Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

  Germans documented American torture in 2001

Via Laura Rozen, I see that the German news weekly stern is about to break a major story tomorrow. It has obtained copies of German government documents that reveal that US forces at a base in Tuzla, Bosnia were detaining and torturing terror-suspects already in September 2001.

Further, German agents saw evidence of this abuse at that time and sent a highly critical report about it to German intelligence, the German Federal Criminal Bureau, and German military intelligence. The German government, by contrast, has always claimed that it knew nothing of the existence of CIA detention centers in Europe until the news media reported about them.

According to today's Independent:

Stern said the German intelligence agents had been given access to documents confiscated by the Americans which were "smeared with blood". One German agent was said to have compared the actions of the US interrogators to Serbian war criminals during the break up of Yugoslavia. "The Serbs ended up before the international court in The Hague for this kind of thing," he was quoted as saying.

Here is an English language report from Deutsche Welle on what is known so far about the forthcoming stern article:

During a visit to the US military base in Tuzla, in northeastern Bosnia, two officers from Germany's federal police (BKA) and a translator for the German foreign intelligence service (BND) discovered that suspects held there were beaten savagely, the magazine said in an early extract from its edition that is set to come out on Thursday....German investigators recorded what they saw in an intelligence document, which the magazine used as the basis for its report.

It said a 70-year-old terror suspect needed 20 stitches to his scalp after he was repeatedly hit over the head with a rifle butt while being held at "Eagle Base," as the US camp is called.

The soldier who had beaten him was "visibly proud" of his conduct, the magazine quoted the report as saying.

The Independent adds this information:

The two German agents and their translator had been asked to appear at the base to help the Americans interrogate suspects and help evaluate confiscated material. But according to the leaked report, they immediately informed Germany's federal prosecutor of what they had witnessed and left the base shortly afterwards.  The magazine's report appeared to directly contradict the German government's claims that it had only been made aware of the possible existence of secret CIA interrogation centres in Europe through media reports. Stern said that German intelligence, the country's Federal Criminal Bureau and German military intelligence had all been informed about the agents' visit to "Eagle Base". All three agencies refused to comment on the Stern report yesterday [Tuesday].

The German Parliament is already considering whether to open an investigation into allegations by a German citizen, Khalid al-Masri, that he was interrogated and tortured at an American camp in Afghanistan with the collusion of German agents. I suspect that the new report by stern will add some urgency to a case that might help to expose the Bush/Cheney web of torture camps worldwide.

We know relatively little about the history of German involvement in the CIA's torture of detainees in the four corners of the globe, except that it is extensive and very different from the official story. Take a look at this recent article from Time, for example, which recounts the seizure and torture of Mohammad Haydr Zammar, an alleged al Qaeda operative resident in Germany.

In December of 2001, U.S. agents arranged to have a German citizen flown to a Syrian jail called the Palestine Branch, renowned for its use of torture, and later offered to pass written questions to Syrian interrogators to pose to the prisoner, according to a secret German intelligence report shown to TIME on Wednesday. The report is described in the new book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program by British investigative journalist Stephen Grey. The complex arrangement was part of the CIA's sprawling practice of extraordinary renditions, the secret transfer of terror suspects to hidden prisons across the world -- which has involved the aid of numerous foreign governments and the knowledge of key Western European allies, according to the book, which was shown to TIME by the author....

The intelligence report gives a rare glimpse into the favors exchanged between governments during the CIA renditions. One day after Germany learned that the Syrians were holding Zammar, the CIA offered the German foreign-intelligence agency BND the chance to put written questions to their prisoner. The intelligence report doesn't make clear whether CIA interrogators had direct physical access to Zammar. In June 2002, Syrian officials offered German interrogators access to Zammar in prison, according to the 263-page report by the BND, marked "Geheim" (Secret). That same day, the BND chief asked Germany's federal prosecutors to drop their charges against Syrian intelligence agents who had been arrested in Germany for allegedly collecting information on Syrian dissidents.

The German intelligence report cites another deal, an "urgent request [by the United States] to avert pressure from the EU side [on Morocco] because of human-rights abuses in connection with [Zammar's]arrest, because Morocco was a valuable partner in the fight against terrorism." Grey, who had the report translated, says he obtained the classified report from a German investigator, who remains anonymous. The German government has acknowledged that they dropped the charges against the Syrian intelligence officers because of their cooperation in anti-terrorism, but they deny that the decision was specifically linked to the Zammar case.

In short, Germany was working closely with the CIA in facilitating the torture network.

As for "Eagle Base" in Tuzla, it has already been implicated as a torture center. For example, there is this report to the European Parliament by Dick Marty (PDF). It describes the treatment of six Bosnians of Algerian descent, who were detained but never tried in Bosnia. Eventually they were handed over 'extra-legally' to US forces after the Bosnian Supreme Court ruled that they should be released from Bosnian custody.

The Bosnian authorities shackled the men, placed hoods over their faces, and transported them by police vehicles to the Americans. By order of the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. forces in Europe, our clients were detained at "Eagle Base," the U.S. military base at Tuzla.

While still on Bosnian soil, the six men were kept shackled in painful positions. They were forced to wear goggles to prevent them from seeing, headphone-like covers over their ears to make it impossible for them to hear, and face masks making it impossible to be understood and very difficult to breathe. They were subsequently transported to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

And incidentally, we also know that torture is just one of the forms of abuse that have been ongoing at the Tuzla base. Here is congressional testimony from 2004 about human-trafficking (in women and girls) by contractors stationed at Tuzla (PDF). Note that the testimony indicates that none of the DoD contractors who trafficked in humans at Tuzla were prosecuted by the Defense Department. In fact, the speaker (Martina Vandenberg) complains that Rumsfeld has dragged his feet in implementing regulations for prosecuting DoD contractors.

