ACLU calls for U.N. to investigate case of extraordinary rendition

By Kenneth J. Theisen


On June 25th the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Alkarama for Human Rights (AHR) requested that the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism investigate the circumstances of Elkassim Britel’s forced disappearance, rendition, detention and torture. Britel, an Italian citizen, is one of the many victims of the CIA's unlawful "extraordinary rendition" program. He is currently incarcerated and serving a nine year prison sentence in a Moroccan prison based on a confession coerced from him through torture. His story illustrates the past and continuing crimes of the U.S. government in its war of terror.

His nightmare began in early 2002 when he visited Pakistan. He was detained by Pakistani officials who incorrectly accused him of having a fake passport when he tried to return to Italy. He was then subjected to torture by the Pakistani officials and denied access to the Italian Embassy to verify his passport’s authenticity. For the next couple weeks he was shuttled back and forth between the police and the Pakistani secret service and subjected to more torture.

On May 5, 2002, he was transferred to Islamabad, Pakistan and interrogated by the U.S. FBI on four occasions. In May 2002, U.S. officials stripped and beat Britel before dressing him in a diaper and overalls, shackling and blindfolding him, and flying him to Morocco for detention and interrogation.  He was part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. He was then taken to an “unofficial detention center” in Temara, where the Moroccan security police detain prisoners and routinely torture and isolate prisoners.

Nearly a year after his initial detention in Pakistan on February 11, 2003, the Moroccan authorities released Britel. But they refused to return his Italian passport. A few days later when he tried to proceed across the border crossing in the Spanish North African area of Melilla he was once again arrested.  He was taken to an unknown location and accused of past ties to Al Qaeda and of forming an illegal group. In January 2004 he was found guilty after a trial in Morocco and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, which was reduced to 9 years after an appeal. The evidence against him was a confession he made while under torture. He has repudiated this confession.

Why did Britel become a victim of the U.S. war of terror? Before his trip to Pakistan in 2002 he had been under investigation in Italy.  But despite of two years of’ surveillance and a lengthy Italian judicial investigation into his activities, he was never charged in Italy. On July 28, 2006 the Italian prosecuting magistrate requested that judicial proceedings against Britel be dismissed due to “absolute lack of grounds of evidence of charge, which may be used in trial”. The order by the court for preliminary proceedings decreeing the end of judicial proceedings stated that “the checks that have been undertaken, telephone interceptions and checks on bank accounts have not provided any support to the allegations”. But Britel is still in prison in Morocco.

According to Steven Watt, a staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program, “Victims of the 'extraordinary rendition' program detained at Guantánamo and other prisons around the world are being ignored by the U.S. government, whose unlawful program landed them there in the first place. The U.S. has failed to take responsibility for its most egregious actions, leaving Mr. Britel and countless other victims of the 'extraordinary rendition' program with no choice but to turn to the international community for justice."

Britel is one of the few victims of the program whose identity is known, and who is still detained outside of Guantánamo Bay. Countless other are still held or have died as a result of their abusive treatment. Is the U.S. government under President Obama doing anything to remedy the situation of Mr. Britel or any of the other victims of the extraordinary rendition program? NO!  Britel and others continue to be subjected to abuse due to U.S. actions begun under the Bush regime.

According to Rachid Mesli, Director of Alkarama's Legal Department, “Given Mr. Britel's own account of his treatment and the long documented history of torture and abuse in detention facilities run by the Moroccan government, we have a firm foundation for believing that Mr. Britel has been, and is currently being, subjected to torture., Mr. Britel and all other victims of "extraordinary rendition" deserve their day in court and fair trials not tainted by evidence obtained through torture. We hope the Special Rapporteurs will immediately act on our request to bring swift and much-needed attention to Mr. Britel's case, before the conditions under which he is held do further damage to his physical and psychological health."

Others have looked at Mr. Britel’s case and have seen the injustice committed against him. The European Commission has condemned the case and actions against Britel. The European Parliament has also called on the Italian government “to take concrete measures to obtain the immediate release of Abou Elkassim Britel.”

With this latest request to the U.N. by the ACLU and AHR maybe Britel will be released.  But even if he is, full justice will not exist until all those responsible for the seven plus years of hell he has been forced to endure are punished for their roles in this crime. This includes not only his direct torturers, but also all the U.S. government officials who authorized and created the extraordinary rendition program.  Former President Bush and VP Cheney need to be two of the defendants in the docket, along with all their fellow criminal cronies.  And if the Obama administration continues to ignore the crimes of the U.S. government committed under the Bush regime and those continuing now, Obama officials should also be tried.

To view the filings with the U.N. Special Rapporteurs see:


World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.