Ex-CIA officer reveals lies and distortions behind Milan kidnapping

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Fugitive former CIA officer arrested in Panama

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.

Facebooktwittermail

UK provided more support for CIA rendition flights than thought, says study

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

CIA rendition: more than a quarter of countries ‘offered covert support’

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Milan appeals court convicts 3 Americans in CIA kidnap case, throwing out earlier acquittals

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.

Facebooktwittermail

Tony Blair has ‘no recollection’ of Libyan dissident’s rendition

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.”

Facebooktwittermail

Rendition ordeal that raises new questions about secret trials

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

Too many victims of the war on terror remain imprisoned across the world

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.

Facebooktwittermail

Inside Romania’s secret CIA prison

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.

Facebooktwittermail

CIA kidnapped, tortured “the wrong guy,” says former agency operative Glenn Carle

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.

Facebooktwittermail

US detention post-9/11: Birth of a debacle

Lisa Hajjar writes:

Days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration started making decisions that led to the official authorisation of torture tactics, indefinite incommunicado detention and the denial of habeas corpus for people who would be detained at Guantánamo, Bagram, or “black sites” (secret prisons) run by the CIA; kidnappings, forced disappearances and extraordinary rendition to foreign countries to exploit their torturing services.

While some of those practices were cancelled when Barack Obama took office in January 2009, others continue to characterise US detention policy in the “war on terror”. Even the cancelled policies continue to stain the record because there has been a total failure to hold the intellectual authors of these illegal practices accountable or to provide justice for the victims of American torture and extraordinary rendition.

This five-part series traces the detention policy debacle as it has evolved over the last ten years.

Part 1: Birth of a debacle

Initially, the driving force behind the Bush administration’s post-9/11 decision-making was the legitimate need to compensate for the dearth of intelligence about al-Qaeda, which had perpetrated one of the most deadly and destructive terrorist attacks in history, and to acquire information about possible future attacks. President George W Bush decreed the attacks an act of war, and responded in kind.

On September 14, 2001, Congress passed the Authorisation to Use Military Force (AUMF), which granted the president the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorised, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks, or who harboured said persons or groups. The AUMF did not delineate any territorial specificity or geographical limits.

As is common in asymmetrical wars when states fight non-state groups, the need for information about al-Qaeda elevated the importance of gathering “actionable intelligence” through interrogation of captured enemies. But the decision to endorse the use of violent and degrading methods (even before anyone had been taken into custody) was a choice, not a necessity. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

In records of court case lie details of secret airlifts of terror suspects to CIA-run prisons

The Associated Press reports:

The secret airlift of terrorism suspects and American intelligence officials to CIA-operated overseas prisons via luxury jets was mounted by a hidden network of U.S. companies and coordinated by a prominent defense contractor, newly disclosed documents show.

More than 1,700 pages of court files in a business dispute between two aviation companies reveal how integral private contractors were in the government’s covert “extraordinary rendition” flights. They shuttled between Washington, foreign capitals, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and, at times, landing points near once-secret, CIA-run overseas prisons.

The companies ranged from DynCorp, a leading government contractor that secretly oversaw the flights, to caterers that unwittingly stocked the planes with fruit platters and bottles of wine, the court files and testimony show.

A New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc., which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp, have been engaged in a four-year legal dispute. Both sides have cited the government’s program of forced transport of detainees in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights.

The court files, which include contracts, flight invoices, cell phone logs and correspondence, paint a sweeping portrait of collusion between the government and the private contractors that did its bidding — some eagerly, some hesitantly. Other companies turned a blind eye to what was going on.

Trial testimony studiously avoided references to the CIA. When lawyers pressed a witness about flying terrorists from Washington or Europe to Guantanamo Bay, Supreme Court Judge Paul Czajka of Columbia County, N.Y., put on the brakes: “Does this have anything to do with the contract? I mean, it’s all very interesting, and I would love to hear about it, but does it have anything to do with how much money is owed?”

At another point, the name of a high-level CIA official was mentioned, but the official’s intelligence ties were not divulged.

