The agonizing truth about CIA renditions

Published on Salon.com

The fate of prisoners secreted away under the Bush administration is in some ways worse than even Hollywood has portrayed.

By Stephen Grey

Nov. 05, 2007 At 3:44 p.m. on Jan. 24, 2004, a luxury Boeing 737 business jet operated by the Central Intelligence Agency landed at Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. Onboard were its flight crew, eight members of a CIA rendition team and a blindfolded prisoner who was shackled by his wrists and feet.

The behavior of the prisoner, a German citizen named Khaled el-Masri, concerned the CIA team leader onboard. According to an agency insider, the leader sent word to Washington that “there was something strange about el-Masri. He didn’t behave like the others they’d captured. He was asking: Is he the right guy?”

Within days it emerged that el-Masri was indeed the wrong man. It was a “100 percent case of mistaken identity,” said another former agency official. Yet, despite this discovery, el-Masri spent 18 weeks in solitary confinement in a CIA “black site,” or secret prison used by the United States in its war on terror. He is still waiting for an apology or an explanation.

The case of el-Masri — whose lawsuit against the CIA has been dismissed by U.S. courts on the grounds of protecting “state secrets” — caused a huge controversy within the CIA at the time of his capture. A five-month standoff between employees at the Counterterrorism Center and others in the clandestine service led then director George Tenet to step in. “On at least this occasion, Tenet made the right choice,” a source told me. “He ordered the release of a man who was clearly not a terrorist.” Continue reading The agonizing truth about CIA renditions

Coming soon – Frontline World: Extraordinary Rendition

COMING SOON – FRONTLINE WORLD –
“EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION” –
BROADCAST DATE PBS NOVEMBER 6th.
PBS PRESS RELEASE:
FRONTLINE/World INVESTIGATES THE CIA’S CONTROVERSIAL”RENDITION AND TORTURE” PROGRAM
“They pushed me down onto the floor of the van. There was blood everywhere, on my hands, my knees,” Egyptian cleric Abu Omar tells FRONTLINE/World reporter Stephen Grey about being snatched off the street by the CIA.

“As we drove along, I started to choke.… It felt like I was dying. Then I disappeared from history.”

“Somebody came, removed the hood, removed the cuffs and left me in the shackles,” Bisher al-Rawi, a longtime British resident, says of his arrival at an infamous secret CIA “black site” in Afghanistan.

“And that was the ‘Dark Prison.’… It was a very, very cold place. … You had some sort of odd voices, not music, playing on speakers. … You had people coming to check you were alive—not OK, but alive. … [For] the duration of the dark prison I had shackles on. I just took it as it came.”

These are among the voices of CIA “ghost prisoners” speaking for the first time on U.S. television as part of FRONTLINE/World’s Extraordinary Rendition, an international investigation by the award-winning journalist Stephen Grey of the United States government’s controversial, extralegal detention and interrogation program, airing Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).
Grey, the former head of investigations at The Sunday Times of London and the author of the acclaimed book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Rendition and Torture Program (St. Martin’s, 2006), was one of the first journalists to uncover the secrets of the CIA rendition program.
In recent weeks, President Bush has publicly defended CIA interrogation methods as legal, despite charges from within his own administration that CIA treatment of “ghost prisoners” was “abhorrent.”
Initially, as Grey and others discovered, key terror suspects were transferred by the CIA to countries like Egypt and Jordan, where many believe the United States was “outsourcing torture” to foreign intelligence services. The Bush administration claims it insisted that the countries who accepted the CIA’s rendered prisoners would not use torture.
“You can say we asked them not to do it,” says Tyler Drumheller, the former head of CIA operations in Europe, about these assurances the prisoners would not be tortured.

“But when you turn someone over to another country you can’t say to them, ‘This is how we expect you to treat them.’ … If you know that this is how this country has treated people in the past, you have to be honest that that is going to be a part of it.”

As the rendition program grew, and the White House drew up controversial legal authorization for secret detention and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as water boarding, the CIA began maintaining its own “black sites” for “high-value” terror suspects.
One of these black sites, it was revealed this summer, was in Poland. Another was near an air strip in eastern Romania where the CIA began to interrogate prisoners themselves.
“There wasn’t a bed, just a mattress and blanket and a bucket to urinate and defecate in,” says Mohammed Bashmillah, who was tracked down by Grey in Yemen a year after his release by the CIA without charge.

“We were chained by our legs for a period of about a month after our arrival. When they called us for interrogation, they bound us by the hands and legs, and covered our heads.”

In September 2006, after a number of public disclosures and a key Supreme Court decision, President Bush was finally forced to acknowledge the existence of the secret rendition program. He announced the emptying of the CIA’s black sites and the transfer of high-value detainees to Guantanamo Bay, where they would face military tribunals.
But Grey and others have shown that dozens of known detainees, including so-called high-value prisoners, remain unaccounted for.
Then in early 2007 Grey discovered more secret flights—this time in the Horn of Africa on planes chartered by the Kenyan government. Fatma Chande, the wife of a suspected member of Al Qaeda, tells Grey she was picked up by the Kenyans, she believes, on behalf of the Americans.

