Report calls for Djibouti to take responsibility for rendition

Saturday April 18 2015

A US marine walks in Camp Lemonier, the US military base in Djibouti. Djibouti has been accused of using its territory to conduct a CIA programme of rendition. PHOTO | FILE |

A new report before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) states that Djibouti should be held accountable for the role it played in a CIA programme of rendition, secret detention and torture during the US administration of George W. Bush.

The three human-rights groups behind the report — UK-based Justice Forum and Kenya-based Haki Africa and International Commission of Jurists — say Djibouti allowed the CIA to use its territory to conduct the programme after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda on New York City and Washington DC.

“Djibouti appears to have functioned as a key staging post for prisoners being transferred out of East Africa to locations within the wider secret prison system, in particular CIA and US military facilities in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay,” the report states.

Last year, a leaked report on the US Senate inquiry into the agency’s rendition programme confirmed that several individuals from East and the Horn of Africa had been detained in Djibouti.

According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Djibouti hosted CIA “black sites” where detainees from Africa were temporarily held and tortured before being transferred to either Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay.

Black sites are prisons operated by the CIA outside the jurisdiction of the United States, and the detainees have no rights other than those given to them by their captors.


The families of the men detained by the CIA receive no news about the whereabouts of their kin. The wife of one of the detainees said, “We never received any news of his whereabouts or any information about his health, except for terrifying rumours.”

The report says Djibouti was a major rendition hub in Africa, where six nationals from Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and Yemen were held “incommunicado, subjecting them to torture and inhuman treatment” for several months.

The detainees were denied the opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention in a foreign land, or even access to legal counsel.

Authorities in Djibouti allowed CIA agents to hold and interrogate the foreign prisoners using unlawful torture techniques described by the CIA itself as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” violating basic human rights and decency.

Wrongful detention

US officials privy to the confidential Senate report have previously said that at least two of the detainees in Djibouti “had been wrongfully detained.”

One of those who went through the CIA programme, Mohammed al-Asad, a Yemeni living in Tanzania, was arrested in his Dar es Salaam home in December 2003 and flown to a secret prison in Djibouti. He says he was tortured for two weeks, and wrongfully detained in a series of “black sites” in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe before being jailed in his country Yemen in 2005, where he was released without any charges of terrorism-related crimes.

More than 10 years since his abduction in Tanzania, Mr al-Asad is still seeking justice for the many months he suffered in detention. His case against Djibouti is before the ACHPR, which recently ruled that case could not go forward because of Djibouti’s denials of involvement.

However, with the recent revelations of Djibouti’s involvement, the commission could review its ruling.

The New York University Global Justice Clinic, which filed the case on his behalf in 2009, has already asked the commission to “review its decision and hear Mr al-Asad’s case on the basis of the new evidence.”

“These revelations about Djibouti’s role in the CIA rendition programme provide strong support for Mr al-Asad’s case,” said NYU law professor Margaret Satterthwaite.

“At the same time, the Commission’s decision demonstrates the urgent need for the release of the Senate’s CIA torture report. Releasing the report will have a real impact on victims still seeking the truth.”

Mr al-Asad’s legal team is adamant that “American secrecy trumped African human rights guarantees.”

“The abuses committed by CIA partners must no longer be hidden behind a veil of official secrecy,” Prof Satterthwaite said.

Suleiman Abdallah, a Tanzanian national, was first detained in March 2003, in Mogadishu, by a Somali warlord who allegedly worked for the US. According to reports, Abdallah was a victim of a bounty system, which was popular in Somalia at the time, where local warlords sold individuals to the CIA as terror suspects for cash.

After being handed over to the US officials, he was briefly detained in Kenya and Somalia before being transferred to Djibouti and Afghanistan. He was released in 2008.

“Mr Abdallah’s own testimony, given to lawyers and UN investigators, suggests that he was subjected to arbitrary detention and serious mistreatment amounting to torture in both Djibouti and Afghanistan,” reads the report.


The US Senate intelligence committee confirmed in its report that Abdallah was among 17 detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques without approval from CIA headquarters.

Some of the grisliest techniques involved waterboarding and sleep deprivation that kept detainees awake “for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.” Other techniques included forced nudity, facial slaps, and for those who refused to eat “rectal feeding.”

“Mr Abdallah continues to suffer psychological and emotional damage due to his detention in, and transfer from, Djibouti, which was marked by a constant threat of death or serious harm,” the rights groups say in their report to the commission.

“Prior to his transfer out of Djibouti in an airport in the territory of Djibouti, Mr Abdallah was forcibly stripped naked, photographed, assaulted, and was diapered by a team of individuals,” the report adds.

Gouled Hassan Dourad, a former asylum seeker in Sweden, was captured by Djiboutian authorities in March 2004 in his house. Dourad is still detained in Guantánamo Bay, and to date has not been charged with a crime. His personal testimony is not available, and his statements to US authorities are classified as “top secret.”

Somali national Mohammed Ali Isse was reportedly detained and interrogated on a US naval ship in or near Djiboutian territorial waters in 2004.

The reports says Mr Isse was then transferred to Camp Lemonnier, the US military base in Djibouti, and from there to a secret prison in Addis Ababa where he says “the Ethiopian military tortured him with electric shocks.”

Kenya has also played a major role in rendering its own citizens to the CIA detention camps. Mohammed Abdulmalik, a Kenyan national held in extrajudicial detention in Guantanamo Bay, was arrested by the police in early 2007, and transferred to CIA custody a month later.

According to his own publicly available statements, filed in a Washington DC court, Abdulmalik was flown on a US plane to Djibouti, where he was detained and interrogated by American and Djibouti officials before being flown to Afghanistan where he was held in two detention camps and then dispatched to Guantanamo Bay.

Ismail Mohamed, another Somali national arrested on May 2007 while passing through Djibouti on his way to Eritrea, was transferred to Guantánamo Bay in June 2007, where he remained until his release in November 2009 without charge.

The US global rendition network stretched from Djibouti, Morocco, and Egypt, where prisoners were held for questioning, to large military prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq.