October 17, 2005

Rendering unto Caesar Dubya and Blair.

You might remember Maher Arar, a Syrian-born citizen of Canada who made the mistake of taking an international flight that had a layover in the US. Arar was detained by US officials, then shipped off to the Mideast, where he was imprisoned and tortured by Syrian secret police. After a year, Arar was sent home to Canada because, as he'd said from the beginning, he had no connection to terrorists.

The process used on Arar is common enough to have a name: Extradordinary rendition. It was invented by the CIA in the mid-1990s to deal with people suspected of having links to militant Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda. The US would send prisoners off to Egypt where torture was [and is] commonly used by the secret police. After the prisoners were tortured, the Egyptians would tell the CIA what they'd learned, without the need for the US government to get its hands dirty.

While it started under the Clinton administration, extraordinary rendition has become one of the Dubya administration's tools of choice in its 'war on terrorism.' The best guess is that at least 150 people have been picked up — often on the slimmest of suspicions — and shipped off to such bastions of human rights as Uzbekistan and Syria.

Craig Murray is the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, serving in that post until October 2004. As a former rendition 'customer,' he has more than passing knowledge of what's involved when a suspected person is subjected to the gentle ministations of Uzbek [or similar] captors. Here's part of what he told Neil Mackay of Scotland's Sunday Herald:

"In Uzbekistan, it works like this," he says. "Person X is tortured and signs a statement saying he's going to crash planes into buildings, or that he's linked to Osama bin Laden. He's also asked if he knows persons X, Y and Z in the UK who are involved in terrorism. He?ll be tortured until he agrees, though he?s never met them."

The confession is sent to the CIA where, according to Murray, it is "sanitised". Before sanitisation the report "will have the guy?s name on it, the date of the interrogation, where it took place — and might still be bloodstained.

"The CIA then issues a debriefing document, which does not name the individual. It does not say he was tortured. It only says that it is a detainee debriefing from a friendly overseas security service.

"This will set out the brief facts, such as "we now know person X in London is in Islamic Jihad and plans to blow up Canary Wharf". This goes to MI6 — the British and Americans share everything — and then it goes to MI6's customers: the Prime Minister, the defence secretary, the home secretary, the foreign secretary, and other key ministers and officials. I was one of these customers too because I was the ambassador to Tashkent.

"I'd look at these reports and, to be frank, I realised they were bollocks. One talked about terror camps in the hills near Samarkand. I knew the precise location being talked about and it wasn?t true.

"The threats of Islamic extremism in Uzbekistan were exaggerated. I knew the picture on the ground, and claims that there was a large Islamic grouping linked to al-Qaeda were false. The Uzbeks wanted to convince the US they were suffering the same terrorist problem. So if America supported them, they would help in the war on terror.

"What terrifies me is that our government is saying we need to lock up various people on the basis of intelligence that can't be used in court. But we know the material is dodgy. It is not evidence. It is very important that we realise we are contaminating the pool of intelligence. It leads to false threats, public hysteria and the diversion of resources from real threats."

As an insider, Murray quickly came to understand that "just because a fact is false doesn't mean it isn't useful". He adds: "Look at the intelligence on WMD. It was false, but it existed on paper and it was still useful for the government in starting a war. In deciding the importance of intelligence it isn?t really important if it is true or not."

For a slightly less dispassionate look at extradorinary rendition, you might want to read this post by Ken Macleod at Early Days of a Better Nation. [We thank Macleod for pointing us to the Sunday Herald story.]

Posted by Magpie at October 17, 2005 08:46 AM | War on Terrorism | Technorati links |

That 'they have no rights' meme seems to be occurring a lot in justifications by conservatives. As a democratic society what rights should the United States be supporting for human beings who are not citizens of this country?

I don't like the answers I hear from about one half the country.

Posted by: Easter Lemming Liberal News at October 18, 2005 04:15 PM