‘US and British governments embroiled in enforced disappearances’ – charges Reprieve

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Chagos Islanders demonstrate outside Downing Street in November 2007 demanding to return to their home in Diego Garcia
Chagos Islanders demonstrate outside Downing Street in November 2007 demanding to return to their home in Diego Garcia

Mustafa Setmariam Naser was ‘disappeared’ while in US custody in 2005.

Legal charity Reprieve on Monday demanded that the British government reveal details of the secret illegal detention of ‘ghost’ prisoner Mustafa Setmariam Naser on Diego Garcia and asked two UN Special Rapporteurs to urgently investigate his disappearance.

Reprieve said it has learned that he was sent to Syria, where he is held incommunicado in shocking conditions and almost certainly tortured.

The charity added: ‘It seems the US deliberately “disappeared” him to a rights-abusing regime once he stopped being useful for intelligence purposes.

‘The UK shares responsibility for Mr Naser’s disappearance because of its complicity in his “ghost” detention on the Diego Garcia and elsewhere.’

Reprieve has:

1) Written to the UK government on behalf of Mr Naser’s wife to demand the UK fulfils its legal obligation to investigate his disappearance.

2) Joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in reporting Naser’s disappearance to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism, requesting they take up the case with the UK and US governments.

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith alleged: ‘Enforced disappearance is a crime most associated with ruthless South American dictatorships, yet here we have the US and British governments embroiled in the same dirty deeds.

‘Kidnapping is a crime in anyone’s language, and it is about time that powerful governments are held to account for their crime against Mustafa Naser.’

Reprieve outlined the case details and background to Mustafa Naser’s ordeal.

1) UK ACTION

Reprieve and Leigh Day and Co. are writing to the British Foreign Office on behalf of Mr Naser’s wife Helena Moreno.

She and her husband have four children, one of who was born in Britain. Both Mr Naser and Helena are Spanish citizens.

Reprieve is asking for three actions:

(a) That the UK investigate Naser’s disappearance.  Reprieve is asking the UK government to investigate the disappearance of Mustafa Naser into a secret prison regime that concededly and routinely involved torture of prisoners.

Diego Garcia and its surrounding waters have been a US/UK ‘legal black hole’ for many years before the existence of Guantanamo Bay, and continues to be.

However, under international law, the UK is under a positive obligation to conduct a prompt, impartial, independent, effective and thorough investigation into Naser’s disappearance.

(b) That the UK reveal all information they may have which would allow Reprieve to make a habeas corpus application in the US for Naser to ensure his basic legal rights.

If the UK has been complicit in his disappearance, then it is only fair that the UK should provide Naser with assistance in order to reunite him with his rights.

If the UK does not assist in this, this effectively ensures that he remains ‘disappeared’.

(c) That the UK demand information from the Americans about Naser’s whereabouts.

This is necessitated by the Obama Administration’s regrettable resistance to transparency. Obama’s CIA boss Leon Panetta recently said that the CIA ‘could neither confirm nor deny if Mr Naser is or is not in US custody’.

2) UN ACTION

Together with the American Civil Liberties Union, Reprieve has reported Naser’s case to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

The Rapporteurs will be asked to investigate the circumstances of Naser’s forced disappearance and raise his case with the governments of the United Kingdom, United States and Syria.

3) BACKGROUND

Mustafa Setmariam Naser was born in Aleppo, Syria on October 27 1957. He fled Syria in the early 1980s after a challenge to the dictatorship failed.

He arrived in Spain in 1985, and in 1988 married Helena, Reprieve’s client, in Madrid. Naser subsequently became a Spanish citizen.  Naser and Helena have four children.

Naser wrote a number of books and other publications and was viewed as an influential theorist and intellectual in the Islamist movement.

Naser and his family moved to the UK in 1995.

He has been alleged to have been involved in various offences. He and his family have always denied involvement, and he has never been convicted of any of them.

In 1999, they moved to Afghanistan. From 2002 until his disappearance, Naser lived in Pakistan.

In late 2005, Helena and the children moved to Kuwait as the situation in Pakistan became dangerous.  Naser was to join them, but in October 2005 he disappeared.

Numerous media reports have stated that Naser was arrested by the Pakistani authorities and subsequently handed over the US authorities.

It has been reported that he was transferred to US naval custody in the Chagos Islands (Diego Garcia) in November 2005.

Attempts by NGOs, journalists and Spanish prosecutors to ascertain whether Naser is in US control and/or his whereabouts have all been either ignored or met with a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ response.

What is known for certain is that the US Government removed Naser from the FBI’s most wanted list and its ‘Rewards for Justice’ list shortly after his reported detention.

Helena Moreno’s only wish is to find her husband and, if the allegations against him are maintained, that he is given a fair and open trial.

Evidence that Naser was held at Diego Garcia:

Reprieve has complied many witness sources to confirm this, including: two recently retired CIA members confirming the fact in private conversation.

Judge Balthazar Garzon from Spain (who was investigating Naser) confirmed it to the El Pais newspaper; Spanish police and Syrian officials have confirmed it off the record.

Syrians have said off the record that the Americans handed Naser to them and now they have him.

If this has been done, Naser was rendered to a state known for persecution in violation of the Convention Against Torture, stressed Reprieve.

Renditions and Diego Garcia:

Reprieve noted that between October 2003 and January 2008, the US government provided numerous assurances that no detentions or renditions had occurred within the jurisdiction of British Overseas Territory Diego Garcia.

For almost five years the British government accepted these assurances, and to Reprieve’s knowledge did nothing to further inquire into these serious and persistent allegations.

Finally, in February 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced that his US counterparts had ‘checked their records’ and had discovered that two rendition flights, each carrying one prisoner, had passed through Diego Garcia in 2002.

Miliband maintained, however, that the planes had only landed for refuelling, and that no prisoner had ever set foot on Diego Garcia.

However, insists Reprieve, there is strong evidence that Diego Garcia was used to actually hold at least three prisoners (Abu Zubaydah, Hambali and Mustafa Setmariam Naser) at various times between 2002 and 2006.

The former US commander of SouthCom, General McCaffery, has confirmed on two occasions that prisoners have been held on Diego Garcia, and the Council of Europe (June 2007) spoke of receiving ‘(c)oncurring confirmations that United States agencies have used the island territory of Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the United Kingdom, in the “processing” of high-value detainees.’

Recent research and reports suggest that the rendition flights conceded by David Miliband are the tip of the iceberg in terms of Diego Garcia’s role in the US rendition programme, and that prisoners likely classed as ‘High Value Detainees’ have been held on the island or off its coast over a period of five years.

The US government has admitted that prisoners held in its ‘High Value Detainee’ programme were routinely subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, including water-boarding, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation, in the context of prolonged incommunicado detention.