Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

ACLU Suing Obama Administration Over Phone Records Gathering

June 12, 2013

The Huffington Post  |  By June 11, 2013  

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Obama administration, challenging the constitutionality of the phone surveillance program revealed by The Guardian.

The suit alleges that the program violates the First and Fourth amendments.

The suit takes issue with the so-called metadata that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court compelled Verizon Wireless to hand over to the National Security Agency under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

“The practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book—with annotations detailing whom we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where,” said the ACLU in the complaint. “It gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations.”

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Revealed: Ashcroft, Tenet, Rumsfeld warned 9/11 Commission about ‘line’ it ’should not cross’

March 18, 2010

Sahil Kapur, Raw Story, March 17, 2010

Senior Bush administration officials sternly cautioned the 9/11 Commission against probing too deeply into the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to a document recently obtained by the ACLU.

The notification came in a letter dated January 6, 2004, addressed by Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA Director George J. Tenet. The ACLU described it as a fax sent by David Addington, then-counsel to former vice president Dick Cheney.

In the message, the officials denied the bipartisan commission’s request to question terrorist detainees, informing its two senior-most members that doing so would “cross” a “line” and obstruct the administration’s ability to protect the nation.

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Gates Invokes New Authority to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos

November 14, 2009

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report, November 14, 2009

Blood on the floor and walls of a cell at Abu Ghraib. Defense Secretary Robert Gates invoked his new authority to block images like these from being released under the Freedom of Information Act. (Photo: Wikicommons)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has blocked the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, using authority just granted to him by Congress to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to keep the images under wraps on national security grounds.

In a brief filed with the US Supreme Court late Friday, Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said Gates “personally exercised his certification authority” on Friday to withhold the photos and “determined that public disclosure of these photographs would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the United States Armed Forces, or employees of the United States Government deployed outside the United States.”

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CIA agents convicted in Italy rendition trial

November 6, 2009
Morning Star Online, Thursday 05 November 2009
by Paul Haste
Prosecutor Armando Spataro speaking in court in Milan

Prosecutor Armando Spataro speaking in court in Milan

An Italian court’s conviction of 23 CIA agents for extraordinary rendition has been hailed by human rights campaigners as a “historic repudiation” of the US intelligence agency’s crimes.

The agents, including one alleged to have been a CIA station chief in Milan, were given jail sentences ranging up to eight years for the crime of kidnapping Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and secretly transporting him to Egypt to be tortured.

Mr Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was snatched in Milan on 17 February 2003 in a joint operation between the CIA and Italian military intelligence.

After being driven to Aviano air base in north-eastern Italy the Muslim imam was allegedly put on a plane and flown to the US base at Ramstein in Germany, and from there to Egypt.

He claims that he was tortured repeatedly during the nearly four years in which he was subsequently held at an Egyptian jail without charge.

In June 2005 an Italian judge issued indictments against 26 US citizens thought to be behind the rendition, but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to seek the agents’ extradition and the sentences were handed down in absentia.

However Human Rights Watch terrorism director Joanne Mariner stressed that the court had still sent “a powerful message.”

“The CIA can’t just abduct people off the streets – it’s illegal, unacceptable, and unjustified,” she declared.

“Both the Italian and US governments should now be on notice that justice authorities will not ignore crimes committed under the guise of fighting terrorism.”

The court also tried seven Italian secret service agents including General Nicola Pollari, the former head of militay intelligence who resigned after the rendition of Mr Nasr was exposed.

US civil liberties campaigners ACLU also welcomed the verdicts and insisted that the decision “underscores the need for the United States to hold its own officials accountable for crimes committed under the ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme.”

“The US Department of Justice has utterly failed in its responsibility to investigate and prosecute these serious crimes, and it is shameful that the first convictions of this kind came from a foreign justice system, where those convicted are not likely to serve their time,” said ACLU lawyer Steven Watt.

Secret Prisons and Sovereignty

August 24, 2009

Legal black holes such as Bagram are the physical manifestation of the ‘state of exception’ beloved of leaders throughout history

by Bernard Keenan | The Guardian/UK, Aug 23, 2009

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) demanded that the Obama administration release information on 600 detainees held at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. The request mirrors that made to the Bush administration seven years before, regarding the men held in Guantánamo Bay.

