The United States may have been guilty of “crimes against humanity” by detaining terrorist suspects in Guantánamo for years without offering them the opportunity to assert their innocence, or even sometimes to know the nature exact evidence against them.
This warning appears in a new report by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations which reviews the slippages that occurred within the establishment located on the island of Cuba by recounting the troubles of a detainee of Palestinian origin, Abu Zubaydah.
The 52-year-old was apprehended in 2002 in Pakistan and subsequently transferred to a series of CIA-supervised secret prisons in Europe, Africa and Asia.
He was tortured several times before being taken to Guantánamo in 2006, where he remains detained today.
Abu Zubaydah has never been formally charged by US authorities, who refuse to release him despite numerous calls to do so by human rights organizations over the years.
The detainee was initially suspected by the United States of being a close associate of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. He was the target in this capacity of interrogation practices so extreme that the intelligence services demanded that he be held “in solitary confinement and incommunicado for the rest of his life”.
The Palestinian national was notably confined in August 2002 for more than 250 hours in a wooden coffin-shaped box and subjected to dozens of simulated drownings, at least once forcing his interrogators to “resuscitate” him.
Lacking incriminating evidence, the US government admitted in 2008 that Abu Zubaydah had no connection to al-Qaeda, but refused to release him, arguing that he continued to pose a security risk to the country.
The detainee, who was only able to benefit from the services of a lawyer after several years of detention, was subjected three times in twenty years to a process of review of status marked by irregularities which did not change anything to his situation.
On two occasions, he was represented by a soldier without legal training who did not know the details of his case during the hearing.
Trying to take advantage of a Supreme Court ruling that Guantánamo detainees could challenge their detention in US courts, he made a request that went unheeded.
He has also repeatedly asked the authorities at Guantánamo to indict him before the military commissions set up for this purpose, without success.
The UN Panel of Experts notes that the security detention of an individual outside the context of an armed conflict requires proof of a “direct and imminent” threat that has never been demonstrated in the case of Abu Zubaydah.
The real reason for his prolonged detention “remains unknown”, they note in the report, while pointing out that the CIA’s demand that he never be released clearly continues to weigh in the equation.
The UN group scratches half a dozen countries that have assisted the United States in the process.
Experts, who are concerned about Abu Zubaydah’s mental and physical health, are calling for him to be released “immediately” and compensated for what he suffered.
They also urge the States concerned to order the holding of independent investigations to identify the persons responsible for the abuses suffered and to punish them.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention notes, in the same breath, that the conclusions advanced with regard to the situation of Abu Zubaydah apply to the case of several other detainees at Guantánamo and illustrate a worrying practice which could ultimately form the basis of charges of crimes against humanity.
The European Court of Human Rights rendered another decision in favor of the detainee in 2018 by ordering Lithuania to pay him $150,000 for agreeing to the opening of a secret prison where he was tortured.
He had also drawn attention to his situation a few years ago by disclosing, through his lawyers, a series of illustrations showing how he was tortured.
Director of Human Rights in Practice, Helen Duffy, who represents Abu Zubaydah, said her client’s experience exemplified the “worst twists and turns of the war on terror” launched by the United States in response to the attacks. of September 11, 2001.
“We must recognize that the war on terrorism, as it has been waged for 20 years, is a failure. But we cannot pretend to learn from it as long as we continue to repeat our worst excesses,” she noted.
2002: In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US administration begins to apprehend hundreds of suspected terrorists around the world. Many are sent to Guantánamo.
2009: President Barack Obama announces plans to close Guantánamo, but faces strong opposition. Hundreds of detainees deemed harmless are transferred to their country of origin or a third country.
2020: After years of stagnation under the Trump administration, Joe Biden relaunches transfers. The prison now has around 30 inmates, including Abu Zubaydah.