Among the new disclosures:

—DynCorp, which was reorganized and split up between another major contractor and a separate firm now known as DynCorp International, functioned as the primary contractor over the airlift. The company had not been previously linked to the secret flights.

—Airport invoices and other commercial records provide a new paper trail for the movements of some high-value terrorism suspects who vanished into the CIA “black site” prisons, along with government operatives who rushed to the scenes of their capture. The records include flight itineraries closely coordinated with the arrest of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the suspected transport of other captives.

—The private jets were furnished with State Department transit letters providing diplomatic cover for their flights. Former top State Department officials said similar arrangements aided other government-leased flights, but the documents in the court files may not be authentic since there are indications that the official who purportedly signed them was fictitious.

—The private business jets shuttled among as many as 10 landings over a single mission, costing the government as much as $300,000 per flight.

According to invoices between 2002 and 2005, many of the flights carried U.S. officials between Washington Dulles International Airport and the Guantanamo detention compound, where the U.S. was housing a growing population of terror detainees. Other flights landed at a dizzying array of international airports.

Jets were dispatched to Islamabad; Rome; Djibouti; Frankfurt, Germany; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Shannon, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; Tenerife, Spain; Sharm el Sheik, Egypt; and even Tripoli.

Some flights landed at airports near where CIA black sites operated: Kabul, Bangkok and Bucharest. Others touched down at foreign outposts where obliging security services reportedly took in U.S. terror detainees for their own severe brand of persuasion: Cairo; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; and Rabat, Morocco.

Facebooktwittermail

The CIA’s ties to the Gaddafi regime

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Central Intelligence Agency and Libyan intelligence services developed such a tight relationship during the George W. Bush administration that the U.S. shipped terror suspects to Libya for interrogation and suggested the questions they should be asked, according to documents found in Libya’s External Security agency headquarters.

The relationship was close enough that the CIA moved to establish “a permanent presence” in Libya in 2004, according to a note from Stephen Kappes, at the time the No. 2 in the CIA’s clandestine service, to Libya’s then-intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa.

The memo began “Dear Musa,” and was signed by hand, “Steve.” Mr. Kappes was a critical player in the secret negotiations that led to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s 2003 decision to give up his nuclear program. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Kappes, who has retired from the agency, declined to comment.

A U.S. official said Libya had showed progress at the time. “Let’s keep in mind the context here: By 2004, the U.S. had successfully convinced the Libyan government to renounce its nuclear-weapons program and to help stop terrorists who were actively targeting Americans in the U.S. and abroad,” the official said.

The files documenting the renewal of ties between the CIA and Libyan intelligence were reviewed and copied by researchers from Human Rights Watch during a tour of Libya’s External Security agency headquarters in downtown Tripoli. Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert said he was touring the building on Friday as part of the group’s effort to help the Libyan transitional authority secure sensitive documents left by the Gadhafi regime, which collapsed in August after a five-month rebellion.

Mr. Bouckaert said he discovered the files inside the complex in a room that guards described as the former office of Mr. Koussa, who became foreign minister in 2009. Mr. Bouckaert photographed the documents, leaving the originals in their place, and gave copies to The Wall Street Journal.

Human Rights Watch has been critical of the U.S. policy of sending terror suspects to third countries for interrogation, a practice known as rendition. The practice dates at least to 1995, when Egypt began aiding the U.S. with rendition.

U.S. officials say they obtained assurances from the recipient countries that the rendered detainees would be treated humanely. “There are lots of countries willing to take terrorists off the street who want to kill Americans,” the U.S. official said. “That doesn’t mean U.S. concerns about human rights are ignored in the process.”

In an April 15, 2004 letter to Libyan intelligence, the CIA proposed the rendition of another man, saying, “We respectfully request an expression of interest from your service regarding taking custody.”

Citing “recently developed agreements,” the CIA asked the Libyans to “agree to take our requirements for debriefings of [the suspect], as well as a guarantee that [his] human rights will be protected.”

The files also show the close relationship that some British intelligence officials had with Mr. Koussa.

