S. torture and death penalty practices from spreading to Europe,” said Amrit Singh, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “It sends an important signal to the United States that Europe will not stand by silently and watch the U.S. subject Mr. al-Nashiri to the death penalty and an unfair trial.”

Al-Nashiri's is set to be the first death penalty case to be tried before a military commission. The prosecution has already recommended that the death penalty be an option at the trial, although this must be approved in advance by an official appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense. 

The Polish prosecutor has been investigating the possible abuse of power by public officials in connection to CIA black sites since 2008. But just last month, shortly before President Obama’s visit to Warsaw, Polish authorities removed deputy prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski from the case, reportedly for political reasons. Polish news also reported last month that Jozef Pinior, a Polish member of the European Parliament, had confirmed the existence of a document signed by former Prime Minister Leszek Miller regulating the functioning of the secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty. The document, according to Pinior, included establishing what should be done “if a dead body of one of the persons held there should appear.”

During his detention in Poland, U.S. interrogators subjected al-Nashiri to mock executions with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded; racked a semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them; held him in “standing stress positions;” and threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him. Around June 6, 2003, Poland assisted the CIA in transporting him to another secret detention site outside Poland. He was eventually transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006. U.S. military prosecutors filed terrorism and murder charges against him on April 20, 2011.

Al-Nashiri is represented before the European Court by James Goldston, Amrit Singh, and Rupert Skilbeck of the Justice Initiative, and Nancy Hollander of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan P.A. He is represented in Poland by advocate Mikolaj Pietrzak of the Pietrzak & Sidor law office in Warsaw, and in the United States by Lt. Commander Stephen C. Reyes, Nancy Hollander, and Richard Kammen.