John Sifton writes: I have just arrived here in the Gambia, in westernmost Africa, to testify before the African Commission of Human Rights about a CIA rendition case involving Djibouti, 4,000 miles east at the mouth of the Red Sea.
The case against Djibouti was brought by Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a Yemeni citizen who was arrested in 2003 in Tanzania and taken on a private flight to Djibouti. There the CIA — with help from Djibouti authorities — detained him short term and then flew him to another CIA facility in Afghanistan. His petition provides evidence that he was subjected to beatings and torture in both locations. The CIA appears to have realized later that al-Asad was not involved in terrorism or al-Qaeda, and returned him to Yemen in 2005.
The al-Asad case is one of several brought to hold the US government and its co-perpetrators accountable for unlawful arrests, detentions, and interrogations carried out by the CIA during the Bush administration — serious abuses that my colleagues and I documented for Human Rights Watch in numerous reports in 2004 to present. Known CIA interrogation techniques included severe sleep deprivation, forced standing, exposure to cold, slapping and hitting, confining detainees in small boxes, and throwing detainees against the wall. Some were waterboarded. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: An elite U.S. interrogation team abandoned its questioning of an al-Qaeda militant who was snatched in Libya after he stopped eating and drinking regularly on board a U.S. Navy ship where he was being held, a U.S. official familiar with the matter said.
As his health deteriorated, U.S. authorities decided to fly the suspect known as Abu Anas al-Liby to New York last weekend, where he was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Al-Liby, whose real name is Nazih al-Ragye, was expected to be arraigned in Federal Court in Manhattan on Tuesday on long-standing charges related to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.
Upon arrival in the United States, al-Liby became subject to the rules of the civilian American court system. That means he can no longer be interrogated without being advised of his constitutional right to avoid incriminating himself, the official said. [Continue reading...]
Jamie Dettmer reports: For Americans, he is a monster, a major al-Qaeda leader who had a hand in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 224 civilians and—until U.S. Special Forces snatched him off the streets of Tripoli last week—a veteran terrorist tasked with uniting jihadists not just in Libya but across the arc of North Africa.
Sitting down, though, with his wife of 22 years and three sons in their cramped apartment, on the elevated ground floor of a small apartment building in a middle-class district in the Libyan capital on Saturday evening, I heard a different story that didn’t fit the bogeyman portrait drawn by American officials.
And it is one that prompts the question: has the U.S. got the right man?
For his family, Abu Anas al-Liby, to use his nom de guerre, is an easy-going husband and kind, playful father who, just days before a Delta Force team grabbed and bundled the 49-year-old out of Libya, told his oldest son, Abdullah, that he was looking forward to becoming a grandfather.
For them, he is a Libyan patriot who sacrificed a great deal. His commitment to the ousting of Libya’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, required them all to suffer, including several years of imprisonment in poor conditions in Iran after the family fled Afghanistan. They say they endured harassment and surveillance in Britain, where they sought political asylum and lived from 1997 to 2000. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: A federal judge in Manhattan on Friday rejected a request that he appoint a lawyer to represent a terror suspect who was captured last weekend in Libya and was said to be undergoing interrogation while in military custody on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
After that interrogation is over, the suspect, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, is expected to be advised of his right to a lawyer and speedy court appearance, and would eventually be brought to Manhattan for criminal prosecution.
Mr. Ruqai, 49, who is better known as Abu Anas al-Libi, faces indictment in Federal District Court on conspiracy charges stemming from the 1998 bombings of two United States embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people.
On Tuesday, David E. Patton, the chief federal public defender in New York City, wrote to the judge overseeing cases stemming from that indictment, arguing that Mr. Ruqai was “a defendant in an indicted case before this court” and was entitled to be taken “without unnecessary delay” before a magistrate judge, where he would also have the right to counsel.
But on Friday, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, said that such a requirement was triggered only by a “federal criminal arrest.”
