[Ppnews] CIA Kidnapping Leaves Abu Omar a Broken Man
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 21 11:33:45 EDT 2007
March 19, 2007
RENDITIONS VICTIM SPEAKS OUT
CIA Kidnapping Leaves Ex-Terror Suspect a Broken Man
By <mailto:matthias_gebauer at spiegel.de>Matthias Gebauer in Alexandria, Egypt
Radical imam Abu Omar was kidnapped by the CIA in
Milan four years ago and taken to a prison in
Egypt. There, he was tormented with electric
shocks and suspended from the ceiling for days on
end. Now Omar describes his ordeal and the role Germany played in the scandal.
Osama Hussein Nasr comes downstairs to show the
way to his house in Alexandria, which is
difficult to find amidst the chaos of narrow
alleys with their open sewers. Suddenly he's
standing there, in front of a small café -- a
diminutive man with a long, scruffy beard and a
round white cap on his head. After a brief
handshake, the man better known as Abu Omar urges
us to follow him back upstairs. It's better to
talk there, he says: "They're everywhere down
here on the street, the security people."
Abu Omar isn't allowed to receive visits from
Western journalists. He says his "friends" -- the
Egyptian authorities -- have "strongly advised"
him to observe this prohibition. Abu Omar is
nervous. The 46-year-old was released from jail
on Feb. 11 and has been free, at least
officially, ever since. The authorities have
dropped all charges against him. Nevertheless, he
is violating his orders by meeting with us. "I
have two options," he says. "Either I can keep
quiet, do what I'm told and live a quiet life --
or I can tell my story to the world and risk running into a lot of problems."
He keeps looking over his shoulder throughout the
few meters it takes to get to his decrepit
apartment house in a side alley. He has to watch
his back: The men lurking behind hookahs, the
street vendors, the men loitering around -- any
one of them could be a policeman. "I'm under
surveillance around the clock," Abu Omar says.
"To them, I'm a walking risk factor." But his
decision, preceded by lengthy negotiations with
his lawyer in Cairo, now stands. Abu Omar wants
to talk -- "no matter what the consequences for
me will be." As his lawyer puts it: The world must be told "the truth."
Abu Omar's story is at the center of one of the
most dubious CIA operations to be conducted since
the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. On Feb. 17,
2003, agents employed by the US foreign
intelligence agency kidnapped the radical imam
right off the street in the center of the Italian
city of Milan. The imam was certainly no docile
pacifist: For years he had preached messages of
hate against the United States to fundamentalist
Muslims in Milan. He fought in Afghanistan
himself, and he's said to have encouraged young
recruits of jihad to do the same. To the
Italians, Abu Omar was one of the big fish, and
his arrest was imminent. But for the CIA he was a
target, and the US terrorist hunters didn't want
to wait for the rule of law to complete its
course. They wanted men like Omar to be taken out
of circulation as quickly and quietly as possible.
Omar's kidnappers flew him to Cairo, back to his
home country, using one of the CIA's Learjets --
planes that have since become notorious for their
role in clandestinely shuttling suspected
terrorists through Europe on their way to third
countries that often permitted torture to extract
confessions and information. The plan was for the
Egyptian intelligence agency's unscrupulous
interrogators to extract as much information out of Omar as possible.
The trail of a government kidnapping
Egypt complied with its ally's request. If what
Abu Omar says is true, what began for him on the
other side of the Mediterranean was an experience
of martyrdom reminiscent of the darkest days of
Latin American dictatorships: Omar's torturers,
whom he describes as "vassals of the United
States," connected electrodes to his genitalia to
make him talk. They almost drove him insane by
playing loud music. He says he still can't
control his bladder today. As evidence, he
reveals small black spots on his skin, burns from the electric shocks.
The investigators didn't extract any useful
information from Abu Omar -- and instead the
operation became a disaster for the CIA. There is
not a single case of the agency's kidnappings --
known as "renditions" in the jargon of its
employees -- that is better documented than that
of Abu Omar. After finding the passports of the
agents involved as well as their enormous
restaurant expense claims, and tracing their
phones calls, the Milan prosecutor ultimately
moved to file charges against the kidnappers. The
main trial proceedings are set to start in June.
And even if the 26 CIA agents charged in the case
don't appear in the dock, the trial is still
expected to be a highly uncomfortable affair for
many parties. That includes the Italian
government, which is seeking to put the brakes on
the trial using the country's highest court.
