My client, a CIA torture victim

December 15, 2014
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An entire section of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee’s executive summary of the CIA torture report focuses on the sadistic abuse of one of my clients. The excerpt, titled “CIA Headquarters Recommends That Untrained Interrogators in Country . . . Use the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on” Redha al-Najar, contains detailed descriptions of the specific methods of torture my client was subjected to while in CIA custody.

Najar, a Tunisian citizen, has been detained without charge for 12 years. Though the U.S. government has never allowed my co-counsel and I to communicate with our client, our own investigation of his case revealed that, in 2002, unknown agents broke into his home in Pakistan, seized him from his family and “disappeared” him.

Najar’s family had no idea what had become of him until they received a letter from him delivered by the Red Cross in 2003. It was not until five years later that the family learned that the International Justice Network was providing legal assistance to detainees; they asked us to act on his behalf. We filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus that year, by which time Najar had already spent five years in U.S. custody — first at so-called black sites, then eventually at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Though we strongly believed at the time that he had been secretly detained and tortured by the CIA prior to being transferred to military custody, the U.S. government declined to provide this information. The Senate intelligence committee’s report confirms what we have suspected all along.

The report reveals that Najar was tortured by the CIA for nearly 700 days. He was subjected to a laundry list of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These included isolation in total darkness, sound disorientation techniques, sense of time deprivation, limited light, cold temperatures, sleep deprivation, blaring loud music for 24 hours a day, bad food, and humiliation and degradation such as being made to wear a diaper and having no access to toilet facilities, hooding and shackling. The report describes how interrogators used “hanging” to try to get information from him. Despite the fact that the CIA represented to the Office of Legal Counsel that it did not shackle detainees in this way for more than two hours, the report states that interrogators kept Najar’s handcuffed hands above his head for 22 hours a day.

For those of us who have represented detainees at Guantanamo, Bagram and other notorious prisons, the descriptions of illegal and inhumane interrogation techniques were unsurprising. But a chilling revelation of the report is that the CIA never suspected Najar of being involved in terrorist activity, or even of having information about terrorist activity. The portions of the Senate report that have been declassified suggest that the CIA believed he may have once worked for Osama bin Laden as a “caretaker” or “bodyguard.”

Citing the classified portions of the report dealing with Najar’s case, the report states that some CIA detainees “were never suspected of having information on, or a role in, terrorist plotting and were suspected only of having information on the location of [bin Laden] or other [al-Qaida] figures.” In other words, the CIA knew that Najar was no terrorist. It tortured him mercilessly anyway.

After nearly two months of untrained interrogators using “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Najar, they described him as being reduced to “clearly a broken man” who was “on the verge of a complete breakdown.” According to these interrogators, Najar was willing to do whatever the CIA asked. My co-counsel and I are now in the unenviable position of relating these facts to Najar’s family.

See also: 5 major takeaways from the CIA report

The revelations in the report will not end Najar’s 12-year nightmare. In the habeas corpus petition on Najar’s behalf, we argued in federal court that there was no legal basis for his detention by the U.S. government and sought his release. The government has never responded to our allegations that it detained and tortured an innocent man. Instead, it has argued that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over Bagram because it is in a war zone. This remains the government’s position.

Since 2004, we have litigated the issue of whether the U.S. courts have jurisdiction over prisoners at Bagram. So far, the courts have declined to intervene. Thus, the government successfully created a “legal black hole” at Bagram where it could detain Najar and others without having to justify that detention and his treatment in a court of law.

The Senate report now provides conclusive proof that our allegations of illegal detention and torture by the CIA are true. Unfortunately, we do not expect that this will result in justice for him. On Wednesday, I received word that the government had transferred Najar to the custody of the Afghan government a day earlier — the same day the Senate report was published. By Wednesday night, the Defense Department had announced that it was no longer holding anyone at Bagram and it had closed the prison. Presumably, the government will now argue that Najar’s case is no longer its problem.

Aside from the factual details of my clients’ interrogations by the CIA, the Senate report also sheds light on why the government has refused to let Najar speak with me or any attorney, and has fought so hard to prevent him from having his day in court even after all these years. If a U.S. court were ever to review his case, it would be the government, rather than my client, that would have to defend its illegal actions.

The writer is founder and executive director of the International Justice Network.

© 2014, The Washington Post

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