zondag 12 september 2010
Extraordinary rendition (PBS Frontline)
“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.”