African commission asked to take case challenging CIA rendition program

Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 28, 2011; 6:57 PM

NAIROBI - A case filed before an African judicial body could open a new front in efforts by human rights groups to hold the CIA and its partners accountable for what they allege was the torture of innocent victims in secret "black site" prisons around the world.

The case involves Mohammed al-Asad, who said he was arrested in late 2003 at his home in Tanzania, blindfolded and flown to a secret prison in Djibouti. He said he was subjected to two weeks of torture and inhuman treatment in a clandestine CIA rendition and detentions program designed to nab suspected terrorists.

From Djibouti, human rights activists say, Asad was dispatched into a network of secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, before being jailed in his native Yemen. In 2006, Asad was released, without being charged with a terrorism-related crime.

On Monday, American and British human rights lawyers filed legal documents at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, urging it to require the government of Djibouti to "answer for abuses it committed'' as part of the CIA's secret program. The case made public Monday was filed confidentially in December 2009.

Djibouti's embassy in Nairobi did not answer requests for a response, and a government spokesman in Djibouti was not reachable for comment. The CIA declined to discuss Asad's case and denied the allegations of abuse.

"It's safe to say - without commenting on this specific matter - that much of what has been alleged about the former CIA detention and interrogation program, which ended over two years ago, is simply incorrect," said CIA spokesman George Little.

The commission, based in the Gambia, is a quasi-judicial body that has jurisdiction over nations that have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which includes Djibouti.

If the commission accepts the case, it would represent the first international case to inquire into the role of an African country in the U.S. rendition program, human rights lawyers said.

"By serving as the doorway for the U.S. secret detention and rendition program in Africa, Djibouti directly violated the human rights of our client," said Jayne Huckerby, the research director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, based at New York University's School of Law, which along with Interights, a British human rights law organization, filed the case.

In a telephone interview from eastern Yemen, where he now lives, Asad said he believes he was arrested because of his links to an Islamic charity that was blacklisted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for allegedly funding terrorism. The al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi Arabian charity, had rented space in a building Asad owned.

When Asad landed in Djibouti, he said, he was placed in a small cell, and not given a change of clothes for the two weeks he was there. A woman who identified herself as an American interrogated him, he said.

Asad said one guard told him he was in Djibouti and he also noticed a photograph of the country's president on a wall in the prison. Later on, Tanzanian authorities told his father that he had been taken to Djibouti, he said.

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