Monday, October 17, 2005

Neil Mackay (Scotland's Sunday Herald) fills readers in on extraordinary rendition (something the Times of New York isn't too keen to do)

The Sunday Herald (Scotland) had news and Ava was intending to report on it in "The Third Estate Sunday Review News Review" but everything came to a halt. (Another reason to focus on what's important, my opinion.) We'll cover it here.

Neil Mackay's "Britain sued for 'complicity' in torture:"

One of the world’s leading human rights lawyers is to sue Britain for its 'complicity' in the torture of terror suspects who have never been convicted of a crime.
[. . .]

And the former American spy chief who devised a controversial scheme for snatching terror suspects and imprisoning them has criticised its use as a means of delivering them to US-friendly countries for torture.
The developments all focus on "extraordinary rendition flights", which take terror suspects abducted by the US from all over the world to countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Uzbekistan, where they are tortured.
In one case, Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi -- a British resident from Ethiopia -- was captured in Pakistan. He claims he was visited in prison by two MI6 officers after he was tortured by Pakistani interrogators, who told him that he was going to be sent to an undisclosed Arab nation for more torture.
Later, Habashi was flown to Morocco on one of the CIA's fleet of Gulfstream jets used in renditions. There he says he was subjected to appalling abuse, the worst of which involved his interrogators cutting his private parts with a scalpel.

[. . .]
Habashi's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, OBE, who is acclaimed in both the USA and UK for his human rights work, is now to sue Britain for breaching the Convention on Torture. Stafford Smith said: "The UK was complicit in this process. What happened to Benyam was morally wrong and stupid. People will say anything when you take a razor blade to their genitals."

That's the overview. Mackay has other articles on this that we're excerpting from. Former American spy chief? That's probably a good place to start. How did America get into the "extraordinary renditions" process? From "These two men are experts on rendition: one invented it, the other has seen its full horrors:"

IF there are two men in the world who know about "extraordinary renditions" then they are Michael Scheuer, the CIA chief who invented the programme, and Craig Murray, the UK ambassador to Uzbekistan who saw first-hand the devastating consequences for British intelligence of using renditions.
In exclusive interviews with the Sunday Herald they blew apart any justification for the rendition system, saying the US government deliberately refused to opt for a legal alternative to renditions which was presented to the President by the CIA and that the programme undermined Western democracy, damaged the prosecution of the war on terror and "contaminated British and US intelligence".
Michael Scheuer
CIA officer and special adviser to the chief of the CIA's bin Laden department until November 2004
In 1995, in the wake of the 1993 car-bomb attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, Scheuer was the main CIA officer charged with hunting down Islamic terrorists believed to be posing a threat to the US. He was the "go-to guy" for all things al-Qaeda.
President Clinton's National Security Council had asked the CIA to break up al-Qaeda around the world and to arrest and imprison key operatives. "The Agency is a tool of the President so of course we said "yes"," Scheuer explains at his home near the CIA's HQ in Langley, Virginia. "We asked how we were to do it and where we were to take them, and they said "it's up to you"."
The CIA has no prisons and no powers of arrest, so Scheuer was presented with something of a problem. The programme of renditions he developed was very different to the system which now operates.
Today, anyone suspected of links to terrorism can be snatched anywhere in the world, put on a secret CIA jet and taken to a country, such as Egypt, for "out-sourced" torture.
When Scheuer developed his programme he stipulated strictly that only suspects who had been tried in absentia for terrorist offences or had an outstanding arrest warrant were to be targeted. "They had to be part of some legal process," Scheuer says. "We were focusing on a very narrow segment of al-Qaeda. It was very delicate and complicated."
The target also had to be perceived as a direct threat to the US by the CIA and the department of justice and the country in which the person was to be seized had to support the action and carry out the arrest. Today there only has to be the suggestion they are involved in terrorism -- no convictions or warrants are needed, nor is the permission of another country.
Even more crucially, Scheuer's rendition programme stated that snatched suspects would be taken to the US as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions. The Clinton administration, however, says Scheuer, forbade this, insisting instead on sending captives to whatever nation had tried them or had an outstanding warrant for them. "To give them PoW status would have given them credibility, in the eyes of the administration, and they didn't want that," Scheuer says.
Scheuer was in charge of the snatch operations from 1995, when the first target was seized, until June 1999. In that time, some 50 were captured. Since 9/11 there have been 150 to 200 snatches. "The primary intention was to get the guy off the streets so he couldn't carry out any more atrocities against US citizens," he says.
"Our second goal was to seize documents along with the suspect and exploit them for intelligence. Finally, we never expected to get anything from interrogations. Al-Qaeda are trained to fight the jihad from their jail cells , they are masters of counter-interrogation. They'll give you old information or false information. The CIA never felt it would help to torture these people."

