NEW YORK- Charging that the U.S.
government was complicit in the forced disappearance of an influential
Muslim scholar four years ago, human rights groups in the U.S., the
U.K., and Switzerland have asked the U.N. to investigate.
In a letter to the
U.N., the organizations say Mustafa Setmariam Nassar, a Spanish
citizen, was arrested by Pakistani officials and handed over to U.S.
officials in Oct. 2005 and has not been heard from since.
letter was sent to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred
Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Human Rights
While Countering Terrorism, Martin Scheinin, and the U.N. Working Group
on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It was signed by the
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the London-based legal charity
Reprieve, and Alkarama in Geneva.
In Jun. 2009, in response to
an ACLU request for information about Nassar's whereabouts, the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said it could "neither confirm nor
deny the existence or nonexistence of records" concerning Nassar.
M. Watt, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, told IPS,
"Mr. Nassar's wife and children just want to know if he is still alive
and where he is." He said that "Requests for information about his
forced disappearance, nearly four years ago, have been ignored by the
U.S. government, and his family now has no other choice but to turn to
the international community for assistance in their quest."
added, "The CIA should be held accountable. It should allow his family
to know what happened to him and where he is. Or deny that it had any
involvement in his disappearance."
The letter asks the U.N. to
raise Nassar's case with the U.S. government and other governments that
may have assisted the U.S. in Nassar's disappearance, or may have
information that could assist in locating him.
acknowledge that information about Nassar's disappearance is scarce.
But they say "the known details suggest he was a victim of the unlawful
extraordinary rendition" program, which enabled the U.S. - with the
assistance of other governments - to kidnap and transport foreign
nationals suspected of terrorism to secret overseas detention
facilities for interrogation and torture.
documents and media reports indicate that the U.S. had long been
interested in capturing Nassar - suspecting him of involvement in
certain terrorist acts, but never charging him with a crime. In Jan.
2005, months before his reported capture in Pakistan, the U.S. Embassy
in Pakistan announced a 5 million dollar reward for information leading
to Nassar's capture, which was withdrawn around the time of his
The U.S. National Counterterrorism Centre
confirms Nassar's capture in Nov. 2005, and media reports indicate that
Nassar was later held for a time at a U.S. military base on the
British-owned island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Reprieve group also demanded the British government reveal details of
the secret illegal detention of what it called the 'ghost' prisoner on
Reprieve says Nassar was then sent to Syria, where
he was "held incommunicado in shocking conditions and almost certainly
The group added, "The U.K. shares responsibility for
Nasser's disappearance because of its complicity in his 'ghost'
detention on the Diego Garcia and elsewhere."
It has written to
the U.K. government on behalf of Nasser's wife to "demand the U.K.
fulfils its legal obligation to investigate his disappearance."
Director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "Enforced disappearance is a
crime most associated with ruthless South American dictatorships, yet
here we have the U.S. and British governments embroiled in the same
dirty deeds. Kidnapping is a crime in anyone's language, and it is
about time that powerful governments are held to account for their
crime against Mustafa Nasser."
Diego Garcia has featured
prominently in at least two other current cases. In one, Reprieve is
suing the U.K. government on behalf of British resident Binyam Mohamed,
a recently released Guantanamo detainee, for allowing the island's
airbase to be used to facilitate Mohammed's "rendition," by landing to
Mohammed was first rendered from Pakistan to prison in
Morocco, and finally to Guantanamo. The group claims he was tortured in
all three locations.
David Miliband, the British Foreign
Secretary, has argued before the U.K. High Court that it must suppress
evidence of torture because the U.S. has threatened to discontinue
sharing intelligence with the British if it discloses such evidence.
The specific evidence in this case is a seven-paragraph document that
Reprieve says has no intelligence or national security value but
includes American admissions that they tortured Mohammed.
High Court Justices said that such a threat was not based in law. "I
mean, it is an exercise of naked political power," Lord Justice Thomas
said, adding, "That is not constitutional, it is the use of naked
political power." Under British law, it is a criminal offence to
suppress evidence of torture.
In the second case, Mohamed and
four other now-released Guantanamo detainees are suing a Boeing Company
subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for knowingly assisting in Mohammed's
rendition by providing the CIA with logistical support for the flight
that landed on Diego Garcia for refuelling.
In the Nassar case,
responding to a Jun. 2009 request from a Spanish judge for information
on Nassar's whereabouts, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
said it was not holding him in the U.S. but did not address whether he
was being held in U.S. custody elsewhere. Asserting that the
information is classified, the U.S. government has also refused to
answer direct requests for information about Nassar's whereabouts made
by his wife, Spanish citizen Helena Moreno Cruz.
"I have been
bringing up four children without their father for nearly four years
now," she said. "They keep asking about dad and I have no idea what to
tell them anymore - I don't even know if their father is still alive."
my husband is suspected of doing anything wrong, he should get his day
in court. If he isn't, he should be let go. No one deserves to be
treated like this," she added.
Nassar, a 42 year-old Spanish
citizen of Syrian origin, is considered an influential Islamic theorist
and intellectual. He has written a number of books and articles on
Islam and jihad.
Law enforcement authorities in the U.K., Spain,
and the U.S. have long suspected Nassar of having been involved in a
number of terrorist acts - including the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks against
the U.S. - though he has never been charged with a crime.
early 1980s, Nassar fled Syria following his involvement in a failed
attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow the government then in
The letter to the U.N. says the former U.S.
administration of George W. Bush pursued Nassar at least since Nov.
2004, when it offered a 5 million dollar reward for information
relating to his capture as part of its "Rewards for Justice" program.