After Sept. 11, 2001, the CIA launched a program of “extraordinary rendition” to handle terrorism suspects. The agency’s problem, as it saw it, was that it wanted to detain and interrogate foreign suspects without bringing them to the United States or charging them with any crimes. Their solution was to secretly move a suspect to another country. Sometimes that meant a secret CIA prison in places such as Thailand or Romania, where the CIA would interrogate him. Sometimes it meant handing him over to a sympathetic government, some of them quite nasty, to conduct its own “interrogation.”
The CIA’s extraordinary rendition program is over, but its scope is still shrouded in some mystery. A just-out report, released by the Open Society Foundation, sheds new light on its shocking scale. According to the report, 54 foreign governments somehow collaborated in the program. Some of those governments are brutal dictatorships, and a few are outright U.S. adversaries.
Their participation took several forms. Some, such as Poland and Lithuania, allowed the CIA to run secret prisons in their countries. Many Middle Eastern, Central Asian and European countries handed over detainees to the CIA, some of whom those countries captured on the agency’s behalf. Other states, particularly in the Middle East, interrogated detainees on the CIA’s behalf, such as Jordan, which accepted several Pakistanis. Several, such as Greece and Spain, allowed flights associated with the CIA program to use their airports.
Here’s what the Open Society report has to say about the staggeringly global participation in the CIA program, including a full list of the countries it names:
The report also shows that as many as 54 foreign governments reportedly participated in these operations in various ways, including by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees; permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees; providing intelligence leading to the secret detention and extraordinary rendition of individuals; and interrogating individuals who were secretly being held in the custody of other governments. Foreign governments also failed to protect detainees from secret detention and extraordinary rendition on their territories and to conduct effective investigations into agencies and officials who participated in these operations.
The 54 governments identified in this report span the continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America, and include: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
I was most curious about the involvement of two governments that are very much adversaries of the United States: those of Iran and Syria. It’s clear that, in both cases, it was an enemy-of-my-enemy calculus. Iran and Syria are both enemies of al-Qaeda and have struggled against Sunni Islamist extremism (Syria’s government is secular, Iran’s is Shia). Here’s the report’s section on Iran:
Iran was involved in the capture and transfer of individuals subjected to CIA secret detention. In March 2002, the Iranian government transferred fifteen individuals to the government of Afghanistan, which in turn transferred ten of these individuals to the U.S. government. At least six of those transferred to U.S. custody were held in secret CIA detention in Afghanistan. These six individuals included Hussein Almerfedi, Tawfik al-Bihani, Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Deemawi (Wassam al-Ourdoni), Rafiq al-Hami, Walid Shahir al-Qadasi, and Aminullah Baryalai Tukhi.
Iran’s transfer occurred as part of a detainee exchange. Because the hand-over happened soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran was aware that the United States would have effective control over any detainees handed over to Afghan authorities. Amin al-Yafia, another individual believed to have been captured in Iran, in 2002, may have been subsequently held in CIA custody. Yafia’s whereabouts are unknown. See the detainee list in Section IV.
There are no known judicial cases or investigations in Iran relating to its participation in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations.
The section on Syria is disturbing. That government’s record of horrific abuses has spilled out into the open since the uprising of 2011 became a civil war, with more Syrians subjected to – and speaking out about – a torture regime that sounds as if it were from another century. According to a 2005 article by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, quoted in the report, Syria was one of the “most common destinations for rendered suspects.” Government forces, according to the report, held some U.S.-provided detainees in a prison known as “The Grave” for its coffin-sized cells and subjected them to “torture involving a chair frame used to stretch the spine (the ‘German chair’) and beatings.”