Edward Snowden’s lawyer calls on Europeans to prosecute US torture architects
A leading German human rights lawyer has called on prosecutors across Europe to “get active” and prepare to seize any CIA agents and US officials involved in torture who enter their territories.
Wolfgang Kaleck said the US Senate committee report on CIA torture was giving new impetus to European resolve to hold those in positions of power responsible for the use of unacceptable interrogation techniques.
“We’re preparing reams of dossiers, and demanding of prosecutors that they do the same for those who are named in the report and those known as the higher-ups who directed and conducted this system,” said Kaleck, the director of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin.
“If these people enter European territory, they need to know that they’ll run into severe trouble,” he told the Guardian.
The Senate intelligence committee concluded that the CIA misled the White House, the Justice Department, Congress and the public over a torture programme, launched in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, which was both ineffective and more brutal than the agency disclosed.
The 500-page report laid out a catalogue of abuse between 2002 and 2007 in which prisoners were subjected to mock executions, “rectal feeding”, sleep deprivation and other abuse.
Kaleck said it was important to target the “architects” of the system.
“We have to talk about command responsibility. It’s not about the rotten apples, the Lynndie Englands and agents on the ground only,” he said, referring to the former US army reservist who was one of 11 – low-ranking service people convicted over abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“Those who came back from interrogation sessions with blood on their hands have to be prosecuted, but if it’s only them, then it would be a late victory for the Bush government. We need to investigate the architects and planners of this systematic torture,” Kaleck said.
He said now was the moment for prosecutors and judges to show their bravery.
“What I’m expecting is that the report gives a new push and motivation for prosecutors and judges to pursue this community of criminals with courage,” he said.
“If [former CIA director] George Tenet were to come to Berlin for a summit next week and we demand his arrest, we need to be ready and to ensure we have prepared the case in advance.
“We on European soil have to get ready to act seriously.”
Kaleck, who has represented Khaled El Masri, a German national of Lebanese descent who was wrongly seized by the CIA in 2004, said the ECCHR would begin taking steps on Monday to put pressure on the German government to make extradition requests to the US for those involved in the abduction and to mediate with the US on El Masri’s behalf.
El Masri, 51, was abducted in Macedonia in 2003 and transported to Afghanistan where he was tortured in the “Salt Pit” prison compound for five months. When the CIA realised that he was not the man they had sought, he was flown to Albania and dumped by the side of the road.
Kaleck said he would be seeking an apology as well as compensation on El Masri’s behalf, following the admission in the Senate report that he had been wrongly seized having been mistaken for someone with the same name.
“They destroyed a life and in their own words it was ‘unjustified’,” said Kaleck. “And they decided not to sanction the responsible person within the system … but the minimum they should do is apologise and pay compensation. Theirs is the attitude of a rogue state.”
Kaleck said while some steps had already been taken to pursue those involved – such as Munich district court’s issue of arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents over the El Masri case in 2007, the report had now given the legal community renewed impetus to act.
But he acknowledged the political barriers involved.
“When the German government decides not to ask the US for extradition of the 13 CIA agents, it’s a political decision. We can challenge that legally, and we do of course, but they are nervous about upsetting the US.”
But he said that the international legal system would face a severe crisis if it failed to confront the “double standards” which allowed for torture to be used by some government but not others.
“The whole of the international criminal law system is at stake here. Why should Africans and Asians sign up to obey the ICC statute if it looks like the law is only made to persecute them and no one else?”
Kaleck, who also represents the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has previously tried to persuade authorities in Europe to issue an arrest warrant for Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary. He said he was prepared to spend years pursuing US officials involved in the CIA torture.
“Maybe we won’t achieve a trial against a top official in the near future, but that shouldn’t mean we don’t work for it,” he said.
“For Pinochet we needed 25 years and the same for the Argentinian military commanders who are now on trial.
Referring to the former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, who was frequently mentioned in the report – and said in a CNN interview this week that he would “think twice” before visiting Europe , Kaleck added: “I guess the message is being understood.
“It might not be enough for some that some CIA agents are quaking in their shoes about coming to Europe. But if you’d have said 10 years ago that a group of 500 CIA agents plus the heads of the apparatus really have to think where they travel because they have to be aware of serious consequences, that isn’t enough, but it amounts to something.”
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