Europe Must Intervene in Guantánamo Capital Case: Q&A with Amrit Singh

The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on the European Court of Human Rights to intervene urgently in the first death penalty case to be tried by U.S. military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The case concerns Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national.

Al-Nashiri faces charges relating to the bombing of the USS Cole in the Port of Aden in 2000 and other alleged acts.  He was detained and tortured at a secret CIA prison in Poland from December 2002 to June 2003, before his ultimate transfer to the U.S. military base at Guantánamo. Amrit Singh, head of the Justice Initiative's National Security and Counterterrorism program, explains more about the case.

The Justice Initiative’s European Court filing is a complaint against Poland. Why?

Poland’s conduct in Mr. al-Nashiri’s case breached the European Convention of Human Rights in several ways. First, it enabled Mr. al-Nashiri’s torture and incommunicado detention on Polish soil. Secondly, it assisted in his transfer from Poland despite the real risks he faced in U.S. custody, including possible further abuse, a flagrantly unfair trial, and the risk of the death penalty.

Poland  also violated Mr. al-Nashiri’s rights by failing to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into his torture and rendition in Poland.  Finally, the Polish government’s refusal to acknowledge, investigate, and disclose details of Mr. al Nashiri’s detention, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance and rendition violates his and the public’s right to truth.

Why does the al-Nashiri case matter to Europeans?

Europeans who believe in the rule of law and the prohibitions against torture and the death penalty should care deeply about this case. And Poland was not the only country complicit in human rights abuses associated with the CIA's "rendition" operations—as documented in the report of Council of Europe special rapporteur Senator Dick Marty, there was a “spider’s web” of renditions in which European governments were complicit.  It is now well known that there were secret CIA prisons in Romania and Lithuania in addition to Poland.  So we are talking of about very grave violations of the European Convention by numerous European countries, and a massive cover up of those violations by the countries that engaged in them.

What’s al-Nashiri’s current status?

He is currently imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay.  U.S. military commission prosecutors have brought capital charges against him that will now be subjected to review by Bruce MacDonald, who is responsible for convening the military commissions.  Mr. MacDonald has indicated to Mr. al-Nashiri’s military defense counsel that he has until 30 June 2011 to make written submissions against the death penalty.

We have sought emergency relief from the European Court of Human Rights to instruct the Polish government to use all available means—including submissions to Mr. MacDonald before 30 June and diplomatic representations to the U.S. government—to prevent Mr. al-Nashiri from being subjected to the death penalty.

And what is the Justice Initiative’s involvement?

The Justice Initiative represents Mr al-Nashiri in legal proceedings against Poland before the European Court of Human Rights.

Do the European legal efforts have any impact at all on the US?

We do hope that a favorable ruling from the European Court will place pressure on the United States to preclude the death penalty in Mr al-Nashiri’s case. More generally, a favorable ruling from the European Court will send an important signal to the U.S. that flagrant violations of the rule of law of the sort at issue in this case will not be tolerated in Europe.  We also hope that Europe will show the United States that the right way to deal with rendition-related abuses is not to cover them up but to hold relevant officials accountable for authorizing and permitting such abuses.  As the call for European government accountability gathers steam, we hope that it will fuel efforts directed at U.S. official accountability for human rights abuses conducted in the context of rendition operations.  In addition, European legal efforts will hopefully deter European governments from collaborating in the future with the U.S. in conducting human rights abuses in the name of national security.

As this case moves forward, will we learn new details about the U.S. rendition program?

As the momentum towards accountability for European complicity in rendition builds, we hope there will be more revelations on the details of who did what, when, where and how in relation to renditions.

What needs to happen for more of those details to come to light?

Europe’s public and civic institutions must keep the pressure on their governments to tell the truth about their complicity in rendition operations, and to hold relevant officials accountable.  As the pressure builds, more details will come to light.

What happens now?

We wait for a decision from the European Court on our application for urgent relief seeking its intervention on the subject of the death penalty.  Hopefully, it will come soon.

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1 Comment


I know you guys have got to be kidding. The U.S. as we all know is working well within established norms of criminal and social justice. The terrorist al-Nashiri will receive a fair trial and if he is convicted, he will be executed. All this done according to U.S. and inter-national law. And the world will be much better off for the end of the life of another terrorist. The only problem I see with this case has taken way too long. al-Nashiri should have been with his 72 virgins or in hell, depending on one's belief system, long ago.

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