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Swapping a Dictator for a Torturer

As things now stand, the United States appears ready to have Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak tossed out in exchange for his newly-named Vice President, Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian spy master. That is, maintain the status quo by swapping one dictator for another.

Of course, Israel must sign off on this deal aimed at assuring that Egypt can remain as America’s main base in the region, straddling as it does North Africa and the Middle East. Without that status quo, the U.S. would have to rethink its entire neo-colonial policies in the region.

But Suleiman looks like a nasty piece of work.

You don’t get much about him in the US corporate media, but Agence France Press has pulled together the basics:

“For US intelligence officials, he has been a trusted partner willing to go after Islamist militants without hesitation, targeting homegrown radical groups Gamaa Islamiya and Jihad after they carried out a string of attacks on foreigners. A product of the US-Egyptian relationship, Suleiman underwent training in the 1980s at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina….

“After taking over as spy director, Suleiman oversaw an agreement with the United States in 1995 that allowed for suspected militants to be secretly transferred to Egypt for questioning, according to the book “Ghost Plane” by journalist Stephen Grey. ..

“In the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the CIA relied on Suleiman to accept the transfer of a detainee known as Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who US officials hoped could prove a link between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. The suspect was bound and blindfolded and flown to Cairo, where the CIA believed their longtime ally Suleiman would ensure a successful interrogation, according to “The One Percent Doctrine” by author Ron Suskind. A US Senate report in 2006 describes how the detainee was locked in a cage for hours and beaten, with Egyptian authorities pushing him to confirm alleged connections between Al-Qaeda and Saddam. Libi eventually told his interrogators that the then Iraqi regime was moving to provide Al-Qaeda with biological and chemical weapons. When the then US secretary of state Colin Powell made the case for war before the United Nations, he referred to details of Libi’s confession. The detainee eventually recanted his account.”

Thus our loyal ally Egypt provided the fake information used by the United States to justify go to war in Iraq.

Stephen Soldz of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology provided the following excerpts from authors who discussed Sulieman:

Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, pointed to Suleiman’s role in the rendition program:

“Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as ‘very bright, very realistic,’ adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to ‘some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way'” (pp. 113).

Stephen Grey, in Ghost Plane, his investigative work on the rendition program, also points to Suleiman as central to the program:

“To negotiate these assurances [that the Egyptians wouldn’t ‘torture’ the prisoner delivered for torture] the CIA dealt principally in Egypt through Omar Suleiman, the chief of the Egyptian general intelligence service (EGIS) since 1993. It was he who arranged the meetings with the Egyptian interior ministry…. Suleiman, who understood English well, was an urbane and sophisticated man. Others told me that for years Suleiman was America’s chief interlocutor with the Egyptian regime — the main channel to President Hosni Mubarak himself, even on matters far removed from intelligence and security.

Suleiman’s role in the rendition program was also highlighted in a Wikileaks cable:

“The context of the close and sustained cooperation between the USG and GOE on counterterrorism, Post believes that the written GOE assurances regarding the return of three Egyptians detained at Guantanamo (reftel) represent the firm commitment of the GOE to adhere to the requested principles. These assurances were passed directly from Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) Chief Soliman (sic) through liaison channels — the most effective communication path on this issue. General Soliman’s word is the GOE’s guarantee, and the GOE’s track record of cooperation on CT issues lends further support to this assessment. End summary.”

“Shortly after 9/11, Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was captured by Pakistani security forces and, under US pressure, torture by Pakistanis,” writes Soldz. “He was then rendered (with an Australian diplomat watching) by CIA operatives to Egypt, a not uncommon practice. In Egypt, Habib merited Suleiman’s personal attention. As related by Richard Neville, based on Habib’s memoir”:

“Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman…. Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. That treatment wasn’t enough for Suleiman, so:

To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib – and he did, with a vicious karate kick.

After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where he eventually was imprisoned at Guantanamo. His “confession” was then used as evidence in his Guantanamo trial.”

JAMES RIDGEWAY is senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones Magazine. For 30 years he was Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. He edits the Unsilent Generation, where this article also appears.

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James Ridgeway is an investigative reporter in Washington, DC. He co-edits Solitary Watch.

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