The continued use of secret prisons to hold detainees – some not captured in the Afghan conflict, but brought to Bagram from elsewhere – seems contrary to the announcement of 23 January 2009 when the Obama administration, fresh into office, declared that the indefinite detention of foreign prisoners at Guantánamo Bay would end. In April, the CIA announced that it had ceased operating its network of secret prisons. Publicly at least, it seemed that the extraordinary powers claimed for the president following 11 September 2001 had been a historical anomaly, gone with Bush and his cabal.

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U.S. government withholds information about Bagram detainees

August 16, 2009

By Danielle Kurtzleben, Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Aug 14 (IPS) – The U.S. government continues to withhold even the most basic information about prisoners in the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a New York-based legal rights organisation.

An April 2009 ACLU Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents and information about the detainment of prisoners at Bagram has yielded dead ends with both the Department of Defence (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The ACLU wants the Obama Administration to make these records public, including information about “the number of people currently detained at Bagram, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention, as well as records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as ‘enemy combatants.’”

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Bush’s torture legacy haunts the US

August 8, 2009

By Mark LeVine, Al Jazeera, Aug 8, 2009

Some human rights groups want Obama to investigate top Bush administration officials [GETTY]

Somewhere in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier, is being held captive by the Taliban.

The threat of execution hangs over him if the US does not agree to the still unspecified demands of his captors.

Bergdahl is the first US soldier captured in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion and the circumstances of his capture, which occurred around July 1 outside a US military base in Helmand Province, remain unclear.

But in the wake of years of revelations of abuses by US personnel of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, and of alleged Taliban or al-Qaeda detainees elsewhere, the spectre of US troops in enemy hands is disturbing because of the possibility that they could face copy-cat treatment.

This is even more troubling when factoring in that US methods involved the use of water-boarding and numerous other “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

So far, it appears that private Berghdal has been unharmed and his Taliban captors have said they would treat him “with dignity.”

It is difficult to determine at this point whether the Taliban position is in response to the shift in rhetoric under the Obama administration or as a propaganda counterpoint to the documented mistreatment of detainees under the previous Bush administration.

The recently issued Taliban “code of conduct” calling for minimising suicide bombings and civilian casualties suggests that it is part of a larger pattern to change the movement’s image both in the region and globally.

However, US military officials have condemned the release of a video depicting Berghdal in captivity as propaganda that is “exploiting the soldier in violation of international law”

“Nation of Laws”

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban on July 1

Yet even as it condemns such practises, the Obama administration is struggling to come to grips with the many consequences of Bush-era detention and interrogation policies which will continue to impact the experiences of US forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to major human rights organisations, Obama’s record on this issue remains disappointingly mixed.

On the one hand, Obama’s first actions upon taking office were to announce his intention to close Guantanamo Bay, and end water-boarding and other clearly cruel and degrading forms of interrogation.

These actions were part of a larger attempt to improve the US image in the Muslim world and convince friends and enemies alike that the US is once again a “nation of laws”.

All sides to a conflict are obligated to obey international law, regardless of the conduct of their enemies.

Obama’s actions are partially intended to help ensure that US soldiers who, like private Berghdal, fall into enemy hands are not subjected to the kind of treatment authorised under the Bush administration.

In substantive terms, however, the Obama administration is hewing a path far closer to its predecessor than most Americans realise. This reality could well frustrate Obama’s attempts to cool down anti-American sentiments among potential Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathisers.

It could also further weaken the fabric of the rule of law inside the US itself, enshrining Bush-Cheney-era policies  as the political and legal status quo even as the Justice Department and Congress begin investigations into potential criminal conduct at the highest levels of that administration.

Slow progress

Most activists from the human rights community believe Obama walked into an untenable situation when he assumed responsibility for the detention and interrogation policies of the outgoing administration.

His unambiguous declaration that he would close Guantanamo within a year, ensure that the CIA would abide by the Army Field Manual guidelines for interrogating prisoners, and close all secret CIA detention facilities was welcomed around the world.

“The situation certainly improved in terms of the personalities making policy,” explains Gabor Rona, the International Legal Director for Human Rights First.

“There are now people in leadership positions that have a rather different view than their predecessors about both what is lawful and what is good policy.”

Chief among them is Eric Holder, the US attorney general, who has clearly expressed his discomfort at the possibility that those responsible for the torture policies may escape some form of investigation, if not prosecution.

