MARGARET WARNER: So, was Secretary Rice correct today when she called it a vital tool in combating terrorism?
JOHN BRENNAN: I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. government has been involved in, and I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.
MARGARET WARNER: So is it—are you saying, both—in two ways, both in getting terrorists off the streets and also in the interrogation?
JOHN BRENNAN: Yes. The rendition is the practice or the process of rendering somebody from one place to another place. It is moving them. And U.S. government will frequently facilitate that movement from a country to another.
MARGARET WARNER: Why would you not, if this—if you have a suspect who’s a danger to the United States, keep it—keep him in the United States’ custody? Is it because we want another country to do the dirty work?
JOHN BRENNAN: No, I don’t think that’s it at all. Also, I think it’s rather arrogant to think that we’re the only country that respects human rights. I think that we have a lot of assurances from these countries that we hand over terrorists to that they will in fact respect human rights. And there are different ways to gain those assurances. But also, let’s say an individual goes to Egypt, because they’re an Egyptian citizen. And Egyptians then have a longer history in terms of dealing with them, and they have family members and others that they can bring in, in fact, to be part of the whole interrogation process.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was John Brennan speaking to PBS’s Margaret Warner in 2005.
AMRITSINGH: Well, I think John Brennan should be asked what he meant when he said that he was intimately familiar with cases of rendition and that rendition is an absolutely vital tool in combating terrorism, because by the time Brennan made that statement in December of 2005, a number of people had been rendered to foreign governments where they were tortured. By December of 2005, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery had been rendered to Egypt and subjected to electric shock. By December of 2005, Maher Arar, a Canadian national, had been rendered to Syria and subjected to being locked up in a tiny grave-like cell and beaten with cables. By December 2005, a number of other individuals, including Khalid El-Masri, had been rendered. Khalid El-Masri was captured and kidnapped in Macedonia and transferred to Afghanistan and abused. A recent court decision by the European Court of Human Rights found that Khalid El-Masri’s treatment by the CIA amounted to torture. So I think that John Brennan has a lot of explaining to do as to what exactly he meant.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Brennan also said in that clip that the government sought assurances from the other countries to which these individuals were rendered that human rights would be respected. But you, in your report, clearly indicate that mere blanket assurances are insufficient to be able to deal with the—obviously, with the kind of abuse that occurred here.
AMRITSINGH: That’s correct. Maher Arar was transferred to Syria after assurances were obtained from Syria not to torture him, but he was tortured nonetheless. Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery were transferred from Sweden to Egypt with assurances from Egypt not to torture him, but they were tortured. They were subjected to electric shocks. So, I think that the—there’s a wealth of information in the public domain that shows that these diplomatic assurances in fact don’t work. High-level Bush administration officials themselves acknowledged that there’s only so much you can do once a prisoner is out of your custody. So, the onus really is on the Obama administration to explain what is its policy and how is it going to work.
AMYGOODMAN: What do you think of John Brennan as the—as President Obama’s nominee?
AMRITSINGH: Well, I think he has many questions to answer. I think that rendition is obviously, as documented in this report, the source of grave human rights violations. It damaged the United States’ reputation around the world. It co-opted as many as 54 governments into a torture program. It was flagrantly illegal. And I think it really requires a serious examination by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
AMRITSINGH: Well, I think that that was a sentiment that was echoed across the Bush administration. The report opens with a quote from Vice President Dick Cheney saying that we have to go to the dark side, and was repeated by a number of counterterrorism officials in the Bush administration. Well, I think that that is—the fact that this report documents as many as 136 cases of human rights violations, including torture, demonstrates what that paradigm led to. It was a paradigm that essentially ignored longstanding prohibitions against torture, that violated not only international but also domestic law.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m interested—your report, in the 54 countries that you mention, mentions some countries that most Americans are not aware are cooperating in the—Zimbabwe and Iran. The particular case of Iran’s involvement in some of these renditions, could you talk about that?
AMRITSINGH: Yes, it’s interesting. There are a number of individuals who were captured in Iran who were then handed over to Afghan authorities as part of a prisoner exchange, that then—but the Iranians must have known at the time that the—that the Afghans would hand them over to the U.S. because of the ongoing hostilities in Afghanistan.
AMYGOODMAN: So, summarize the findings in your report. It’s extremely extensive. And what surprised you most as you did this research, Amrit?
AMRITSINGH: Well, I think, at a very basic level, just the—the horrific kinds of abuse that was meted out by the United States and its partners to the human beings who were subjected to these operations, that of course stands out, but also just the scale and sweep of these operations, the number of people who were put through this and the number of governments that were co-opted. And I think that, of course, the U.S. was a ringleader. This was—this was the CIA’s invention. But moral responsibility does not rest with the United States alone; it rests also with those 54 governments that were complicit in various ways.
