Gitmo ‘forever prisoner’ petitions United Nations


Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah, who has been held for 19 years without charges or a trial, filed a complaint on April 30 with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (UNWGAD) requesting intervention in his case. Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks and was held and tortured by the CIA in various top-secret “black sites.” The CIA originally believed that Zubaydah was a close associate of al-Qaeda, but after four years of interrogation, they concluded that he was not linked to the group. He was then moved to Guantánamo in 2006. The US government has justified Zubaydah’s continued detention by asserting its broad authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Under the AUMF, passed after 9-11, detainees can be held until the “cessation of hostile activities.” However, Zubaydah asserts in his complaint that this “law of war” rationale is in conflict with international human rights laws.

The complaint lists three reasons Zubaydah’s detention is arbitrary: there is no lawful basis for his continued detention, he has been denied access to procedural safeguards against such arbitrary detentions, and that this deprivation of human rights is discriminatory. Although his case has been reviewed in military tribunals, the US Supreme Court has held that these do not amount to the same procedural right as a habeas corpus proceeding. He argues that this lack of adequate review is a violation of international human rights laws.

Additionally, Zubaydah claims that “black sites,” secret detention facilities allegedly used for “unfettered information gathering” outside of the courts’ jurisdiction, also violate human rights laws. He claims that the existence of these facilities fall “outside of all national and international legal regimes pertaining to the safeguards against arbitrary detention.”

Just last week, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a separate case involving Zubaydah, which concerns whether CIA documents related to his detention at a black site in Poland can be classified as a state secret.

UNWGAD has the authority to investigate these claims but no ability to sanction nations found to be in violation of human rights principles.

From Jurist, May 3. Used with permission.

Note: The Supreme Court cases at issue here are Rasul v Bush, 2004, and Boumediene v. Bush, 2008.

  1. Documentary reveals CIA torture tactics

    A new HBO documentary, The Forever Prisoner. explores the story of Abu Zubaydah and US actions in the name of national security. Produced by Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney, it explores US attempts to justify torture in the name of protecting Americans. (PBS News Hour)

  2. SCOTUS decision on Guantánamo Bay and state secrets

    On March 3, the Supreme Court ruled in US vs Zubaydah that the “state secrets” doctrine prevents a Guantánamo Bay detainee from questioning two former CIA contractors about the abusive treatment he received at a “black site” facility in Poland. Stephen G. Breyer, writing for a splintered court, said the fact that many details about the detention and treatment of Abu Zubaydah are public does not mean the government must be forced to disclose them. (WaPo)