The practice of 'extraordinary rendition' represents the low point of the 'war on terror', in which systematic torture, enforced disappearance and secret detention were carried out by the CIA in coordination with many other states and individuals worldwide. Victims’ quests for recognition, redress and effective investigations on the national level have faltered, often blocked by broad reaching secrecy laws, making recourse to international courts and bodies all the more essential. HRiP offers legal representation and support seek justice for Guantanamo and rendition victims.
Helen Duffy represents Guantanamo detainee and rendition victim Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (Abu Zubaydah) in international proceedings. In 2002, Abu Zubaydah was detained by the CIA in Pakistan and disappeared into secret detention at a series of CIA 'black sites,' subjected to systematic torture, forced disappearance and secret detention. As the first of the rendition programme’s “high-value detainees”, he has been described as the 'guinea pig' for the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation techniques.' Although it is now clear that he was not who he was alleged to be at the time of his capture, he remains detained without charge or trial – one of the so-called “forever prisoners” – in Guantanamo Bay.
The partial release of a redacted summary of the US Senate Intelligence Committee report in December 2014, chronicles the abuse of our client, with 1001 references to Abu Zubaydah. It reveals the extreme cruelty he was subjected to and the misinformation generated by the US authorities to justify it, underscoring the gross injustice of his continued arbitrary detention. A comment on the relevance of the report’s findings to our client’s case can be found here.
With no prospect of accountability in the US, HRiP conducts international litigation against some of the many states whose cooperation made the rendition programme possible.
Abu Zubaydah v Lithuania
On 31 March 2018 the ECtHR handed down a unanimous judgment against Lithuania, finding it responsible for cooperating with the US by hosting a “black site” on its territory and refusing to conduct an effective investigation or to pursue accountability. In an unusually long and detailed judgment, the Court provided a comprehensive review of the facts in relation to our client’s case and the ERP, making a contribution to the historical record in an area that the Court noted remains “shrouded in secrecy.” The Lithuanian Government's observations throughout the case were revealing of its policy of denial and failure to meaningfully reckon with the past. The Court has made clear it must now investigate thoroughly and effectively and hold to account those responsible, or be in ‘continuing violation’ of the European Convention. The judgement is here, and a brief summary here.
The case was submitted in October 2011, hearings before the ECtHR were held on 29 and 30 June 2016: one private session at which witnesses were heard, and a public session. Our final submissions in the case prior to the hearing are ahere. Although Lithuania asked the Court to refer the case to the Grand Chamber for reconsideration, the judgment was finalized on 8 October 2018. HRiP will continue with the Committee of Ministers responsible for overseeing implementation.
Abu Zubaydah v Poland
On 24 July 2014, a landmark ECHR judgment was handed down against Poland - the first (alongside al Nashiri v Poland handed down the same day) to address a European state’s role in hosting a CIA black site on European soil. The judgment afound Poland responsible for violations of Abu Zubaydah’s rights to freedom from torture, liberty, fair trial and private life. The judgment describes and summarises at some length the 'abundant and coherent' evidence available from official US documents, independent reports and other sources, supplemented by the evidence given to the Court itself, on secret detention and Polish complicity. The Court found that the evidence conclusively established Polish responsibility for the torture and illegal detention of Abu Zubaydah, for failing to conduct a meaningful investigation and its persistent, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to cover-up the truth.
Implementation of the judgment is currently before the Committee of Ministers. In its review of the Abu Zubaydah v Poland and al Nashiri v Poland cases, the Committee of Ministers has expressed its “deep concern” about the “flagrant denial of justice” facing our client. On 24 September 2015, the Committee took the perhaps unprecedented step of expressing serious concern directly to US authorities. The Polish plan of action and its implementation remain subject to the Committee’s oversight.
International legal initiatives are part of a larger effort to secure justice for Abu Zubaydah, meaningful accountability and learning lessons learned from the rendition and torture programme. These judgments and their implementation are relevant to the many other states involved in varying ways in the web of criminality involved in the rendition and torture programme.
Al Asad v Djibouti, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Mohammed al-Asad, a Yemeni national, was detained in Djibouti in late 2003/early 2004 as part of the CIA's rendition programme. He was transferred from Djibouti to secret “black site” detention for 16 months, before being returned to Yemen. His case before the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is the first international case exposing the role of African states in the US rendition, secret detention, and torture programme. Advice and support was provided in this case to The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law.