Criticism increases

In depth
Pictures: Faces of Guantanamo
Timeline: Guantanamo
Inside Guantanamo Bay
Video: Move to close Guantanamo faces hitches
Video: Freed inmate recounts ordeal
Smalltown USA’s Guantanamo hopes
Faultlines: Bush’s torture legacy
Faultlines: Obama’s war on terror
Riz Khan: U-turn on Gitmo?
Witness: A strange kind of freedom

Beyond the level of rhetoric and as yet unfulfilled commitments, however, the Obama administration is facing growing criticism from human rights organisations.

To be sure, the situation Obama has taken ownership of offers few good choices.

According to a senior Amnesty International (AI) analyst, the new administration is being disingenuous when it claims that the situation was worse than they had imagined, and requires a more cautious move than originally intended.

“There was too much information already in the public realm for them to have been surprised,” Tom Parker, the AI’s Policy Director for Terrorism, Counter-terrorism and Human Rights, says

A more plausible reason for the slower pace of change is likely that while newly-appointed high level officials are adopting a different tone, below them the same people are running the show.

“I’m having the same conversations with the same people as under Bush,” a senior activist complained. “They remain as arrogant as ever.”

Indeed, on the ground, interviews with recently released Guantanamo detainees and investigations by organisations such as Human Rights First in Afghanistan are providing evidence that detainee abuse and lack of due process are continuing under the Obama administration, despite the shift in rhetoric.

Trial by hearsay

Parker believes significant attention is being focused on two issues which remain particularly egregious under the new administration: the continuing use of military rather than civilian trials, and the sanctioning of indefinite and potentially permanent imprisonment of detainees.

The latter is being considered even though Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, recently admitted some detainees had been acquitted by a military commission.

“This is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard a democratic state say,” Parker says.

Shayana Kadidal, the managing attorney for Guantanamo detainee cases at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, confirms that the worst policies of the last two years of the Bush Administration, including military trials and indefinite detentions, “are today being explicitly put forward as viable policies for the future, not just for cleaning up the mess Bush left behind.”

“Why do you need an indefinite detention scheme if you’re going to try people in military commissions? It’s ludicrous and reflects a situation in which the Obama administration has failed politically, while in terms of principle comes off looking unable to make up its mind about what to do.”

Is Obama “waffling”?

Some analysts believe Obama has been unable to move far from Bush’s policies [EPA]

The most startling example of this continuity is the administration’s concerted efforts to continue detaining Mohammed Jawad, the youngest Guantanamo detainee, in a case the federal judge presiding says is “riddled with holes.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticised this move as reminiscent of the Bush Administration’s constant changes of strategy to frustrate directives from federal judges regarding Guantanamo detainees.

Other examples of such “waffling” is Obama’s objection to Congressional demands that all future interrogations be conducted only by official military personnel rather than contractors, and his willingness to admit hearsay as evidence in military trials.

Admitting hearsay would enable coerced statements to be used against detainees without affording them the opportunity to directly question an interrogator who used the coercive technique.

No new initiatives

Ultimately, in the words of one activist, whatever the good intentions of the Obama administration, the new pragmatic policy-making style remains devoid of new ideas.

“There is very little daylight between Obama and Bush,” Human Rights First’s Gabor Rona says.

Similarly, a senior member of another organisation explains that “renditions to countries that routinely use torture are continuing, as are military trials and indefinite detentions. So much of Obama’s line is that ‘we’ll do it smarter. You can trust us.’ But this is not acceptable.”

Rona, who worked for many years as a lawyer for the International Committee of the Red Cross, says the administration is “still using an overly broad application of the Laws of War paradigm to justify detentions that are not justifiable under international law.”

One reason for the pragmatism thus far is that a pitched battle is underway within the administration over how much of Bush’s policies should be retained.

“The new administration has not spoken with one consistent voice,” Rona says. “There are very strong voices within it that speak in support of the policies and practises of its predecessor.”

Even Obama’s attempt to recalibrate the balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches back to the pre-Bush era of parity and consultation has failed to produce policy changes.

This is largely because the Democratic-controlled Congress is even more reluctant to take on Republicans on national security issues (and risk being labelled as soft on terrorism) than is the president.

Pursuing senior officials

Human rights groups want top officials, like Cheney, to be prosecuted [EPA]

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), believes the Obama administration can re-establish rule of law and US moral standing by bringing “those most responsible” for creating and executing illegal policies under the Bush administration to justice.

“Senior officials should be held to the same level of investigation as the soldiers who went to jail for the Abu Ghraib abuses,” he says.