Mr. Koussa, who defected from Col. Gadhafi’s government in March, was credited with helping negotiate Libya’s rapprochement with the international community and bartering an end to sanctions in return for Libya renouncing its weapons-of-mass-destruction program.

Yet he was also one of the stalwarts of the Gadhafi regime and headed the foreign intelligence service during a time when many Western officials believed Col. Gadhafi was funding and supporting international terrorist groups. In 1980, he was expelled from his diplomatic post in the U.K. after calling in a newspaper interview for the killing of Libyan dissidents in Great Britain. Libya later claimed he had been misquoted.

By the early years of the George W. Bush administration, however, as seen in the 2004 memo, Mr. Kappes was writing to Mr. Koussa: “Libya’s cooperation on WMD and other issues, as well as our nascent intelligence cooperation mean that now is the right moment to move ahead.”

The intelligence services had discussed the move for “quite some time” Mr. Kappes wrote.

The files provide an extraordinary window into the highly secretive and controversial practice of rendition, whereby the agency would send detainees to other countries for interrogation, including ones known for harsh treatment of detainees. The program was ramped up for terror detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks.

When taking over the CIA at the outset of the Obama administration, then-director Leon Panetta said the agency would continue to use rendition, but would seek assurances that the detainee wouldn’t be tortured—which has been the standing U.S. policy. Mr. Panetta left the CIA two months ago to lead the Pentagon.

“We are eager to work with you in the questioning of the terrorist we recently rendered to your country,” Mr. Kappes wrote in the memo, adding that he would like to send two more officers to Libya to question a suspect directly.

A lengthy profile of Kappes appeared in Washingtonian Magazine last year written by Jeff Stein, the SpyTalk columnist for the Washington Post. Stein’s account describes Kappes as resolutely loyal, dedicated, well-liked, politically skilled, and incompetent. Under his watch, the CIA was implicated in fraud, rape, and homicide.

Jeffrey Castelli, a friend of Kappes, had a pivotal role in propagating myths about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program. Castelli passed along the bogus intelligence that allowed President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union speech to claim that Saddam had attempted to buy yellow cake uranium from Niger.

Castelli then oversaw the kidnapping of Abu Omar off a Milan street, which led to him and 24 other CIA agents being indicted by Italian magistrates.

In spite of this track record, “in 2008, Kappes picked Castelli to run the CIA’s New York station, one of the agency’s most prestigious appointments. Shock turned into protest, according to CIA insiders, forcing Kappes to drop the idea. Castelli soon retired.”

Kappes’s rise to behind-the-scenes stardom in the intelligence community is a lesson in how to maneuver in Washington: It’s one thing to be successful in the field; it’s more valuable to convince Congress you’re effective. “Kappes runs better ops on the Hill and with the White House than he ran human sources in the field,” a CIA veteran says in what turns out to be a consistent refrain.

“He’s the Teflon Don,” says a veteran of the CIA’s Operations Directorate, renamed the National Clandestine Service in 2005. “Nothing bad ever sticks to him.”

Over more than 20 years with the CIA, Kappes’s career has taken him through most of the world’s cold- and hot-war battlefields from India and Pakistan to Germany and Russia. But the journey of Kappes from secret agent to CIA superstar began in Libya.

In March 2003, leader Muammar Qaddafi signaled that he was ready to jump-start his on-again, off-again campaign to end his long diplomatic and commercial isolation, get off Washington’s list of terrorist states, and get back into the oil business with the West. Two years earlier, he’d dispatched one of his top operatives, Michigan State–educated Mousa Kousa, to a clandestine meeting in London with top CIA and British intelligence officials. Kousa carried with him the names of some of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates, including Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a Libyan who would soon be the first major catch in the CIA’s pursuit of al-Qaeda. But with Qaddafi dragging his feet on final payouts over Libya’s 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, negotiations stalled.

Then, with American and British troops massing to invade Iraq, Qaddafi decided it was time to talk again—in secret.

President George W. Bush and CIA chief George Tenet, desperate for intelligence on al-Qaeda, decided the time was ripe, too. But they wanted something big in return, a “deliverable,” as Bush put it: Qaddafi’s public renunciation of his nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

For the secret mission to Tripoli to work out the deal, they chose Steve Kappes.

