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Context of '1997: CIA Establishes Renditions Branch, Helps with Up to 70 Renditions Before 9/11'

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The United States begins a practice known as “rendition,” the official purpose of which is to bring suspected foreign criminals to justice. Suspects detained abroad are “rendered” to courts in the United States or other countries. In some cases they are transferred to countries with poor human rights records and tortured. Some are convicted, even put to death, without a fair trial. [Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] The frequency of renditions will increase dramatically after the September 11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01]
Gore: "Go Grab His Ass" - The policy is proposed by Richard Clarke, head of the Counterterrorism Security Group, who is aware of a suspect he wants to have rendered. However, White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler opposes the policy, saying it violates international law, and demands a meeting with President Clinton to explain the issue to him. Clinton appears favorable to Cutler’s arguments, until Vice President Al Gore returns from a foreign trip. Gore listens to a recap of the arguments and comments: “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.” However, the first operation fails.
Comment by Clarke - Clarke will later write: “We learned that often things change by the time you can get a snatch team in place. Sometimes intelligence is wrong. Some governments cooperate with the terrorists. It was worth trying, however, because often enough we succeeded.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 144]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Lloyd Cutler

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). [New Yorker, 2/8/2005]
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” [US Congress, 4/17/2007 pdf file] A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Mukhabarat (Egypt), Richard Blee, Islamic Jihad, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Egypt, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

A Renditions Branch is established at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Its job is to find militant leaders and then assist their abduction. The US government has been rendering suspects for four years (see 1993), and the CIA has had a dedicated program for this since the summer of 1995 (see Summer 1995). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 276] Although some specific rendition operations are known (see Summer 1998, July 1998-February 2000, and Late August 1998), the total before 9/11 is not. Estimates vary, but generally fall into a similar range:
bullet Citing a public statement by CIA Director George Tenet, 9/11 commission deputy executive director Chris Kojm will say “70 terrorists were rendered and brought to justice before 9/11;”
bullet Shortly after this, Tenet himself will confirm there were “over 70” renditions; [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Tenet will also say “many dozen” suspects were rendered before 9/11; [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/24/2004]
bullet The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say that the Branch is involved in “several dozen” renditions before 9/11; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 728 pdf file]
bullet Michael Scheuer, a CIA manager responsible for operations against Osama bin Laden, will say that between 1995 and May 1999 “[t]he operations that I was in charge of concerned approximately 40 people…” [CounterPunch, 7/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, George J. Tenet, Renditions Branch (CIA), Chris Kojm, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

A joint surveillance operation conducted by the CIA and Albanian intelligence identifies an Islamic Jihad cell that is allegedly planning to bomb the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania’s capital. The cell was created in the early 1990s by Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The operation intercepts lengthy discussions between the cell and Ayman. [New Yorker, 2/8/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 269] At the behest of the US government, Egypt, which is co-operating with the US over renditions (see Summer 1995), issues an arrest warrant for Shawki Salama Attiya, one of the militants in the cell. Albanian forces then arrest Attiya and four of the other suspected militants. A sixth suspect is killed, but two more escape. The men are taken to an abandoned airbase, where they are interrogated by the CIA, and then flown by a CIA-chartered plane to Cairo, Egypt, for further interrogation. The men are tortured after arriving in Egypt:
bullet Ahmed Saleh is suspended from the ceiling and given electric shocks; he is later hanged for a conviction resulting from a trial held in his absence;
bullet Mohamed Hassan Tita is hung from his wrists and given electric shocks to his feet and back;
bullet Attiya is given electric shocks to his genitals, suspended by his limbs and made to stand for hours in filthy water up to his knees;
bullet Ahmed al-Naggar is kept in a room for 35 days with water up to his knees, and has electric shocks to his nipples and penis; he is later hanged for an offence for which he was convicted in absentia;
bullet Essam Abdel-Tawwab will also describe more torture for which prosecutors later find “recovered wounds.”
On August 5, 1998, a letter by Ayman al-Zawahiri will be published that threatens retaliation for the Albanian abductions (see August 5, 1998). Two US embassies in Africa will be bombed two days later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New Yorker, 2/8/2005; Grey, 2007, pp. 128] The US State Department will later speculate that the timing of the embassy bombings was in fact in retaliation for these arrests. [Ottawa Citizen, 12/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Hassan Tita, Shawki Salama Attiya, Mohammed al-Zawahiri, Albania, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Saleh, Ahmed al-Naggar, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Essam Abdel-Tawwab, Islamic Jihad

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Kosovar Albanian Struggle

In February 2000, CIA Director George Tenet testifies to Congress, “Since July 1998, working with foreign governments worldwide, we have helped to render more than two dozen terrorists to justice. More than half were associates of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” Renditions are a policy of grabbing a suspect off the street of one country and taken the person to another where he was wanted for a crime or questioning without going through the normal legal and diplomatic procedures. [Associated Press, 12/27/2005] The CIA had a policy of rendering Islamic Jihad suspects to Egypt since 1995 (see Summer 1995). In July 1998, the CIA discovered a laptop containing organizational charts and locations of al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad operatives, so presumably these renditions are a direct result of that intelligence find (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Essam Marzouk.Essam Marzouk. [Source: Public domain]In mid-August 1998, the Mossad intercepts a phone call indicating that an Egyptian militant named Ihab Saqr is planning to meet an Iranian intelligence agent in a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in one week’s time. Saqr is believed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s chief of staff. The Mossad is very interested in the Iranian connection but they have no presence in Azerbaijan, so they contact the CIA. The CIA leads a capture operation, with one Mossad agent, Michael Ross, also in attendance. The CIA captures Saqr and two men he is meeting with, but neither of them turn out to be Iranian. The other men are Essam Marzouk and Ahmad Salama Mabruk. Marzouk is an al-Qaeda explosives expert who has just trained the men who bombed two US embassies in Africa earlier in the month. He had been living in Canada and Canadian intelligence has long been suspicious about his militant ties. Mabruk is a known member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. The US quickly renditions Saqr, Marzouk, and Mabruk to Egypt. Marzouk is sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mabruk is sentenced to life in prison, and Saqr’s fate in Egypt is unknown. [National Post, 10/15/2005; Ross and Kay, 2007, pp. 214-224] The US discovers a treasure trove of information about al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in Mabruk’s laptop (see Late August 1998). But it is unclear why the US was seemingly in the dark and only arresting these figures by chance, because US intelligence had long been monitoring calls between Osama bin Laden and Mabruk in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Furthermore, Canadian intelligence had also monitored many calls between Mabruk and an Islamic Jihad operative in Canada. (Note that some accounts place the timing of this capture in July 1998, but Canadian intelligence is monitoring Mabruk’s communications up through and after the embassy bombings in August (see August 5-7, 1998 and August 8, 1998 and Shortly After).)

Entity Tags: Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Central Intelligence Agency, Ihab Saqr, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Michael Ross, Essam Marzouk, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Former CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who ran the agency’s “rendition” program that sent suspected terrorists to foreign nations to be interrogated for information in the late 1990s (see Summer 1995 and 1997), says during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the assurances of Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria that a suspect will not be tortured are not “worth a bucket of warm spit.” Scheuer tells the assembled lawmakers that he knows of at least three mistakes that the CIA has made in its overseas rendition program, including the capture and subsequent torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002 and October 10, 2002-October 20, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 149-150; US Congress, 4/17/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Maher Arar, Michael Scheuer, House Foreign Affairs Committee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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