“The government denies that any federal criminal arrest has taken place,” he wrote, “and there is no evidence to the contrary.” As a result, Judge Kaplan wrote, there was “no proper basis” for the court to conclude that “the obligation to produce the defendant before it in this criminal case has come into existence.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Libya has demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens by American special forces, hours after a separate US military raid on a terrorist target in Somalia ended in apparent failure and retreat.
In Tripoli the US army’s delta force seized alleged al-Qaida leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby and wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people.
But US navy Seals suffered a major setback when they launched an amphibious assault to capture an Islamist militant leader said to be Ahmed Godane, described as Africa’s most wanted man and the architect of last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The elite Seals were beaten back by heavy fire and apparently abandoned equipment that the Somali militants photographed and posted on the internet.
As dramatic details of Saturday’s twin operations emerged, US secretary of state John Kerry insisted that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide”, but faced growing questions about America’s military reach in Africa and the consequences of unilateral aggression.
Al-Liby was captured outside his family home at 6.15am in Noufle’een, a quiet suburb in eastern Tripoli, according to witnesses, but there were conflicting reports over who took him. His brother, Nabih, told the Associated Press that al-Liby was parking when a convoy of three vehicles encircled his car. Armed gunmen smashed the car’s window and seized al-Liby’s gun before grabbing him and taking him away, the report said. The brother said al-Liby’s wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed “commandos”.
But al-Liby’s son Abdullah insisted that Libyan forces were involved. Appearing on Tripoli’s Nabir TV station, he said: “The people who took my father were Libyan, not Americans – they spoke with Tripoli accents. [Continue reading...]
A former CIA officer involved in the 2003 kidnapping of a Muslim cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, in Milan, spoke to McClatchy: Confirming for the first time that she worked undercover for the CIA in Milan when the operation took place, Sabrina De Sousa provided new details about the “extraordinary rendition” that led to the only criminal prosecution stemming from the secret Bush administration rendition and detention program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, was snatched from a Milan street by a team of CIA operatives and flown to Egypt, where he was held for the better part of four years without charges and allegedly tortured. An Egyptian court in 2007 ruled that his imprisonment was “unfounded” and ordered him released.
Among the allegations made by De Sousa in a series of interviews with McClatchy:
– The former CIA station chief in Rome, Jeffrey Castelli, whom she called the mastermind of the operation, exaggerated Nasr’s terrorist threat to win approval for the rendition and misled his superiors that Italian military intelligence had agreed to the operation.
– Senior CIA officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, approved the operation even though Nasr wasn’t wanted in Egypt and wasn’t on the U.S. list of top al Qaida terrorists.
– Condoleezza Rice, then the White House national security adviser, also had concerns about the case, especially what Italy would do if the CIA were caught, but she eventually agreed to it and recommended that Bush approve the abduction. [Continue reading...]
Edward Snowden is accused of breaking the law, but Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan, was convicted of kidnapping and given a nine-year prison sentence.
In 2003, Lady initially claimed diplomatic immunity but after that was rejected by an Italian judge in 2005 and he has been on the run ever since. It’s now reported that he ended up in Panama where he was arrested yesterday.
Panama and Italy don’t have an extradition treaty and so it remains to be seen whether Lady will be able to continue evading his prison sentence.
President Obama has zero tolerance for whistleblowers but he still thinks kidnapping is cool, so in this particular case it doesn’t look like the U.S. government will show any interest in justice.
Washington casts a friendly eye on those who commit crimes at its request, but anyone who dares to expose the government’s criminality will be made to suffer the consequences.
The Guardian reports: The UK’s support for the CIA’s global rendition programme after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US was far more substantial than has previously been recognised, according to a new research project that draws on a vast number of publicly available data and documentation.
Evidence gathered by The Rendition Project – an interactive website that maps thousands of rendition flights – highlight 1,622 flights in and out of the UK by aircraft now known to have been involved in the agency’s secret kidnap and detention programme.
