Gitmo detainee fears “disappearance” to Libya

From the Center for Constitutional Rights, Sept. 24:

On September 24, 2007, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) submitted a petition to the Supreme Court asking it to intervene in the case of Libyan Guantánamo client Abdul Ra’ouf Al Qassim and prevent his transfer to Libya, where he would likely be tortured and possibly killed.

According to CCR attorneys, the fact that Abdul Ra’ouf is detained at Guantánamo—and the U.S. government’s false and unsubstantiated allegations that he was associated with a group hostile to the Qadhafi regime—put him at grave risk of indefinite detention, torture, and death if forcibly returned to Libya. The petition for a writ of certiorari asks the Supreme Court to issue an injunction in his case pending a decision in the combined cases Al Odah v. United States and Boumediene v. Bush, in which the Supreme Court will address for a third time whether detainees have the right to challenge their detention.

“We need to remember that this is a man the government has cleared for release—as close to a statement of innocence as the government will ever issue. Abdul Ra’ouf should never have been taken to Guantánamo in the first place, and the courts should not allow the government to ‘disappear’ him into Libya in order to cover up its own mistake,” said Shayana Kadidal, Managing Attorney for CCRďż˝s Guantďż˝namo Global Justice Initiative.

In December 2006 and again in February 2007, the U.S. government declared its intention to transfer Abdul Ra’ouf to Libya, notwithstanding his fears of severe persecution if he were forcibly returned. Legal action by his lawyers at CCR initially delayed his transfer to Libya because of his fear of torture, but in April and May 2007, both the Court of Appeals in Washington and the Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction preventing his transfer to Libya. In a late decision last Thursday, September 21, a D.C. District Court judge dismissed Abdul Ra’ouf’s habeas corpus petition, making a Supreme Court intervention all the more necessary because he must now struggle to maintain basic rights such as access to his counsel in the trial court, say his attorneys at CCR.

While he has been imprisoned in Guantánamo, Abdul Ra’ouf has on several occasions described fleeing persecution in Libya and has stated his fear of torture if he is returned there. He has raised these fears with the International Committee of the Red Cross, U.S. government interrogators, his “personal representative” for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), and several other military officials. CCR notes in Abdul Ra’ouf’s petition for certiorari that according to the U.S. State Department, in Libya, “security personnel routinely tortured prisoners during interrogation or as punishment” and that suspected political opponents and religious Muslims face brutal repression by Libyan authorities. Rather than to Libya, CCR believes Abdul Ra’ouf should instead be sent to Pakistan where his wife and daughter now reside.

Said CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez, “On the eve of the Supreme Court determining the right of the detainees at Guantánamo, the administration is trying to transfer men like Abdul Raďż˝ouf in the dead of the night to torturing regimes, where they may very disappear from the public eye. This administration cannot be allowed so easily to hide its violations of the law at Guantánamo nor its disregard of the laws prohibiting torture, and it must be held responsible for safely reuniting Abdul Ra’ouf with his wife and daughter in Afghanistan.”

In December 2006, the U.S. forcibly returned another Guantánamo detainee to Libya against his will. He was transferred despite his urgent protests to officials at Guantánamo that he would be subjected to torture or worse if forcibly returned. According to one account, this man was reportedly interviewed by Libyan officials in Guantánamo who threatened to torture and perhaps kill him. As with Abdul Ra’ouf, the U.S. government alleged that this man was associated with political groups opposing Qahdafi, despite his repeated denials. This man is currently imprisoned in Libya, despite earlier public statements that the Libyan government had no interest in imprisoning him.

Abdul Ra’ouf was conscripted into the Libyan Army when he was 18 years old. He deserted and fled Libya for fear of persecution because he was an observant Muslim and knew that men were persecuted by the Qadhafi government for wearing long beards and practicing their religion.

During the next ten years, Abdul Ra’ouf lived abroad as a refugee to avoid being returned to Libya. In 2000, he married an Afghan woman and settled in the Afghan capital of Kabul before the U.S. bombardment began in October 2001. Abdul Ra’ouf fled with his pregnant wife to seek refuge in Pakistan. They now have a daughter who is also an Afghan citizen.

Soon after the family arrived in Pakistan, however, Abdul Ra’ouf fell victim to Pakistanis who turned him over to Americans at a time when the U.S. military was offering large sums of money—$5,000 or more—to anyone who handed over alleged terrorists. He was later brought to Guantánamo, where he has been detained for more than five years without charge or trial.

CCR represents many of the detainees at Guantánamo and coordinates the work of more than 500 pro bono attorneys on the detainee cases.

See our last posts on Gitmo and Libya.

  1. US judge blocks transfer from Gitmo to Tunisia
    From Arab News, Oct. 11:

    WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington has taken the unprecedented step of blocking US plans to turn over a Guantanamo terrorism detainee to his home government in Tunisia. Judge Gladys Kessler of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the federal jurisdiction for the US capital, yesterday ordered the US to halt the transfer of Mohammed Abdul Rahman to his native Tunisia.

    Judge Kessler said Abdul Rahman, who has a heart condition, was convicted in absentia in Tunisia, sentenced to 20 years in prison and allegedly would face torture there, demonstrating “the devastating and irreparable harm he is likely to face if transferred.”

    Judge Kessler said that Abdul Rahman had asked to remain at Guantanamo, and claimed that transferring him to Tunisia would amount to a death sentence.

    “It would be a profound miscarriage of justice,” said Judge Kessler, if she allowed the government to return him to Tunisia.

    Abdul Rahman, who was captured in Pakistan and allegedly handed over for a bounty, was cleared for transfer after a military panel heard his case in 2005. He is among a significant group of detainees who would prefer to remain in US custody over returning to potentially brutal regimes at home.

    Two Tunisians already sent home from Guantanamo have already reported through their lawyers having been abused and tortured. Officials at the Tunisian Embassy were not available for comment, an employee in the ambassador’s office said. Tunisia has denied Abdul Rahman’s claims that it practices torture.

    However, a report by the US State Department published earlier this year said the Tunisian government continued “to commit serious human rights abuses.”

    Citing human rights groups, the report said the Tunisian security forces used sleep deprivation, electric shocks, submersion of the head in water, beatings and cigarette burns.

    See our last post on Tunisia.