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Afghanis & Iraqis Tortured by US Military Take Case to International Human Rights Tribunal

Three Afghanis and three Iraqis allegedly tortured by the US military at detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan are proceeding with their case despite having the their case dismissed and upheld by an appeals court in November of last year.

On March 19, a petition against the US was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). As the ACLU explained in its press release, the petition is an “international legal complaint” that urges the human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS) to “conduct a full investigation into the human rights violations.” It also seeks an apology from the US government.

The filed petition alleges “senior members of the US military” were responsible for practice that “directly resulted” in the victims being tortured. It also suggests that because US courts have rejected the victims’ “constitutional and international law claims” the OAS human rights tribunal is one of the few remaining avenues the victims have for some form of justice.

In the factual background for the case, the torture experienced is described. Thahe Mohammed Sabbar, a 43-year-old Iraqi, was held in detention from July 2003 to January 2004 at various locations in Iraq, including Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib prison. He was beaten by guns and “an electric weapon.” He and other detainees were forrcd to “run through a gauntlet of 10 to 20 uniformed soldiers, who screamed at them and beat them with wooden batons.” He was shackled to a fence for several hours in “temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Sabbar alleges he was sexually assaulted too. According to the petition filed, “On one occasion, one or more soldiers inserted their fingers into Sabbar’s anus and grabbed and fondled his buttocks while making moaning sounds and jeering at him.  This was done in the presence of other soldiers, including females, in order to further degrade and demean Sabbar.” He was threatened with being sent to Guantanamo. He and others were also humiliated and terrorized by soldiers who staged mock executions. The detainees were made to stand against a wall as if they were in front of a firing squad. Gunfire was simulated. As many detainees pissed themselves from the trauma experienced, soldiers laughed.

Mehboob Ahmad, a 42-year-old Afghani, was held in detention at various locations including Gardez firebase and Bagram Air Base from June to November 2003. He was hung upside-down from a ceiling with a chain and repeatedly pushed and kicked “while he knelt on a wooden pole with his hands chained to the ceiling.”

The military also “sexually and psychologically traumatized” him. He was made to strip and remain naked for long periods. He was “probed anally.” Snarling and barking dogs threatened him at “close range.” Soldiers insulted his mother and sister saying “soldiers would rape his wife.” He was subjected to sensory deprivation and isolation and forced to wear “sound-blocking earphones” and “black, opaque goggles.” And, he also was threatened with being sent to Guantanamo.

Those are the details on the torture allegedly experienced by two of the victims. There are four more victims, whose torture and mistreatment is detailed in the petition.

The victims’ case against then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was dismissed by a district court in March 2007. Though Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia called the case “lamentable,” “appalling,” and noted “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as an indictment of the [in]humanity with which the United States treats its detainees,” it was found that “constitutional protections did not apply to Iraqi and Afghan nationals in US custody in those countries.” Of course, if detainees in US custody do not have constitutional protections, what recourse do they have?

Detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan who were tortured cannot go to courts in their country and bring cases. The US government has maneuvered so that soldiers enjoy immunity. It is this immunity that has made it appalling to countries’ governments, which are expected to cooperate and allow the United States to maintain military occupations. Recall, the fact that the Iraq government was unwilling to grant “legal immunity” to US soldiers is partly why the US finally withdrew most of its troops out of Iraq last year.

It may seem laughable and worthless what the victims are doing. The reality is that an apology could make all the difference. Forcing the government to at least publicly acknowledge the torture these victims experienced would go a long way to helping victims overcome the mental and physical issues the victims continue to experience as a result. Having some legal body legitimize these allegations could make it possible to get over the trauma.

A legal vacuum has formed. Torture has been decriminalized. Commit an act of inhumanity abroad under the auspices of fighting terrorism and you will be protected from justice. Victims spend year after year telling their horrific stories pleading for some legal body to have a conscience or soul and give their case a fair hearing.

A decade after torture became justified as a tool in the “war on terrorism,” there is still no political will to go after officials involved in legalizing torture—a war crime. There is no culture of accountability for those in power who do not commit crimes that involve sexual misbehavior. Probe after probe and investigation after investigation have been talked about. Many thousands of pages of evidence that could fill an entire room have been released. Recommendations on how to move forward have been made. Executive orders have been signed by the President and yet no person in government has the guts to defend human rights and the right to due process under the law and prosecute officials guilty of signing off on torture.

Incidentally, the ninth anniversary of the Iraq War is today. The legacy of US military occupation appears to be chaos and disorder. At least forty-three Iraquis have been killed in bomb attacks. This isn’t isolated to the anniversary. So, not only do victims of torture in Iraq face a world with little possibility for justice, but they also have to cope with continuing life in a country that an outside force helped transform into a place of corruption, despair and ruin.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."