Annual Report: United States Of America 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: United States Of America 2011

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On 9 November, the US Department of Justice announced, without further explanation, that no one would face criminal charges in relation to the destruction in 2005 by the CIA of videotapes made of the interrogations of two detainees - Abu Zubaydah and ‘Abd al-Nashiri - held in secret custody in 2002. The 92 tapes depicted evidence of the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques", including "water-boarding", against the two detainees.

The "preliminary review" ordered in August 2009 by Attorney General Eric Holder into some aspects of some interrogations of some detainees held in the secret detention programme was apparently continuing at the end of the year.

On 8 September, the full US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the US administration's invocation of the "state secrets privilege" and agreed to dismiss a lawsuit brought by five men - UK resident Binyam Mohamed; Italian national Abou Elkassim Britel; Egyptian national Ahmed Agiza; Yemeni national Muhammad Faraj Ahmed Bashmilah; and Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national and UK permanent resident - who claimed they were subjected to enforced disappearance, and torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of US personnel and agents of other governments as part of the USA's secret detention and rendition programme operated by the CIA. The six judges in the majority pointed to the possibility that "non-judicial relief" might be open to the plaintiffs, and that action to this end could be taken by the executive or Congress.

There were calls for the USA to investigate how much US officials knew about the torture or other ill-treatment of detainees held by the Iraqi security forces after new evidence emerged in files released by the Wikileaks organization in October. (See Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen entries.)

Prison conditions

There were complaints of cruel conditions for prisoners held in long-term isolation in super-maximum security units. Complaints included ill-treatment of prisoners held in the federal system under Special Administrative Measures.

  • Syed Fahad Hashmi, a student, was held for more than three years in pre-trial solitary confinement in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York. He was confined for 23 or 24 hours a day to a small cell with very little natural light. He had no outdoor exercise and very limited contact with his family. In April, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to help al-Qa'ida. His attorneys had filed unsuccessful applications for alleviation of his pre-trial conditions, citing their effect on his health and ability to assist in his defence. He was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment in June.
  • Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, former Black Panther Party members, remained in solitary confinement in prisons in Louisiana, where they had spent more than 35 years confined to sparse, single cells, with no work or rehabilitation programmes. The conditions were first imposed after the murder of a prison guard in 1972. Appeals challenging the fairness of their convictions for the murder, as well as their cruel conditions of confinement, were pending in the federal courts at the end of the year.

Unfair trials

In June, a new appeal was filed in the case of Gerardo Hernández, one of five men convicted in 2001 of acting as intelligence agents for Cuba and related charges. The appeal was based, in part, on evidence that the US government had secretly paid journalists to write prejudicial articles in the media at the time of trial, thereby undermining the defendants' due process rights. In October, Amnesty International sent a report to the Attorney General outlining the organization's concerns in the case.