By 2003, Kappes was deeply schooled in the dark arts. He had been station chief in Kuwait and Moscow. At a CIA station in Frankfurt, he had run highly sensitive operations targeting Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, and he had served in Pakistan, which sheltered its own nuclear-bomb effort. For the past year, as associate deputy director for operations, he had supervised some of the CIA’s most secret programs, from “extraordinary renditions”—kidnapping terrorist suspects abroad—to the agency’s secret foreign prisons to waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Then came Libya.

“Clearly, Kappes was a man who could keep a secret, and Bush gave him one: No one at State or Defense, not even Rumsfeld or Powell, should know about this major initiative,” Ron Suskind wrote in the Washington Monthly. Suskind’s account of the clandestine affair was one of a flurry of flattering articles about Kappes that began surfacing in the spring of 2006 as pressure was building to bring Kappes back to Langley.

The Libyan mission was a “lengthy dialogue, a delicate and subtle dance,” wrote Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball, quoting an anonymous former agency official. “And Steve handled it very well.”

Qaddafi did renounce his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, allowing the Bush administration to claim that regime change in Iraq was already paying dividends elsewhere. After the Lockerbie claims were finally settled, diplomatic recognition came. The oil companies moved into Libya.

Washington, the story went, had eliminated a potential threat and gained an ally in the “war on terror.”

But on closer examination, some thought Qaddafi got the better end of it: His nuclear effort had never really gotten off the ground, intelligence sources say, despite the acquisition of millions of dollars of black-market equipment and supplies from Pakistani rogue nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.

Qaddafi liked to buy stuff that was way beyond his scientists’ ken to assemble, a former top CIA official says.

Nor were Qaddafi’s other WMD programs much to write home about, according to the Monterey Institute’s Jonathan Tucker, one of the foremost WMD experts.

Libya’s chemical-warfare capability was “quite limited,” Tucker says. “Although Libya wanted to expand its chemical arsenal to include nerve agents, it did not have the materials, equipment, or know-how needed to do so. The nuclear program, however embryonic, was perceived as being of greater potential value, but after the interdiction of [A.Q. Khan’s] centrifuges en route to Libya, Qaddafi began to view his WMD programs as a security risk rather than an asset.”

Kappes has a reputation for micromanagement, right down to his recent insistence on selecting applicants for a two-person station. Therefore, says a former high-level official, Kappes had to know—and approve of—virtually everything that went on in the counterterrorism program after 9/11.

“All decision making in the Directorate of Operations flowed through the ADDO,” or assistant deputy director of operations, the position Kappes held when the war on terror ramped up in 2002–04, says a former top official during that era. “And he was specifically in a position of decision making and influence and persuasion. . . . So any decision or voice he gave to a particular point of view would have been, and was, given great consideration.”

“So if he was opposed to [waterboarding] and made his position known,” the former official adds, “that would have carried great weight. After all, not only was he ADDO, but don’t forget that at the same time he was carrying water for the White House on the Libya stuff and had a personal relationship, he claimed, with the President. So if he was able to do what he did on Libya, he should have been able to persuade the same decision makers with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques if he actually was opposed to them.”

It’s not likely Kappes was opposed to such programs, says a retired station chief who knows Kappes well: “He’s very jingoistic, very much a believer in American exceptionalism and the leading place the United States has in the world.”

Says John Sifton, a private investigator and attorney in New York who has carried out extensive research on the CIA’s secret programs for law firms and human-rights groups: “It strains credulity for him to say, ‘I didn’t know, I wasn’t involved.’ His denials would be like the Yankees pitching coach saying he didn’t know the playoffs rotation.”

“He became ADDO in the fall of 2002,” Sifton said, “just as the CIA was expanding its program for secret prisons and harsh interrogations and as it continued its renditions program with zeal.”

In at least one case, Kappes didn’t stay far away, sources say. According to an internal investigation, he helped tailor the agency’s paper trail regarding the death of a detainee at a secret CIA interrogation facility in Afghanistan, known internally as the Salt Pit.

