The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb ‘to render’ as ‘process (the carcass of an animal) in order to extract proteins, fats, and other usable parts’. Was Michael Shuer,the CIA agent who created the programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’ thinking of this ghastly and appropriate usage at the time? Given the candour of his testimony ( 'I check my moral qualms at the door') to the Council of Europe report on the subject, the reference may be intentional. One cannot say, but the report on the torture by proxy of people the US suspects of being terrorists reiterates one main point and introduces another. The first, fairly well known, thing is that the US has been kidnapping people and transporting them to countries where they are, well, 'processed to extract the usable parts.' The next point is that democracy has been abused twice over – first by the commission of the torture and second by the attempts of European states to hide their complicity in it.
The Council of Europe, which British tabloids maliciously but probably not ignorantly confuse with the European Union, was established after the Second World War to defend the human rights so grossly violated in that conflict. When the Washington Post and ABC television published news of 'extraordinary rendition' and secret prisons late in 2005 the Council ordered a Swiss lawyer, Dick Marty, to write a report. Lacking investigatory power, there is much the report cannot say but it contains a useful compilation of the (sordid) facts of the case. These are that 'an unspecified number of persons, deemed to
be members or accomplices of terrorist movements, were arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested and/or detained and transported under the supervision of services acting in the name, or on behalf, of the American authorities'. The destinations to which these persons were eventually transported include Cairo, Amman, Kabul, Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay. Although the number of victims is unknown, the report relates 14 cases. The common modus operandi described in the report seems to be something like this; the suspect is captured at an airport and taken for a 'security briefing'. During this briefing, silent hooded men in black clothes beat the suspect, cut off his clothes, blindfold him and insert something into his anus. The victim is then taken on board a plane, shackled to the floor and flown to a place of interrogation - perhaps the aptly named 'Prison of Darkness' in Kabul. Three cases in particular stand out for the brutality of the treatment, the flimsiness of the accuastions against the victims and the collusion of European governments.
Khaled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese provenance, was seized in Macedonia on New Year's Eve. He was held for three weeks, questioned about Al Quaida and then 'rendered' to Kabul. In Kabul he was subject to further brutal interrogations in the presence of American officials, despite the fact that the only evidence against him was his association with an Indonesian suspect. Such information could only have come from a local - that is to say German- intelligence source. In May 2004, after the apparent involvement of a German officer, Al Masri was dumped in Albania and made his own way back to Germany. One particularly grotesque detail is that, as the Marty relates, '[s]ubsequent media reports confirm that senior officials in Washington, including the CIA Director Tenet, were informed long before Mr El-Masri’s release that the United
States had detained an innocent man.'
A further case of guilt by association is that of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al Banna. These men, holding permanent residence in Britain, attended the same mosque as Abu Qatada, a Jordanian cleric arrested by British police in October 2002. Al-Rawi had even co-operated with the police in that operation. The British state thus proved not only unjust but ungrateful when M15 in November 2002 sent false messages to the CIA indicating that Al-Rawi and Al Banna should be arrested on a business trip to Gambia. Al Banna reports his interrogator asking
‘Why are you so angry at America? It is your Government, Britain, the MI5, who called the CIA and told them that you and Bisher were in the Gambia and to come and get you.'
The men were taken to Kabul in December 2004 - there Al Banna was offered money to produce false evidence against Abu Qatada. This he refused to do and was subsequently threatened with further imprisonment and 'shameful' acts against his family, which Marty spares the reader. The two men were transported to Guantanamo Bay, where they remain.
The testimony of another man, once voluntarily resident in Britain and now also involuntarily resident in Cuba, completes a grisly triptych. Binyan Mohammed Al Habashi was an Ethiopian refugee living in Britain. He left his family in the summer of 2001, and was arrested by Pakistani officials in Karachi in April 2002, then transferred to American hands. Insisting upon his right to a lawyer, he was told;
'The law has been changed. There are no lawyers. You can co-operate
with us the easy way, or the hard way. If you don’t talk to us, you’re going to Jordan. We can’t do what
we want here, the Pakistanis can’t do exactly what we want them to do. The Arabs will deal with you.'
And how did the Arabs 'deal' wih Habashi? He was transported to Morroco in July 2002 and remained there until January 2004. He was interrogated by Morrocans apparently in the presence of American officers; in one instance he claims that one of his interrogators
'took my penis in his hand and
began to make cuts. He did it once and they stood for a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony,
crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. They must have done this 20 to 30
times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them
said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.'
During this time Habashi was subjected to the familiar refrain of the sadist with authority -'if you say this story as we read it... all this torture will stop.' It is difficult to know if the torture has stopped, since Habashi was also transferred incognito to Guantanamo Bay and is still there.
The instances I have related above from Marty's report, as well as the rest of the evidence that document contains, are all in the public domain. Thus was Blair able to dimiss the report by saying that there was 'nothing new' in it. Is there an obfuscation more contemptible than this? In common with the other European governments fingered by Marty's report, Britain 'ignored them (the renditions) knowingly, or did not want to know.' But how did they know enough to know that they didn't want to know? There is, of course, little mystery here. The British Government, and some other European states, are allied with or providing aid to the United States in the 'War on Terror', which war will spread democracy and human rights to the dictatorships of the Arab world. Yet in this war the US and its co-conspirators make ample use of those same dictatorships, their fondness for the midnight hooding and the electrocuted testicle. One does not know whether to rage first against the brutality or the hypocrisy. The grim and grotesque business does at least provide more support for what we on this side of the house have always argued - that the defence of democracy and human rights begins with opposition to the war. A welcome move in that defence is the establishment of torture awareness month, happening now and awaiting your support.