How To Torture and Get Away With It
by Jim Lobe
separatists from China are likely to be mistreated if they are returned
to Beijing's custody from the Guantanamo Bay naval base as the US
administration is reportedly considering, says
the group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
than a dozen members of the Muslim ethnic group are being held at
the base in Cuba with other detainees suspected of belonging to
the al-Qaeda terrorist group and the Taliban, former rulers of Afghanistan.
York-based HRW says the Uighurs, who were captured by US forces
in Afghanistan two years ago, could face torture and execution if
repatriated to Beijing, which has gone to great lengths to repress
Uighur nationalism in the far-western province of Xinjiang, where
most of the Turkic group have lived for centuries.
United States should not even contemplate returning Uighurs to China,"
said Brad Adams, director of HRW's Asia division, in a statement.
"Any assurances from China that it will not mistreat returnees
would not be worth the paper they are written on."
would be virtually impossible for the US to prevent mistreatment
of these detainees once they fall into China's abysmal prison system,"
660 al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects from more than two-dozen countries
are being held as "illegal combatants" at Guantanamo.
Most were seized during the brief, US-led military campaign in Afghanistan
two years ago.
of giving them "prisoner of war" status, the administration
considers them "illegal combatants," meaning they lack
some of the basic rights and protections that are accorded POWs
under the Geneva Conventions and virtually all of the rights guaranteed
by the US Constitution.
chief Donald Rumsfeld has declared that, like POWs, the detainees
can be held so long as the war against terrorism continues.
status and treatment have generated much controversy, both in the
United States and overseas, where a number of governments, human
rights groups and prominent jurists have criticized Washington for
not giving them POW status or ensuring basic due process rights.
a very rare public criticism, the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC) last month strongly denounced the detentions,
calling them "unacceptable" under current conditions.
week one of Britain's most prominent jurists, High Court Judge Steyn,
called the circumstances of their detention "monstrous,"
and declared that Washington's refusal to permit the prisoners to
challenge their detention in a court amounted to a "breach
of the minimum standards of customary international law."
US Supreme Court decided earlier this month to hear a case that
challenges the Pentagon's claim that the detainees are not entitled
to basic constitutional rights because the base where they are being
held cannot be considered US territory. But the case will not be
argued before early next year, and a decision is not expected until
88 detainees, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have been quietly
returned to their home countries. While Washington agreed that 84
of them could be freed as harmless, four others were repatriated
to Saudi Arabia, where they remain in detention, reported the Associated
Press this week.
AP quoted officials as saying that dozens more could be repatriated
but only on condition that their governments subject them to interrogation
and continued detention. Among that group are the Uighurs, who were
apparently training in Afghanistan with the intention of returning
to Xinjiang to fight for independence from China when they were
has relentlessly repressed the cause of Uighur separatism, which
has flared in occasional violence and bombings several times over
the past decade.
separatists have been systematically tortured and otherwise mistreated,
while some have been executed after trials that also do not meet
minimum international due-process standards, according to HRW and
Amnesty International, as well as US State Department human rights
the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Washington
ratified in 1994, governments are forbidden to return individuals
to countries if there are substantial grounds to believe they might
be subject to such treatment.
Bush administration has acknowledged this obligation, but its practice
during the war on terrorism raises serious questions about whether
it would abide by it, say rights activists.
number of US and foreign newspapers have reported over the past
year that suspected terrorists seized by or transferred to US custody
have in some cases been "rendered" to home governments
most cases, the intelligence or security services of those governments
are known to use torture or other forms of mistreatment against
most notorious case came to light earlier this month when a Syrian-born
Canadian citizen, Maher
Arar, disclosed that he had been detained at a New York airport
in September 2002 while in transit from the Middle East to Canada.
a brief interrogation he was flown to Washington, from there to
Jordan and thence to Syria, where he was beaten and confined to
a small cell for 10 months.
week, US officials admitted Arar had been detained and deported,
but insisted that they had received assurances in advance from Damascus
that he would not be mistreated. Arar has already filed suit against
the governments of Jordan and Syria, and his lawyers said they have
plans to sue the United States as well.
with Arar and Syria, it is a fallacy to believe that a state that
systematically practices torture will magically transform itself
simply because it has offered diplomatic assurances," said
would be extremely reckless to accept written assurances from China
in these cases. If these men are returned and anything happens to
them, it will be the responsibility of the United States."
called for the administration to immediately institute a moratorium
on returning detainees to countries that routinely practice torture
until it has completed a broader review of what has happened to
such individuals in the past.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service