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French judge summons former Guantanamo chief in torture probe

© Alex Wong, Getty, AFP | Major General Geoffrey Miller (right) testifies during a hearing on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal on May 19, 2004, in Washington, DC.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-19

A French judge has summoned retired US General Geoffrey Miller, the former Guantanamo Bay prison chief, to appear in court on March 1 over allegations of torture, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs told FRANCE 24 on Thursday.

William Bourdon, a lawyer for former Gitmo detainee Mourad Benchellali, said General Miller was due in court at 10am on March 1 to answer accusations that he oversaw Benchellali’s “illegal detention and torture”.

Bourdon said he did not expect the general to show up, noting that “top US civilian and military officials refuse to be held to account by [foreign] judges”.

Benchellali and fellow French citizen Nizar Sassi were detained at the notorious US prison from 2002 until 2004. For years they have been asking the French courts to launch legal proceedings against Miller, a now retired army general who was commander of Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2004.

Last April, the Paris Court of Appeal approved their request and demanded that Miller appear in court for questioning.

From Gitmo to Iraq

General Miller took over the running of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre 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 or cold.

Miller was tasked with implementing these methods. Such tactics were later used in Iraq, shortly after Miller and a team of experts visited in 2003 to help obtain more information during interrogations.

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

In an interview with FRANCE 24 last April, Benchellali said he was seeking “redress” for the abuses he had suffered during his imprisonment.

"I've been mistreated, I want those responsible to be called to account,” said the 34-year-old.

Benchellali said he had never seen Miller during interrogations. “But he knew [what was happening], for sure,” he said.

Reprimand

Allegations of abuse at Guantanamo have been the subject of several government-backed investigations in the US. A first 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.

Miller’s role in the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal has also been the subject of scrutiny, leading to two hearings before Senate committees investigating cases of torture at the Iraqi detention facility.

Miller took over the command of detainee operations in Iraq in the wake of the Abu Ghraib disclosures, and later fought off accusations by the prison’s former commander, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, that he had encouraged abusive tactics at the notorious facility.

Harvey Volzer, a civilian defence lawyer who represented a military dog handler convicted of intimidating a detainee, told the Washington Post in 2006 that he believed Miller had become a scapegoat for abusive policies developed at a higher level.

"I think they're looking for a place to stop, and Major General Miller may be that convenient place to stop. They're hoping the Senate will be satisfied with Miller's head," Volzer said.

Date created : 2016-02-18

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