The scandal, in the US as in Germany, is not simply torture and abuse (though that by itself is horrific). The deeper scandal is the culture that permits, excuses, and covers up torture and abuse.


Here is the link to the one-page news release (in German) from stern about the forthcoming report. Still no further news reports on the incidents at Tuzla, pending publication of the story tomorrow. Today Germany suddenly was horrified by newly leaked photos of German soldiers in Afghanistan clowning with skulls (yes).

However Stephen Grey's new book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program is getting increasing attention in Britain and the U.S. Some links:

Amy Goodman's interview of Grey last Thursday, where Grey discusses the Zammar case as well as much else; a brief review of the book by Jane Mayer in the forthcoming New Yorker; this Terry Gross interview; and Stephen Grey's blog, where evidently he plans to post this week more than 3,000 logs of the CIA flights.

Tomorrow the Guardian will have two substantial reports based on Grey's book. One, CIA tried to silence EU on torture flights, focuses on the torture-airline network and the complicity of European countries in helping the CIA to ship prisoners to torture camps.

After the CIA offered a deal to Germany [in the al Masri case], EU countries adopted an almost universal policy of downplaying criticism of human rights records in countries where terrorist suspects have been held. They have also sidestepped questions about secret CIA flights partly because of growing evidence of their complicity....

[Grey] describes how one CIA pilot told him that Prestwick airport, near Glasgow, was a popular destination for refuelling stops and layovers. "It's an 'ask-no-questions' type of place and you don't need to give them any advance warning you're coming," the pilot said.

The CIA used planes of Air America, a group of private companies it secretly owned, and a second company, Aero Contractors. A CIA Gulfstream V jet, frequently used for the secret rendition of prisoners, flew to Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean territory where the US has a large base, the book says. Grey plans to publish more than 3,000 logs of the CIA flights on the internet this week....

The [British] government has consistently denied it has ever actively cooperated in the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme". The Foreign Office said yesterday that the government had "not approved and will not approve a policy of facilitating transfer of individuals through the UK to places where there are substantial grounds to believe they face a real risk of torture".

So there you have it. Out and out lies from the British Foreign Office. The second article in the Guardian tomorrow, High-flying lifestyle of the CIA's rendition men, describes some of what Grey reveals about the life of luxury that CIA officers lived in Europe during interludes when they weren't kidnapping and flying people off to be tortured. This is truly sickening, and the level of plain stupidity on display will also disgust Americans if this gets wider publicity.

Agents displayed a similar taste for luxury in Milan where Italian prosecutors accuse the CIA of involvement in the seizure and rendering of Abu Omar, a radical Egyptian cleric, to Cairo in 2003. Italian investigators found the CIA agents spent nearly $150,000 (£80,000) on accommodation. Two spent nearly $18,000 during a three-week stay at Milan's Savoy hotel.

But the US secret service operatives' indiscretions meant the task of the Italians investigating the kidnapping of Abu Omar was made simple.

CIA officers frequently called each other's hotels and many of the 22 CIA agents allegedly involved had "frequent flyer" numbers or hotel loyalty cards so they could earn points during their stay in the Italian fashion capital. Among itemised phone bills discovered by Italian counter-terrorism police was one showing 156 calls had been made to a landline in Milan. This led them to the US consulate.

It may well turn out to be the case that this arrogance of the CIA agents while on 'holiday' in Europe will provide the critical evidence to track them down and prosecute them. For that, though, we may need to wait for a change of government -- here in the U.S., and in several European countries that are complicit in the CIA's crimes.

From Unbossed


  • Great post...I'm interested to learn more.

    Good job bringing this to light (I doubt it will get much play in the "liberal media.")

    By Anonymous Wil Morat, at 8:09 PM  

  • Thanks wil. I've since updated the post with a considerable amount of information about Stephen Grey's book on the CIA program.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 11:14 PM  

  • Thanks - lots of reading and research. Interesting story...we'll see if it gets any press.

    It's also interesting to note that AFTER the 9/11 Commission Report confirmed the existence of renditions, the Bush admin (BUsh, Cheney and Rice) all denied it existed. this denial was reported on all the major news networks and newspapers, as if it were true, and no one pointed out that the Commission confirmed otherwise.

    Part of the war of misinformation being perpetrated against the American public.

    By Anonymous Wil Morat, at 10:26 PM  


    United we in torture stand,
    It is no green and pleasant land,
    While persons may get whisked away
    Without a word for one to say.

    There is a place, Guantanamo
    Which is the homeland, don´t you know,
    And, as the constitution void
    There--rights concomitant destroyed--

    So the negation has to spread
    And conscientious heart with dread
    So fill beyond the maximum
    While stunned onlookers mutter, hum.

    This is my land, and your land too;
    The whole wide world knows what we do--
    That´s, using deprivation, torture
    Effect our means. The world is watcher,

    And shakes its head like in dismay,
    To think, its soul in disarray
    A people--"troll and gnome and dwerg"
    Inclusive--unlearns Nuremberg.

    Trials that were had for worst of worst,
    Criminals, never pre-rehearsed,
    So that a standard set for fairness
    To permeate the mind´s awareness.

    Guantanamo is such a place--
    Detainees there but hide their face:
    Without judicial process they
    Get no more heard of since that day.

    United we in torture stand,
    So self expression soon get banned,
    And truth--which men did former prize--
    Banned knowing torture garners lies.

    My country ´tis of thee
    I voice regret,
    For constitutionality
    Restored not yet.

    By Anonymous i.m.small, at 11:41 AM  

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