US Supreme Court nixes CIA contractors’ testimony on Guantanamo detainee arrested in Pakistan

The sun sets on the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., on January 26, 2022. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 04 March 2022
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US Supreme Court nixes CIA contractors’ testimony on Guantanamo detainee arrested in Pakistan

  • Suspected Al-Qaeda figure Abu Zubaydah is one of 39 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay, was subjected to waterboarding
  • Abu Zubaydah, who is Palestinian, was captured in 2002 in Pakistan and has been held by the United States since without charges

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that due to national security concerns two former CIA contractors cannot be questioned in a Polish investigation into the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected high-ranking Al-Qaeda figure who was repeatedly subjected to a type of torture called waterboarding.
The justices ruled 6-3 that Central Intelligence Agency contractors James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen cannot be subpoenaed under a US law that lets federal courts enforce a request for testimony or other evidence for a foreign legal proceeding. Abu Zubaydah, 50, is one of 39 remaining detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The court found that the government could assert what is called the “state-secrets privilege” to prevent the contractors from being questioned in the Polish criminal investigation about their role in interrogating Abu Zubaydah because it would jeopardize US national security.
Poland is believed to be the location of a “black site” where the CIA used harsh interrogation techniques against him. Abu Zubaydah lost an eye and underwent waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — 83 times in a single month while held by the CIA, according to US government documents.
The contractors’ testimony “would be tantamount to a disclosure from the CIA itself,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the ruling.
“For these reasons, we conclude that in this case the state secrets privilege applies to the existence (or nonexistence) of a CIA facility in Poland,” Breyer added.
The justices were divided on what exactly should happen, with six justices saying Abu Zubaydah’s request should be dismissed. Conservative Neil Gorsuch and liberals Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan said the case should be sent back to lower courts.
Gorsuch wrote a strongly worded dissenting opinion joined by Sotomayor saying that much of what the government claims to be a state secret is already widely known.
“There comes a point where we should not be ignorant as judges of what we know to be true as citizens,” Gorsuch wrote.
“Ending this suit may shield the government from some further modest measure of embarrassment. But respectfully, we should not pretend it will safeguard any secret,” Gorsuch added.
Abu Zubaydah, who is Palestinian, was captured in 2002 in Pakistan and has been held by the United States since then without charges. He has spent more than 15 years detained at Guantanamo.
David Klein, Abu Zubaydah’s lawyer, said that although the court ruled against his client, it left the door open to him filing an amended request that would not require disclosure of the site’s location. That means “there is a pathway for him to finally uncover the truth about what happened to him at the hands of the CIA during a critical part of his detention,” Klein added.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
At the case’s October oral arguments, some justices asked why the government would not let Abu Zubaydah himself be questioned. The Justice Department later told the court it would agree to Abu Zubaydah sending a declaration that could be used in the Polish investigation, although it would have to be reviewed first. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers called that approach unacceptable.
Abu Zubaydah was “an associate and longtime terrorist ally of Osama bin Laden,” the leader of the Al-Qaeda Islamist militant group killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, according to a Justice Department filing.
The justices have turned away multiple cases brought by Guantanamo detainees challenging their confinement. Abu Zubaydah’s own case has been pending in lower courts for more than a decade.
The US government has disclosed that Abu Zubaydah was held overseas and interrogated using “enhanced interrogation techniques” but has not revealed locations. The European Court of Human Rights determined that Abu Zubaydah was held in Poland in 2002 and 2003.
The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that Mitchell and Jessen could be subpoenaed, prompting the Justice Department to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Details of CIA activities were confirmed in a 2014 US Senate report that concluded that the interrogation techniques were more brutal than originally disclosed and that the agency misled the White House and public about its torture of detainees captured overseas after Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.


Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

Updated 5 sec ago
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Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

  • PPP’s Aseefa Bhutto says Pakistani people deserve a better budget, urges the government to provide relief to poor
  • Information minister says opposition has not prepared shadow budget, is criticizing government without justification

ISLAMABAD: The coalition partners of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration and the opposition parties on Sunday criticized the budget for the next fiscal year (FY25) while offering suggestions to improve it to provide relief to the public.
The National Assembly of Pakistan kicked off debate on the federal budget on Thursday, as the government hopes for its passage this week.
During the discussions, both the opposition lawmakers and members of the government’s allied parties slammed the budget while asking the Sharif administration to review the taxes imposed on the salaried class, food items and other sectors.
Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) in the budget, which was presented on June 12 by Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Muhammad Aurangzeb.
“Do you think this is the budget the people of Pakistan deserve,” Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker and daughter of the slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, said while participating in the debate. “The people of Pakistan deserve better.”
She urged the government to provide relief to the public.
“Together we have to find way to give relief to the people who are suffering 15 hours a day without electricity in this sweltering heat,” she added.
The PPP leader also asked the government to support farmers battered by storms, floods and recent controversial decisions related to wheat import.
“We must find ways to help the blue-collar workers who have no job security,” she said. “We must find ways to develop our human capital. We must find ways to provide relief directly to the poorest of the poor of this country.”
Another senior PPP lawmaker Khurshid Shah termed the budget “difficult” that would increase burden on the public.
He suggested the government to work on population control to save resources and provide education, health, clean drinking water and other facilities to people.
“The government should offer incentives to the public to bring down the population number,” he added.
Opposition lawmaker from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Shahida Begum said no relief was provided to the public in the budget, criticizing the government’ spending and lack of transparency related to the utilization of public funds.
“The government should reduce income tax and try to broaden the tax base to collect more revenue,” she said.
Sunni Ittehad Council’s Ali Muhammad Khan emphasized the idea of abolishing interest to strengthen the national economy.
“If we abolish interest, then all budgets would be for the prosperity and progress of the country and the nation,” he said.
Responding to all the criticism, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said the opposition had not bothered to prepare even a shadow budget and was only criticizing the government without justification.
He pointed out the government had increased the salaries of public servants along with the minimum wage level and reduced tariff for industrial electricity.
“Everyone is resorting to criticism, but no one talks about the budget,” he said.
“Pakistan’s friendly countries want to invest here which is in their [opposition’s] interest and ours as well,” he continued. “We have to make Pakistan a peaceful country for trade and investments.”


Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

Updated 6 min 13 sec ago
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Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

  • Times Square in New York is recognized as one of the world’s most heavily trafficked places
  • Dhai, who hails from Pakistan’s Sindh province, has a string of hits to her name such as “Kaid Ao Ni”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai was recently featured on the iconic Times Square billboard in New York city, making her the latest celebrity from the country to be advertised at the prestigious location. 

Times Square, situated at the heart of New York City, is renowned for its iconic digital billboards and advertisements which showcase images of celebrities and a wide array of prominent brands. It is recognized as one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world. 

Dhai, a septuagenarian singer who hails from Pakistan’s southern Tharparkar district famous for its desert landscape and cultural diversity, belongs to the Manganhar Muslim community. The Manganhars are a famous community of singers that reside in the Tharparkar district in Pakistan and Rajasthan state in India, both areas connected via the shared border between the two countries. 

“A voice like that of the cuckoo reaches Times Square directly,” Spotify Pakistan posted on Instagram on Saturday, sharing a picture of Dhai at a vertical billboard on Times Square. “Listen to Mai Dhai on the #EQUALPAKISTAN playlist.”

The Equal Pakistan initiative by Spotify aims to promote both established and aspiring female artists, recognizing their talent and contributions to the music industry in the country. 

Dhai garnered critical acclaim after performing in a string of popular Pakistani musical festivals. However, she shot to fame across Pakistan in 2016 after debuting in Coke Studio’s season 8 with her two songs, “Aankhaṛli Phaṛookai” and “Kadi Ao Ni with artists Karam Abbas Khan and Atif Aslam garnering critical acclaim. 

In October 2023, Pakistani musician-singer Talal Qureshi was also featured on a Spotify billboard at Times Square, when the music platform and streaming app promoted Qureshi’s 2023 album “Turbo” on the billboard. 

Qureshi, celebrated for his seamless fusion of traditional Pakistani music with modern electronic sounds, is known for popular hits such as “Peechay Hut,” “Hico,” “Faltu Pyar” and “Paisa.”


Supreme Court resumes hearing denial of reserved seats petitions filed by ex-PM Khan-backed party

Updated 24 June 2024
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Supreme Court resumes hearing denial of reserved seats petitions filed by ex-PM Khan-backed party

  • Pakistan’s election regulator denied these seats for women and minorities to Sunni Ittehad Council after Feb. polls
  • The outcome of the case may impact National Assembly’s composition, influencing how the government functions

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court is scheduled to take up a significant political case today, Monday, involving petitions that challenge the denial of reserved seats in parliament to the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a party backed by the country’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

These seats for women and minorities in Pakistan’s national and provincial legislatures, constitutionally reserved for greater political inclusion, are allocated to various political factions on a proportional basis after considering the number of general seats won by them during elections.

Leaders from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were compelled to contest the national polls in February as independent candidates after being deprived of their party symbol, the cricket bat, by the Supreme Court of Pakistan due to internal elections deemed flawed.

The PTI-backed independent candidates won the maximum number of seats, emerging as the single largest bloc in the National Assembly, but chose to join the SIC in the absence of their original party identity.

However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided not to allocate the reserved seats to them on technical grounds, instead distributing the SIC’s share among other parties.

“All of these returned candidates were PTI candidates forced by cascading series of errors of law by the ECP to take on the garb of independents,” Justice Munib Akhtar, one of the 13 members of the Supreme Court bench hearing the case, remarked during the last proceeding on June 4.

The Pakistani top court suspended the Peshawar High Court’s verdict in the case last month that followed the ECP decision and upheld it.

The outcome of the case can be politically significant since it may impact the National Assembly’s composition, influencing how legislations are passed and the government functions.

Khan’s party says it is hopeful of winning 78 reserved seats in parliament given to the rival parties after the elections.


PM Sharif’s administration prioritizes security for local and foreign nationals, announces special security unit

Updated 23 June 2024
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PM Sharif’s administration prioritizes security for local and foreign nationals, announces special security unit

  • The prime minister asks the relevant authorities to ‘consult Chinese experts’ for the unit’s formation in Islamabad
  • Shehbaz Sharif orders the construction of a forensic lab in the capital that is in keeping with modern requirements

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Sunday protecting Pakistani citizens and foreign nationals residing in the country was a major priority for his administration, as he announced the formation of a special unit for the purpose in the federal capital, to be developed in consultation with Chinese experts.
Top Pakistani officials have held high-profile meetings in recent weeks to underscore their intent to address the challenge of militant violence, which has jeopardized the government’s plan to invite foreign companies and put the national economy back on track.
A day earlier, the prime minister announced plans to prepare a comprehensive response to the issue, warning that a “soft state” could not strengthen its economy as it struggles to gain investor confidence.
He revisited the issue while chairing a meeting in Islamabad to review the progress of ongoing security and public order projects.
“The protection of Pakistani citizens and foreigners residing in Pakistan is among the top priorities of the state,” he was quoted as saying by a statement issued by his office. “Any negligence in maintaining public order and protecting citizens will not be tolerated.”
The prime minister was briefed about the current law and order situation in the federal capital along with the Islamabad Model Jail, Safe City Project, Federal Anti-Terrorism Department, and Special Protection Unit.
The statement informed that Sharif asked the authorities to “consult with Chinese experts” for the formation of the unit.
The meeting also briefed about the National Facilitation Centers in Islamabad and the K-9 units established for the detection and tracing of drugs and explosives.
The prime minister directed the construction of a forensic lab in keeping with the modern requirements and asked the authorities to recruit the personnel on merit for all security projects in Islamabad.
The meeting was also attended by Federal Minister for Interior Mohsin Naqvi, Deputy Chairman Planning Jahangir Khan, Federal Secretaries, and senior officials from the relevant departments.


National Assembly passes resolution against mob lynchings in Pakistan, demands citizen safety

Updated 24 June 2024
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National Assembly passes resolution against mob lynchings in Pakistan, demands citizen safety

  • The development follows the killing of a local tourist in Swat on the accusation of desecrating the Holy Qur’an
  • Pakistani lawmakers say violent acts committed in the name of religion have become a norm in the country

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution on Sunday condemning recent mob lynching incidents in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces, while urging relevant authorities to ensure the safety of all citizens, including religious minorities, and bring perpetrators of such violence to justice.
The development follows the recent torture and killing of a local tourist in the picturesque Swat valley of KP, accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an, whose body was then set alight by a furious mob.
During Saturday’s parliamentary debate, Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal emphasized this was not an isolated incident, but part of a troubling series of violent acts committed in the name of religion.
Earlier today, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif echoed the concern, urging the National Assembly to adopt a clear stance on the issue.
“The House believes that right to life is the most cherished right as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan,” the resolution presented by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said. “Every person is to be dealt with in accordance with the law and not otherwise.”
“This House takes serious notice of the recent mob lynchings of our citizens accused of offenses in Swat and Sargodha,” it continued. “It is noted with grave concern that such incidents have recently increased in different parts of the country. The House strongly condemns these horrific and tragic incidents which cannot be tolerated in any civilized society.”
The resolution urged the federal and provincial governments to ensure “the safety and security of all our citizens, including religious minorities and other vulnerable segments of society.”
Referring to another incident where a Christian man was targeted by his enraged neighbors in Punjab’s Sargodha district over blasphemy allegation, the resolution asked Punjab and KP administrations to “take all necessary measures to ensure that persons involved in these incidents are identified, investigated and prosecuted under the relevant laws.”
“The House also expects that the courts shall ensure immediate and speedy justice in these cases,” it added.
The KP police have formed a joint investigation team to investigate the Swat incident and arrest all involved individuals using CCTV footage.
Mob lynchings are not uncommon in Pakistan where even a mere accusation of blasphemy can lead to violence.
In case of Swat, mob members killed the tourist after storming the police station where he was detained, pulling him out and taking him away.