Twenty Years On: GJC Seeks Accountability for U.S. Torture and an End to the “War on Terror”

Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, GJC marks fifteen years of work seeking justice for men who were wrongfully detained and tortured by the United States. Looking ahead, only abolition of the “War on Terror” will bring such abuses to an end.

By Meg Satterthwaite and Sara Robinson*

Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the Global Justice Clinic (GJC) marks fifteen years of work seeking justice for Mohamed Farag Ahmed Bashmilah and Mohammed al-Asad, two men who were wrongfully detained and tortured as part of the U.S. Government’s “War on Terror.” Under the guidance of these two men and their families, GJC filed a federal FOIA case, joined a case against Jeppesen Dataplan—a Boeing subsidiary that provided logistics support for the CIA’s torture flights—sued the country of Djibouti for its role as a regional hub of the U.S. torture program, initiated a case against the U.S. before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, participated in proceedings before the International Criminal Court about U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, and much more. Though both men died in recent years without seeing justice done, their families continue the quest for acknowledgement, apology, and repair. The U.S.-based claims have come to an end—including, in the Jeppesen case, through the U.S. government’s use of the “state secrets” doctrine—but the regional and international cases continue.

Indeed, regional bodies have crucial opportunities in the coming months to address the violations imposed upon men subjected to the post-9/11 extraordinary rendition program. This system was a global enterprise of kidnappings, torture, and incommunicado detention that was inflicted upon hundreds of Muslim men and their families between 2002 and 2008. Last year, the Inter-American Commission took an historic step by determining that a case brought by four survivors of the torture program could proceed to the merits.

One of these survivors is GJC’s client Mohamed Farag Ahmed Bashmilah who endured brutal torture at the hands of the CIA. He was subjected to forced feeding, kept diapered for weeks, short shackled in painful positions, and inundated with excruciatingly loud music during his more than 18 months in CIA custody. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later found that Bashmilah was wrongfully detained by the CIA. What the report did not say was that the CIA had received a false confession that was tortured out of our client at the hands of the Jordanian intelligence services. As GJC and the ACLU argued in their merits brief filed in December 2020, the Inter-American Commission has the opportunity to hold the U.S. accountable for its own torture and the torture its partners carried out at its behest.

As the Inter-American Commission case progresses, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights—a regional human rights mechanism that hears cases against African Union member states—has a similar opportunity. The African Commission is actively considering a petition against the Republic of Djibouti, which was a regional hub in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program. This case was brought by Mohammed al-Asad, another client of the GJC, in 2009. This was the first human rights case to challenge a U.S. partner State outside of Europe for its role in the extraordinary rendition program.

In December 2003, al-Asad was abducted from his home and flown to Djibouti. The Djiboutian authorities held al-Asad in one of their local detention facilities, likely located in the Plateau de Serpent neighborhood of Djibouti City. During his detention, al-Asad was interrogated by agents of the U.S. government and Djiboutian security forces. During one interrogation, al-Asad was told that both he and his wife “would be put aside” and that their children “will be orphans.” After two weeks of detention, Djiboutian security forces drove al-Asad to Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. There, Djiboutian forces watched as waiting American operatives pulled al-Asad out of the car, stripped him naked, sexually assaulted him, diapered him, and chained him, before roughly pulling him to an awaiting airplane. The CIA then flew him from Djibouti to Afghanistan, where he was held incommunicado, tortured, and ill-treated by the CIA for sixteen months.

Djibouti was the doorway to al-Asad’s mistreatment and that of numerous other men—including Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Guled Hassan Duran—both who were held as part of the U.S. “War on Terror.” In a 2014 decision posted on its website, the African Commission found the case inadmissible, finding a lack of “reliable and conclusive evidence that the Complainant was deported to Djibouti.” But in 2016, the African Commission granted al-Asad’s petition for review of that decision, relying on numerous pieces of evidence showing that al-Asad was held in Djibouti. While it is unclear when the African Commission will release its decision, the case remains alive, giving the Commission the opportunity to address—on the merits—the grave abuses meted out by states that partnered with the U.S. in its “War on Terror.”

As the United States marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it has ended its boots-on-the-ground battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the amorphous and abusive “War on Terror” continues on through the weaponization of Islamophobia,targeted killings by drone, and security partnerships with abusive counter-terror paramilitaries. The work ahead must be to abolish the “War on Terror,” as the directly impacted communities have demanded. Only by dismantling this abusive system will there be a close to the terrible chapter built in the shadow of 9/11.

* Sara Robinson is a former legal fellow with the Global Justice Clinic.


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