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Updated 09/27/2006

Human Rights–War on Terror News Update—September 27, 2006

1. Bush and Republicans reach detainee bill compromise

2. U.S. says no more secret CIA prisoners

3. Canadian commission reports lack of evidence on rendition and torture victim

4. U.S. intelligence report cites Iraq war as boon to terrorists

5. U.N. official testifies on torture in Iraq

6. Red Cross visiting U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay

1. Bush and Republicans reach detainee bill compromise

President Bush and Republican senators announced Sept. 21 that they had reached a compromise on a bill that sets rules for interrogating and trying detainees in the war on terror. The Bush administration was ordered to establish new rules for the handling of terrorism suspects when the Supreme Court in June struck down the use of military tribunals. The president’s initial proposal had encountered Senate resistance because of conflicts with American and international legal standards. The new compromise bill would outlaw “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions—including torture and certain forms of assault and mental stress, such as the notorious “water-boarding” technique—but it would allow the president to determine if other interrogation practices violate U.S. or international laws. Many human rights groups and legal experts who examined the bill said that the Bush administration achieved most of its objectives, and that the bill’s provisions violate detainee rights, in conflict with the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. War Crimes Act and the U.S. Constitution. Under the new bill detainees could not challenge the legality of their detention or treatment or cite the Geneva Conventions “as a source of rights,” and U.S. courts would be barred from using international law as a basis for determining the legality of interrogation methods under the War Crimes Act. Congress is expected to act on the legislation before the November election break.  [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 9/22/06; Washington Post, 9/23/06; background info: HRWT News Update, 9/11/06]

2. U.S. says no more secret CIA prisoners

A U.S. government diplomat announced before the U.N. Human Rights Council on Sept. 20 that the CIA is no longer holding terrorism suspects in secret prisons. The deputy legal advisor to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Paula Barton, told the council of President Bush's decision to move 14 terrorism suspects from secret detention facilities to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and affirmed that "no detainees remain in CIA custody." The announcement came after the European Union on Sept. 15 condemned the presence of secret prisons on European soil. Barton defended the transferring of detainees to other countries for questioning, a practice known as rendition. "Renditions are not inherently unlawful. For decades, the United States and other countries have used renditions to transport terrorists,” she said. According to former CIA officials and others close to the program, the Bush administration was forced to end the secret prison program earlier than planned because CIA agents refused to continue interrogations without legal clarification of permissible techniques because they feared prosecution. [The Australian, 9/20/06; Reuters, 9/15/06; Finanical Times, 9/20/06]

3. Canadian commission reports lack of evidence on rendition and torture victim

A Canadian government commission, in a report released Sept. 18 on the rendition of a Canadian man to Syria, found no evidence that the man was linked to al-Qaeda, as stated in the U.S. deportation order. Maher Arar, a software engineer who was born in Syria and retained his citizenship there, was deported from the United States in October 2002 while changing planes in New York. In Syria he was imprisoned and tortured for four months. The Canadian commission found that U.S. officials chose to deport Arar to Syria, a country notorious for torture, despite flimsy evidence and that they deliberately misled Canadian officials about Arar’s whereabouts. The commission urged the Canadian government to formally protest the U.S. treatment of Arar. Arar himself has filed a lawsuit against U.S. officials, which is on appeal, and has demanded an explanation from the Bush administration. [Arar Commission press release, 9/18/06; NY Times, 9/25/06]

4. U.S. intelligence report cites Iraq war as boon to terrorists

According to a classified National Intelligence Estimate completed in April 2006, the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has fueled Islamic radicalism and heightened the overall terrorist threat. The report, titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” is a consensus view of the 16 intelligence services within the U.S. government. What is known about it comes from government officials and outside experts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report remains classified. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who approved the report, said the report’s conclusions about the Iraq war are only one part of the overall estimate, and that viewing them “through the narrow prism of a fraction of judgments distorts the broad framework.” The report is seen by many as indicative of a rift between the intelligence community and the Bush administration. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/25/06; NY Times, 9/24/06; NY Times, 9/23/06; Independent Institute, 9/25/06]

5. U.N. official testifies on torture in Iraq

In a testimony on Sept. 18 before the U.N. Human Rights Council, a U.N. special investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, suggested that torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein. Although he made it clear that independent sectarian groups were responsible for much of the torture, he also acknowledged that there are “very serious allegations of torture within the official Iraqi detention centers.” In the same testimony, Nowak also said that the U.S. government was incorrect in stating that torture did not occur at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/22/06; Guardian (UK), 9/21/06; U.N. press release, 9/21/06]

6. Red Cross visiting U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay

On Sept. 25 a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross began a two-week visit to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, where it hopes to meet with the 14 suspects recently transferred from secret CIA custody to the prison. Antonella Notari, the chief spokeswoman for the Red Cross said, “The priority of the upcoming mission is to talk in private and to register the newly transferred detainees and to provide them the means to communicate with their family members through Red Cross messages.” The delegation plans to interview other detainees while it waits for the new arrivals—which include the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—to accept their offer for a meeting.   [International Herald Tribune, 9/20/06; NY Times, 9/19/06; International Herald Tribune, 9/26/06]


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