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UN rights panel demands immediate release of Guantanamo prisoner tortured by CIA

A group opposed to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay protesting in front of the White House in January 2023.

A human rights panel of the United Nations has demanded the immediate release of Guantanamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who has been tortured by the CIA. 

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the US to release Abu Zubaydah - whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Husayn - from the prison, which is based within a US Navy military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The notorious prison was established by then-US president George W. Bush in 2002 to hold foreign terrorism suspects following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

Abu Zubaydah, now 52, was captured in a raid in Pakistan just two months after the establishment of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and has been held there without charge since 2006. He is the first detainee to be water-boarded by the CIA after the 9/11 attacks.

The UN panel said that after studying other cases at Guantanamo over the past 15 years, it had seen a pattern that could “constitute crimes against humanity.”

Washington claims that although Abu Zubaydah, born in Saudi Arabia, was never a member of the al-Qaeda  terrorist group, he has been held indefinitely in the war against terrorism because he allegedly helped militants reach Afghanistan for training before the attacks.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which has no enforcement mechanism, also found that Abu Zubaydah had been denied a meaningful review of his detention and hence, was being held against the law.

“The appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Zubaydah immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law,” the panel said in an opinion.

Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner of a CIA “black site,” a global network of overseas, secret prisons that held over 100 men beyond the reach of US law and the International Committee of the Red Cross from 2002 to 2006.

Two CIA contract psychologists devised a torture program of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” specifically for use on him in an agency prison in Thailand, in which he was water-boarded, deprived of sleep and confined in a coffin-like box.

"In July 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency acquired approval for the use of 10 enhanced interrogation techniques on Mr. Zubaydah: attention grasp; walling; facial hold; insult slap; cramped confinement; exacerbating phobias; wall standing; stress positions; prolonged sleep deprivation; and the water-board technique," said the panel.

It added that the torturers reportedly subjected Abu Zubaydah "to ice baths, rectal rehydration, forced nudity and sexual violence. Methods were tested on him that had never been discussed."

The panel also lambasted five other countries where the US held Abu Zubaydah, namely Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco and Lithuania.

In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Lithuania and Romania for their complicity in the CIA program.

The UN also censured the “complicity” of the United Kingdom, whose spy agencies had US interrogators question Abu Zubaydah at black sites despite its knowledge of his “extreme mistreatment.”

Back in 2019, Abu Zubaydah drew some sketches of how he was tortured. His lawyers made the sketches public, triggering an outcry from rights groups across the world.

The infamous Guantanamo prison, which was supposed to be a temporary detention center and never meant to be permanent, was chosen because of its ambiguous legal status. It is under full control of the US military and relatively close to the mainland but beyond the reach of American courts, thus allowing detainees to be held indefinitely outside of normal laws or judicial oversight. 

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