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Francisco Quintana: First time an international rights body takes up US violations at Gitmo, could lead to case on NDAA detentions

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

On Friday, the inter-American committee on human rights announced it was going to take up a case of a prisoner at Guantanamo. This is somewhat groundbreaking.

Now joining us to talk about this is Francisco Quintana. He’s deputy program director for the Andean, Caribbean, and Americas region for the Center for Justice and International Law. And he joins us from Washington. Thanks for joining us.

FRANCISCO QUINTANA, DEPUTY PROGRAM DIRECTOR, CEJIL: Hi. Thank you, Paul, for this opportunity.

JAY: So what’s the significance of this decision by the commission?

QUINTANA: Well, this is a groundbreaking decision, because this is the first time an international body which analyzes human rights has accepted a case on a Guantanamo detainee. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an international body within the Organization of American States here in Washington, D.C.

JAY: And I guess it’s important that the OAS—the United States is a member, and it’s been a matter of quite a bit of controversy over the years, because United States has such influence in the OAS. But this commission is somewhat independent. And talk a bit about the role it plays.

QUINTANA: Definitely, Paul. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has fought very strongly for its independence. Throughout 50 years, the Inter-American commission has analyzed cases on many of the states in Latin America, and also Canada and the United States. It even has jurisdiction on Cuba. And the commission has never feared of any pressures, or has never taken them into consideration seriously, to stop analyzing human rights violations throughout the hemisphere. And the United States is not an exception. There has been many cases on death penalty, immigration law, and now we have the first case on a Guantanamo detainee.

JAY: So tell us about the case and what’s going to—there’s been a report. And what’s going to happen next?

QUINTANA: Well, we are talking about Djamel Ameziane, a citizen from Algeria who has been detained in Guantanamo for ten years without charge or trial. This is a case about right to a fair trial and the prohibition of torture. And also through this case we are looking for accountability for those people responsible of committing this acts.

JAY: Now, if I understand it, the reason he’s in Guantanamo is because he was essentially sold for bounty. He was in Pakistan and he was sold—as many people in Guantanamo were essentially sold—to American forces. But is there any—what evidence is there against him?

QUINTANA: Well, as you just mentioned, Djamel Ameziane was sold by a bounty, and he was detained—at least, we are arguing that there are three different moments that the commission should analyze. First, during his arrest in Pakistan, day after that, he was sent for one month to a prison in Afghanistan, and he arrived in Guantanamo Bay in February 2002. So we are talking about a person that has been detained for ten years without being charged, without having the opportunity to—that an independent tribunal analyzes the legality of his detention.

Djamel Ameziane, through his domestic counsel, the CCR, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, has been trying to exhaust all of the domestic opportunities before tribunals in Washington, D.C., and federal courts, and these remedies have been really unsuccessful or completely denied for him. So he saw the opportunity that we saw with the CCR on the Hill; we saw an opportunity to bring his case towards an international tribunal. And that is what the commission decided last Friday. The case was presented four years ago, and after extensive review of all the information that we presented, last Friday this international body on human rights decided to admit the case.

And now we are going to move into the second stage of these proceedings. The commission is going to review all our arguments regarding unfair trial, torture, and also the mistreatment that he has received and how this has affected him psychologically, and also his family, how his family has been [crosstalk]

JAY: Now, is there any indication that the United States will be accountable? I mean, at some point the United States, I suppose, if they’re going to be part of this process, has to come and defend what they’ve been doing.

QUINTANA: Yeah. Well, that’s the position of the United States, and it’s a position that has been used in several international forums. For example, when the United States has been declared responsible by other tribunals, they have not responded. But in this case, that is not the importance of the matter. Through the litigation of the case, we will try to tell the story of Djamel and the story of other of hundreds of people that are still detained.

And the United States has a legal obligation to comply with the decision of the commission. It is good for the United States to respect the decisions of an international body in order to reconstruct their credibility, because having people detained for ten years on indefinite detention really speaks really bad about the United States. So this is one more opportunity that they have in order to regain that credibility.

JAY: But have they presented some sort of evidence about Djamel? I mean, what do they accuse him of?

QUINTANA: Well, the evidence that has been presented against Djamel Ameziane is not completely revealed, and that is subject to—. One of the things that we are asking through this international proceeding is to have all the information against Djamel Ameziane. He has not been charged of any crime, so we don’t know why he’s still there.

It is also very important—as I just mentioned, there are 171 people remaining in Guantanamo Bay. But out of those 171 people, half of them—almost half of them, 89, have already been cleared for release from executive review task force last year. And this executive review task force had unanimous decisions from all the agencies involved. And the importance of the—and the agencies involved were the CIA, FBI, and the Defense Department. But they are not revealing this information either, so we cannot tell anything else about our client or the other people.

JAY: But is Djamel on this list of 89?

QUINTANA: We don’t know, because that information, we were told that it’s still secret.

JAY: So did the 89 that have been supposedly cleared for the release—why aren’t they releasing them?

QUINTANA: That is exactly one of the questions that we had the opportunity to ask the United States government one week ago when we met at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in order to review the protective measures that the commission issued ten years ago. So Djamel Ameziane is only one of the cases that the commission has knowledge about Guantanamo, though the other people have been under surveillance of the commission through the protective measure. Djamel Ameziane is the first case that is going to be analyzed.