The detainee froze to death after being doused with water, stripped naked, and left alone overnight, according to reports in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. He was secretly buried and his death kept “off-the-books,” the Post said.

According to two former officials who read a CIA inspector general’s report on the incident, Kappes coached the base chief—whose identity is being withheld at the request of the CIA—on how to respond to the agency’s investigators. They would report it as an accident.

“The ADDO’s direction to the field officer anticipated that something worse had occurred and so gave him directions on how to report the situation in his cable,” one of the former officials says.

“The ADDO basically told the officer, ‘Don’t put something in the report that can’t be proved or that you are going to have trouble explaining.’ In essence, the officer was told: Be careful what you put in your cable because the investigators are coming out there and they will pick your cable apart, and any discrepancies will be difficult to explain.”

As a result, the former official says, the Salt Pit officer’s cable was “minimalist in its reporting” on what happened to the prisoner. “It seems to me the ADDO should have been telling him, ‘Report the truth, don’t hold anything back, there’s an investigative team coming out, be honest and forthright. But that was not the message that was given to the chief of base by the ADDO.”

Facebooktwittermail

CIA prisons in Poland ‘illegal’

SAPA reports:

Secret prisons operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Polish territory violated international law and the Polish constitution according to legal experts, reported the daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Monday, citing sources close to an investigation.

The CIA held terror suspects inside a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty, north-eastern Poland from 2002 to 2005, anonymous Polish intelligence officers have said.

Public prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski had wanted to charge officials from the 2001-2005 Democratic Left Alliance government with violating the constitution, unlawful detention and participation in crimes against humanity, the daily reported.

The left-wing party is today Poland’s second largest opposition party. Polish politicians who were in power when the prisons allegedly operated have denied allegations that CIA prisons were located in the country.

Mierzewski, however, was withdrawn from the case two weeks ago, the daily wrote. His supervisor, Dariusz Korneluk, declined to comment on the reason for the dismissal.

Facebooktwittermail

Israel, extraordinary rendition and the strange case of Dirar Abu Sisi

Richard Silverstein reports:

On a cold Ukrainian winter night in mid-February 2011, a Gaza civil engineer named Dirar Abu Sisi was lying in bed in a railroad sleeper car traveling to Kiev to visit his brother, Yousef, whom he hadn’t seen in 15 years.

Abu Sisi had come to Ukraine as a refugee applying for Ukrainian citizenship. While there, he was staying with his wife’s family, who are Ukrainian natives. Though he was the deputy chief of Gaza’s only power plant, he and his wife, Veronika, increasingly felt that Gaza was an unsafe place to raise their six children. During his stay, he had formally applied for citizenship so that he might resettle his family in Ukraine.

But something strange happened that night on the train. Just outside the village of Poltava, two policemen rousted Abu Sisi from bed and took him away, according to a witness in the bunk under Abu Sisi, who saw the entire incident unfold. This witness, Andrej Makarenko, who was recently discovered by the Ukrainian independent newspaper, Pravda (Russian), also noted that a conductor was present. The latter at first confirmed Makarenko’s story to the press, but later recanted, possibly under pressure from Ukrainian authorities. The Pravda reporter says the conductor has been given extended leave and has disappeared from his home.

Abu Sisi claimed in a prison interview with a Gaza human rights group that he was transferred to a private apartment in Kiev, where he was questioned by Israeli Mossad agents. He was then brought to the airport, placed on a plane and flown to Israel, making this a case of extraordinary rendition.

When Abu Sisi’s wife, who was in Gaza at the time, realized he had disappeared, she smuggled herself through a border tunnel to Egypt and made the same trip her husband had to Ukraine. Once there, she began a desperate search for him together with Yousef. They didn’t hear from Dirar for a week until the end of February, when he finally called from an Israeli prison. During that period of silence, she summoned the Ukrainian press and began accusing the Mossad of kidnapping him.

