Omar Suleiman and the U.S. Rendition and Torture Program

Omar Suleiman

Omar Suleiman was recently appointed Vice President of Egypt by desperate dictator Hosni Mubarak. There has also been talk that Suleiman could become Mubarak’s successor now that Mubarak’s son Gamal is seemingly out of the picture.

It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration responds to this appointment, since the U.S. has had very close relations with Suleiman. Some basic background on Suleiman from Reuters:

* He has been the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services (EGIS) since 1993, a role in which he has played a prominent public role in diplomacy, including in Egypt’s relations with Israel and with key aid donor the United States.

* He was born on July 2, 1936 in Qena, in southern Egypt. He later enrolled in Egypt’s premier Military Academy in 1954, after which he received additional military training in the then Soviet Union at Moscow’s Frunze Military Academy.

* He also studied political science at Cairo University and Ain Shams University. In 1992 he headed the General Operations Authority in the Armed Forces and then became the director of the military intelligence unit before taking over EGIS.

* Suleiman took part in the war in Yemen in 1962 and the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel.

* As Egypt’s intelligence chief, Suleiman was in charge of the country’s most important political security files, and was the mastermind behind the fragmentation of Islamist groups who led the uprising against the state in the 1990s.

Here is another profile from the BBC.

While he has shown little political ambition, General Suleiman has often been mentioned as a possible successor to the 82-year-old Mr Mubarak.

He would continue in the trend of military strongmen who have led Egypt since the 1952 revolution.

And perhaps more ominously, based on what you’re about to read about Suleiman’s activities,

Even if he is not the next president, even in a transitional capacity, some experts believe that Omar Suleiman is likely to be a kingmaker.

Yesterday, torture expert Jane Mayer posted some more controversial information about Suleiman at the New Yorker:

Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington. Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage from the standpoint of those looking for a clean slate on human rights. As I described in my book “The Dark Side,” since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.

I happen to have a copy of a book mentioned in Mayer’s post–Stephen Grey’s “Ghost Plane”–so I checked the index. During his investigation of the U.S. rendition program, Grey went to Egypt first, because he had heard that that is where we were sending prisoners to be interrogated tortured. He had heard rumors of a secret prison “in Upper Egypt, near the Aswan dam,” although this was never confirmed.

Montasser al-Zayat, an Egyptian attorney who represented U.S. prisoners, told Grey:

“We have heard of full airplanes arriving at night, but these prisoners are kept very isolated. It’s really difficult to learn more….When a prisoner is sent back to Egypt, he basically disappears for up to three months. That’s when he is interrogated and tortured, and when he is allowed no visitors. Only after that when his wounds are healing, does he see the prosecutor and have visitors.” Some, he explained, never reached that stage and simply remained disappeared.

al-Zayat’s story was confirmed by other attorneys, many of whom had been imprisoned themselves and spoke from personal experience.

Since 1993, the ruler of this shadowy world of Egyptian intelligence–“a close friend of the West and the spy agency that had the closest links with America and the CIA”–had been none other than Omar Suleiman, the man now being talked about as the future ruler of Egypt. Something tells me he is not the type of leader the Egyption protesters are seeking.

According to Stephen Grey, the approval for the secret CIA program to carry out renditions of al Qaeda figures originally came from Bill Clinton in 1995, “if [renditions] would assist U.S. national security.” Clinton had to sign a “finding,” or executive order, for each of these CIA operations. Before the transfer of a captured prisoner, the CIA was to receive “assurances” from Egypt that the person would not be tortured and would receive a fair trial. As we know, the secret CIA renditions continued under George W. Bush.

In reality,

…Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

More from Stephen Grey’s “Ghost Plane”:

To negotiate those assurances the CIA dealt principally in Egypt through Omar Suleiman, the chief of the Egyptian general intelligence service (EGIS) since 1993. It was he who arranged the meetings with the Egyptian interior ministry…. Suleiman, who understood English well, was an urbane and sophisticated man. Others told me that for years Suleiman was America’s chief interlocutor with the Egyptian regime–the main channel to President Hosni Mubarak himself, even on matters far removed from intelligence and security. “He was a very bright guy, very realistic,” according to Edward S. Walker, Jr., [then U.S. ambassador to Egypt,]….”He understood the consequences of some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”

Sounds like a real nice guy, doesn’t he?

Here’s a little more on the way Eqypt’s government operates, from Wikileaks:

As described by Cable 10CAIRO64 sent from the Embassy of Cairo on 12January, 2010, “Egypt’s State of Emergency, in effect almost continuously since 1967, allows for the application of the 1958 Emergency Law, which grants the GOE broad powers to arrest individuals without charge and to detain them indefinitely”. The cable also describes how “The GOE has also used the Emergency Law in some recent cases to target bloggers and labor demonstrators”.


In the aftermath of protest started on Monday January 25th, many citizens, including activists and Journalists were attacked. People were detained, brutally wounded and even killed as a result of excessive use of force by Police, a situation that is known and acknowledged in the past by U.S. diplomats based in Egypt.

In a Cable sent from Cairo Embassy on 2009, Cable 09CAIRO79 the reality of the police force is described: “Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and widespread. The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators.” It was 2009 when the Government of the United States of America acknowledged the lack of concrete actions of the Egyptian government to improve the situation of police in Egypt. This same document points out how bloggers described the severe torture with electric shocks inflicted on a blogger, and how security forces stopped the torture when he began cooperating.

