On October 19th, ECCHR was able to host a workshop and event on Guantánamo litigation in foreign jurisdictions, with the support of the Bertha Foundation. Thanks to Bertha’s Impact Opportunity Grant, for the first time ever, two former Guantánamo detainees as well as an Abu Ghraib torture survivor spoke at a public event in Berlin, held at the historic Kant Movie Theatre. More than 250 participants watched the account of the torture survivors in their struggle for justice. The evening event concluded with Alex Gibney’s Academy Award winning “Taxi to the Dark Side” documentary.
During the day, representatives of ECCHR, CCR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the two former detainees, Murat Kurnaz and Mourad Benchellali, and their Spanish and French lawyers discussed recent developments in the US after the release of the CIA torture report in December 2014 and litigation in Europe. While the willingness in the US to prosecute those responsible for torture after 9/11 still remains very low, there is still a little hope for some movements in this direction in the upcoming years. However, the main theatre for litigation remains outside the US; this too presents many obstacles, but also some promising developments.
In France, the investigating judge summoned for the first time an individual suspect with regard to the detention and torture of Mourad Benchellali and other French former detainees. Based on an expert opinion by ECCHR and CCR, former Guantánamo Commander Geoffrey Miller is now obliged to appear in France to address the allegations against him. In the upcoming months, further witnesses will be presented to the investigative judge and other suspects will be named, in order to ensure that the litigation continues and hopefully results in a number of arrest warrants in the future.
A decision is also pending in Spain on the suspension of investigations that have been ongoing for five years, following a change in Spain’s universal jurisdiction laws in 2014. Allegations against Spanish policemen who interrogated detainees in Guantánamo were also presented to the authorities to expand the scope of the Spanish investigation.
The main actors speak about the day in Berlin in this short video clip produced with support of the Bertha Foundation:
In Germany, ECCHR took action after the December 2014 release of the CIA torture report and brought a criminal complaint on the entire US torture program to the Federal Prosecutor’s office. Since then, a monitoring procedure has been opened, in which information presented by ECCHR on the command structures of CIA torture, concrete allegations against named suspects as well as the availability of individual witnesses are examined. In the meantime, ECCHR continues to submit further information and evidence in order to achieve the initiation of a structural investigation on US torture in Germany. This would then allow for further gathering of evidence, such as witness statements.
Murat and Mourad, who haven’t seen each other since their time in Guantánamo, both expressed their disappointment about the failure by the US, and also France and Germany, to apologize for their detention and treatment and to agree on reparations. Nevertheless, both still fully support litigation against those primarily responsible for the torture program. Every small step in getting closer to a warrant or arrest of one of the perpetrators gives hope that in the end torturers will be brought to justice.
Events like the one in Berlin in October help with strategizing about international cooperation, legal action, securing evidence and public advocacy to strengthen the litigation. The public event and film screening, covered by a number of online, radio and TV stations, contribute to maintaining public support and the sustaining the demand for justice for cases such as the ones of Murat and Mourad.
See also ECCHR’s General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck’s blog: Law and Subversion
More on ECCHR’s work on US Accountability: Taking Legal Action against the US Torture Program
Andreas Schüller, Head of International Crimes and Accountability Program, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
Follow Andreas on Twitter @schueller_a