In early March, a confidential Israeli source reported to me that Abu Sisi was in an Israeli prison. Until that moment, no one knew what had happened after he was kidnapped. A few days after I reported this, and after scouring the Israeli human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) community, Dalia Kerstein of HaMoked wrote that the Gazan engineer was indeed in an Israeli prison. First, he’d been brought to the Shabak (also known as Shin Bet) detention facility at Petah Tikvah, where he’d been interrogated. Later, he’d been moved to Shikma prison outside Ashkelon. And the entire story was under gag order. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Globalized kidnapping backed by the US

Christian Science Monitor reports:

They came for Ismail Abubakar at nightfall on Aug. 9, 2010, plucking him from an outdoor market near the mosque where he had just finished teaching young Kenyans how to read the Quran.

The plainclothes Kenyan police shoved him into a car, took away his cellphone, hooded him, and drove him to a nearby police camp. Within hours, Mr. Abubakar – nicknamed “Mzungu” because of his pink albino skin – would be transported to Uganda to face charges for the July 11 suicide bombings that killed 76 people in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

Three months later, Abubakar and two dozen other bombing suspects were released for lack of evidence. But the story of his rendition, and the ongoing detention of nine other Kenyans for the bombing, highlights a troubling pattern of extra-judicial abduction and human rights abuses as Africa increases efforts, often at the request of US counterterrorism officials, to combat rising Islamic terrorism.

Abubakar says he was “shocked” when investigators told him that he was about to be charged in the Kampala blasts. “I had never been to the west side of Nairobi, let alone go to Uganda,” he said.

When he was released Nov. 30, Abubakar was penniless and feared being rearrested. Donations from Ugandan Muslims helped him get to the Kenyan border. A travel document from the Ugandan government that said he was no longer a terrorism suspect helped him get across. “I was detained for nothing,” he said.

While condemned by human rights activists and the European Parliament, and criticized by some US military officials as “counterproductive,” renditions are seen by at least 28 US allies as a necessary weapon in the battle against terrorism. Estimates of the number of renditions since the US-led war on terror began after 9/11 are educated guesses, but some human rights organizations put the number over 1,000, and the British human rights group Cageprisoners estimates that 88 men, women, and children have been subjected to extrajudicial transfers from Kenya as of 2007.

Facebooktwittermail

Julian Assange’s fight to remain in the free world (outside the US)

The Guardian reported yesterday:

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, could be at “real risk” of the death penalty or detention in Guantánamo Bay if he is extradited to Sweden on accusations of rape and sexual assault, his lawyers claim.

In a skeleton summary of their defence against attempts by the Swedish director of public prosecutions to extradite him, released today, Assange’s legal team argue that there is a similar likelihood that the US would subsequently seek his extradition “and/or illegal rendition”, “where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantánamo Bay or elsewhere”.

“Indeed, if Mr Assange were rendered to the USA, without assurances that the death penalty would not be carried out, there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr Assange should be executed.”

Glenn Greenwald notes:

Paragraphs 92-99 of the outline detail Sweden’s history of violating the Convention Against Torture by rendering War on Terror suspects to Egypt to be tortured, and concludes: “based on its record as condemned by the United Nations Committee against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, Sweden would bow to US pressure and/or rely naively on diplomatic assurances from the USA that Mr. Assange would not be mistreated, with the consequence that he would be deported/expelled to the USA, where he would suffer serious ill-treatment.” This danger is legally relevant because the governing Extradition Act bars the expulsion of a prisoner where “extradition would be [in]compatible with the Convention rights within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998.” The outline also cited vigilante calls from leading right-wing figures for Assange’s murder (yesterday, it was discovered that a prominent right-wing blogger, Melissa Clouthier, had registered the website JulianAssangeMustDie.com).

It’s quite notable that the mere threat of ending up in American custody is considered (at least by Assange’s lawyers) to be a viable basis for contesting extradition on human rights grounds. Indeed, this argument is not unusual. Numerous countries often demand, as a condition for extradition to the U.S., assurances from the U.S. Government that the death penalty will not be applied. Similarly, there are currently cases pending in EU courts contesting the extradition of War on Terror detainees to the U.S. on the ground that they will be treated inhumanely by virtue of the type of prolonged, intensive solitary confinement to which Bradley Manning — and thousands of other actual convicts — are subjected.