While many of those flights may not have been involved in rendition operations, the researchers behind the project have drawn on testimony from detainees, Red Cross reports, courtroom evidence, flight records and invoices to show that at least 144 were entering the UK while suspected of being engaged in rendition operations. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The full extent of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme has been laid bare with the publication of a report showing there is evidence that more than a quarter of the world’s governments covertly offered support.
A 213-page report compiled by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a New York-based human rights organisation, says that at least 54 countries co-operated with the global kidnap, detention and torture operation that was mounted after 9/11, many of them in Europe.
So widespread and extensive was the participation of governments across the world that it is now clear the CIA could not have operated its programme without their support, according to the OSJI.
“There is no doubt that high-ranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorising human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern,” the report says.
“But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable.” [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: A Milan appeals court on Friday vacated acquittals for a former CIA station chief and two other Americans, and instead convicted them in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect from a Milan street as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
The appeals court sentenced former CIA Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli to seven years, and handed sentences of six years each to Americans Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando. All three were tried in absentia at both levels. A lower court that convicted 23 other Americans in 2009 had previously acquitted the three citing diplomatic immunity.
The November 2009 convictions, which were held up on two levels of appeal, were the first anywhere in the world against CIA actors involved in a practice alleged to have led to torture.
None of the Americans tried in Italy have ever been in Italian custody, but they risk arrest if they travel to Europe and lawyers have in the past suggested that final verdicts would open the way for the Italian government to seek their extradition. No such action has yet been taken.
The Guardian reports: Tony Blair, prime minister at the time MI6 rendered Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a prominent Libyan dissident, to the Gaddafi regime in 2004, has said he had “no recollection” of the incident.
But he said he was sure the operation would be investigated “as it should be”.
Interviewed for BBC Radio 4′s World at One programme, Blair added that it should be remembered that “people in the Middle East were also trying to fight terrorism and extremism”. Britain’s co-operation with Libya at the time was important, the former prime minister said.
He referred to comments made by the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who said the government had been opposed to unlawful rendition. “As far as I know [the government] kept to that position,” Blair said.
Straw has said: “We were opposed to unlawful rendition. We were opposed to any use of torture. Not only did we not agree with it; we were not complicit in it and nor did we turn a blind eye to it.”
However, Straw has added: “No foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time.”
The Guardian reports: Just when Fatima Bouchar thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Americans forced her to lie on a stretcher and began wrapping tape around her feet. They moved upwards, she says, along her legs, winding the tape around and around, binding her to the stretcher. They taped her stomach, her arms and then her chest. She was bound tight, unable to move.
Bouchar says there were three Americans: two tall, thin men and an equally tall woman. Mostly they were silent. She never saw their faces: they dressed in black and always wore black balaclavas. Bouchar was terrified. They didn’t stop at her chest – she says they also wound the tape around her head, covering her eyes. Then they put a hood and earmuffs on her. She was unable to move, to hear or to see. “My left eye was closed when the tape was applied,” she says, speaking about her ordeal for the first time. “But my right eye was open, and it stayed open throughout the journey. It was agony.” The journey would last around 17 hours.
Bouchar, then aged 30, had become a victim of the process known as extraordinary rendition. She and her husband, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan Islamist militant fighting Muammar Gaddafi, had been abducted in Bangkok and were being flown to one of Gaddafi’s prisons in Libya, a country where she had never before set foot. However, Bouchar’s case is different from the countless other renditions that the world has learned about over the past few years, and not just because she was one of the few female victims.
Documents discovered in Tripoli show that the operation was initiated by British intelligence officers, rather than the masked Americans or their superiors in the US. There is also some evidence that the operation may have been linked to a second British-initiated operation, which saw two men detained in Iraq and rendered to Afghanistan. Furthermore, the timing of the operation, and the questions that Bouchar’s husband and a second rendition victim say were subsequently put to them under torture, raise disturbing new questions about the secret court system that considers immigration appeals in terrorist cases in the UK – a system that the government has pledged to extend to civil trials in which the government itself is the defendant.