But I should also add that the—you know, the U.S.—leaving aside the damage to its moral reputation, the U.S. also exposed itself to liability and censure worldwide, because we’re now increasingly seeing foreign courts pass judgment against the United States, as in the case of Khalid El-Masri. The European Court of Human Rights essentially found that the CIA’s treatment of him amounted to torture.
AMYGOODMAN: And just very quickly, explain his story, for people who don’t know. This was an innocent guy on a bus, a case of mistaken identity?
AMRITSINGH: That’s correct. So Khalid El-Masri was essentially traveling on vacation in Macedonia in December of 2003, and he was abducted by Macedonian officials acting at the direction of the CIA in Macedonia, locked up, secretly detained for 23 days in Macedonian custody, and then transferred to the CIA at Skopje Airport in Macedonia. And then the CIA flew him to Afghanistan and held him for four months in further secret detention, did not permit him access to counsel or his family or a German counselor.
AMYGOODMAN: He says he was injected. He—
AMRITSINGH: Right. He was sodomized at the airport. He was beaten. He was stripped naked, and he was subjected to a range of sexual humiliation and abuse, and ultimately, after four months, was released, without explanation, without apology, in a roadside in Albania and was sort of left to make his way home back to Germany. Khalid El-Masri has not received any kind of acknowledgment from the United States government, no apology and no compensation.
AMYGOODMAN: Very early on, Condoleezza Rice understood this was a case of mistaken identity, but they continued to hold him because what would they do with him when he got out and told what happened to him?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times, you raise the point that many of the—or, all of these people who were subjected to this kind of treatment, none of them has gotten any kind of compensation, acknowledgment from the U.S. government, nor has the government sought to prosecute any of the officials that were involved or knowledgeable about the crimes that were committed here in terms of the attacks or the abuse of these folks.
AMRITSINGH: That’s correct. There has been virtually no accountability in the United States for these abuses. A Justice Department investigation into abuses only looked at abuses that exceeded the abuse that its own Office of Legal Counsel had authorized. And we know from the Office of Legal Counsel memos released in August of 2009 by President Obama’s administration that there was a range of horrific abuse that was specifically authorized by the Bush administration. But none of those officials have been held accountable to date.
AMYGOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Amrit, for joining us. And I wanted to ask, finally, on that list, very extensive list of 54 countries, India was not on the list.
AMYGOODMAN: Were you surprised by this?
AMRITSINGH: Well, I mean, I—I’m a researcher, I’m a lawyer. I tell the truth. And I documented what I found. So, I represented what the facts were. It’s not my—I didn’t—you know, I did the best I could.
AMYGOODMAN: Of course, there were—what’s amazing is we’re talking about almost a third of the countries in the world that were involved.
AMRITSINGH: That’s right, a quarter of the countries in the world. The State Department recognizes 195. Fifty-four is more than a quarter of that, yes.
AMYGOODMAN: And in terms of that, these countries that have been involved, that you talk about being co-opted, what were the deals that were made? And have countries come forth to say what they did?
AMRITSINGH: Well, I think that we don’t know all of the facts with respect to each government, but we do know that there were a number of bilateral agreements that were signed, and there was also a NATO framework within many of—within which many of these agreements were executed. We know, for example, in Poland there have been reports of an agreement that was arrived at between the Polish authorities and the United States. Now, the—apparently, there was actually a document in Poland that bore the signature of the Polish official but not the American official. The Americans might have been more careful in not committing their signatures to writing. But nonetheless, these were very secret operations that could not have been implemented without very high-level authorizations from top officials in all of these governments.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And have any of the governments sought to come clean and to hold their officials responsible for what maybe a prior administration in that country did?
AMRITSINGH: Well, it’s interesting that Canada has apologized to Maher Arar for its involvement in his extraordinary rendition to Syria. Canada supplied faulty intelligence to the United States that led to the rendition of Arar to Syria. But there—by and large, most governments have not owned up to the truth. And there is evidence in the public domain to suggest that the United States has exerted diplomatic pressure on a lot of governments not to disclose information about this highly classified operation.
AMYGOODMAN: Do you think there should be war crimes trials in this country?
AMRITSINGH: Well, I think that there needs to be some measure of accountability. I mean, there has been virtually none. And that’s something that cannot stand. Not only must officials be held accountable, but there needs to be further disclosure about the extent of these operations, the victims. There needs to be acknowledgement by the United States. And it’s—if Canada can apologize and compensate Maher Arar, why is it that the United States, which was the principal ringleader in all of these operations, cannot issue a similar apology, not only to Maher Arar, but a number of other victims like Khalid El-Masri who were wrongfully abducted and tortured?
AMYGOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Amrit Singh, senior legal officer at the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative. The new report is called “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition.” And we’ll link to it at democracynow.org. This Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.
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