France: Court investigates US torture cases
ECCHR and CCR ask to subpoena Former U.S. Department of Defense General Counsel
On 12 October 2016, supported by ECCHR and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) two former Guantánamo detainees Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchellali urged a French judge to subpoena William “Jim” Haynes, the former General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) during the George W. Bush administration. Haynes was DOD’s General Counsel from 2001-2008 and worked closely with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during his tenure.
ECCHR cooperating lawyer William Bourdon together with the families of the two men lodged a criminal complaint in November 2002 based on claims of torture, abuse and arbitrary detention. Since then, French authorities have been investigating the US torture program.
Sassi and Benchellali request the Investigative Judge of the High Court of Paris (Cour d’Appel de Paris - Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris) to question Haynes on his role in the torture and other serious mistreatment of the former detainees. The CCR and ECCHR detail Haynes’ responsibility for torture and war crimes related to detainee treatment in the 26-page expert report (see below English and French version of the report).
The report establishes that Haynes was one of the primary architects of the Bush administration’s interrogation and detention policies. It sets out the role Haynes played in formulating and approving the list of interrogation techniques that led directly to torture and abuse at Guantánamo; allowing the torture and abuse to continue by silencing objections to the interrogation techniques from the military and other government departments; and further facilitating the torture and abuse in various ways.
Expert Report on William “Jim” Haynes, the former General Counsel for the U.S. Department of DefenseDossier W.J. Haynes FINAL_engl_public.pdf (1.1 MiB)
Press release: Expert Report on General Counsel Haynes' responsibility for torture and war crimesPR_Guantanamo_France_Haynes_20161012.pdf (346.6 KiB)
Former Guantánamo Chief is a No-Show at French Court Hearing
Already on 1 March 2016, retired U.S. General Geoffrey Miller, the former Guantánamo prison chief, was a no-show in a French court. Miller had been summoned to answer questions stemming from accusations that he oversaw the torture of three French nationals at Guantánamo prison.
“Miller’s absence speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s continued unwillingness to confront America’s torture legacy. The administration not only refuses to investigate U.S. officials like Miller for torture, it apparently remains unwilling to cooperate with international torture investigations like the one in France", ECCHR and CCR stated.
Court grants Criminal Complaint by former Guantánamo detainees
By summoning Miller, the Court granted a petition by Sassi and Benchellali. ECCHR cooperating lawyer William Bourdon together with the families of the two men lodged a criminal complaint in November 2002 based on claims of torture, abuse and arbitrary detention. Since then, French authorities have been investigating the US torture program.
Accountability for crimes in Guantánamo: Hope for justice
ECCHR sees the Miller summons as an important step forward for survivors of the torture carried out as part of the “war on terror”. “14 years after Guantánamo opened, one of those responsible is finally being called before a court. This is a positive signal – it’s high time that the architects of the US torture system were held to account,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “Our hope now is, that the proceedings in France will trigger criminal investigations in other countries.”
Investigations on U.S. torture program in France
France must continue its investigations in cooperation with other European states. “France took a significant step forward today towards ending the era of impunity for U.S. torture at Guantánamo. We applaud the French court for recognizing that the United States’ unwillingness to thoroughly investigate and prosecute these crimes requires that it must thoroughly investigate this case—not shelve it,” said CCR's Senior Staff Attorney and Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Katherine Gallagher. “Geoffrey Miller must now choose whether to answer the French court’s questions or give up the ability to travel freely to the EU.”
No co-operation from the US
The lower court judges had refused to summon Miller based on their belief that the United States would not cooperate in making him available. According to news reports, the French investigative judge assigned to the case, Sophie Clement, had requested access to the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, to relevant documents, as well as to anyone who had contact with the three men during their detention. The United States has never replied.
ECCHR and CCR support the case with expert reports
ECCHR and the CCR supported the appeal and submitted documents explaining Geoffrey Miller’s position, while commander of Guantánamo, in the overall command structure within the United States government. The organizations also submitted background information on the torture program and the implementation of interrogation techniques at Guantánamo that violate international law, based on the findings of the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee torture and abuse.
CCR and ECCHR previously submitted an expert report in the case, in February 2014, detailing Miller’s individual criminal responsibility for prisoner abuse at Guantánamo that amounts to torture under international law. The parties requested that Miller be questioned as a suspect in the investigation proceedings.