This year, the Crown Prosecution Service announced police had launched an investigation into the “alleged rendition and alleged ill-treatment” of Bouchar and Belhaj, and a second operation in which a Libyan family of six were flown to one of Gaddafi’s prisons.
It appears inevitable that Scotland Yard’s detectives will want to question the man who was foreign secretary at the time – Jack Straw.
Ten years before Bouchar’s abduction and rendition, many of her husband’s associates had been permitted to settle in Britain. These men were members of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah al-Muqatilah fi-Libya, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), an organisation formed in the early 1990s and dedicated to Gaddafi’s removal. The LIFG was not banned in the UK, and its members appear to have found the country a convenient place to gather and raise funds. There were even reports – officially denied – that MI6 encouraged the LIFG in an unsuccessful attempt on the dictator’s life.
But from 2002 the UK ceased to be such a safe haven for the LIFG. The US and UK governments were beginning to repair their relations with Gaddafi, a rapprochement that would soon see him abandon his WMD programme and open his country’s oil and gas reserves to western corporations.
One Thursday evening in November that year, a 36-year-old LIFG member who was living in London was arrested by armed police as he attempted to board a flight at Heathrow. He was told he was being detained under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act, a piece of legislation that had been rushed on to the statute books within weeks of 9/11, and which allowed the British government to detain international terrorism suspects without trial. From that moment the man was anonymised, by court order – in part to protect his relatives in Libya – and could be referred to only as “M”.
When M had arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker eight years earlier, he had readily told Special Branch detectives that he was a member of the LIFG. On his arrest at Heathrow he insisted that the organisation had no connection with international terrorism and was concerned only with the removal of Gaddafi. After being detained at Belmarsh high security prison in south-east London, M appealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a tribunal that allows the government to give evidence in secret, unseen by the appellant or the appellant’s lawyers.
In March 2004, M became the first and only person detained under the act to win an appeal at SIAC. The tribunal accepted that there were no links between LIFG and al-Qaida, and criticised the Home Office for its “consistent exaggeration” of M’s alleged links with members of al-Qaida. As the law permitted only “international terrorists” to be detained without trial, and not domestic insurgents, M was set free. A few days after SIAC’s decision, notice was passed to the Home Office and MI5, and Fatima Bouchar and her husband were detained in Bangkok.
Bouchar’s husband made no secret of being a leading member of the LIFG. That year, the couple had left China, where they had been living in exile, and attempted to travel to the UK via Malaysia. When they were detained in Kuala Lumpur and questioned about Belhaj’s false Iraqi passport, an acquaintance went to the British high commission to explain that the couple were attempting to reach London. Shortly after this, they were told that they would be permitted to travel to the UK on a BA flight, despite not having EU passports or UK visas. But when the aircraft stopped off at Bangkok, the pair were detained and taken to a US-run detention facility.
It was known that the CIA had been operating a secret prison in Thailand since 9/11, but its precise location was unknown. Bouchar and Belhaj arrived there within minutes of being detained, suggesting that it was located within the perimeter of Don Muang international airport. They were immediately separated.
Belhaj says he was blindfolded, hooded, forced to wear ear defenders, and hung from hooks in his cell wall for what seemed to be hours. He says he was severely beaten. The ear defenders were removed only for him to be blasted with loud music, he says, or when he was interrogated by his US captors. [Continue reading...]
Mary Fitzgerald writes: It didn’t take long before one of the incentives offered to coax the Taliban to the negotiating table came to light: last week the Guardian carried reports of American plans to release several high-ranking Taliban leaders from Guantánamo Bay. They include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan and maybe, just maybe, the former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund – if a third country, perhaps Qatar, will accept custody of him.