So that's some of the history. (It's an excerpt. Read the full article.) Now let's focus on Mackay's "One victim's story" which gives a human face to the torture:

He laughed at them, and the Americans told him that if he didn't start talking, he'd be taken to an Arabic country and tortured. When they left, angry at his refusal to talk, the Pakistanis came into his cell. He was beaten with a belt and had a gun stuck in his chest. In comparison to what he was to go through later, this was nothing.
After his beating, two MI6 officers came into the room. In a statement taken by Stafford Smith in Guantanamo Bay, Habashi says: "They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. 'No, you need a lot more. Where you are going, you need a lot of sugar,' they said.
"I didn't know exactly what [the MI6 officer] meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me that I was going to get tortured by the Arabs."
This is the first time evidence has come forward to show British intelligence directly co-operating with torture – in this case the torture of a man claiming political asylum in the UK. Previously, the UK was thought only to have offered logistical support in the torture of terror suspects, allowing planes ferrying captives held by the Americans to regimes such as Egypt and Syria where they would be tortured, to refuel at airports such as Glasgow International.
The Pakistanis then gave al-Habashi to masked American soldiers. A report by Stafford Smith reads: "They stripped him naked, took photos, put fingers up his anus and dressed him in a tracksuit. He was shackled, had earphones put on, and was blindfolded. He was put into a plane." He landed in Morocco eight hours later.
The Americans told al-Habashi that they wanted him to give evidence against Jose Padilla, an American who has been in custody awaiting trial for three and a half years, accused of planning to plant a "dirty bomb" in the US. They also wanted him to give evidence against senior al-Qaeda figures in captivity, including Abu Zubaydah, the number three in the terror organisation, and Khalid Sheikh Moh ammed, the mastermind of 9/11. The Americans told him they believed he was al-Qaeda's "ideas man" -- an accusation that Stafford Smith says is "beyond absurd".
Al-Habashi was then confronted with the Moroccan torture team. With a macabre flourish, some even wore bondage-type masks to give the torment an added mediaeval flavour. Stafford Smith says: "The British government was complicit in some of the abuse that took place against Benyam, at least to the extent that the government told the Moroccans information that they would then use against him in the torture sessions." The Moroccans knew about his personal fitness trainer, what grades he got at school, where he studied and where he lived.

Until now, it has never been alleged that British intelligence aided and abetted torture by passing information to interrogators, which was then used to question suspects. Lying in his cell, al-Habashi says in his statement: "I was not of this world. I did not believe this was real, that this was happening to me. It never, never crossed my mind that I'd end up being hauled half-way across the world by the Americans to face torture in a place I had never been -- Morocco."

Finally, (if there's a fifth story, I didn't notice it and neither did Ava), Mackay's "TORTURE FLIGHTS: THE INSIDE STORY:"

THEY could be walking the streets of Sweden, Italy, Albania, Indonesia or Pakistan. They are kidnapped in broad daylight, hooded, drugged, shackled and placed on a jet operated by the CIA. When they wake they find themselves in a country such as Morocco, Egypt or Uzbekistan -- where torture is the currency of the interrogation room. The CIA hand the captive to the local secret police, and the prisoner disappears off the face of the Earth. If they are lucky, they will emerge a few years later in a cage in Guantanamo Bay, broken by beatings, rape and electrocution ... if they are unlucky, they are never seen again.
America's "extraordinary rendition" programme targets suspected Islamic terrorists, captures and delivers them to US-friendly nations which are quite happy to use torture to get the information the US wants for the war on terror.

Neil Mackay's reporting matters. He and his paper (Scotland's Sunday Herald) deserve credit for covering this issue with something more than an occasional piece (the way the New York Times does the reporting of Raymond Bonner on this topic).

I'll add that Jose Padilla is an American citizen. He hasn't been given a trial after three years. We know that. We all know that (in this country). We can pretend we don't and we act like it's not happening but it is happening and, from Mackay's reporting, we know that some of the torture has been used to attempt to get information on Padilla. If after three years they've got no information that allows them to feel they have a winnable case, the government appears to have no case. Padilla should have been granted a trial years ago. The continued refusal to allow him to stand to trial is a shame on the country (United States).

For Bonnie, last evening's entries were "Reporting from outside the US mainstream media" and "Reporting from outside the US mainstream media focused on Iraq."

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