Egypt: New report condemns ‘War on Terror’s torture chamber’

UK must abandon attempt to do deals with Egypt on ‘no torture’ assurances

Amnesty International has condemned Egypt’s record on torture and illegal detention and called on other countries to abandon diplomatic “no torture” deals with Egypt, as the organisation today (11 April) published a new report on the country.

Egypt’s record on torture was recently in the international spotlight after police officers raped a 21-year-old taxi driver with a stick and filmed the torture on a mobile phone, and Amnesty International’s report - launched in Cairo today - examines numerous cases of similarly brutal torture.

In particular, Amnesty International’s 52-page report, “Systematic abuses in the name of security”, focuses on human rights violations in the context of domestic and international “security”, including the “war on terror”. In 2005, Egypt’s Prime Minister acknowledged that since 2001 the USA had transferred some 60-70 detainees to Egypt as part of the “war on terror”.

One high-profile case concerns Abu Omar, an Egyptian man resident in Italy who was abducted in Milan in 2003 and subjected to “rendition” to Egypt by US operatives believed to have been CIA agents. Abu Omar was held without charge in Egyptian jails for nearly four years and in testimony given to an Italian prosecutor he has alleged that he was repeatedly tortured. Last month Amnesty International also interviewed Abu Omar and he described how he suffered “crucifixion”, where he was bound to a metal door in a star shape and “kicked and beaten with electric cables, water hoses and whipped”, as well as subjected to electric shocks.

According to Abu Omar’s testimony, he was also sodomised, part of “an unbearable hell” in which his abusers tormented him with taunts such as “Let Italy be of benefit now”.

In another case, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian national of Egyptian descent, has told Amnesty International of how he was detained and tortured in Pakistan in 2001, handed over to US officials, flown to Egypt and there drugged and tortured, including in a “water cell”, where he had to stand on tiptoe for hours in order not to drown. After other water cell torture, electric shocks and systematic use of drugs, Mamdouh Habib ”confessed” to training the 11 September 2001 hijackers in martial arts. He was later taken to Guantánamo Bay where he was held without trial for almost three years before his eventual release.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Recent mobile phone footage of torture in Egypt has helped lift the lid on systematic brutality in Egypt’s police stations and security service buildings.

“On top of routine torture and decades-long detention without trial in Egyptian “security” cases, we are now uncovering evidence of Egypt being a destination of choice for ‘third-party’ or ‘contracted out’ torture in the ‘war on terror’.

“With Egypt effectively operating as a key ‘war on terror’ torture chamber, it’s essential that countries like the UK do not strike deals designed to overlook the dangers of torture if at-risk individuals are forcibly returned to Egypt.

“A ‘no torture’ deal with Egypt would not be worth the paper it was written on, and rather than bargain over illegal detention and torture the UK should unequivocally condemn torture in Egypt.”

In one notorious case, two Egyptian nationals - Muhammed Muhammed Suleiman Ibrahim El-Zara and Ahmed Hussein Mustafa Kamil Agiza - were unlawfully returned from Sweden to Egypt in 2001.

Though the Swedish authorities obtained assurances that the men would not be mistreated in Egypt, both have reported being severely tortured while in secret detention. Muhammed El-Zara says that he suffered electric shocks to his genitals, nipples and ears (with doctors ensuring that no visible scars would remain), while Ahmed Agiza also reports being tortured with electric shocks and receiving threats that his wife and mother would be sexually assaulted in his presence.

Muhammed El-Zara was released without charge after nearly two years in detention without trial; Ahmed Agiza was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment after an unfair trial before a military court. The UN Committee against Torture has found that Sweden had violated the Convention against Torture by returning Ahmed Agiza to a country where there was a risk of torture.

Amnesty International’s report is calling on the Egyptian authorities to repeal all emergency legislation provisions that allow human rights violations, to end the widespread practice of secret detention, end administrative detention and the routine use of military courts in civilian cases, and to rigorously safeguard against torture.

The international community, meanwhile, is urged not to seek or accept “diplomatic assurances” of good treatment where there is a risk of torture, ill-treatment, unfair trial or imposition of the death penalty.

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