Former US President Bill Clinton signed a presidential decree on 21 June 1995 to allow the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to send suspected terrorists to foreign countries, including Egypt, to exercise the required interrogations and investigations.
Washington requested assurances from the Egyptian government that it would not expose detainees to torture or inhumane methods, and Egypt pledged it would not.
CIA veteran Michael Scheuer, who worked with the Counterterrorist Center and participated in establishing the extraordinary rendition programme notes that, “when we were searching for Third World countries to interrogate suspects, in order to avoid the complications associated with the American system, Egypt was the best choice. Egypt is the foremost recipient of foreign aid from the United States, after Israel, and is a strategic ally of the US. In addition, its intelligence apparatus is famed for its proficiency and ferocity, as well as the determination of the Egyptian regime to annihilate radical Islamists, and hundreds of the detainees were Egyptian.”
The close relationship between the Egyptian and American security apparatuses first developed in the mid-1990s, an affiliation which Scheuer describes as follows: “In 1995, representatives of the American Intelligence exposed their Egyptian counterparts to the idea of transporting suspects to Egypt, and the Egyptian side welcomed the idea…Our goal at the time was to detain suspected terrorists, yet the Egyptians’ aim was to return these suspects to the iron grip of the Egyptian security to interrogate them.”
American and Egyptian security apparatuses coordinated and collaborated to a great extent throughout the programme; the Americans supplied interrogation questions to Egyptian detectives in the morning, and received detainees’ answers in the evening. The Egyptian security apparatus completely refused to allow the presence of representatives of the American side during investigations.
According to Scheuer: “When the Americans would ask to participate in directly interrogating suspects alongside the Egyptian agents, Egypt would always respond with a no, and we were never in the same room where those interrogations would take place by the Egyptians.”
A few weeks ago, a significant report by the American organisation Open Society Justice Initiative revealed that the governments of 54 foreign countries participated in the highly classified programme of secret detention and extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects, using different methods, including inaugurating secret prisons on their land and the contribution in seizing suspects, transporting them, interrogating them and torturing them as well as providing intelligence information and opening airways to clandestine flights.
The report details the experience of 136 known victims who had been secretly detained, noting that “the responsibility for the abuses lies not only with the United States but with dozens of foreign governments that were complicit.”
Egypt was among the countries that colluded with the CIA in this programme. The organisation demands that the secrecy surrounding the CIA programme that entailed seizing and torturing suspects in clandestine “black sites” be shed. The organisation also demands that complicit countries such as Egypt reveal their roles in these unethical operations.
The most important finding revealed in this report was that the extraordinary rendition programme is still, to this day, implemented in many countries across the globe in cooperation with the United States.
The participation of many countries in these notorious programmes is considered an attack on local and global laws, and demonstrates contempt for the standards of the fight against torture, and it is an illicit and unethical act, in addition to being an ineffective tool in extracting reliable information.
According to the report, the Barack Obama administration does not appear to have abandoned the secret prisons in the short term, and it refuses to release documents that detail what took place and what is currently taking place, and expose the roles and contributions of different countries in the programme.
Human Rights Watch had released a separate report, stating that, “the American war on terror has rendered Egypt the principal destination for detainees who are transported in secret and without adherence to legal procedures.” An HRW report estimated that between 150 and 200 detainees were transported from other countries, including the United States, to Egypt since the attacks of 11 September 2001.
During a visit to the United states, former prime minister Ahmed Nazif appeared on NBC in an interview with Meet the Press on Sunday 15 May, 2005, and confessed that Washington had sent up to 70 suspected terrorists to Egypt, to confirm Western reports and accounts by international human rights organisations on the subject.
It is no secret that Egyptian security forces and police used to abuse and torture political prisoners during interrogations in the era of the old regime, and the endurance of such shameful practices even today is no secret.
Torture was not limited to the political opposition, but rather it has spread to a much wider scope in the past few years, and a large number of ordinary citizens, who find themselves in police departments as suspects, have joined the roster of victims. This would explain the overt hostility of citizens towards the security apparatus before and after 25 January.
We must admit to the expansion of the scope of torture in Egypt, and its integration within the culture of a political regime that depended on security for many years, which has had dire consequences on the culture of society. The issue demands a serious discussion and broad public debate about finding ways to treat this epidemic.
Also necessary is that the government announce its position regarding its persistence to cooperate with the CIA and torturing suspects on behalf of the US, and with regards to its continuation of exercising torture within Egypt by the security apparatus, at a time when its culture and professional code are being reshaped, and among demands by many that it be restructured or even overhauled and demobilised completely, as a step towards real reform.