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Michael Ratner: The Khadr case and others show how human rights have
deteriorated in the US; Assange right to fear extradition

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, and welcome to this week’s segment of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.

Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, and he’s a regular contributor to The Real News Network. He’s also a member of the board of The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us again, Michael.


JAY: And I guess I should mention, although I don’t—that you’re also the U.S. attorney for Julian Assange. So what do you got for us this week?

RATNER: Well, it’s been an interesting week, particularly in how low the U.S. has fallen in terms of what other countries think about its human rights situation and what the U.S. has done post-9/11 in terms of both imprisonment and torture. [incompr.] talk about three cases that have all come up this week.

One is the case of Omar Khadr, who was taken in Pakistan by the United States as a 15-year-old, sent to Guantanamo and tortured. Finally he has been sent to Canada. We’ll talk about his case. We’ll talk about five Muslims who were resisting extradition to the United States from the United Kingdom. The U.S. has asked for their extradition, and, of course, one of their big claims is they will be tortured in the United States. And then we’re also talking about Julian Assange. One of his claims is that he will also be imprisoned in a way that constitutes torture in the United States. These three cases have all been condemned, their treatment has all been condemned by Amnesty International and other groups.

So let’s go to the first one, Omar Khadr. Omar Khadr, 15 years old—picked up in 2002 in Afghanistan as a 15-year-old, alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed a U.S. Marine or a U.S. soldier, taken to Guantanamo, not given a trial, but kept in either torture conditions or very harsh conditions. There’s a video of Omar Khadr that people can see on the web, shows him just crying for his mother when he’s 15 or 16 years old. At 15 years old, he should have been treated as a, quote, child soldier. He should not have been mixed with other populations. He should have been rehabilitated. The U.S., which is a signatory to the treaty, refused to do so and essentially interrogated him and allegedly tortured him, along with the Canadians.

Finally, after eight years of this stuff, Omar Khadr in 2010 is forced to plead guilty, pleads guilty to a, I think, an eight-year sentence. A year of it’s supposed to be done in Guantanamo, seven years in Canada. Canada didn’t want Omar Khadr. They kept resisting, the Conservative government of Canada. Oh, you’re Canadian, Paul. You know about these things. The Conservative government of Canada refuses to take him.

Finally, after two years, the Conservative government does take Omar Khadr back, where he will now do seven more years.

But his story is illustrative. Here’s the U.S. violating the law on child soldiers, the U.S. violating the law on never giving him a trial, the U.S. violating the law on the custodial conditions he’s under, taking him to an offshore facility, and then essentially forcing a young man to plead to something like a 15- or 17-year sentence ’cause he was given no credit for the time he served.

JAY: And what sparked the deal now? I mean, there’s been a lot of criticism that Canada did very little for Khadr over the last years, where a lot of other Western nations with similar prisoners, people from their countries, intervened more. And Canada kind of kept its hands off this for most of this time.

RATNER: “Hands off” would be a—what’s the way to say this?—generous way of describing what Canada did. My guess is and what seems to have been written about is that Canada didn’t want him back and made sure he wasn’t going to be sent back to Canada.

And I think your example is a good one. The British insisted—there was a lot of support for this in Britain because of opposition, because of street demonstrations and everything. The British insisted on getting their British citizens back, or almost every one of them, and that’s what happened. And they got them back within a year or two. And I actually remember seeing those people in Britain.

Canada was different. Canada hated the Khadr family. Omar Khadr’s father was, I think, openly a member of al-Qaeda, was eventually killed. And they blamed the son for the father’s sins. This kid is taken to Pakistan when he’s a kid by his father. He’s put into a firefight. There probably isn’t even—even if he threw the grenade, it shouldn’t be a crime. It’s in a war. They charge this 15-year-old.

So Canada has been worse than imaginable, really, in terms of their citizen Omar Khadr. But he is at least back in a prison in Canada now. And the question is: will he really have to do seven years in some maximum security prison in Canada. He obviously shouldn’t have to. He was a child soldier. He should have been rehabilitated. And that’s still what Canada ought to do.

So we go from that case of U.S. treatment of Omar Khadr, as well as the Canadians’ failure to really protect their own citizens, to the cases that are now pending in the United Kingdom. They’ve been pending for seven or eight years.

