The shocking extent of the CIA’s highly classified programme of secret detention and extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects has finally been made laid bare by a remarkable report from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI).
Globalizing Torture is the most comprehensive account yet assembled of the human rights abuses associated with the CIA’s rendition operations. It details for the first time what was done to the 136 known victims, and lists the 54 foreign governments that participated in these operations. It shows that responsibility for the abuses lies not only with the United States but with dozens of foreign governments that were complicit.
And while the report underlines the critical and well-documented role played by countries such as the United Kingdom, Egypt and Jordan, it also points the finger of blame at three countries in southern Africa that have largely escaped public attention – and criticism – until now. The three countries are Malawi, South Africa and – ironically given the ruling ZANU-PF party’s anti-imperialist and anti-Western rhetoric – Zimbabwe.
The report states clearly that ‘Malawi has been involved in the capture, detention, abuse, and transfer of individuals subjected to extraordinary rendition’.
Laid Saidi, an Algerian citizen, was apprehended in May 2003 by Tanzanian police, driven to Dar es Salaam, and put in jail. Three days later, he was driven to the Malawi border and handed over to Malawian authorities in plainclothes who were accompanied by two middle-aged Caucasian men wearing jeans and t-shirts. He was held in a detention facility in Malawi for a week. He reports that the Malawians blindfolded him, his clothes were cut away, and he heard someone taking photographs.
Next, the agents replaced the blindfold with cotton and tape, inserted a plug in his anus, put a disposable diaper on him, and dressed him. He reports that they covered his ears and chained his hands and feet before driving him to an airplane and placing him on the floor. He was then flown to Afghanistan where he was held in the Dark Prison and the Salt Pit.
Similarly, Fahad al Bahli, Ibrahim Habaci, Khalifa Abdi Hassan, Mahmud Sardar Issa, and Arif Ulusam were arrested on June 22, 2003, in Malawi, in a joint operation involving the CIA and Malawi’s National Intelligence Bureau. Suspected of having Al Qaeda links, the five men were first held in Malawi, and secretly flown two days later to Harare, Zimbabwe, where they were held for almost a month.
They were then transferred to Sudan, where they were released after it was established that there was no evidence linking them to Al Qaeda.
The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Malawi reportedly denied that U.S. agents were involved, but a Malawian government official told Amnesty International that U.S. agents controlled the operation and that the U.S. authorities had taken the men out of Malawi on a chartered aircraft. There have been no known judicial cases or investigations in Malawi relating to its participation in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations
South Africa was implicated in the March 2003 extraordinary rendition of Saud Memon, a Pakistani national and suspect in the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. In light of the secrecy associated with the abduction and the lack of any record in South Africa of his deportation or extradition, it appears that South Africa gave U.S. intelligence agencies “carte blanche” to pursue his abduction and rendition from South Africa. Investigators at Human Rights Watch believed he was held in CIA custody and then transferred to Pakistani intelligence agents.
It has also been alleged by the lawyer for Pakistani national Khalid Rashid that the South African government was involved in Rashid’s “rendition” in October 2005 from South Africa to Pakistan, and that Rashid may have been handed over to U.S. agents. However, it is not clear that the CIA was involved in this case.
In 2005, the South African Department of Home Affairs admitted to transferring Khalid Rashid to “Pakistani authorities who travelled to South Africa to receive him.” The South African minister of home affairs claimed that Rashid was arrested and deported because he resided in the country illegally. Rashid was flown from South Africa in a Gulfstream II owned by AVE, a company registered in Kyrgyzstan; the charter was arranged by the government of Pakistan.
In 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal of the Republic of South Africa found that Rashid’s detention at the Cullinan Police Station without a warrant, his removal from that facility without a warrant, and his deportation to Pakistan were unlawful. The court noted in its judgment that Rashid had been released in December 2007.
There are no other known judicial cases or investigations relating to South Africa’s participation in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations.
And finally, Zimbabwe has detained extraordinarily rendered individuals. As mentioned above, Fahad al Bahli, Ibrahim Habaci, Khalifa Abdi Hassan, Mahmud Sardar Issa, and Arif Ulusam were arrested in Malawi and flown to Harare, where they were held for almost a month, and ultimately flown to Sudan where they were released.
There have been no known judicial cases or investigations in Zimbabwe relating to its participation in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations.
While other countries played a more significant role by covertly assisting the CIA’s programme, all three southern African countries have serious questions to answer about their involvement with the US government’s illegal renditions operations.
More than 10 years after the 2001 attacks, Globalizing Torture makes it unequivocally clear that the time has come for the United States and its partners to definitively repudiate these illegal practices and secure accountability for the associated human rights abuses – and that includes the governments of Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
"There is no doubt that high-ranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorising human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern," the report says.
"But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable."
The OSJI is calling on the US government to repudiate the rendition programme, close all its remaining secret prisons, mount a criminal investigation into human rights abuses – including those apparently endorsed by government lawyers – and create an independent and non-partisan commission to investigate and publicly report on the role that officials played in such abuses.
The organisation is also calling on non-US governments to end their involvement in rendition operations, mount effective investigations – including criminal investigations – to hold those responsible to account, and institute safeguards to ensure that future counter-terrorism operations do not violate human rights standards.