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My last column began to sketch out the global human rights impact of the U.S. “war on terror.” It described how U.S. abuses such as torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention, were, in many instances, carried out in collaboration with other governments.
Indeed, without foreign support and assistance, the human rights violations of the past eight years would not have been possible.
Today’s column gives some examples of this abusive collaboration. Among the dozens of countries that supported abusive U.S. counterterrorism efforts are Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Indonesia and Jordan.
The Egyptian authorities worked closely with the CIA on renditions, both arresting suspects in Egypt and handing them over to the CIA, and accepting rendered prisoners for detention and interrogation. Prisoners who were rendered to Egypt by the CIA post-9/11 include Abd al-Hamid al-Fakhiri (better known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi), Ahmad Hussain Mustafa ‘Agiza, Muhammad al-Zari, Hafez Qari Mohamed Saad Iqbal Madni, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr (aka Abu Omar), Mamdouh Habib, and Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman (aka Asadallah).
The majority of the suspects rendered to Egypt were Egyptian nationals who remained in Egypt for long-term detention. However, other prisoners—such as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi (Libyan), Mamdouh Habib (Australian), and Hafez Saad Iqbal Madni (Pakistani)—were non-Egyptians who were apparently sent to Egypt to be interrogated; after some weeks or months there, they were returned to U.S. custody.
One of the first post 9/11 cases of rendition to Egypt was that of Ahmad ‘Agiza and Muhammad al-Zari, who were transferred from Sweden to Egypt on December 18, 2001. The two were held in incommunicado detention for five weeks before their families were allowed to visit them.
There is considerable evidence to show that Egyptian security agents tortured the men during this period. A confidential Swedish government memorandum detailing the men’s first visit by embassy officials includes allegations from the men that they were repeatedly beaten by prison guards, denied necessary medication, blindfolded during interrogations, and were threatened with reprisals against family members if they did not cooperate during interrogations.
The men also made serious allegations of torture to family members and their Egyptian and Swedish lawyers. According to ‘Agiza’s mother, he told her that he was subject to repeated beatings and electric shocks, after which a cream was applied (to minimize evidence of the burns), and that he was at one point left chained and blindfolded for 10 days, during which he urinated and defecated on himself. He also alleged that he was made to lick food off of the prison floor.
Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was rendered to Egypt by the CIA in early 2002. While under torture, he “admitted” that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons, information was later used in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations justifying the invasion of Iraq.
ABC News reported that they obtained a CIA cable describing a CIA debriefing of al-Libi, in which al-Libi described the circumstances of his purported confession. Al-Libi told the CIA that the Egyptian interrogators told him that they wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”
Describing the treatment that led to al-Libi’s statements about Iraqi-al-Qaeda links, the cable continues:
Al Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then “placed him in a small box approximately 50cm x 50cm [20 inches x 20 inches].” He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al Libi claims that he was given a last opportunity to “tell the truth.” When al Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al Libi claimed that “he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back.” Al Libi told CIA debriefers that he then “was punched for 15 minutes.”
Former detainees Hafez Qari Mohamed Saad Iqbal Madni, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr (aka Abu Omar), and Mamdouh Habib have all told similarly graphic stories of torture and abuse.
The Egyptian authorities also handed over to the CIA at least one suspect arrested on Egyptian territory: Yemeni Abdel Salem al-Hila, who was picked up in Cairo in September 2002. After being held by the CIA in secret prisons in Afghanistan, he was placed in military custody, and then, in September 2004, brought to Guantanamo. He remains in detention there without charge.
In early 2007, in the wake of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, the Ethiopian government allowed American intelligence officials to question prisoners held in secret detention in Addis Ababa. The detainees were part of a large group who had previously been rendered from Kenya to Somalia, and from there to Ethiopia. They included people of various nationalities, including U.S., British, Canadian, and Swedish citizens.
Other suspects were arrested by the Ethiopian military in Somalia before they ever made it across the border into Kenya. One detainee described being taken to a U.S. outpost near the Kenyan border, but inside Somalia, where two plainclothes U.S. agents interrogated him for several hours before he was flown to Kismayo and Addis Ababa.
Former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that U.S. intelligence agents operated out of a villa outside of Addis Ababa during this period. Every morning, Ethiopian guards called some number of detainees out of their cells, blindfolded them, and drove them to the villa for interrogation. Every night the guards returned the detainees to various detention sites in Addis Ababa, where they were held without access to international monitors such as the ICRC, lawyers, or consular representatives, and were not allowed to contact their family members to inform them of their whereabouts.
The interrogations by U.S. agents continued until May 2007.
Gambian authorities delivered at least two prisoners to CIA custody in 2002. Jamal el-Banna, a Jordanian citizen and U.K. resident, and Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi citizen and U.K. resident, were arrested by Gambian intelligence officials on November 8. “The next morning US officials were running the show, taking pictures and asking questions,” al-Rawi later told The Independent.
The two men—along with three other suspects—were reportedly hidden in safe houses and intensively interrogated for many days, including by a brawny American who used the alias Lee. While the three other men were released at the end of this period of questioning, al-Rawi and el-Banna were flown to CIA detention in Afghanistan. They were later brought to Guantanamo, where they spent several years without trial before being released to Britain.
The Indonesian government rendered at least two terrorism suspects to CIA custody in 2002. They are Hafez Qari Mohamed Saad Iqbal Madni, a Pakistani who was arrested in Jakarta, Indonesia, in January 2002 (he was later rendered by the CIA to Egypt and then brought to Guantanamo, where he was held for five-and-a-half years without charge); and Mahmoud Ahmad Assegaf (aka Omar Faruq), an Iraqi who was arrested in West Java in June 2002.
In addition, Salah Salim Ali Qaru, a Yemeni who was arrested in Jakarta in August 2003, was packed off to Jordan, where the Jordanians handed him over to the CIA.
From 2001 until at least 2004, Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) served as a proxy jailer for the CIA, holding prisoners whom the CIA had picked up from countries around the world, and later handing some of them back to the CIA. More than just warehousing these men, the GID interrogated them using methods that were even more brutal than those of the CIA. The prisoners were typically held for several months in GID custody—and in at least one case, for nearly two years.
At least 14 non-Jordanian prisoners were transferred from US to Jordanian custody during this three-year period, perhaps more. Human Rights Watch has credible information indicating that the prisoners included at least five Yemenis, three Algerians, two Saudis, a Mauritanian, a Syrian, a Tunisian, and one or more Chechens. They may also have included a Libyan, an Iraqi Kurd, a Kuwaiti, one or more Egyptians, and a national of the United Arab Emirates.
While in GID detention in late 2002, one of these prisoners, Ali al-Hajj al-Sharqawi, wrote a long note describing his ordeal. The note, which al-Sharqawi marked with his thumb print, was smuggled out of the facility in 2003. In it, al-Sharqawi describes being held as a secret prisoner and hidden in secret cells. Consistent with what al-Sharqawi told two fellow prisoners at GID at the time, the note states that the GID interrogators “beat me in a way that does not know any limits.”
“They threatened me with electricity,” the note continues, “with snakes and dogs …. [They said] we’ll make you see death …. They threatened to rape me.”
The Jordanians also rendered other suspects to CIA custody. On September 9, 2003, they arrested Yemeni Salah Nasir Salim ‘Ali Qaru upon his arrival in Amman, held him for ten days at GID headquarters, and then handed him over to the CIA. On October 19, 2003, they arrested Muhammed Bashmillah in Amman, several days after his arrival there, held him a few days at GID headquarters, and then handed him over to the CIA.
JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in Paris.