This past week I read an article in the New Yorker magazine about the policy of my government to secretly kidnap terrorism suspects, without any due process, and to hand them over to foreign governments to be “rendered,” which is a euphemism for “tortured.” There are many in law enforcement who have grave doubts about the efficacy of torture. If you torture a man, he will pretty much tell you anything you want to hear. And, you can not use testimony from, or evidence that leads back to torture in a legal trial. Anyway, the article, found in the Feb 14 & 21, 2005 issue, is very long, very engaging, and left me feeling very disgusted and frustrated and just plain old upset. What follows is the last section of the article, that briefly puts a human story to the situation. It is with a heavy heart that I type this out, but the story bears being re-told.
Najda Dizdarevic is a thirty-year-old mother of four who lives in Sarajevo. On October 21, 2001, her husband, Hadj Boudella, a Muslim of Algerian descent, and five other Algerians living in Bosnia were arrested after U.S. authorities tipped off the Bosnian government to an alleged plot by the group to blow up the American and British embassies in Sarajevo. One of the suspects reportedly placed some seventy phone calls to the Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the days after September 11th. Boudella and his wife, however, maintain that neither he nor several of the other defendants knew the man who had allegedly contacted Zubaydah. And an investigation by the Bosnian government turned up no confirmation that the calls to Zubaydah were made at all, according to the men’s American lawyers, Rob Kirsch and Stephen Olesky.
At the request of the U.S., the Bosnian government held all six men for three months, but was unable to substantiate any criminal charges against them. On January 17, 2002, the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that they should be released. Instead, as the men left prison, they were handcuffed, forced to put on surgical masks with nose clips, covered in hoods, and herded into waiting unmarked cars by masked figures, some of whom appeared to be members of the Bosnian special forces. Boudella’s wife had come to the prison to meet her husband, and she recalled that she recognized him, despite the hood, because he was wearing a new suit that she had bought him the day before. “I will never forget that night,” she said. “It was snowing. I was screaming for someone to help.” A crowd gathered and tried to block the convoy, but it sped off. The suspects were taken to a military airbase and kept in a freezing hangar for hours; one member of the group later claimed that he saw one of the abductors remove his Bosnian uniform, revealing the he was in fact American. The U.S. government has neither confirmed nor denied its role in the operation.
Six days after the abduction, Boudella’s wife received word that her husband and the other men had been sent to Guantanamo. One man in the group has alleged that two of his fingers were broken by U.S. soldiers. Little is publicly known about the welfare of the others.
Boudella’s wife said that she was astounded that her husband could be seized without charge or trial, at home during peacetime after his own government had exonerated him. The term “enemy combatant” perplexed her. “He is an enemy of whom?” she asked. “In combat where?” She said that her view of America has changed. “I have not changed my opinion about its people, but unfortunately I have changed my opinion about its respect for human rights,” she said. “It is no longer the leader in the world. It has become the leader in the violation of human rights.”
In October, Boudella attempted to plead his innocence before the Pentagon’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal. The C.S.R.T. is the Pentagon’s answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year, over the Bush Administration’s objections, that detainess in Guantanamo had a right to challenge their imprisonment. Boudella was not allowed to bring a lawyer to the proceeding. And the tribunal said that it was “unable to locate” a copy of the Bosnian Supreme Court’s verdict freeing him, which he had requested that it read.1 Transcripts show that Boudella stated, “I am against any terrorist acts,” and asked, “How could I be part of an organization that I strongly believe has harmed my people?” The tribunal rejected his plea, as it has rejected three hundred and eighty-seven of the three hundred and ninety-three pleas it has heard. Upon hearing this, Boudella’s wife sent the following letter to her husband’s American lawyers:
Dear friends, I am so shocked by this information that it seems as if the blood has frozen in my veins, I can’t breathe and I wish I was dead. I can’t believe these things can happen, that they can come and take your husband away, overnight and without reason, destroy your family, ruin your dreams after three years of fight. . . . Please, tell me, what can I still do for him? . . . Is this decision final, what are the legal remedies? Help me understand because, as far as I know the law, this is insane, contrary to all possible laws and human rights. Please help me, I don’t want to lose him.
_The New Yorker, February 14 & 21, 2005_
I want the Hadj Boudellas to be free. Most Muslims believe that September 11 was an evil act, against innocent people. The world, and not Al Qaeda, have our sympathy, for the massive injustice of this tragedy. It is because the people of the world can chose to ally themselves “with us or against us” that we need to stand tall on our principles. We stand for freedom – President Bush says as much. We stand for freedom and justice and human dignity, and yet every week I hear about the brutalities conducted against men who are often held to be “the enemy” on flimsy grounds. It sickens me, and it puts us all in Danger. If we treat Muslim men as animals, animals they may become, and it is the animals that threaten us most. There are those who have valid doubts about playing the “good cop” but we can only lose in the end if we find ourselves as the “bad cop.”
- Out of curiosity, I asked Google if it could find the relevant decision of the Bosnian Supreme Court. I found case CH/02/8679 at the Bosnia Human Rights Comission, which finds that the Bosnian government had violated the human rights and due process of Mr. Boudellaa. Section III E, on page 10, explains that the Supreme Court did release these men from pre-trial detention, handing them over to Bosnian Federal Police, who handed them to the United States on the next day. It also documents that during that night, a crowd of 500 demonstrators clashed with police outside the prison where the men were being held, injuring eight police.