Thursday, March 3, 2005

Human Rights USA "At the Forefront of the Law" in Abu Ali Rendition to Torture Challenge (3/3/05)

One of the hallmarks of the work that Human Rights USA does is taking on cases that other groups have dismissed as "unwinnable" or not worth the effort. Our representation of Ahmed Abu Ali, a client who sought to challenge the U.S. government's rendition to torture program, was one such case.

Abu's sister called our organization after every other group had turned her down, telling her that she didn't stand a chance in challenging the U.S. government's involvement in the rendition of a U.S. citizen to a foreign country, where he was being held by foreign officials.

"Within a few minutes, my gut was telling me this was a rendition to torture case," Sheikholeslami said, referring to a U.S. practice of transferring terrorism suspects to foreign countries known for torturing prisoners in interrogations. "It was extremely important -- it involved a U.S. citizen held without charges -- and it was an extremely important opportunity for our organization, as well."

"People were telling us it was a waste of time," Sklar said of the assessments about the Abu Ali suit, which his group filed for the family in July 2004 against then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Justice Department and the FBI. The one thing that makes the human rights organization different, he said, "is that we are looking for creative solutions to important problems. Little groups like ours are flexible and can do that."

Human Rights USA, with the help of its interns, put together a 27-page legal brief arguing that the U.S. courts have jurisdiction to review a person's detention in a foreign country, when the United States played a role in that detention. The D.C. District Court agreed, marking the first time that courts have ever directly addressed this issue. The court's decision opened up the possibility for federal courts to look into the U.S. government's involvement in the "extraordinary rendition" program, where individuals are secreted to foreign countries and are indefinitely detained, held incommunicado, and are often subjected to abuse and torture.

The government has made every attempt to prevent the courts from reviewing its actions in the war on terror, but the court's decision in Abu Ali represents one instance where the courts haven't been afraid to pull the brakes on a program that violated U.S. and international law. Human Rights USA continues to challenge the U.S. government's rendition to torture program. Please go here more about our work on Human Rights & Anti-Terrorism.

To read the full article on Human Rights USA's groundbreaking work, please see the following article: