Frontline documents Extraordinary Rendition tonight

This evening at 9 PM Frontline will talk to several experts about the CIA’s secretive world-wide spiderweb for kidnapping and torturing suspected terrorists. The documentary is primarily the work of Stephen Grey, an investigative reporter and author of Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Rendition and Torture Program. If you haven’t been following this scandal as closely as we have over the years at unbossed, then I’d strongly urge you to watch it tonight or view it online at PBS after tomorrow.


Among those interviewed by Grey is Bisher al-Rawi, whom I’ve written about before (some background here). Al-Rawi, an Iraqi-born permanent resident of the UK, was handed over to the CIA in Africa in 2002 with the collusion of Britain’s MI5. From there he was flown to a “black site” in Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and later to Guantanamo where he was held virtually incommunicado until this spring.

What terrible crime did al-Rawi stand accused of? Apparently his ‘crime’ was in refusing to continue any longer to work for MI5. Here is how I summarized the case when the US finally agreed to release Bisher al-Rawi:

It seems that he once cooperated with MI5 as it investigated a Muslim cleric living in London, Abu Qatada. After Bisher al-Rawi refused to cooperate further with MI5, the British government encouraged the CIA to pick him up while he was abroad, in Gambia, on a business trip. The CIA threatened to abuse him if he did not agree to resume cooperation, and when he again refused, he was dragged off to be tortured first in Baghram, and then in Guantanamo.

Al-Rawi’s release this year, as his mental state was on the verge of collapse, came after a multi-year international campaign to gain his freedom. The fact that the British government finally joined calls for his release is due mainly to a court decision in Britain that would have forced the UK government to acknowledge its involvement in al-Rawi’s imprisonment by the CIA. In other words even to the bitter end, both the UK and US governments were perfectly prepared to continue holding and degrading a man whom they knew had no involvement in terrorism. It was not the facts themselves, but the possible exposure of their own complicity in the criminal detention of the man, that finally meant he needed to be set free.

It is one of the best documented cases from an illegal and virtually unchecked program. The horrific and inhumane treatment meted out to al-Rawi almost perfectly encapsulates the stupefying arrogance behind “Extraordinary Rendition”. The program, ultimately, exists to project the image of George W. Bush’s power onto the wider world, not (as so often claimed) to obtain useful information from “the worst of the worst”:

To give but one example, which I think speaks volumes about the crass manipulation of Mr. al-Rawi. I have a U.S. document from Gitmo, dated August 22, 2006. It is the summary of evidence for a pending administrative review board in Bisher al-Rawi’s case, and my copy has his scribbled notes in the margin. It lists several categories of reasons why Bisher should be kept in detention: (a) commitment [to the cause of al Qaida]; (b) connections/associations; and (c) other relevant data.

Under (c), there is this remarkable statement.

“The detainee considered Saddam Hussein an enemy of the Iraqi people. The detainee also considered all enemies of Iraq as his enemies too. The detainee said that, theoretically, the United States would fall into the latter category.”

Bisher’s scribbled comment asks, reasonably:

“What does Saddam got to do with me and Gitmo. The statement is true, but what relevance does it have here except causing me problems in the outside world. This is part of a conversation in Gambia before the invasion of Iraq, and I was making a clear statement that I was an Iraqi and not ashamed of it.”

Here we have one example, of many I could point to, where interrogators clearly are twisting every statement of personal opinion, every admission of a point of view (which Bisher seems to be very free and candid with, in my judgment), into some kind of basis for suspicion. I’m sure that the irony is not lost on you, the reader, that in this case it is Bisher’s condemnation of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, George Bush’s bete noir, which is being used as a weapon against him.

The simple truth seems to be that Bisher al-Rawi was a pawn when MI5 was using him in London, and to this day he remains a pawn on the international stage.

It’s past time that should stop. I believe it’s time for the US government to hear that its own citizens are fed up with detainees being mistreated. There’s no excuse to pretend that it is not our concern that our own government treats detainees as something less than human.

If you still doubt that “extraordinary rendition” is any of your business, even as we witness the Senate fall all over itself to confirm a nominee who will not admit that waterboarding constitutes torture, then please do watch Frontline tonight. This obscenity is not going to go away because the government wills it.

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…

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