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An Open Secret

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This piece has been submitted by ACLU attorney Steven Watt on behalf of the brother of Binyam Mohamed. Mohamed is a victim of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program who is currently being detained at Guantánamo Bay. His brother chooses not to be identified by name. Watt represents Mohamed and four other rendition victims in a case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., which the ACLU charges provided logistical support to flights used in the government's rendition program.


My brother, Binyam, was kidnapped, blindfolded, stripped naked, and shackled to the floor of an airplane, then flown to secret prisons where he was repeatedly tortured. He had no idea where he was and had no access to the outside world as he endured months of abuse at the hands of his interrogators. This may sound like the work of a brutal dictatorship, like the one that was overthrown in Iraq or even Afghanistan. But it wasn't. This was the work of the work of a nation that claims to be fighting for freedom and democracy throughout the Middle-East and around the world. This was the work of the United States of America.

My brother was a victim of "extraordinary rendition," a CIA-run program designed to circumvent basic human rights by abducting so-called terror suspects and clandestinely transferring them to countries where torture is a substitute for due process and the rule of law. It is essentially a way for the United States to outsource torture -- using its most unsavory allies to do its dirty work.

Rendition victims are held without being charged and have no access to the courts. And the U.S. government intends to keep it that way. By intervening in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on my brother's behalf against Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a San Jose-based subsidiary of Boeing, the government hopes to keep secret what the world already knows -- that the United States systematically kidnaps and tortures people like my brother with alarming regularity. Jeppesen was hired by the CIA to provide logistical support for its rendition flights knowing full well that the flights were destined for torture. Just as they have asserted in so many other instances, the government makes the absurd claim in this case that going forward would endanger "state secrets."

It's the same claim that the government made in the case of another rendition victim, Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was held for five months in an Afghan prison even after the CIA realized it had the wrong man. Despite the fact that his case was widely publicized in the U.S. and overseas and was the subject of numerous criminal, parliamentary and intergovernmental investigations, the U.S. government argued successfully in court that allowing the case to go forward would jeopardize state secrets. The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear that case, denying justice to an innocent man and forfeiting an opportunity to review the rendition program. This must not happen in my brother's case.

Binyam's nightmare began in 2002. He'd been living in the UK, where he'd moved to escape persecution in Ethiopia. On his way back to London from a trip to Afghanistan, he was taken into custody in Pakistan and handed over to U.S. officials. They told him the U.S. wanted a story from him and it was their job to get it. Dressed in black and wearing masks, they stripped my brother of all his clothes, dressed him in a tracksuit, shackled him, blindfolded him and flew him to Morocco where he was beaten, drugged, and subjected to deafening music throughout the course of a vicious 18-month interrogation.

Binyam's next destination, courtesy of the CIA and its hired-gun Jeppesen, was the U.S.-run "Dark Prison" in Kabul, Afghanistan, but not before extensive photographs were taken of him "to show Washington," as he was told, that his wounds were healing. Once again, my brother was tortured. He was kept in darkness for 23 hours a day and made to listen to terrifying recordings, including of women and children screaming. In May 2004, Binyam was allowed outside for five minutes -- his first glimpse of sunshine in two years.

Throughout his ordeal, my brother sometimes invented stories to satisfy his interrogators just to stop the torture. So much for reliable intelligence.

Finally, in September 2004, Binyam was transferred to Guantánamo. At first, he was charged under the Bush administration's military commissions system, but those charges were dropped when the U.S. Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional. Now he remains at Guantánamo with hundreds of other uncharged detainees, hoping for his day in court - a day that will never come if the U.S. government is able to silence his story by invoking "state secrets."

It is no secret that my brother was kidnapped, shackled and flown to secret prisons. It is no secret that he was repeatedly tortured and humiliated. It is no secret that he's now holed up in Guantánamo with no relief in sight. And I can tell you personally that it's no secret that he and his family have suffered immeasurable pain.

Binyam's story and that of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program have been told the world-over, as I tell it to you now. It simply cannot be that the one place this story cannot be told -- this "open secret" -- is where it needs to be heard most: in an American courtroom.