The so-called “war on terror,” initiated by the U.S. and its global allies in response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001, did not so much change the rules of warfare as throw them out of the window.
After 9/11 and the subsequent wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, there was a lot to be thankful for. Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of warThe U.S. and its allies took it hostage. hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, mainly civilians. The use of tortureIndefinite arbitrary detention and the war on terror became the defining features.
Intelligence yieldedFrom the use of torture not particularly effective, experimentation on human subjectsIt was an important part of the process. Guantánamo BayMany human rights defenders view the current 36-inmate prison as a last remnant of the policy involving mass arbitrary detention.
These practices have been exposed only because of the hard work of international and civil society organizations as well as lawyers who continue sue states. other parties involvedOn behalf of victims, their families some of whom are still detained.
A report presented earlier this year by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the U.N. Special RapporteurCounterterrorism and Human Rights, Following up on a 2010 U.N. report on secret detention, found that the “failure to address secret detention” has allowed similar practices to flourish in North-East Syria and Xinjiang ProvinceChina
How to deal arbitrarily detained alleged ISIS (also called Daesh), militia supporters or fighters in Syria, and Iraq is an issue that goes back at the Obama eraHowever, ISIS lost its last major stronghold in the region and gained momentum in 2018-2019. This caused existing detention camps such as Al-Hawl to grow in size. Al-Hawl was established in 1991 as an Iraqi refugee camp. It has a capacity of approximately 15,000 people. In 2018, it housed around 10,000 Iraqi refugees. Since 2019, the camp has housed 73,000+ people. Around 11,000 of these children are from other countries.
All are held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, (AANES), and the Syrian Defense Force, (SDF), which do not constitute state entities. Their efforts to investigate and prosecuteThe possibility of ISIS fighters is still in its early stages. They lack formal recognition and don’t look at potential war crimes. The situation is similar to that in Afghanistan and Iraq, with some prisoners being held for more than six-years without any formal identification or trial.
According to Ní Aoláin, “No legal process of any kind has been established to justify the detention of these individuals. No public information exists on who precisely is being held in these camps, contrary to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions stipulating that detention records be kept that identify both the nationality of detainees and the legal basis of detention.”
She further states that, “These camps epitomize the normalization and expansion of secret detention practices in the two decades since the establishment of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The egregious nature of secret, incommunicado, harsh, degrading and unacceptable detention is now practised with impunity and the acquiescence of multiple States.”
In addition, around 10,000 men and 750 boys (of whom 2,000 and 150 are respectively not from Syria or Iraq) are held in some 14 detention centers in North-East Syria, accused of association with ISIS: “No judicial process has determined the legality or appropriateness of their detention. There are also reports of incommunicado detention.”
With varying degrees of success, efforts have been made to repatriate and free Syrian refugees and Syrians internally displaced due to the conflict in the region. Around 2400 Iraqishave been repatriated in the past year.
European and other Western States were initially reluctant to repatriate their nationals — with former President Trump threatening to force them to — and some, such as the U.K., introducing measures to strip them of citizenship to prevent that. Recent European state efforts have focused on a gendered approachDesigned for repatriating women and childrenIn the camps. This approach ignores that the SDF has a practice of seperating young boys from their families at 9 and placing them in detention, as a security threat, with men in jails. Concern was only expressed during a prison break in early 2022 when it was feared these children would fall into ISIS’s hands, as though they were somehow safe with their original captors.
Missing the point
The gendered approach to repatriation of detainees plays into long-standing orientalist and imperialist views, framing Western powers as saviors of these women and children, whereas the men and boys left behind remain “ISIS fighters” without investigation and substantiation of this status.
Despite the recent U.S. sentence of two former British ISIS fightersThis detention policy’s value must be questioned because of their involvement in the kidnapping and death of Western hostages. As in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries, cruel punishment and arbitrary detention of hundreds of thousands of people in conditions worsened than theirs is unacceptable.
Ní Aoláin’s report also found that no war on terror detainees have “received a complete and adequate legal remedy,” and the lack of due process has resulted in the continuing stigmatization and persecution of prisoners upon release from Guantánamo.
Two decades on, the absence of justice at Guantánamo remains a recurring theme. Now, prosecution lawyers are seeking a plea bargain settlement. in the 9/11 case that would avoid trial — and thus torture revelations — and the death penalty, as the case continues to drag over a decade on.
The farce of “justice” is also amply demonstrated by the failure to release Majid Khan, who, following a plea bargain and several years of torture in secret CIA prisons, completed his sentence March 1, military jurorsAt his sentencing hearing, he decried the torture he endured and asked for clemency. However, he remains at Guantánamo as it is too unsafe for him to return to Pakistan and the U.S. has found no safe country for relocation. After being sued, the U.S. Department of Justice responded by opposing his case. habeas pleaHe claims he is still not subject to the Geneva Conventions.
The outcome of two decades of secret and arbitrary detention has been to deny justice to the victims of war crimes and terrorist acts, and create new victims — detainees and their families — who are also denied justice.
After two decades, the failure to close Guantánamo and end such secret and arbitrary detention and the secrecy that continues to surround them (such as the refusal to disclose the full 2014 Senate CIA torture report)They are not errors or oversight, but deliberate policy. It affords impunity for states and state-backed actors while tarring detainees with the “terrorist” label for the rest of their lives without due process, effectively leaving them in permanent legal limbo in many areas of everyday life.
Even one year after the U.S. withdrawn from Afghanistan, justice continues to evade the Afghan people. With the International Criminal Court (ICC) seeking to restart its investigation, but excluding the U.S. and its Afghan allies from its scope, effectively granting them impunity while focusing on the Taliban, “the ICC has so far come to represent selective and delayed justice to many victims of war in Afghanistan,” according to Shaharzad AkbarFormer chair of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. In addition, “a year after the withdrawal of international forces and many ‘lessons learned’ exercises, key troop contributing countries such as the United States, the U.K., and others in NATO are yet to reflect on the legacy of impunity they left behind.”
You are not going anywhere
In April, she addressed her report to U.N. Ní Aoláin stated, “It is precisely the lack of access, transparency, accountability and remedy that has enabled and sustained a permissive environment for contemporary large-scale detention and harm to individuals.”
Ní Aoláin expresses concerns in her report over the “lack of a globally agreed definition of terrorism and (violent) extremism, and […] the widespread failure to define acts of terrorism in concrete and precise ways in national legislation.” The vague definition has meant that any form of dissent and resistance against the state can effectively be labelled terrorist activity.
The focus on Guantánamo and mass detention of alleged terrorism suspects has drawn the attention away from the carceral practices of states. Torture, long-solitary confinement and other prisoner abuses in federal prisons have not been subject to the same criticisms or actions. Attention is also diverted from ISIS prisoners by the focus on them. mass detention and abuse of those incarcerated in Syrian prisons.
However, the mass arbitrary and covert detention of terrorists has helped to justify an expansion of the prison-industrial complexWith the participation of private contractors. The use of torture has increased worldwide over the past 20 years. Most alarming is the increase in mass arbitrary detentions, abuses of children, men and women around the globe without due process and very few legal rights. immigration detentionWith the reframing of migration and asylumAs a security concern over the past 20 years.
This is because the monitoring of the situation at the highest levels and by civil society organizations continues means that the prisoner situation has not been forgotten or normalized as much as the states would like it to be. The need for justice for all victims is on the path to any kind of peace, and thus it remains essential to keep pressing and supporting Ní Aoláin’s call for “access, transparency, accountability and remedy.”