Five Muslim men, one of them Babar Ahmad, who’s sort of well known of the five, had been resisting extradition to the United States for this entire period, and the United States wants them on some kind of formulated crimes having to do with terrorism. The case went through the U.K. courts.

It then went to the European Court of Human Rights. And the European Court of Human Rights, the five argued that they should not be sent to the United States, because they would be subject to torture—not just the classic torture we’d been reading about that the United States did in the past, waterboarding and the like, but that the prison conditions they’d be under at a prison called ADX Florence, which is essentially an underground maximum security isolation prison, that the conditions they’d be under amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment or torture—23 hours a day, very little exercise, no communication. They took that to the European Human Rights Court under Article 3 of the European Convention on Rights.

Incredibly, the European Court of Human Rights said that it didn’t amount to torture, and that while it was close, it was this, it was that, that they could be extradited to the United States. I think what’s significant is, first, that it was considered a very serious issue, the way the U.S. keeps prisoners, particularly from abroad, particularly Muslims, in ADX Florence, with no communication, with no ability to talk to other prisoners, and in 23-hours-a-day solitary.

I think the European court was dead wrong. It was a political decision. The European Court of Human Rights is under tremendous pressure, particularly in the United Kingdom. When I was there, they had a picture of the judges on the court calling them clowns—this was before the decision. So that decision, that was an indication of not the decision but the resistance to what disrepute the United States is now held in with regard to its own prison conditions. So that’s the case of the five. They haven’t been extradited yet. They’re making last appeals into the British courts.

But they had an interesting ally, and that’s newsworthy this week. Juan Mendez, who’s the UN rapporteur on torture, who was himself tortured in Argentina, he came out with a statement saying these people, these five should not be extradited to the United States, because they will be subjected to the risk of torture in the United States, because the solitary confinement they will be put in, the lack of communications they will be under, their ability to do anything there may well constitute torture under the Torture Convention. So here you have the UN rapporteur saying, we can’t—people cannot be sent to the United States, because they will be tortured in U.S. custody. Pretty remarkable. So that’s two of the cases I wanted to mention.

The third case concerns my own client, Julian Assange. Again, this is a remarkable thing that happened. Julian Assange has been, of course, resisting any kind of extradition to the United States. They haven’t asked for his extradition yet, but as one of his lawyers, I know the U.S. is planning a prosecutioner in the midst of getting an indictment against him and will try to get his extradition. The Amnesty International in the United Kingdom, but really overall Amnesty International, issued a report this week saying Julian Assange would be sent to the United States, risks, first of all, persecution because of his free speech activities—in other words, WikiLeaks should be protected—and that Julian Assange risks being persecuted because of those activities—not prosecuted, persecuted. And secondly, he also risks being tortured, because he will be put into this ADX Florence or a similar prison, essentially underground, essentially to look at four walls 23 or 24 hours a day, and essentially no communication with the outside world. And this is Amnesty International saying Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States.

So you have this incredible situation this week: Khadr put in Guantanamo, tortured or allegedly tortured there; the five from the U.K. Juan Mendez, the UN rapporteur, not sent to—should not be sent to the United States, risk of torture; and Amnesty International saying Julian Assange should not be sent to the United States, risk of torture.

So what many people at least thought the United States stood for, which was a place of human rights, even if carried out more in the breach, courts in the world, as well as Amnesty, UN rapporteurs, etc., are saying the U.S. no longer even stands for that; in fact, it stands for the opposite.

The one bright spot, although you could say that Amnesty and the UN rapporteur were bright spots here, the one bright spot is the case of Abu Omar. Abu Omar was the Egyptian cleric kidnapped off the streets of Milan, taken to Egypt, and tortured. Amazingly, there was a prosecution in Italy of the 22 CIA agents and a U.S. military person, along with a bunch of Italians, Italian officials. They were convicted in absentia. They had to flee the country. They were convicted. And just last week, their convictions were upheld. They were given seven-year sentences. The station chief was given a nine-year sentence. They can never go back to any part of Europe again. Their names are known to the Italian prosecutors. And so that is a victory. It’s the first victory against the U.S. rendition flights that took people to places of torture during the last eleven years. So it’s an important victory.

JAY: Right.

RATNER: And just see how low, how very low the U.S. has fallen, Paul.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.

RATNER: Thank you for having me, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And if you’d like to see more of reports like this, there’s a “Donate” button over here. If you don’t click on it, we can’t do this.


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Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America, and Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.