It’s an inevitable step in the right direction, reminiscent of the tentative early moves in the Northern Ireland peace process. It also offers a convenient, if partial, solution to the status of the 171 legal headaches still languishing in America’s brutal Caribbean prison.
But it forces into light other shaming questions about the conduct of the so-called war on terror; and in particular about those thousands of men, women and children, many innocent of any crime even by the US authorities’ own admission, who were “rendered” and remain trapped in prisons across the world.
Hamidullah Khan was just 13 when he disappeared from South Waziristan, in Pakistan. I met his father, Wakeel Khan, on a recent trip to Islamabad. He told me with pride that Hamidullah was a “very good-looking boy” and showed me pictures. He said his son could be quite absent-minded, but worked very hard at school: his dream was to become a doctor.
During the summer holidays in 2008, Wakeel sent Hamidullah to the family home in South Waziristan to collect some of their possessions, as Wakeel could not get the time off work to go himself. Hamidullah never returned.
Wakeel, an ex-solider, tried to retrace his son’s steps. He caught the bus up to the province, and asked everyone about his son: his relatives, his old army contacts, the local Taliban. No one knew anything. He thought of going to the police, but given that they charge a 300 rupee bribe to replace an ID card, he asked himself, “how much would they charge to find a person?”
After a year, the Red Cross finally tracked down Hamidullah and passed a letter to his family saying he was being held in Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Despite American assurances that the prisoners there are treated well, fresh allegations of abuse surfaced this weekend.
No explanation has ever been offered for why a boy so young was picked up and taken hundreds of miles away, why he has never been charged, and why he has still not been released.
The Associated Press reports: In northern Bucharest, in a busy residential neighborhood minutes from the center of Romania’s capital city, is a secret that the Romanian government has tried for years to protect.
For years, the CIA used a government building — codenamed Bright Light — as a makeshift prison for its most valuable detainees. There, it held al-Qaida operatives Khalid Sheik Mohammad, the mastermind of 9/11, and others in a basement prison before they were ultimately transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006, according to former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the location and inner workings of the prison.
The existence of a CIA prison in Romania has been widely reported but its location has never been made public until a joint investigation by The Associated Press and German public television, ARD Panorama. The news organizations located the former prison and learned details of the facility where harsh interrogation tactics were used. ARD’s program on the CIA prison will air Dec 8.
The Romanian prison was part of a network of so-called black sites that the CIA operated and controlled overseas in Thailand, Lithuania and Poland. All the prisons were closed by May 2006, and the CIA’s detention and interrogation program ended in 2009.
Unlike the CIA’s facility in Lithuania’s countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA’s prison in Romania was not in a remote location. It was hidden in plain sight, a couple blocks off a major boulevard on a street lined with trees and homes, along busy train tracks.
Jason Leopold reports: Rob Richer, the No. 2 ranking official in the CIA's clandestine service, paid a visit to Glenn Carle's office in December 2002 and presented the veteran CIA operative with an urgent proposal.
"I want you to go on a temporary assignment," Carle recalls Richer telling him. "It's important for the agency, it's important for the country and it's important for you. Will you do it?"
Richer, who resigned from the CIA in 2005 and went to work for the mercenary outfit Blackwater, told Carle that agency operatives had just rendered a "high-value target," an Afghan in his mid-forties named Haji Pacha Wazir, who was purported to be Osama bin Laden's personal banker as well as financier for a number of suspected terrorists. Wazir was being held at a CIA black site prison in Morocco, and the agency needed a clandestine officer who spoke French to take over the interrogation of the detainee.
Carle, formerly the deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats, who had no prior interrogation experience, agreed, and within 72 hours, he boarded a CIA-chartered jet bound for Morocco.
Carle recounts what unfolded next in his riveting book, "The Interrogator: An Education," which stands as a damning indictment of the CIA's torture and rendition program and the Bush administration's approach to the so-called Global War on Terror.