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Context of 'Late 1998: Al-Qaeda Leader Located in Sudan, but US Does Not Try to Capture Him'

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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

President Bill Clinton signs Presidential Decision Directive 39 (PDD-39) approving a rendition program recently proposed by the CIA (see Summer 1995). This program is the development of an earlier idea also approved by Clinton (see 1993) and comes two months after the bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The rendition program as approved by Clinton explicitly covers renditions of fugitives to the US to face trial: “When terrorists wanted for violation of US law are at large overseas, their return for prosecution shall be a matter of the highest priority and shall be a continuing central issue in bilateral relations with any state that harbors or assists them.” The directive does not require the foreign government’s consent: “Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government.”
Third Countries - The 9/11 Commission will later point out that this directive also expressly approves transferring suspects to other countries: “If extradition procedures were unavailable or put aside, the United States could seek the local country’s assistance in a rendition, secretly putting the fugitive in a plane back to America or some third country for trial.”
Implications - In 2007, journalist Stephen Grey will comment on the policy’s implications: “In essence, the US government chose to outsource its handling of terrorists because neither Clinton nor his Republican opponents were prepared to establish a proper legal framework for the US to capture, interrogate, and imprison terrorists itself; nor to take the more direct military or diplomatic action required to eliminate the leadership of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; nor to confront countries like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan whose policies helped encourage the growth of terrorism; nor to strengthen adequately the CIA’s own key capabilities.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 121, 123]

Entity Tags: Stephen Grey, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Melissa Boyle Mahle.Melissa Boyle Mahle. [Source: Publicity photo]According to a later account by CIA agent Melissa Boyle Mahle, “a tidbit received late in the year revealed the location” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Qatar (see 1992-1996). [Mahle, 2005, pp. 247-248] This presumably is information the FBI learned in Sudan that KSM was traveling to Qatar (see Shortly Before October 1995). However, US intelligence should also have been aware that KSM’s nephew Ramzi Yousef attempted to call him in Qatar in February 1995 while Yousef was in US custody (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996). Mahle is assigned to verify KSM’s identity. She claims that at the time the CIA is aware of KSM’s involvement in the Bojinka plot in the Philippines (see January 6, 1995) and in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) She is able to match his fingerprints with a set of fingerprints the CIA already has in their files. [Guardian, 3/31/2005] By October 1995, the FBI tracks KSM to a certain apartment building in Qatar. Then, using high-technology surveillance, his presence in the building is confirmed. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 85-86] Mahle argues that KSM should be rendered out of the country in secret. The US began rendering terrorist suspects in 1993 (see 1993), and a prominent Egyptian extremist is rendered by the CIA in September 1995 (see September 13, 1995). She argues her case to CIA headquarters and to the highest reaches of the NSA, but is overruled. [Guardian, 3/31/2005] Instead, the decision is made to wait until KSM can be indicted in a US court and ask Qatar to extradite him to the US. Despite the surveillance on KSM, he apparently is able to leave Qatar and travel to Brazil with bin Laden and then back to Qatar at the end of 1995 (see December 1995). KSM will be indicted in early 1996, but he will escape from Qatar a few months later (see January-May 1996).

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Melissa Boyle Mahle, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