“The police tried to force me to admit my husband was a member of Al Qaeda. I
told them he was just a businessman. They kept banging on the table. They
threatened to strangle me if I didn’t tell them the truth.”

The CIA says this wasn’t a U.S. operation, but Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer with deep experience on terror cases before and after 9/11, told Grey:

“It’s called plausible deniability. The agency and the bureau are not going to
admit that they were witting of this at all, … but they probably were the power
brokers behind the scenes pushing this forward. … This new era of going onto the
African continent and outsourcing [interrogation], I think, is frankly new.”

Now, as the fate of many rendered men remains uncertain at Guantanamo Bay, and many others remain unaccounted for, President Bush has reportedly signed a new executive order. Its secret contents, many believe, have reauthorized the CIA to once again render terror suspects to black sites where “enhanced” interrogation techniques are applied.
“The program is back on,” Stephen Grey says. “The people in the CIA are pretty reluctant about it, but they’ve got their orders, and until America finds a way of actually bringing people to trial in a courtroom, people in the CIA have got very little alternative to holding them in these black sites secretly or rendering them to allies who will do their bidding.”

Preacher seized by CIA tells of torture in Egypt

AN EGYPTIAN preacher who was seized by the CIA in daylight on a Milan street has revealed the details of 14 months of torture to which he says he was subjected after his “extraordinary rendition” to Egypt.
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, described how Egyptian interrogators stripped him, shackled his arms and legs in a crucifixion position and then beat him and gave him electric shocks. He claimed they had twice attempted to rape him.
Now living in Alexandria, Nasr, 44, walks with a limp, is deaf in one ear and bears scars.
Last Friday the trial opened of 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping him on February 17, 2003, in an operation prosecutors say was coordinated by the CIA and Italian intelligence. None of the US defendants, a number of whom were identified by aliases, attended.
Nasr fled Egypt in 1988 after he was accused of being a member of Gama’a Islamiya, an Egyptian militant group that later carried out terrorist attacks. He denied the allegation and was granted political asylum in Italy. When he disappeared he was walking to midday prayers at a radical mosque where he was a part-time preacher.
He became a “ghost prisoner”, his arrest and detention confirmed to nobody. “I was out of history. My lawyer searched prisons all over Egypt and no one could find a trace of me,” he said. Continue reading Preacher seized by CIA tells of torture in Egypt

London student’s jungle war escape led to ‘rendition’ trap

Sunday Times, June 10, 2007, by Stephen Grey.

A BRITISH student who was caught up in fighting in Somalia has described how he fled for his life only to be arrested as a suspected Al-Qaeda member and then rescued by a British consul from a secret operation to transfer terrorist suspects to Ethiopia for interrogation.
Reza Afsharzadagen, 25, from north London, was among hundreds of refugees forced to flee battles last December between Islamic radicals who had seized power in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, and Ethiopian soldiers trying to install a rival United Nations-backed government.
After dodging bombs from American warplanes deployed in support of the Ethiopians and trekking through jungle for 13 days, Afsharzadagen reached safety in Kenya. But there he was detained as a suspected terrorist and questioned for nearly a month without being charged.
He and three other British Muslims who were arrested – Shahajan Janjua, Hamza Chent-ouf, and Mohammed Ezzoueck, all from London – were eventually returned home and cleared of any suspicion of terrorist activity after the intervention of the Foreign Office. Continue reading London student’s jungle war escape led to ‘rendition’ trap

