Friday, December 18, 2009

CIA considers its trained force of torturers, in Palestine, to be CIA property:

RAMALLAH: Palestinian security agents who had been detaining and allegedly torturing supporters of the Islamist organisation Hamas in the West Bank had been working closely with the CIA, reports said yesterday.

Less than a year after US President Barack Obama signed an executive order that prohibited torture and provided for the lawful interrogation of detainees in US custody, The Guardian reported the CIA was co-operating with Palestinian security agents whose continuing use of torture had been widely documented by human rights groups.

The relationship between the CIA and the two Palestinian agencies involved - Preventive Security Organisation and General Intelligence Service - was said by some Western diplomats and other officials in the region to be so close that the US agency appeared to be supervising the Palestinians' work, the report said.

One senior western official told the paper: "The agency considers them as their property, those two Palestinian services."

A diplomatic source added that US influence over the agencies was so great they could be considered "an advanced arm of the war on terror".

The CIA and the Palestinian Authority deny the US agency controls its Palestinian counterparts, but neither denied that they interact closely in the West Bank.

Details of that co-operation were emerging as some human rights organisations questioned whether US intelligence agencies may be turning a blind eye to abusive interrogations conducted by other countries' intelligence agencies with whom they were working, The Guardian said.

According to the Palestinian watchdog al-Haq, human rights in the West Bank and Gaza have "gravely deteriorated due to the spreading violations committed by Palestinian actors" this year.

Most of those held without trial and allegedly tortured in the West Bank have been supporters of Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in 2006 but is denounced as a terrorist organisation by the PA, the US and EU.

In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has been in control for more than two years, there had been reports of its forces detaining and torturing Fatah sympathisers in the same way, the paper said.

Among the human rights organisations that had documented or complained about the mistreatment of detainees held by the PA in the West Bank were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, al-Haq and the Israeli watchdog B'Tselem, it said.

Even the PA's human rights commission had expressed "deep concern" over the mistreatment of detainees.

The most common complaint is that detainees are severely beaten and subjected to a torture known as shabeh, during which they are shackled and forced to assume painful positions for long periods, the report said. There have been reports of sleep deprivation, and of large numbers of detainees being crammed into small cells to prevent rest.

Instead of being brought before civilian courts, almost all the detainees enter a system of military justice under which they need not be brought before a court for six months.

According to PA officials, 400 to 500 Hamas sympathisers were held by the PSO and GI, The Guardian said.

Some of the mistreatment has been so severe that at least three detainees have died in custody this year. The most recent was Haitham Amr, a 33-year-old nurse and Hamas supporter from Hebron who died four days after he was detained by GI officials last June.

Extensive bruising around his kidneys suggested he had been beaten to death.

While there is no evidence the CIA has been commissioning such mistreatment, human rights activists told the paper it would end promptly if US pressure were brought to bear on the Palestinian authorities.

A diplomat in the region told the paper that "at the very least" US intelligence officers were aware of the torture and not doing enough to stop it.