Europeans Shame US on Secret Prisons

Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, former Head of Polish Intelligence

Last week was a good week for accountability — in Europe. The government of Poland and the European Parliament both took major steps towards holding European officials responsible for supporting the CIA’s illegal rendition to torture program.

In Poland the former Head of Polish Intelligence, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, revealed that he had been charged with “unlawfully depriving prisoners of the their liberty” because of the alleged role he played in helping to establish a CIA secret prison in Stare Klejkuty, north-eastern Poland, in 2002-2003. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Unlocking the Truth of Secret CIA Prisons in Lithuania

secret prison lithuania

There are allegations of renditions between Lithuania and other European countries © Amnesty International

On Thursday Amnesty International launched a new report, Unlock the Truth, on the Lithuanian government’s abortive investigation of CIA ‘black sites’ that operated on their soil.

In December 2009 Lithuania became the first, and so far only, European state to publicly acknowledge that it had allowed the CIA to operate secret prisons on its territory. In January 2010 the Lithuanian Prosecutor General initiated a criminal investigation into the revelations.


10 Books for Your 2011 Summer Reading List

Looking for a good book to add to your summer reading list that won’t bore but will also educate you about human rights? We asked our bloggers and staff members to recommend fiction and non-fiction titles published in the last year that do just that.

So behold, our list of 10 books (in no particular order) to add to your Kindle, Nook, or library queue right now. If your favorite didn’t make the list, please share your recommendations in the comments area below.

1. Then They Came For Me by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy
Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist, tells the story of his imprisonment and mistreatment in Iran for four months in 2009. His own story is weaved into that of his father and sister, who were also imprisoned for political reasons in earlier years. This book makes both for a gripping memoir and an introduction to the history of human rights in Iran. To learn more about human rights in Iran after reading this book, visit our website. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Obama's Alleged Link to Secret Prisons and Extraordinary Rendition

Following hard on the heels of the revelation that the Obama administration had held Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame in secret detention on a US naval vessel patrolling off the coast of Somalia for over two months, comes a startling new claim from The Nation magazine that the Obama administration is back in the extraordinary rendition business.

Writing in the latest edition of The Nation, journalist Jeremy Scahill alleges that since early 2009 the United States has maintained a secret prison located on a compound within the perimeter of Mogadishu Airport and that in July 2009 the United States was involved in the extraordinary rendition of Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan from Kenya to Somalia.

Without further independent investigation it is difficult to make a definitive judgment about Scahill’s claims but it is worth noting that he is the author of the well-regarded study “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and has extensive contacts in the intelligence, special forces, and private military contractor communities.


Torture and Abuse in Egypt: The North Carolina Connection

N227SV plane used in rendition flights.

N227SV plane used in rendition flights.

News that after five days of protests Omar Suleiman has been named vice president of Egypt is a reminder that the abuses that drove the people into the streets there had too much assistance from America, including right here in my home of North Carolina.

According to journalist Stephen Grey, Suleiman was the Egyptian conduit for the US extraordinary rendition flights closely linked to torture.  Many of those flights took off from an airport in Johnston County, NC, less than an hour from my home in Durham.  Grey’s book Ghost Plane starts with the journey of one such Johnston County flight that led to the rendition and torture of two Egyptian men, one of who was later released without ever being charged with a crime.

Grey writes that Suleiman approved these flights, part of a system of torture that Amnesty International calls systematic.  “Egypt then came in for much criticism,” Grey writes.  “Its record both on human rights and on repressing democracy was lambasted annually by both Congress and the State Department.  But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman … did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do themselves.”

I was also reminded of the Johnston County flights when I received reports this week from people in Cairo of the tear gas canisters being used against them.  Made in the USA, the canisters said.

When you are watching the footage of the Egyptian people in the street, showing their frustration of 30 years of tyranny and abuse, it’s safe and appropriate to feel solidarity with them.  But it’s not enough.  To support the people in Cairo trying to change those abuses, we in the US and in North Carolina must end our own policies and acts that have sustained them.

Kidnapped in Italy, Tortured in Egypt

By Steve Hendricks

In 2003 the police of Milan were closing in on a network of Islamic terrorists that recruited suicide bombers—until the radical imam at the heart of their investigation, Abu Omar, inexplicably disappeared. He was, it would turn out, snatched off the street by the CIA, roughed up, and eventually flown to Egypt, where he was savagely tortured. The full story is told in my new book, A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial,  published yesterday by W. W. Norton.