And now we have the spectacle of Julian Assange’s lawyers citing the Obama administration’s policies of rendition and indefinite detention at Guantanamo as a reason why human rights treaties bar his extradition to any country (such as Sweden) which might transfer him to American custody. Indeed, almost every person with whom I’ve spoken who has or had anything to do with WikiLeaks expresses one fear above all others: the possibility that they will end up in American custody and subjected to its lawless War on Terror “justice system.” Americans still like to think of themselves as “leaders of the free world,” but in the eyes of many, it’s exactly the “free world” to which American policies are so antithetical and threatening.

A statement released by WikiLeaks, innumerates the many instances in which prominent figures in the US media have called for Assange’s murder:

WikiLeaks staff and contributors have also been the target of unprecedented violent rhetoric by US prominent media personalities, including Sarah Palin, who urged the US administration to “Hunt down the WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban”. Prominent US politician Mike Huckabee called for the execution of WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange on his Fox News program last November, and Fox News commentator Bob Beckel, referring to Assange, publicly called for people to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” US radio personality Rush Limbaugh has called for pressure to “Give [Fox News President Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it.”, while the Washington Times columnist Jeffery T. Kuhner titled his column “Assassinate Assange” captioned with a picture Julian Assange overlayed with a gun site, blood spatters, and “WANTED DEAD or ALIVE” with the alive crossed out.

John Hawkins of Townhall.com has stated “If Julian Assange is shot in the head tomorrow or if his car is blown up when he turns the key, what message do you think that would send about releasing sensitive American data?”

Christian Whiton in a Fox News opinion piece called for violence against WikiLeaks publishers and editors, saying the US should “designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them.”

WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange said: “No organisation anywhere in the world is a more devoted advocate of free speech than Wikileaks but when senior politicians and attention seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed they should be charged with incitement — to murder. Those who call for an act of murder deserve as significant share of the guilt as those raising a gun to pull the trigger.”

Facebooktwittermail

‘Disappeared’ Pakistanis — innocent and guilty alike — have fallen into a legal black hole

Without a single reference to President Obama’s drone war in Pakistan, extrajudicial detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, the torture of suspected terrorists, CIA-run secret prisons, rendition, presidential authorization to assassinate US citizens, or the United States’ long history of supporting governments that use their power to suppress political dissent by making their opponents “disappear,” the New York Times reports:

The Obama administration is expressing alarm over reports that thousands of political separatists and captured Taliban insurgents have disappeared into the hands of Pakistan’s police and security forces, and that some may have been tortured or killed.

The issue came up in a State Department report to Congress last month that urged Pakistan to address this and other human rights abuses. It threatens to become the latest source of friction in the often tense relationship between the wartime allies.

The concern is over a steady stream of accounts from human rights groups that Pakistan’s security services have rounded up thousands of people over the past decade, mainly in Baluchistan, a vast and restive province far from the fight with the Taliban, and are holding them incommunicado without charges. Some American officials think that the Pakistanis have used the pretext of war to imprison members of the Baluch nationalist opposition that has fought for generations to separate from Pakistan. Some of the so-called disappeared are guerrillas; others are civilians.

“Hundreds of cases are pending in the courts and remain unresolved,” said the Congressionally mandated report that the State Department sent to Capitol Hill on Nov. 23. A Congressional official provided a copy of the eight-page, unclassified document to The New York Times.

Separately, the report also described concerns that the Pakistani military had killed unarmed members of the Taliban, rather than put them on trial.

Two months ago, the United States took the unusual step of refusing to train or equip about a half-dozen Pakistani Army units that are believed to have killed unarmed prisoners and civilians during recent offensives against the Taliban. The most recent State Department report contains some of the administration’s most pointed language about accusations of such so-called extrajudicial killings. “The Pakistani government has made limited progress in advancing human rights and continues to face human rights challenges,” the State Department report concluded. “There continue to be gross violations of human rights by Pakistani security forces.”

Facebooktwittermail