Via Stephen Soldz, Here is a Wikileaks cable from January, 2005 that mentions Suleiman–though his name is misspelled. It discusses a series of “assurances” received from Suleiman.

And then there’s this from blogger Issandr El Amrani, (via Andrew Sullivan):

For me, Omar Suleiman being appointed VP means that he’s in charge. This means the old regime is trying to salvage the situation. Chafiq’s appointment as PM also confirms a military in charge. These people are part of the way Egypt was run for decades and are responsible for the current situation. I suspect more and more people, especially among the activists, are realizing this.

So if representatives of the Obama administration (including SOS Hillary Clinton) begin touting Suleiman as a good replacement for Mubarak, we should be very very suspicious.

34 Comments on “Omar Suleiman and the U.S. Rendition and Torture Program”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I hope and pray this man does not become the next dictator of Egypt. And I fervently hope the Obama administration doesn’t support him.

    • dakinikat says:

      I’m not sure the people in the streets would accept this appointment. Didn’t Mubarak just appoint like four military guys to the new cabinet? It looks like a complete martial law cabinet to me right now.

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    Something tells me that the Egyptian people won’t stand for this move either.

    As bad as it is over there, I have to admit to being somewhat fascinated in watching people revolt against their leaders when they have shown to have had enough of this repression.

    I just with I could be as comforted in knowing the outcome.

  3. All one can say is — this is an excellent, excellent post.

  4. Sophie says:

    It looks like ElBaradei is getting into position for leadership. Or else, it’s just CNN doing the set up. Hard to tell from here.

    And I second Mr. Cannon’s observation–really well done, BB.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Does anyone else think it’s really creepy that Reuters and even BBC news don’t include torture and rendition in their profiles of Suleiman. It’s as if it would somehow be rude to bring it up.

  6. mjames says:

    Wow. just wow. Great compilation.

    Why isn’t Mub content with 30 years of dictatorship? Isn’t there ever a time for these sick power-mad bastards when enough is enough already?

    • The cable, dated December 30, 2008 and recently released on the Wikileaks website, also describes a plot to oust Mr. Mubarak in 2011, which it dismisses as “unrealistic.”

      It says a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement – a Facebook-driven group that has played a major role in Egypt’s current upheaval – told U.S. officials that opposition groups had agreed on a plan to replace the autocrat with a parliamentary democracy, including a weakened presidency and executive prime minister, before scheduled elections in September 2011.

      He listed several groups as being part of the scheduled uprising, including the liberal Waft Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Revolutionary Socialists and Kefaya, a broad-based reform movement, and said this loose coalition of groups hoped for support from the army and police to form a provisional government ahead of elections.

      “[The dissident] offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6’s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections,” wrote U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey, who described the young man as being “outside the mainstream” of Egypt’s opposition movements.

    • Sophie says:

      Astonishing. And interesting. When you consider election cycles, in December 2008, America was between administrations.

      We were still PUMAs, still pissed at the election, protesting Caroline Kennedy getting “Hillary’s seat,” buckled under the economy, and dreading the upcoming inauguration.

  7. dakinikat says:

    Look what just came off of Reuters:

    BreakingNews Breaking News
    Obama, in calls to foreign leaders, supports an ‘orderly transition’ in Egypt to a government responsive to the people – Reuters

  8. dakinikat says:

    SultanAlQassemi Sultan Al Qassemi
    Al Jazeera breaking: White House: Obama has called regional leaders & voiced support for a peaceful transfer of power in Egypt

    AJ confirms.

  9. stacyx says:

    This is a really great post, thanks for connecting all the dots. I knew he was well-known to our defense and intelligence community but I wasn’t sure just how far down the rabbit hole he went.

    There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell [I don’t think] that the protesters will see him as anything other than a proxy for Mubarak. I saw a tweet yesterday from someone reportedly protesting that said something along the lines of “the rebellion notes the emperor has selected darth vader as his VP. The rebellion is not amused.” That about sums it up.

    Selecting Sulieman is simply shuffling around the deck chairs on Titanic.

    I could be wrong, but I have a feeling the the White House and foreign policy think tanks may not be too sweet on el Baradai – the US had a very bumpy relationship with him during his tenure as IAEA head because he opposed the Iraq War and also speaks out about what he sees as fear-mongering about Iran’s program. He was right about Iraq of course, which probably pisses them off even more.

  10. bluelyon says:

    Excellent post, BB! When I heard Mubarak had installed the head of intelligence as his VP, I shuddered.

    I’ve been watching AlJazeera all morning now, and the coverage is quite interesting.

    I’ve put in my two cents in over at Blue Lyon.

    • dakinikat says:

      kewl, you might like this link:

      The stability we have embraced and encouraged in the Arab world isn’t really stability—it’s repression

      The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats. Please note that the Egyptian government ‘s decision to shut down the entire country’s Internet access over the weekend—something it can do because Internet access is still so limited—had almost no impact on the demonstrators. For all the guff being spoken about Twitter and social media, the revolution in Cairo appears to be a very old-fashioned, almost 19th-century revolution: People see other people going out on the streets, and they join them.

  11. Pilgrim says:

    BBoomer, I am pleased that you have done your usual fine job, in this case on the matter of US rendition for purposes of torture.

    (Nooooo, “we don’t torture,” as Bush and Rice always averred. Nooooo, we just let the Egyptians do it……or the Syrians as in the case of Maher Arar.)

  12. Fox is so bad. They’re reporting that Jimmy Carter likes Suleiman.

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