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‘Symbolic victory’ as French court summons ex-Gitmo chief

© Anja Niedringhaus / Pool / AFP | General Geoffrey Miller, seen here in a photograph from May 5, 2004, was commander of Guantanamo Bay prison from 2002 to 2004

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2015-04-04

A French court on Thursday summoned a former Guantanamo Bay prison chief over allegations of torture, a move one former detainee says is a symbolic victory even if it remains highly unlikely the accused will ever stand trial.

Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchellali, both French citizens, were detainees at the notorious US prison from 2001 until 2004 and 2005, respectively. For years, they have been asking the French courts to launch legal proceedings against Geoffrey Miller, a now retired army general who was commander of Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2004.

On Thursday, the Paris Court of Appeal finally approved their request and demanded Miller appear in court for questioning.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Benchellali says he is “demanding redress” for the abuse he had suffered during his imprisonment.

"I've been mistreated, I want those responsible to be called to account,” said the 33-year-old.

Miller 'at heart of systemic torture'

However, Benchellali believes it is unlikely Miller will ever be made to answer for his alleged crimes before French judges.

"I'm pessimistic about him coming," he says. “The American justice system has never really cooperated with these cases … every judge who has tried to investigate Guantanamo was refused access.”

But even if Miller never stands trial, the summons is “good news”, says Benchellali, “above all symbolically”.

“It opens the door for prosecution of others with responsibility,” he says.

Former Guantanamo detainee Mourad Benchellali and activists from Amnesty International demonstrate in Paris on January 6, 2007, to demand the closure of the US prison. © Stéphane de Sakutin / AFP

General Miller took over the running of the Guantanamo Bay prison shortly after former president George W Bush's administration approved so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including placing detainees in stress positions, stripping them, isolating them for extended periods of time and exposing them to extreme heat and cold.

Miller was tasked with implementing these methods.

“Miller is identified in all the investigations, both US and international, as being at the heart of the policy of systemic torture that was practised (at Guantanamo),” according to Benchellali’s lawyer, William Bourdon.

“It is unthinkable that he would not be asked to explain himself. If he refuses to come (to France), he will have to face the consequences.”

Benchellali said he had never seen Miller during interrogations, only “passing through the cell blocks”.

“But he knew (what was happening), for sure,” he adds.

Reprimand

The Pentagon has declined to comment on Miller’s summons.

The US Defense Department “does not comment on ongoing international legal proceedings”, said Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Myles Caggins.

“The accusations of the ill treatment of prisoners, specifically interrogation techniques, were the subject of investigations by the government, the principal conclusions of which were published in the Church report,” he added.

The report, overseen by Admiral Albert T. Church and published in 2005, cited eight cases of mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees, described as “relatively minor in terms of physical violence”.

Another report published the same year and conducted by the US Air Force’s Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt recommended General Miller be reprimanded for “failing to monitor and set limits on the implementation of authorised (interrogation) techniques” at Guantanamo – a recommendation that was never acted upon by the Pentagon.

Despite US President Barack Obama’s promises to close Guantanamo during his 2008 election campaign, 122 detainees remain imprisoned at the US Naval base at the southeastern end of Cuba, many without trial or charge. Of these, 56 have been deemed “releasable” but continue to be held at the prison.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-04-04

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