I started working on A Kidnapping in Milan four years ago because I was frustrated that there were no narratives that described the full horror of what our client states were doing to our captives in our offshore dungeons. By depicting that horror in all its depth (as I think I’ve done), I hope more people will understand why systematic torture is not just a crime but a crime against humanity. I hope more people will also begin to see why President Obama’s continuation of our torture-by-proxy program makes him a species of criminal that, if not up the high mark of his predecessor, is still appalling.

A Kidnapping in Milan, though, is not just a narrative of torture. In a sense, it’s a heroic story, for it also tells how a bold Italian magistrate, Armando Spataro, traced the CIA’s kidnappers through cell-phone records, hotel receipts, and other clues that they had sloppily strewn around Milan, then how he struggled to bring the kidnappers to trial—the first-ever such trial of CIA officers by an ally of the United States. One of the joys of working on this book was getting to spend a lot of time with one of the few heroes to have emerged in the “war on terror.”

The Chicago Tribune has called A Kidnapping in Milan “[a] real-life thriller … skillfully crafted, highly disturbing,” and Tom Parker, Policy Director for Amnesty International’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign has called it “an amazing good read—at once a page-turner, a wry look at CIA lunacy, and a stirring call for justice.”

As I travel around the country on my book tour,  I’ll also be spreading the word about Amnesty’s campaign. I hope to see some of you on my stops. For more information about the book, see  And of course, you can buy the book anywhere books are sold. If you buy on Amazon through this special URL, Amnesty International will receive a percent of the sale.

Steve Hendricks is a freelance writer living in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Helena, Montana. His first book, The Unquiet Grave: The FBI and the Struggle for the Soul of Indian Country, made several best-of-the-year lists in 2006.

The Italian Job

Earlier today an Italian court convicted in absentia twenty-two CIA officers and a colonel in the US Air Force of charges relating to the February 2003 kidnapping of Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr aka Abu Omar.

Abu Omar was a victim of the extraordinary rendition program established by the Clinton administration and greatly expanded under President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

He was snatched off the street in Milan and flown secretly to Cairo where he was handed off to Egyptian security officials. Abu Omar was tortured extensively in Egyptian custody. He was finally released without charge in 2007.

The Italian decision is a graphic illustration of just how damaging practices such as kidnapping and torture are to America’s national security.

Armando Spataro, the deputy Milan public prosecutor, told reporters:

“This decision sends a clear message to all governments that even in the fight against terrorism you can’t forsake the basic rights of our democracies.”


Transparency Still an Unfulfilled Promise by President Obama

The Obama Administration has already taken several laudable steps to separate itself from illegal policies and practices of its predecessor, and I applaud them for it.  I’m glad Attorney General Holder released some of the shocking legal memoranda prepared by the Bush Office of Legal Counsel, which authorized blatantly unlawful and unconstitutional acts by the executive branch.  But I choked a bit on Mr. Holder’s statement that “Americans deserve a government that operates with transparency and openness.”  I agree wholeheartedly, but I find this sentiment glaringly at odds with some of the Justice Department’s own recent actions.

In several pending court cases that began before President Obama took office, summarized by blogger Glenn Greenwald, among others, the Obama Justice Department has recently taken positions that appear to embrace the Bush Justice Department’s expansive view of Presidential power.  For example, in a lawsuit brought against the Jeppesen company, a Boeing subsidiary, by five alleged victims of “extraordinary rendition,” the Obama administration invoked the “state secrets” doctrine to keep certain documents out of the hands of the plaintiffs, with the apparent aim of depriving them of their day in court.  In this and other recent cases where Eric Holder’s Justice Department has taken similar positions, no administration official has bothered to offer any explanation for doing so.  So much for transparency and openness!  Yet these actions cry out for an explanation because, on their face, they are so conspicuously at odds with President Obama’s and the Attorney General’s own declared values and promises.

It’s beginning to appear that what we have is a President who disagrees with many of the specific policies and practices of his predecessor but who reserves the right to adopt them himself — or other, possibly equally illegal practices — if he feels the need in the future.  This should serve as another sad reminder of the need to ensure that honoring our obligations under domestic and international law is not left up to the whim of whoever happens to be our President at any given time.  A good first step would be a thorough investigation by an impartial panel of experts into all US government counterterrorism practices since 9/11, in a manner that enables criminal prosecutions to be undertaken where warranted.  Only by demonstrating that lawlessness has serious consequences can we ensure that whether we have a government that obeys the law does not remain a matter of Presidential preference.