And one of the reasons we are requesting Djamel Ameziane not to be sent back to his country is because there is a prohibition under international law not to send people to their countries of origin or to any country where they fear torture or persecution. So the United States has to guarantee that any person that is released and sent to any country, that they do not fear torture or that they do not fear—or that they are not subject to torture or [crosstalk]

JAY: Right. And Jamail is from Algeria, and he fears repercussions if he’s returned to Algeria.

QUINTANA: That’s right. He fears persecution because of the—when he first fled from Algeria in the year 2000, there was political turmoil that was also related to his religious beliefs in Algeria. He has expressed that fear of persecution in Algeria.

And also one of the effects of having people indefinitely detained in Guantanamo is the stigmatization that this occurs. Our client has expressed that one of the reasons for this persecution in Algeria is because he has been detained in Guantanamo and that he has been pointed out as a suspected terrorist.

JAY: Right. But one of the government’s arguments about these people is that they don’t know where to send them, because they can’t safely send them back to their own countries, because they fear torture, and nobody else wants them. So they sit in Guantanamo. But it seems a very odd argument to me, in the sense that if the United States arrested these people, held them, and in fact they’re not guilty of anything, and you’ve been holding them for years, isn’t there any obligation under international law to actually—you owe these people something, maybe even to give them residence in the United States or something if you can’t send them back to their own country?

QUINTANA: Definitely. That is exactly our position. Under international human rights law you cannot have a person indefinitely detained without an impartial tribunal or an impartial body to review that legality of that detention. And if there are no charges, any person has to be released. So that’s exactly what we are looking for. There are some arguments within the domestic U.S. legal system that these people cannot be released because they are—they will endanger the national security, but we have not seen any evidence in that way. So definitely they should be released. Otherwise, they are violating international human rights law through their detention.

JAY: And what’s the process, then, in the commission? So let’s say the commission investigates this and they come to the conclusion that this is wrong, Djamel’s wrongfully being held in Guantanamo. Then what? I mean, does it go to the OAS? Can there be any sanctions against the United States? How does the commission enforce what decides?

QUINTANA: Well, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as any international or regional body, they do not have the power to enforce any decision as domestic tribunals will do with the police or through force. So after we’ve finished this case, we will face the—we will start conversations with the United States government in order to comply with the decision.

But this decision will be also a landmark that we can use to talk to other governments or talk to the United States Congress in order to do the necessary modifications through cases decided at the commission, or can ask also for reparations for society. So if we are talking about the prohibition on torture, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can ask the United States government to modify its legislation and practices on this matter so they will have to guarantee Djamel Ameziane and any other individual rapid access to courts in order to review the legality of their detention.

JAY: Yeah, that was going to be my question. Does the—if you get such a decision from the commission, does it have any bearing or weight within the American judicial system? Can it be used in some way?

QUINTANA: Definitely it can be used within the judicial system of the United States. And it will create an international precedent. So, Paul, if we are talking about an international body deciding that a person detained for an indefinite time is a violation of human rights, this precedent can be used in any other international forum or in any other national cases. Let me give you just an example. We litigated a couple of years ago some cases against Peru that dealt with amnesties laws, and these precedents, created on a case about Peru, was used by the Argentinian Supreme Court in order to overturn the Argentinian amnesties laws. So through a precedent as Djamel Ameziane’s case, we will be creating international standards on fair trial, on the prohibition on torture.

And one of the things that has to be done in order to comply with these international standards is to investigate at the national level the perpetrators of the violations committed. So, yeah, definitely we expect that national investigations start now or when we have a decision, and that there are modifications to the laws and the practices of the United States in this matter.

JAY: Well, what about the new NDAA law, the new defense appropriation act that had this section that allows for—explicitly allows for military detention of anybody to do with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or even somehow just associated with it? They can now—the military can now indefinitely arrest and detain such people, even American citizens, although Obama said he wasn’t going to do it during his reign. But wouldn’t—if you have such legislation on the American books, it seems at odds with what any international tribunal might find.

QUINTANA: Definitely. We are aware of that legislation. And actually we will be presented—that will be one of our arguments, that we are not talking only about a practice that was established ten years ago, but we are talking about legislation that is permitting these actions. So precisely one of our arguments will be that the commission should ask the U.S. government not to issue such legislation, to overturn it. And this will be a very important precedent for other countries. So our position is that the situation is so grave right now that legislation has been already enacted that permits these practices.

Also as an example, we litigated a case, or there has been a case from the Inter-American System on Human Rights that decided that Chile, a provision in Chile’s constitution was violating the right of freedom of expression by establishing prior censorship. And the Inter-American Court at that moment decided that Chile had to modify its constitution. And the country complied with that decision. So there are many precedents within international—.

JAY: So we could see at some point, perhaps, this NDAA law come before the court and be ruled that this not just violates the U.S. Constitution, which lots of people argue, but also violates international treaties on the rights of due process.

QUINTANA: Definitely. And the consequence is that they will have to modify it. The United States government can also be declared responsible before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. The example that I just gave is for other countries that have accepted the competence of the court that is based in Costa Rica, but the United States is only held responsible before the Inter-American Commission here in Washington.

JAY: Well, we’ll see if the United States really will be—allow itself to be held accountable to anybody. Thanks very much for joining us, Francisco.

QUINTANA: Thank you, Paul, for letting us talk about the case of Djamel Ameziane.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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