Last week, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report set out the vivid and terrifying parameters of the CIA's secret torture program. While many of the report's findings were not new, it was a relief to receive at long last confirmation and public acknowledgment that the U.S. government has done wrong. Troublingly, however, the report and most of the accompanying commentary have proceeded exclusively in the past tense, as though all of the harms have long since concluded with the closing of the secret CIA black sites.
But for Redha al-Najar, whose torture the Senate report etched in disturbing detail, the nightmare is ongoing.
Last Thursday, just upon the heels of the Senate report, the United States quietly shuttered its detention facility at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Bagram served as a central hub for the Bush-era torture apparatus; hundreds of prisoners held in CIA black sites passed through Bagram. Many of these prisoners were then transferred to Guantanamo, while others were left to languish at Bagram, some for more than a decade. The Obama administration, while promising to "close Guantánamo," refused to grant even the basic rights of access to counsel and courts to detainees, like al-Najar, who were held incommunicado at Bagram.
Bagram's closure is undoubtedly to be celebrated, but conspicuously absent from news reports was any mention of the fate of al-Najar or the remaining prisoners.
Al-Najar's name might sound familiar to you. The Senate report reveals that the CIA subjected al-Najar to truly sadistic forms of abuse. Interrogators hung him from the ceiling by handcuffs for 22 hours at a stretch. They kept him in total darkness, cold, and isolation, played music for 24 hours a day, forced him to wear a diaper and denied him access to toilet facilities, and threatened his family. After three months, CIA interrogators described al-Najar as "clearly a broken man" and "on the verge of complete breakdown."
What was the justification for this abuse? As it turns out, interrogators never believed al-Najar himself was involved in terrorist plots, but instead exploited him for information they thought he might have.
The Senate report stops there, but for al-Najar, the ordeal continued. After almost 700 days of torture, the CIA turned al-Najar over to military authorities at Bagram, where he remained for over a decade. During that time, the U.S. government never charged him with any crime, but fought against independent review by a federal habeas court and refused to let him speak to his lawyers.
On Wednesday, his lawyers--Tina Foster and Sylvia Royce--learned that al-Najar had been transferred to the custody of the Afghan government. His lawyers have been desperately trying to locate al-Najar ever since.
Now that al-Najar is somewhere in Afghan custody, his future is uncertain. His lawyers are still unable to communicate with him, and don't know what sorts of rights will be afforded to him, whether he will ever have a day in court, and when, if ever, he will be able to return to his family.
It is particularly callous that within the same day that reports emerged about al-Najar's torture, the U.S. government released him into the hands of a foreign government. Rather than working with his lawyers to resettle him to his home country or a suitable third country, the government has shirked its legal responsibilities and failed to finally end his abuse.
Equally troubling is the appearance that, by vanishing al-Najar to the Afghan authorities, the United States seeks to avoid having to answer for its own bad acts. Since 2008, lawyers have fought to secure Bagram detainees the same habeas rights afforded to detainees at Guantánamo. The U.S. transfer comes as Al-Najar's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is pending.
It is unlikely that al-Najar will ever be able to seek redress for the years of physical, psychological, and emotional torture enacted upon him. The U.S. government takes a position that government officials are immune from civil damages lawsuits stemming from torture; to date, U.S. courts have agreed.
The U.S. government has washed its hands of al-Najar. We had hoped that the release of the Senate Report would be the first step in reckoning with the terrible legacy of the U.S. torture program. But before we can address past wrongs, we must end the abuses that are still ongoing.