Global Policy Forum

Allies Resist America Taking Away


By Victor L. Simpson

Associated Press
June 20, 2005

U.S. allies have begun to resist Washington's secretive role in spiriting away terror suspects: Italy is investigating the disappearance of one accused militant as a kidnapping, Sweden wrote rules to assert its authority over outside agents and Canada is holding hearings after one of its citizens was sent to Syria. At least two of the cases bear the hallmarks of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program -- stepped up after Sept. 11 -- in which the Bush administration has transferred dozens of suspects to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible torture.

In Italy, an Egyptian-born imam identified as Abu Omar had already drawn the attention of Italian anti-terrorism officials when he vanished off the streets of Milan two years ago, reportedly bundled into a van and flown back to Egypt from a joint U.S.-Italian air base. "The prosecution is certain it was a kidnapping," prosecutor Armando Spataro said. He would not say who is suspected, citing judicial secrecy as the investigation is still under way. Italian news reports say the CIA was believed to have played a role in the disappearance, and opposition politicians have demanded explanations from the government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a close ally of President Bush. Citing conversations recorded by Italian anti-terrorism officials in a wiretap, the Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica newspapers reported that Omar, 42, called his wife and friends in Milan after his release last year. He recounted how he had been seized by Italian and American agents and taken to a secret prison in Egypt, where he was tortured with electric shocks. Italian officials say he is now living in Egypt, although Italian newspaper accounts suggested he was returned to custody in Egypt shortly after his release. Asked about news reports alleging U.S. involvement, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Rome, Ben Duffy, said, "We do not comment on intelligence matters."

Omar was believed to have fought with jihadists in Afghanistan and Bosnia, and Italian prosecutors were seeking evidence against him before his disappearance, according to a report in La Repubblica newspaper. While Italian officials say Omar was abducted, the Swedish government is facing tough criticism at home by international human rights groups for having voluntarily handed over two Egyptian terror suspects to American agents. Criticism over the case prompted Swedish police to draft new regulations on how to carry out deportation orders. The new rules say only Swedish officers can conduct body searches on Swedish territory and that Swedish officers must remain in charge. "There is nothing that prevents police from asking for help [from another country], but it must be clear that the Swedish authorities are in charge of the situation," said National Police Board spokesman Hans Pont.

US Agents in Black Masks

On Dec. 18, 2001, Swedish security police turned over Ahmed Agiza, 41, and Muhammed Alzery, 35, to U.S. agents at Stockholm's Bromma Airport. The Americans, wearing black masks, took the two into a small room and cut off their clothes with scissors, replacing them with prisoner uniforms, before placing them on a U.S.-registered Gulfstream jet, according to a report by Sweden's chief parliamentary ombudsman. The U.S. agents examined their mouths and ears, handcuffed them and fettered their ankles and placed hoods over their heads, the report said, calling the treatment "inhuman" and inconsistent with Swedish law. Agiza was convicted by Egypt's Supreme Military Court on April 27, 2004, of belonging to and leading an outlawed group aiming to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to 25 years on the same charge in 1999 while he was in exile in Sweden. Alzery was released from an Egyptian prison last October, where he had been held on terrorism charges.

In Canada, Defense Minister Bill Graham testified at a hearing that he was upset Washington did not consult Ottawa's leaders before deporting a Canadian citizen to Syria for questioning on suspicion of terrorism. The case was handled by the Justice Department as an expulsion and not a rendition by intelligence agents. Graham also expressed surprise that Canadian officials apparently approved sending Maher Arar to his native country for questioning about alleged ties to al-Qaida.

Dates Back Several Presidents?

Graham told U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci it was "totally inappropriate" that Arar was sent to Syria in 2002 without first checking with Canadian officials. "His response was that 'We were totally entitled to do what we did,'" said Graham. Arar, 35, was traveling on a Canadian passport when he was stopped in New York during a stopover while returning to Canada from Tunisia. He was held for 12 days before being sent to Syria on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaida, an allegation he denies.

Arar maintains that once imprisoned in Damascus, he was tortured into making false confessions of terrorist activity. Arar said he was held for more than a year in a dark, damp cell, then was released without ever being charged. The U.S. Justice Department has insisted that it had information linking Arar to al-Qaida and that Syria promised he would be treated humanely.

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said rendition dates back several administrations and is used to get only the most serious terrorists off the streets, where there are only limited options.

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