DISPATCHES – Monday JUNE 14, 2007

“Kidnapped to Order
Channel 4, UK, Monday, June 11, 2007 at 8PM UK

Dispatches exposes a new phase in America’s dirty war on al Qaeda: the rendition and detention of women and children. Last year, President Bush confirmed the existence of a CIA secret detention programme but he refused to give details and said it was over. Dispatches reveals new evidence confirming fiercely-denied reports that many of the CIA captives were held and interrogated in Europe. Those prisons may now be closed but the programme is by no means over, it’s just changed. A new front has opened up in the Horn of Africa and America has outsourced its renditions to its allies.Reporter Stephen Grey (author of Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Programme) investigates America’s global sweep for prisoners – obtaining exclusive interviews with former detainees who claim they have been kidnapped and flown halfway across the world to face torture by America’s allies.The film opens with an examination of the most notorious rendition story to date – the kidnap of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar. This month in Italy the trial opens of twenty-five CIA officers accused of snatching Omar from the streets of Milan in broad daylight and flying him to Cairo four years ago. Grey travels to Egypt to secure an exclusive interview with Omar who defies the warnings of his interrogators not to speak publicly about his treatment. He details the torture that was inflicted upon him in his fourteen-month detention and the number of other ‘ghost detainees’ he encountered – people who are being held in secret, without charge.The film then turns to Pakistan – one of America’s most significant allies in the ‘war on terror’. Since 9/11, the state’s intelligence services have apprehended over a five hundred people as terror suspects. Grey investigates what happens to the ‘disappeared’ amid claims that America pays Pakistan a bounty for every suspect they capture. Turning his attentions closer to home, Grey gains exclusive access to an official European investigation which has found evidence that CIA prisons housing al Qaeda suspects have also existed in Europe and reveals the interrogation techniques that have been used against such high-value prisoners. The Bush administration claim such techniques stop short of torture but Grey discovers that many in the CIA disagree and are concerned that using them may leave them open to criminal proceedings in the future and make the evidence gained inadmissible in a trial – preventing terrorists from being convicted in court.Dispatches then examines the new battleground of America’s war on terror – the Horn of Africa. Grey travels to Kenya, and Ethiopia to investigate allegations of mass renditions involving women and children – where prisoners thought to have al Qaeda connections have been illegally transferred from country to country for imprisonment and interrogation. Grey uncovers evidence of secret rendition flights on which suspects were flown from Nairobi into war-torn Somalia – a state with no effective law or government. Amongst the suspects were women and children – he hears a first-hand account from one Briton who was on one of the flights who describes being beaten, interrogated and finding himself in a prison cell opposite a woman and a five-year-old boy. Another woman who was rendered to Somalia describes being flown on to Ethiopia with other women and children – where one pregnant woman gave birth to her child whilst in detention.Dispatches questions the legality and effectiveness of America’s rendition programme and asks whether the way detainees have been interrogated will undermine the legal process to bring real terrorists to trial and conviction.

CIA ran secret prisons for detainees in Europe, says inquiry

by Stephen Grey
Friday June 8, 2007 The Guardian
The CIA operated secret prisons in Europe where terrorism suspects could be interrogated and were allegedly tortured, an official inquiry will conclude today.
Despite denials by their governments, senior Polish and Romanian security officials have confirmed to the Council of Europe that their countries were used to hold some of America’s most important prisoners captured after 9/11 in secret.
None of the prisoners had access to the Red Cross and many were subject to what George Bush has called the CIA’s “enhanced” interrogation, which critics have condemned as torture. Although suspicions about the secret CIA prisons have existed for more than a year, the council’s report, seen by the Guardian, appears to offer the first concrete evidence. It also details the prisons’ operations and the identities of some of the prisoners. Continue reading CIA ran secret prisons for detainees in Europe, says inquiry

Straw wanted ‘drug-smuggling’ informant freed

March 04, 2007, Sunday Times.
Stephen Grey

JACK STRAW, the former foreign secretary, instructed diplomats to lobby for the release of a convicted criminal described by police and customs intelligence reports as a leading smuggler of heroin into Britain.
Foreign Office telegrams ordered efforts to secure “the immediate release” from a German jail in 2001 of Andreas Antoniades who worked for years as a paid informer for Customs. At the time, he was wanted in Greece on drugs smuggling charges.
Although police or customs informers routinely receive rewards in cash, or reduced sentences if they are prosecuted, Straw’s attempt to help Antoniades avoid trial appears at odds with Customs’ code of practice, which states: “Informants have no licence to commit crime.”
Antoniades, who has never been convicted of a drug offence, was released shortly after the Straw telegrams and has since moved to Dubai. Continue reading Straw wanted ‘drug-smuggling’ informant freed

NEW

NEW PUBLICATION:

“Ghost Plane”

OUT NOW in the US and Canada with St Martin’s Press (Order)

OUT NOW in the UK with Hurst and Co. (Order)

in Australia / New Zealand with Scribe Publications

and Germany with DVA

This book is the result of my research over the last three years into the CIA’s rendition programme. More information soon.

For more information on the book please go to www.ghostplane.net

CIA still hiding 'ghost' captives

by Stephen Grey and Sarah Baxter, the Sunday Times

DOZENS of key terror suspects are still being held in unknown locations, despite President George Bush’s declaration that the CIA is no longer operating secret jails.
High-level detainees such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the September 11 ringleaders, are now in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba but there are still “ghost prisoners” among more than 6,000 who have been questioned by America and its allies since 9/11.
Their fate is among several unresolved issues raised by Bush’s new anti-terror legislation. His plans for military tribunals to try suspects are being held up by negotiations with leading Republican senators, including John Warner, chairman of the Senate armed forces committee, and John McCain, a favourite for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, insists that those accused should have access to the evidence against them and that torture should not be used. He is backed by Pentagon lawyers, who fear captured American soldiers will otherwise be vulnerable to mistreatment. Continue reading CIA still hiding 'ghost' captives