Accountability for Torture After 'Mohamed v Jeppesen' Setback

September 25, 2010

When one door shuts, we have to look for other openings.  That’s what activists are doing in the aftermath of the Sept. 8 federal court decision blocking a lawsuit from people who suffered torture through U.S. extraordinary renditions from proceeding.

Egyptian-born Binyam Mohamed spent just under seven years in custody, four of which at Guantanamo Bay. Mohamed has always insisted that the evidence against him was obtained through torture. The US dropped all charges against him in 2008. SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images

The lawsuit was the last hope among three cases aiming to force the U.S. government to be held accountable for its acts in rendering people to black site prisons or third-party countries where the prisoners were tortured.  This last lawsuit was filed by Binyam Mohamed, Egyptian Ahmed Agiza and three other men who claim they were subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of US personnel and agents of other countries.

But, even as this last case disappears without a hearing, there is hope.

The day before the ruling was issued, I and a group of individuals looking to pry open the secrecy covering American renditions, met with U.S. Rep. David Price, an Amnesty member with a powerful seat on the House Appropriations Committee.  Price noted that despite our concerns that the Obama Administration hasn’t gone far enough to address human rights concerns in the U.S. war on terror, that opponents have thwarted even the mildest efforts in that vein. “They think they have a political winner,” Rep. Price said. “And I fear I think they are right.”

So what to do when the judges point to Congress and Congress point toward each other to act on something that both acknowledge is a problem but neither will take responsibility for? Amnesty’s statement on the ruling suggests one course of action. Our emphasis is to focus on the justices’ call for non-judicial relief.

In short, it means it is up to us to change the political culture.  I am comfortable with the justice’s efforts to ask the public to take the lead on this.  We shouldn’t rely on the courts to provoke public discussion and acknowledgment of the acts that have been done in our names.

But Rep. Price is also right.  Currently, opposing the closing of black prison sites, opposing closing Guantánamo and opposing any platform for the victims of extraordinary rendition is a political winner.  It’s up to us to change that.  It’s not enough for us to remain quiet.  We have to lead, to talk with our neighbors and in our local communities.

The plane that flew Ahmad Agiza from Sweden to Egypt where he was tortured took off from an airport not 30 miles from my house in North Carolina. The  plane that flew Binyam Mohamed to be tortured came from the same airstrip. We have documented that.  The pilots who flew the plane that carried two men, blindfolded, cuffed and beaten across Europe to Egypt live near me.  The responsibility for the torture that the justices refused to hear truly belongs on all of us. It will stop when we are willing to stand up to make it stop.

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