Abu Omar breathes heavily at the top of the four
flights of stairs to his three-room apartment,
like an old man. As soon as he's inside, he
immediately bolts the door and pulls the curtains
shut. Groaning, he drops onto one of the simple,
gold-dyed armchairs in the tiny living room,
illuminated by the cold light from a neon tube on
the ceiling. "I feel like an old man," the
46-year-old says. "Every movement hurts my back,
and my joints are still sore from being
constantly restrained in prison." His release
from jail may have been a "gift from God," but
his life has been left in ruins and it is
unlikely he will ever be able to put it back together, he says.
Indeed, there's not much left of the man Italian
intelligence dossiers describe as a
fundamentalist Muslim agitator and a fiery
advocate of jihad. Abu Omar sits in the cramped,
corridor-like apartment with his veiled wife
Nabila and his son Mohammed. His brother pays the
rent. Egypt has banned Abu Omar from preaching in
the country, but it's the only profession he
knows. "My only diversion is the walk to a little
mosque. Apart from that, I just sit here all day," he says.
"I knew right away that something was wrong"
Images from Italy are flashing on the small TV
set -- another report on the trial against the
CIA's terrorist hunters. Abu Omar begins telling
his story. He can remember the late morning of
Feb. 17, 2003 well. It seemed like it would be a
day just like any other. He was on the way to his
mosque, located just a few minutes from his
apartment. Suddenly a man in a red Fiat spoke to
him. The man said he was from the police and
asked for his papers. "I knew right away that
something was wrong, but it all happened very,
very quickly," Abu Omar says. The operation had began.
A moment after he had been asked to present his
papers, Abu Omar felt the hands of two brawny men
on his body. "They grabbed me from behind and
dragged me into a white delivery van, then beat
me," he recalls. "I thought they were going to
kill me." He says he only got a quick glimpse of
the "hulks," as he calls them. He says they
quickly pulled a hat over his head and tied his
hands with plastic cuffs. Abu Omar lay gasping in
the van's cargo bay as it sped off, tires
squeaking, in the direction of the US air base at
Aviano, about two hours from Milan by car.
"It was a sunny midday on Feb. 17, 2003. I was on
the way from my apartment to the mosque, which
was only about a kilometer (0.6 miles) away.
There was nothing unusual to be seen. I walked
through Via Guerzoni as usual, past small stores.
The only thing that attracted my attention was a
white delivery van by the side of the road, which
I had never seen there before. My wife and I had
already suspected for some time that we were
under surveillance. Cars kept following us, or at
least we thought so. Also, the phone often rang
at home and in the mosque, and no one could be
heard on the other line when we replied. We
assumed the Italian intelligence agency was
observing us because I often ranted against the
Americans and the imminent war against Iraq."
Robert Seldon Lady is the former bureau chief of
the CIA in Milan. He wanted to retire to Penango,
after 24 years with the agency. But now he's
roaming about instead. He was in Florida last,
but he's said to already have moved on. His wife
has left him. The only place where the former
agent can feel truly safe is the United States,
now that an Italian court has issued an arrest
warrant for him - as it has done for 25 of his
When Abu Omar speaks, his voice fails. "I was
completely at their mercy," he stutters. He only
saw his kidnappers once, at the airport in
Aviano. "They stood me on my feet, cut my clothes
off and put a diaper on me," he remembers. "I saw
eight men in beige military uniforms and face
masks." Within the space of a second, a camera
flashed, and then his head was wrapped in duct
tape. He wouldn't be able to identify any of the
men he saw. "They knew exactly what they were doing," he insists.
He had no inkling of where the men were taking
him. He was dropped roughly onto the floor of an
airplane that took off soon after. His hearing
was impaired by a headset placed over his ears,
but he could still sense in his stomach that he
was in a plane. The kidnappers treated him like
an animal, he alleges. "Their only concern was
that I did not die," he says. Earlier, in the
white mini-van, the men suddenly broke into a
panic, afraid Abu Omar might die. "They shouted
wildly, one even inspected my pupils," he says
excitedly. Later, in the airplane, they kicked
him when he spat out the water they funneled into his mouth.