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

CIA operatives kidnap Ahmad Salama Mabruk and two other members of Islamic Jihad outside a restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan (see Late August 1998). This is part of a covert CIA program to arrest Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt (see Summer 1995). [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002] Mabruk is the closest ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two leader. Mabruk’s laptop computer turns out to contain al-Qaeda organizational charts and vital information about Islamic Jihad members in Europe. FBI agent Dan Coleman later calls this “the Rosetta Stone of al-Qaeda.” However, the CIA will not turn this information over to the FBI. John O’Neill, head of the FBI’s New York office, tries to get around this by sending an agent to Azerbaijan to get copies of the computer files from the Azerbaijani government. When that fails, he persuades President Clinton to personally appeal to the president of Azerbaijan for the files. The FBI eventually gets the files, but the incident deepens the tensions between the CIA and FBI. [Wright, 2006, pp. 268-269] The US monitored 67 phone calls between bin Laden and Azerbaijan from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Presumably, many of these would have been to Mabruk. Mabruk is sent to Egypt and given a long prison sentence. [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Islamic Jihad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Central Intelligence Agency, Dan Coleman, John O’Neill, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Intelligence agents learn Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian), an important al-Qaeda leader, is staying in a particular hotel room in Khartoum, Sudan. White House officials ask that he be killed or captured and interrogated. International capture operations of wanted militants, a practice known as “rendition,” have become routine by the mid-1990s (see 1993). In fact, over a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are rendered between July 1998 and February 2000 (see July 1998-February 2000). But in this case, both the Defense Department and the CIA are against it, although Al-Walid does not even have bodyguards. The CIA puts the operation in the “too hard to do box,” according to one former official. The CIA says it is incapable of conducting such an operation in Sudan, but in the same year, it conducts another spy mission in the same city. [New York Times, 12/30/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 143-46] A plan is eventually made to seize Al-Walid, but by then he has left the country. [New York Times, 12/30/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After the September 11 attacks, there is a dramatic increase in the frequency of US-requested “renditions.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 2/1/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] Officially, the original purpose of renditions was to bring suspected foreign criminals, such as drug kingpins, to justice (see 1993). But after September 11, it is used predominantly to arrest and detain foreign nationals designated as suspected terrorists and bring them to foreign countries that are willing to hold them indefinitely for further questioning and without public proceedings. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01; Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] According to one CIA officer interviewed by the Washington Post, after September 11, “The whole idea [becomes] a corruption of renditions—It’s not rendering to justice, it’s kidnapping.” [Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] “There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear,” a former intelligence official will tell the New York Times in May 2004. [New York Times, 5/13/2004] By the end of 2002, the number of terrorism suspects sent to foreign countries is in the thousands. Many of the renditions involve captives from the US operation in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 2/1/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] The countries receiving the rendered suspects are often known human rights violators like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, all of which have histories of using torture and other methods of interrogation that are not legal in the US. The rendition program often ignores local and international extradition laws. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01] In fact, US officials have admitted that the justification for rendition is sometimes fabricated—the US requests that a suspect be rendered, and then the allied foreign government charges the person “with a crime of some sort.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 2/1/2003] After a suspect is relocated to another country, US intelligence agents may “remain closely involved” in the interrogations, sometimes even “doing [them] together” with the foreign government’s intelligence service. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] The level of cooperation with Saudi interrogators is allegedly high. “In some cases,” according to one official, “we’re able to observe through one-way mirrors the live investigations. In others, we usually get summaries. We will feed questions to their investigators.” He adds, however, “They’re still very much in control.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Joint intelligence task forces, which consist of members from the CIA, FBI, and some other US law enforcement agencies, allegedly control to a large extent the approximately 800 terrorism suspects detained in Saudi Arabia. [Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01]
Countries involved in the practice of rendition -
Egypt - Amnesty International’s 2003 annual report says that in Egypt, “Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be systematic” during 2002. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Amnesty International, 2003]
Jordan - The State Department’s 2001 annual human rights report states, “The most frequently alleged methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions, and extended solitary confinement.” US officials are quoted in the Washington Post in 2002 calling Jordan’s interrogators “highly professional.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002]
Morocco - Morocco “has a documented history of torture, as well as longstanding ties to the CIA.” [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Washington Post, 12/26/2002]
Syria - Amnesty International’s 2003 annual report notes: “Hundreds of political prisoners remained in prolonged detention without trial or following sentences imposed after unfair trials. Some were ill but were still held in harsh conditions. Ten prisoners of conscience were sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment after unfair trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) or the Criminal Court. There were fewer reports of torture and ill-treatment, but cases from previous years were not investigated. At least two people died in custody.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Amnesty International, 2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Washington Post reveals that the US government has secretly transported “dozens of people” suspected of links to terrorists to foreign countries with poor human rights records “where they can be subjected to interrogation tactics—including torture and threats to families—that are illegal in the United States.” The program is known as “rendition” (see 1993) (see After September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director Tenet says in a speech, “The Saudis are [providing] increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts, from making arrests to sharing debriefing results.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Several terrorist suspects have been sent to Saudi Arabia for interrogation as part of a special rendition program. But US officials often “remain closely involved” with the questioning (see 1993).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In a front-page article, the Washington Post reports on the US intelligence program of rendition (see 1993) and reveals that US agents are using “stress and duress” techniques to interrogate captives detained in Afghanistan. Persons being held in the CIA interrogation center at Bagram Air Base who refuse to cooperate “are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles,…. held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights’ subject to what are known as ‘stress and duress’ techniques,” the article says. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] Each of the ten current national security officials who were interviewed for the article “defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] It quotes one official who reasons: “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job…. I don’t think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] Likewise, another official acknowledges that “our guys may kick them around a little bit in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath.” A different source comments, with reference to the medical services provided for captives, that “pain control [in wounded patients] is a very subjective thing.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Finally, in a very explicit remark, one of the officials interviewed by the Post, who is described as being directly involved in the rendition of captives, explains the program’s logic: “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] After the report is published, Maj. Stephen Clutter, the deputy spokesman at Bagram, denies the allegations (see December 29, 2002), claiming that the Washington Post article was “false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram.” He says, “The accusation of inhumane treatment is something that I can clearly refute. The things that they talked about, the inhumane conditions… are things that do not go on here.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Stephen Clutter

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A New York Times article reports that the US government is rendering suspects abroad (see 1993) and that “stress and duress” techniques are being used at the secret CIA interrogation center located in a hangar at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (see October 2001). “Intelligence officials… acknowledged that some suspects had been turned over to security services in countries known to employ torture. There have been isolated, if persistent, reports of beatings in some American-operated centers,” the article claims. [New York Times, 3/9/2003; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant leader fighting against US-led forces in Iraq, allegedly says on an audiotape that prisons in Jordan have become “the Arab Guantanamo.” He says: “Whoever the Americans find hard to investigate in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they move to Jordan, where they are tortured in every way.” [Observer, 6/13/2004] Jordan is a country that is notorious for its use of torture (see 1993).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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