A HRW statement in July urged Holder, the attorney general, to include senior Bush administration officials in his investigation.

“The United States can’t truly claim to have repudiated these egregious human rights violations unless it returns to the day when it treated them as crimes rather than as policy options,” HRW said. The ACLU has supported this position.

Such an investigation would have little to do with political payback.

Most activists agree that if Dick Cheney, the former vice-president, Don Rumsfeld, the former defence secretary and White House lawyers such as John Yoo and Jay Bybee (who developed the legal justifications for Bush officials), are not called to account for their actions while in power, future administrations will feel confident that they can resume now discredited practises without fear of prosecution.

This would make Executive Branch lawyers legal henchman, knowing that even the flimsiest of legal cover for such actions will be enough to protect from future prosecution.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights’ Kadidal argues that any investigation by the Justice Department or Congress “needs to go to the top”.

“This wasn’t a situation where people started doing things in the field under pressure and Washington just tried to give them legal cover afterwards. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It was top down; the directions came from Washington and were clearly signed off by Rumsfeld and Cheney,” she said.

Bush administration authorisation

Declassified reports indicate Rice authorised harsh interrogation methods [GETTY]

According to a declassified Senate Intelligence Report released in April, Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, John Ashcroft, the attorney general, and George Tenet, the CIA director and their legal councils all joined Cheney in authorising waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods in 2002.

What is still unknown but could be determined by a Justice Department or Congressional investigation is whether Bush was one of “the principals” who according to the report, “reaffirmed that the CIA [enhanced interrogation] program was lawful and reflected administration policy.”

But such an investigation will extract a high political price at a time when most Americans are not focused on these issues and not pressing the White House or Congress to act on them.

In the absence of such sustained public pressure, many human rights professionals believe that the failure of Bill Clinton, the former US president, to reform the military’s ban on gays serving openly still stands as a warning not to waste precious political capital on divisive issues that don’t have wide public support.

As AI’s Parker says: “What we haven’t been able to do is put millions in the streets [on this issue]. Amnesty can’t get a meaningful turnout, and if we can’t, no one can.”

Instead, the human rights community is focusing much of its energy on the mainstream media. But while most journalists and editors are sympathetic to a human rights agenda, they simply do not have the time or space to focus regularly on these issues.

A significant share of the Washington commentating class has accepted the administration’s arguments that pragmatism rather than pushing for human rights and democracy is the best rudder for US foreign policy.

Impetus For Obama

Is there a chance that Obama will take the lead on this issue? Roth is sure Obama at least knows the stakes.

“I met with Obama a few months ago. He fully understands the importance of maintaining the moral high ground to fight terror because without it the international co-operation needed to fight it is discouraged.”

While most Americans support human rights in principle, a majority still believe, erroneously, that torture works. As Kadidal points out, this makes it very hard to construct a powerful public narrative to motivate Americans en masse to push for real change.

“Most of the public do not know that torture and coercive interrogations don’t work. Regular polling conducted by the Open Society Institute reveals that the public still believes it can produce good intelligence. And with people worried today about losing jobs, global warming, and so on – there’s even less room to convince them otherwise.”

HRW’s Roth says such a situation makes it difficult to know whether Obama has the strength and political space to “abide with the insight he himself has, and share with the American people his understanding that human rights is not only the right thing to do but it’s also the smart thing to do.”

“Our golden rule is, ‘don’t do anything to detainees that you wouldn’t want done to one of your own captured soldiers’,” he says.

As the United States ramps up its military engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Obama administration and its military leadership would be wise to heed this advice.

Mark Levine is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and author, most recently, of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (Random House 2008) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2009).

POLITICS: Rights Groups Appeal For UN Investigation of Rendition

August 7, 2009

By William Fisher, Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Aug 6 (IPS) – Charging that the U.S. government was complicit in the forced disappearance of an influential Muslim scholar four years ago, human rights groups in the U.S., the U.K., and Switzerland have asked the U.N. to investigate.

In a letter to the U.N., the organisations say Mustafa Setmariam Nassar, a Spanish citizen, was arrested by Pakistani officials and handed over to U.S. officials in Oct. 2005 and has not been heard from since.

The letter was sent to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, Martin Scheinin, and the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the London-based legal charity Reprieve, and Alkarama in Geneva.

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Bagram Detainees Treated ‘Worse Than Animals’

June 27, 2009
by William Fisher,, June 27, 2009

An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has revealed that former detainees at the U.S. Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs.