"I would have told them anything"
When the airplane doors opened about eight hours
later, Abu Omar felt the muggy heat and heard a
muezzin announce the morning prayer somewhere in
the distance. His feet restraints were loosened
and he was led down the gangway, still
blindfolded. "Someone called out to me in Arabic
to come down," the imam remembers. "That was when
I knew I must be back in Egypt." Still
blindfolded, he was taken by car to the
headquarters of the Egyptian intelligence agency in the center of Cairo.
Even today, Abu Omar still doesn't understood
what the agents actually wanted from him. First
they asked him whether he wanted to spy on
fundamentalist Muslims in Milan for them. He
refused repeatedly and was placed in solitary
confinement. He was suspended from the wall with
his hands restrained for several days. "I was
interrogated, blindfolded, again and again. They
kept asking who I knew and whether I knew
anything about plans for terrorist operations,"
he said. But according to his own account, he
didn't have any information to give, nor did he tell them anything.
Then came the electric shocks. Abu Omar is
embarrassed to talk about them. He doesn't like
having to recollect that he "begged for mercy
because of the pain" when electrodes were
attached to his genitals and other body parts. "I
would have told them anything, but I didn't know
what they wanted to hear," he says. Still the
interrogators continued to torture him every few
days until he lost consciousness. Once, he says,
someone whispered to him that Egypt had nothing
against him and that he was being held purely
because of the United States. It would be better
for him to cooperate, the person said, otherwise the torture would continue.
<>But Abu Omar was, in fact, a problem for Egypt.
The authorities released him one year after the
kidnapping -- on the condition that he speak
neither about the kidnapping nor about his time
in prison. But the imam immediately made phone
calls to Italy, speaking to his wife and friends.
The police, who had long wanted to find out more
about Abu Omar's disappearance, had wiretapped
the phone lines. Ultimately his brief release
from jail turned out to be counterproductive for
his captors, since the phone calls provided
Italian legal authorities with proof that Abu Omar had in fact been kidnapped.
"Germany certainly shares responsibility"
It didn't take more than a few days before
Egyptian police had hauled the imam back to jail.
And though it may have been a normal jail this
time, they still put him in solitary confinement.
"The first thing they did was punish me because I
had talked," Abu Omar says. Once again, he was
tortured with electric shocks and loud music was
played, preventing him from sleeping for days.
But one thing changed: He was no longer
interrogated. He says he was suddenly presented
with offers such as being given $2 million and a
US passport. Still, it's impossible to verify
whether the claim is true -- a fact he is himself aware of.
The reasons for Abu Omar's release in February
remain a mystery -- even to his attorney. Abu
Omar's lawyer is devoting much of his time to
pressing legal charges, despite the danger of Abu
Omar being incarcerated again. A lawsuit against
the CIA, which kidnapped his client, is certain.
But the lawyer also found plenty of incriminating
information against Italy in the case files.
Italy's intelligence agency, the SISMI, seems to
have known about the CIA's plans, at least on the
operative level, and some of its employees seem
to have been involved in the kidnapping. And so
the lawyer is requesting no less than $20 million from Rome and Washington.
Abu Omar has found another guilty party. Abu Omar
experienced his drama with blindfolded eyes, but
the news he can explore on the Internet each day
has helped shed light for him on a number of
facts in the case. While surfing the Internet, he
became aware of the US military base in Ramstein,
Germany, where the plane that took him to Cairo
made a brief stopover. "Germany certainly shares
responsibility for what happened to me. After
all, the German government allowed the CIA jet to
land in Ramstein and then fly on," he says in a
resolute voice. "All those who did nothing to
prevent the CIA's activities abetted them."
Preparing for the next arrest
Abu Omar's lawyer is still in the process of
making concrete plans about which steps to take
next. For now, he wants to fly to Milan and
inspect more of the trial records. Back home in
Alexandria, Abu Omar is well aware that any
statements he makes about his kidnapping could
quickly land him back in jail. Egyptian
authorities have little interest in further light
being shed on the case -- nor does the Arab
country, with its deep dependence on the United
States, want to see any legal action against the
CIA. "From their point of view, it would probably
be best if I just disappeared somewhere," he says.
Of course, the imam knows that meeting with
Western journalists and his critical statements
on the Egyptian government could have serious consequences.
"Look here, next to the door," he says as his
visitors are about to leave. "There's a little
bag with a few clothes." His wife Nabila packed
the dufflebag for the next trip to prison, he
says. "Let me know before you publish the story,"
he calls after us as we walk down the staircase.
"That way I can prepare for the visit from the police."
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews