Retired U.S. Army Gen. Geoffrey Miller, former commander of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, did not appear for questioning before a French court on Tuesday, after being subpoenaed last month.
Miller was summoned to answer questions about his role in the detention and torture of two former Guantánamo detainees, French citizens Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi. After being transferred to French custody, both were acquitted of terrorism-related charges in 2009.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs predicted Gen. Miller would not appear. In an interview with France 24, William Bourdon, Benchellali’s lawyer, said, “Top U.S. civilian and military officials refuse to be held to account by [foreign] judges.”
Bourdon confirmed to The Intercept that the plaintiffs will request an arrest warrant for Miller. It could only be enforced if he enters the country.
President Obama banned torture in the first week of his presidency. Citing his desire to “look forward, not backward,” however, he has declined to prosecute the senior officials responsible, and has used the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits from torture victims.
With Obama shielding U.S. officials from criminal and civil liability, former detainees are turning to international courts for justice — but the Obama administration is not cooperating. In 2012, the judge in Benchellali and Sassi’s case requested U.S. government documents related to the plaintiffs’ detentions, but got no response.
Similar probes of Bush administration officials are underway in Spain and Germany. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to pay damages to detainees held in a U.S.-operated black site in the country.
Miller’s failure to show up was criticized by human rights groups.
“Miller’s absence speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s continued unwillingness to confront America’s torture legacy,” said Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a statement emailed to The Intercept. “The administration not only refuses to investigate U.S. officials like Miller for torture, it apparently remains unwilling to cooperate when other countries seek to uphold their international obligations to prosecute torturers.”
Defense Department and Justice Department officials did not respond to repeated requests to comment.
Benchellali and Sassi traveled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2001, together with Benchellali’s older brother, Menad. According to Benchellali, Menad convinced them it would be a fun vacation — but he had other ideas. Benchellali and Sassi ended up at an al Qaeda training camp against their will, and Benchellali claims that they tried to escape.
After the September 11 terror attacks, Benchellali and Sassi were captured by the Pakistani army and handed over to U.S. officials. Menad was later arrested in connection to a 2002 plot to bomb the Russian Embassy in Paris.
When Miller took command of Guantánamo in November 2002, he oversaw a rapid expansion in the use of torture. Despite having no prior experience with interrogations, he pushed to expand the list of authorized techniques, calling sensory deprivation, isolation, and sleep deprivation “essential.”
In 2004 and 2005, respectively, Benchellali and Sassi were transferred to French custody. A French appeals court acquitted both in 2009. Miller left Guantánamo in 2004 to oversee military detention in Iraq, where he reportedly said he wanted to “Gitmo-ize” U.S.-run prisons. Months later, Miller would emerge as a central figure in the Abu Ghraib scandal. During the courts-martial of lower-level officers, he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
Miller retired in 2006 and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for “exceptionally commendable service.”