Flying Suspects To Torture?
CBS NEWS, “60
You may not have heard the term "rendition," at least not the way the Central Intelligence Agency uses it. But renditions have become one of the most important secret weapons in the war on terror.
In recent years, well over 100 people have disappeared or been "rendered" all around the world. Witnesses tell the same story: masked men in an unmarked jet seize their target, cut off his clothes, put him in a blindfold and jumpsuit, tranquilize him and fly him away.
But as Correspondent Scott Pelley reports, it's happening to many others. Some are taken to prisons infamous for torture. And a few may have been rendered by mistake.
One of the
covert missions happened in
Two Egyptians living in
"We know that they were badly treated on the spot, that scissors and knives were used to take off their clothes. And they were shackled. And some tranquilizers were put in the back of them, obviously in order to make them dizzy and fall asleep."
An airport officer told 60 Minutes she saw the two men hustled to the plane. She didn't want to be identified, but she had no doubt about where the plane came from: "I know that the aircraft was American registration ... because the 'N' first, on the registration."
The so-called "N" number marks an American plane. Swedish records show a Gulfstream G5, N379P was there that night. Within hours, Al-Zery and Agiza, both of whom had been seeking asylum in
What did they tell the diplomat about how they were being treated?
"That they had been treated brutally in general, had been beaten up several times, that they had been threatened," says Hammarberg. "But probably the worst phase of torture came after that first visit by the ambassador. ... They were under electric torture."
The Egyptians say Agiza is an Islamic militant and they sentenced him to 25 years. But Al-Zery wasn't charged. After two years in jail, he was sent to his village in
"The option of not doing something is extraordinarily dangerous to the American people," says Michael Scheuer, who until three months ago was a senior CIA official in the counterterrorist center. Scheuer created the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and helped set up the rendition program during the
"Basically, the National Security Council gave us the mission, take down these cells, dismantle them and take people off the streets so they can't kill Americans," says Scheuer. "They just didn't give us anywhere to take the people after we captured."
So the CIA started taking suspects to
"They don't have the same legal system we have. But we know that going into it," says Scheuer. "And so the idea that we're gonna suddenly throw our hands up like Claude Raines in 'Casablanca' and say, 'I'm shocked that justice in Egypt isn't like it is in Milwaukee,' there's a certain disingenuousness to that."
"And one of the things that you know about justice in Egypt is that people get tortured," says Pelley.
"Well, it can be rough. I have to assume that that's the case," says Scheuer.
But doesn't that make the
"You'll have to ask the lawyers," says Scheuer.
Is it convenient?
"It's convenient in the sense that it allows American policy makers and American politicians to avoid making hard decisions," says Scheuer. "Yes. It's very convenient. It's finding someone else to do your dirty work."
The indispensable tool for that work is a small fleet of executive jets authorized to land at all
Scheuer wouldn't tell 60 Minutes about the planes that are used in these operations - that information is classified. The CIA declined to talk about it, but it turns out the CIA has left plenty of clues out in the open, in the public record.
The tail number of the Gulfstream was first reported by witnesses in
But there was one thing in the records that did lead somewhere - a second tail number. That number belonged to an unmarked 737. 60 Minutes found the jet in
Using the Web and aviation sources, 60 Minutes was able to find 600 flights to 40 countries. It appears the number of flights increased greatly in the Bush administration after Sept. 11.
The planes are based in
The flight log shows one flight took the 737 to
Khaled el-Masri was born in
"They took me to this room, and they hit me all over and they slashed my clothes with sharp objects, maybe knives or scissors," says el-Masri.
"I also heard photos being taken while this was going on - and they took off the blindfold and I saw that there were a lot of men standing in the room. They were wearing black masks and black gloves."
El-Masri says he was injected with drugs, and after his flight, he woke up in an American-run prison in
"He yelled at me and he said that, 'You're in a country without laws and no one knows where you are. Do you know what that means?' I said yes," says el-Masri. "It was very clear to me that he meant I could stay in my cell for 20 years or be buried somewhere, and nobody knows what happened to you."
He says they were asking him "whether I had contacts with Islamic parties like al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or aid organizations, lots of questions."
He says he told the Americans he'd never been involved in militant Islam. El-Masri says he wasn't tortured, but he says he was beaten and kept in solitary confinement. Then, after his five months of questioning, he was simply released.
At that point, did anyone ever tell him that they'd made a mistake? "They told me that they had confused names and that they had cleared it up, but I can't imagine that," says el-Masri. "You can clear up switching names in a few minutes."
He says he was flown out of
El-Masri says that his wife believed him: "I never lied to her, and my appearance showed that I had been in prison."
How did he explain what happened to him to his son? "I explained to him what happened to me. And he understood," says el-Masri. "I said it was the Americans [who did this to me]."
"How do you know if you're picking up the right people," Pelley asked Scheuer.
"You do the best you can. It's not a science," says Scheuer. "It's gathering as much information as you can, deciding on the quality of it and then determining the risks the person poses. If you make a mistake, you make a mistake."
There's another destination that 60 Minutes noticed frequently in the plane's flight logs:
Craig Murray is the former British ambassador there. He told 60 Minutes that Uzbek citizens, captured in
"I know of two instances for certain of prisoners who were brought back in a small jet, and I believe it was happening on a reasonably regular basis," says
He says in
Is there any reason to believe that the CIA knows that people are being tortured in these jails?
"The CIA definitely knows. I asked my deputy to go and speak to the CIA, and she came back and reported to me that she'd me with the CIA head of station, who told her that 'Yes, this material probably was obtained under torture, but the CIA didn't see that a problem.'"
The CIA disputes that. The agency told 60 Minutes that the meeting
President Bush, in a January interview with the New York Times, said: "Torture is never acceptable." He added, "nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture."
Scheuer says, in his experience, the
"I'm not completely confident that any of the information received was exacted by torture," says Scheuer.
"I personally think that any information gotten through extreme methods of torture would probably be pretty useless because it would be someone telling you what you wanted to hear. The information we have received as a result of these programs has been very useful to the United States."
"And if some of that useful information is gleaned by torture, that's OK," asks Pelley.
"It's OK with me," says Scheuer. "I'm responsible for protecting Americans."
Scheuer says in the Clinton and Bush administrations, and in Congress, details of rendition flights were known to top officials. Now that the missions are coming to light, Scheuer says there is worry in the CIA that field agents will take the fall if any of the missions are later deemed illegal.
Are CIA people feeling vulnerable to that?
"I think from the first day we ever did it there was a certain macabre humor that said sooner or later this sword of Damocles is gonna fall because if something goes wrong, the policy maker and the politicians and the congressional committees aren't gonna belly up to the bar and say, 'We authorized this,'" says Scheuer.