The BBC’s conclusions are based on interviews with 27 former detainees who were held at Bagram between 2002 and 2006. None of these men were ever charged with a crime. Hundreds of detainees are still being held in U.S. custody at the Afghan prison without charge or trial.

Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The BBC investigation provides further confirmation of the United States’ mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram.”

“These abuses are the direct consequence of decisions made at the highest levels of the U.S. government to avoid the Geneva Convention and forsake the rule of law. For too long, the unlawful detention and mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram has gone on outside the public eye,” he said. “Hopefully, this investigation will help change that.”

“When prisoners are in American custody and under American control, no matter the location, our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake,” Hafetz said.

In April, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at Bagram, including the number of people currently detained, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention.

The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”

“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy,” said Melissa Goodman, an ACLU staff attorney. “The American people have a right to know what’s happening at Bagram and whether prisoners have been tortured there.”

Amnesty International said it was “shocked” by the Bagram claims. It noted that a new detention center is currently under construction at the camp.

Another prominent human rights organization, the British-based Reprieve, called on the British government to take action concerning two Pakistanis who it says the U.K. helped render there from Iraq.

“The legal black hole in Bagram underlines the British government’s moral black hole when it comes to rendering two Pakistani prisoners there in 2004,” said Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve. “These men were in British custody in Iraq, were turned over to the U.S., and have now been held for five years without any respect for their legal rights.”

In February 2009, British Defense Secretary John Hutton announced to the House of Commons that Britain had handed two anonymous Pakistani men over to the U.S., and they had subsequently been rendered to Afghanistan, where they were still being held.

“We have been assured that are held in a humane, safe and secure environment, meeting international standards consistent with cultural and religious norms,” Hutton said at the time.

“As we have said all along, beating people and holding them incommunicado is not humane, safe and secure,” Stafford Smith told IPS. “Britain has a moral duty to identify these men, so that we can reunite them with their legal rights, yet Mr. Hutton refuses to do this.”

No prisoner in Bagram has been allowed to see a lawyer, or challenge his detention. According to the BBC, the U.S. justice department argues that because Afghanistan is an active combat zone it is not possible to conduct rigorous inquiries into individual cases and that it would divert precious military resources at a crucial time.

“These men were never in Afghanistan until the UK and the U.S. took them there,” said Stafford Smith. “It is the height of hypocrisy to take someone to Bagram and then claim that it is too dangerous to let them see a lawyer. Even Guantánamo Bay is better than this.”

The Pentagon has denied the BBC’s charges of harsh treatment and insisted that all inmates in the facility are treated humanely.

The Bagram Airbase built by the Soviet military in the 1980s. The approximately 600 people held there are classified as “unlawful enemy combatants.” None was charged with any offence or put on trial — some even received apologies when they were released.

Many allegations of ill-treatment appear repeatedly in the BBC interviews: physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers.

In four cases detainees were threatened with death at gunpoint.

“They did things that you would not do against animals let alone to humans,” said one inmate.

“They poured cold water on you in winter and hot water in summer. They used dogs against us. They put a pistol or a gun to your head and threatened you with death,” he said.

“They put some kind of medicine in the juice or water to make you sleepless and then they would interrogate you.”

The BBC said its findings were shown to the Pentagon. Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a spokesman for the U.S. secretary of defense, insisted that conditions at Bagram “meet international standards for care and custody.” He said the U.S. Defense Department has a policy of treating detainees humanely.

But he acknowledged that, “There have been well-documented instances where that policy was not followed, and service members have been held accountable for their actions in those cases.”

Since coming to office, U.S. President Barack Obama has banned the use of torture and ordered a review of policy on detainees, which is expected to report next month. But unlike its detainees at the U.S. naval facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, the prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and they cannot challenge their detention.

(Inter Press Service)

U.N. Asked to Probe CIA Rendition

June 27, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Jun 26 (IPS) – Human rights groups are asking United Nations officials to investigate the case of an Italian citizen and victim of the “extraordinary rendition” programme of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency who is currently being held in a Moroccan prison based on a confession coerced from him through torture.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Geneva-based Alkarama for Human Rights have requested that two U.N. Special Rapporteurs investigate the circumstances of Abou Elkassim Britel’s forced disappearance, rendition, detention and torture, and raise his case with the governments of the United States, Morocco, Pakistan and Italy.

The requests were made to the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture and the on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

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