The people now being released from the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay have already been deprived of their freedom without due process. In sending them back to their home countries, the US government has evidently concluded that they have not, after all, committed any crimes against the United States, or that they possess no useful information about terrorism, or that there is insufficient evidence to prove their criminal intent. Or perhaps, just that keeping them at Guantanamo is more trouble than they are worth.
For seven citizens of Russia, being released from Guantanamo Bay in 2004 was far from the end of their troubles. Despite promises to the US government to treat the men humanely upon their return, the Russian authorities have variously harassed, detained, mistreated, and beaten the former Guantanamo detainees since they returned. At this writing, two of them have been tortured and are in prison after investigations and trials that did not meet international fair trial standards; one has been tortured and is in prison awaiting trial; the other four are either abroad or in hiding. Taken together, their stories amount to a powerful indictment of the inept and abusive practices of the Russian criminal justice system.
But their stories amount to something more: they also expose the harmful consequences of transferring terrorist suspects to countries where they are at risk of torture.
Previous Human Rights Watch reports, as well as the work of many other human rights and international organizations, have extensively documented the cruelty of Russian criminal justice. Torture and the denial of the right to a fair trial are endemic in Russian police investigations and trials, and in many ways the treatment of the seven former Guantanamo detainees does not differ significantly from that of many other Russian Muslims who are caught up in the wide dragnet of Russias counterterrorism campaignor indeed, the treatment of anyone unlucky enough to be suspected of a crime in Russia. The experience of these seven men should be viewed in light of Russias problematic conduct of the so-called war on terror, and its highly abusive criminal justice system. But as seven men marked by the stamp of Guantanamo (in the words of one of them), they have endured a particularly harrowing odyssey at the hands of Russian law enforcement.
This report uses the Russian example to reveal the hollow nature of the diplomatic assurances that the US government is seeking as it transfers Guantanamo detainees back to their countries of origin, many of which have well documented records of torture. Under the United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as domestic law, the United States is prohibited from returning people to countries where there are substantial grounds for believing they would face a danger of torture. So the US governmentlike a growing number of othersis asking governments for diplomatic assurances that they will not torture or mistreat terrorist suspects upon return.
Such an assurance was sought and obtained from the Russian government in 2004, before the seven detainees were flown home. Both the US and Russian governments declined to release any substantive information to Human Rights Watch about their 2004 agreement to return the seven detainees. Each government issued only the sketchiest of statements on March 1, 2004, the day the detainees landed at Moscows Sheremetyevo international airport. What agreements the two governments really made remains opaque.
But one fact remains blindingly clear and is extensively documented in this report: Russian law enforcement agents hounded and abused these seven hapless men almost continuously after their return from Guantanamo, ending finally in the arrest or flight of almost all of them. Some endured mistreatment in detention that amounted to torture. Whatever promises of fair treatment were made by the Russian authorities, they clearly have been broken.
The US government has triply wronged these men: first by detaining them without due process, second by returning them to Russia in violation of international law, and third by failing to follow and protest their mistreatment by Russian authorities after their return. In this last aspect, the Russian government of course bears the greatest and most immediate responsibility. But by branding these seven men terrorist suspects, the US government certainly rendered them more vulnerable targets for Russian abuse. In this sad post-Guantanamo tale, both the US and Russian governments have a great deal to answer for.
Recommendations to the US government