SAN FRANCISCO - Human rights organizations are reacting coldly to President George W. Bush's executive order forbidding the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from torturing, humiliating, or abusing detainees in its once-secret interrogation program.
"It's incredibly vague to the point of being useless as a way to stop torture," said Shayana Kadidal, an attorney at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush's five page executive order issued Friday bars CIA agents from acts of violence serious enough to be comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhumane treatment.
It also bars willful or outrageous acts that any reasonable person would deem "to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [and] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation."
But the order does not explicitly forbid sleep deprivation or mock drowning (often called waterboarding), leaving Kadidal to believe it was written "intentionally to give leeway" to agents and "provide them with a legal defense if charged with torture."
"We're not pleased with it at all," added John Sifton, senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch, which believes the CIA program should be scrapped.
"The bigger issue is that this order continues to formalize a detention system that is outside the rule of law," he told OneWorld.
Detainees held by the CIA, he noted, "have no access to a lawyer, no family visits, and no oversight by the International Committee of the Red Cross. They're held indefinitely. It's an enforced disappearance of a person: a person is thrown into a black hole and no one knows where they are."
It's not known how many people have been arrested by the CIA and secretly detained at so-called "black sites" around the world.
After published newspaper reports appeared on the program last September, Bush confirmed its existence but would not disclose how many individuals were secretly detained.
Human rights organizations have been able to document some of the cases, however.
Last month, six major human rights groups -- Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, Human Rights Watch, and Reprieve -- published a report called "Off the Record" identifying 39 individuals believed to have been held at some point by the United States in secret sites.
All but one remain missing.
Among those in the report is Ali Abdul-Hamid al-Fakhiri, a Libyan national who allegedly ran a training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. After being apprehended by Pakistani authorities in November 2001, al-Fakhiri was turned over to the CIA in January 2002.
According to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government moved al-Fakhiri from a U.S. base in Afghanistan to the U.S.S. Bataan to Egypt and then back to a secret U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan in 2003. Al-Fakhiri was reportedly transferred out of Afghanistan in late 2003 to a secret U.S. detention facility and then transferred to Libya in late 2005 or early 2006. On December 5, 2005, ABC News reported that he had been held in a secret U.S. detention facility in Poland.
"Al-Fakhiri is now reportedly held in isolation in Tripoli," the six-group report reads, "and is said to be suffering from tuberculosis and to be in very poor health. At least one U.S. official has acknowledged U.S. involvement in elements of al-Fakhiri's treatment, including questioning al-Fakhiri and transferring al-Fakhiri to a third country for interrogation.
"On July 19, 2006 his name was included in the 'Terrorists No Longer a Threat' List," the report continues. "No other information about al-Fakhiri's fate has been released by the U.S. government, and his whereabouts remain officially unexplained."
Human Rights Watch's Sifton believes the complex system of secret prisons abroad is unnecessary.
"We have a federal criminal code that dealt with the KKK and the Italian mafia," he said. "The federal courts are also more than able to deal with any of these alleged terrorists just like we indicted the people who carried out the 1998 Embassy bombings or the 1993 World Trade Center bombings."
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