Less than 24 hours since he delivered a pompous, reality-defying speech, insisting that he would stay in power until elections in September, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s dictator for 30 years, has stepped down, providing the first major victory for the people’s revolution in Egypt, now in its 18th day. In a brief announcement on Egyptian State TV, Omar Suleiman, the Vice President appointed by Mubarak just two weeks ago, indicated that he would not be assuming power personally, but would be handing control of the country to a military council.
I very much hope that this is the case, and that Suleiman will not try to keep control himself, as he is, if anything, an even more hated and hateful figure than the 82-year old Mubarak, as was explained today in a timely article in The Australian. In the article, Mamdouh Habib, the former Guantánamo prisoner who received a financial settlement from the Australian government last year for its role in rendering him to Egypt, where he was tortured prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, forcefully reminded the world why any transfer of power to Omar Suleiman would be disastrous for the people’s revolution, which must continue to call for nothing less than the removal of every aspect of Mubarak regime from the corridors of power.
As Egypt’s intelligence chief, Suleiman’s crucial role in torture has been exposed by a handful of perceptive journalists, who have pointed out — ever since Mubarak appointed him as Vice President — that he was in charge of the torture regime that has terrified Egyptians throughout Mubarak’s 30-year reign, and that, in addition, played a major role in radicalizing the Islamists who went on to form the core of al-Qaeda.
As has also been noted, and as I explained in my articles Revolution in Egypt – and the Hypocrisy of the US and the West and As Egyptians Call for Mubarak’s Fall, He Appoints America’s Favorite Torturer as Vice President (in which I cross-posted an analysis of Suleiman’s torture history by Stephen Soldz), Suleiman played a crucial role in the unholy alliance between Egypt and the United States in the “War on Terror,” when an unknown number of prisoners, seized by the Americans, were rendered for torture in Egypt.
It has not yet been confirmed that Suleiman was personally involved in the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of a training camp in Afghanistan, who falsely confessed, under torture, that al-Qaeda was discussing the use of chemical and biological weapons with Saddam Hussein, but in 2006, the author Ron Suskind, in his book The One Percent Doctrine (which also first exposed the US government’s false claims about the supposed “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah), stated that Suleiman was directly involved in his torture, and it seems likely, given that Mamdouh Habib has stated that Suleiman was responsible for personally overseeing his own torture.
The importance of this cannot be overstated, as Suleiman, described by a former senior US intelligence official as having a “close and continuing” relationship with the CIA, would therefore be directly implicated in one of the most monstrous lies of the “War on Teror,” in which, whether by accident, or, more likely, by design, torture was deliberately inflicted not to protect the US and its allies from further terrorist attacks, but to provide a justification for the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Al-Libi, who was eventually returned to Libya, where he died in mysterious circumstances in May 2009, later recanted his tortured lies about the connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but not before Colin Powell had presented the fruits of his torture as evidence of the need to invade Iraq during a crucial presentation to the UN Security Council in February 2003.
Mamdouh Habib, who was kidnapped from a bus in Pakistan in October 2001, and suspected of involvement in terrorism because he had allegedly been in contact with supporters of the jailed Egyptian terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”) was also tortured (subjected to electric shocks, nearly drowned, beaten, and hung from metal hooks) until he made a false confession — in his case, that he had personally trained some of the 9/11 hijackers. Although this lie was also patently untrue, the Bush administration was prepared to put him on trial at Guantánamo until Dana Priest and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post revealed the story of his torture in January 2005, and he was immediately released.
Speaking to the Australian, Habib explained that “it would be a disgrace if Mr. Suleiman became leader of Egypt given his personal role in overseeing the torture of terror suspects” from the mid-1990s onwards, when, under President Clinton, the US first started sending kidnapped terror suspects to Egypt, to be tortured. disappeared and/or tried and executed. In The Dark Side, Jane Mayer described how the program began — and how crucial Suleiman was to its development:
Each rendition was authorised at the very top levels of both governments … The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top [CIA] officials. [Former US Ambassador to Egypt Edward] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognisant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”
Technically, US law required the CIA to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the EGIS [the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat el-Aama], such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer [and head of the al-Qaeda desk], who helped set up the practise of rendition, later testified, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”
Reinforcing these claims, Mamdouh Habib told the Australian, “This guy is an agent for the United States and the CIA. If Australia supports Suleiman, they are supporting torture and crime.” As the Australian described it, Habib said that, after he was rendered to Egypt, “Mr Suleiman helped torture him,” and explained that, in his book, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t, Habib “wrote that Mr. Suleiman had often been present during his interrogations.”
The following passages are taken from the article in the Australian:
“I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English,” Mr Habib writes. “He said, ‘Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands’.”
Mr Habib writes that Mr Suleiman had told him that he wanted him to die a slow death: “No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly. I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything if you want to be saved. What do you say?”
When Mr Habib said he had nothing to tell him, he says Mr Suleiman had said: “You think I can’t destroy you just like that?”
They had taken Mr Habib to another room and then Mr Suleiman had said: “Now you are going to tell me that you planned a terrorist attack. I give you my word you will be a rich man if you tell me you have been planning attacks. Don’t you trust me?”
Mr Habib had replied that he did not trust anyone.
“Immediately he slapped me hard across the face and knocked off the blindfold; I clearly saw his face,” Mr Habib writes.
Mr Habib alleges Mr Suleiman said: “That’s it. That’s it. I don’t want to see this man again until he co-operates and tells me he’s been planning a terrorist attack.”
When you think that a similar process must also have taken place with Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose death in a Libyan prison in May 2009 suited three parties — the US, the Libyans, and the Egyptians, who had been somewhat humiliated by the revelations of his tortured lies — it becomes horrifically clear that the last person who should be anywhere close to a position of power in Egypt is the CIA’s most trusted foreign torturer.
Suleiman, like Mubarak, must go — and in his wake, those seeking an end to Egypt’s torture regime, and accountability for America’s repulsive alliance with the Mubarak regime in the torture program at the heart of the “War on Terror,” must focus not only on Omar Suleiman, but also on those who were feeding on the tortured lies emanating from Egypt’s dungeons — former US President George W. Bush, and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
About the author: Andy Worthington
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to his RSS feed (he can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see his definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, and, if you appreciate his work, feel free to make a donation.