Sunday, May 13, 2018

Gina Haspel Did Not Act Alone: A Wider Lens on Accountability for Torture

by Deborah M. Weissman, UNC School of Law and guest editor, serves as legal adviser for the North Carolina Citizens Commission of Inquiry on Torture.

This week, as attention focuses on the Senate confirmation hearings of Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee as the next Director of the CIA, two victims of the CIA’s Extraordinary Rendition and Torture program received an unprecedented apology from the British government for the human rights violations they suffered.  The U.K. acknowledged its participation in the rendition and detention of Fatima Boudchar and Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a married couple, who were fleeing Libya because of the persecution they faced as a result of Belhadj’s opposition to the regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi

Ms. Boudchar may be the only women to have been identified as a victim of the CIA Torture Program. She was four months pregnant when she was captured, interrogated, and tortured for many months after having been rendered to Libya; her husband was held there and tortured for some ten years. In 2012, the couple filed suit in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales against former foreign secretary Jack Straw and members of various UK intelligence agencies and although at some point in the process, they were offered a settlement, the two refused to end their claims unless and until the UK government apologized or otherwise acknowledged its involvement—an outcome they are currently celebrating.

While the acknowledgement and settlement funds they have received from the UK is undoubtedly a significant development, their right to accountability and repair remains only partially fulfilled.  In a recent opinion column published in the N.Y. Times, Ms. Boudchar stated that the worst of her experiences occurred “in Thailand at the hands of the C.I.A,” in a dark site under the command of Gina Haspel where Boudchar and her husband were held in a secret detention before being rendered to Libya.  She poignantly asks whether Gina Haspel  “‘plans to be totally transparent’ about what she did.” Thus far, we know from the confirmation hearings that Ms. Haspel has no such plans and has offered little by way of acknowledgement or repair for the harm that Mr. Belhadj and Ms. Boudchar suffered. 

Haspel, individually and on behalf of the CIA, is not the only player to evade responsibility for the human rights violations that were perpetrated.  Mr. Belhadj and Ms. Boudchar were kidnapped and extraordinarily rendered on a plane owned and operated by Aero Contractors, an entity incorporated and located at a county airport in Johnston County, NC. The Aero plane flew  them from Thailand and to Libya under horrific conditions that Boudchar describes as “agony,” and Belhadj describes as “torture.”  Despite ongoing requests for government officials of the state of North Carolina, its political subdivisions, and Aero to acknowledge their wrongdoings and offer apologies, to date there have been no forthcoming admissions or efforts to repair the harm Mr. Belhadj and Ms. Boudchar, or any of the other victims of extraordinary rendition and torture have suffered.

At the UNC School of Law’s Human Rights Policy Lab, we continue to believe that the task of advocates is to press into service the recent disclosures, judicial theories, advocacy strategies, and the global concerns that point to accountability and remedy for torture.  To that end, we have joined with other advocates to establish the NC Citizens Commission of Inquiry on Torture, a 501(c)3 organization created to investigate and encourage public debate about the role that North Carolina played in facilitating the U.S. torture program, and on behalf of Ms. Boudchar and Mr. Belhadj, to do the job that our government refuses to do.

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