Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ahmed Agiza--Stories from the Dark Side

Last week I read a novel by Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes.  One of the latest Scandinavian crime fiction writers to make it big in the English-speaking world, Adler-Olsen’s novel tells the tale of an up-and-coming young female politician, Merete Lynggaard, who is violently abducted one day and taken to a holding facility.  She is kept there for years, unaware of the identity of her captors or their reason for torturing her.  She is assumed dead until detective Carl Mørck is charged with cleaning up old cases.  Mørck (the keeper of “lost causes” like Lynggaard) discovers irregularities in the case and, in the tradition of all thrillers, a race against time begins, with the detectives trying to unravel the abduction before Lynggaard’s captors pull the plug.

It turns out that paranoid, vicious individuals who, in common with Lynggaard, suffered a traumatic event in their past, are lashing out irrationally and holding the young woman responsible for something over which she had no control.  Their vengeance is to abduct her, remove her from the world, torture her, and ultimately make her a non-person.  In reading the novel, it is impossible to imagine anyone sympathising with her sadistic captors and their warped view of the world.  The character who has been so grievously wronged is clearly meant to be the source of our concern.

I won’t reveal how the story turns out, but it reminded me of a chain of events which occurred just to the north of Denmark in the years after 9/11.  These events were described in the report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative.  From the report:

“Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian national, was living in Sweden with his wife and five young children, waiting for a determination on their political asylum application, when, on December 18, 2001, he was secretly apprehended by Swedish Security Police who took him to Bromma airport on the outskirts of Stockholm.  Agiza was then handed over to CIA agents, who stripped him, dressed him in overalls, and chained and shackled him before transporting him in a Gulfstream V aircraft (N379P) to Egypt, where he was severely tortured. 
Agiza was subjected to electric shocks in Egyptian custody, despite Egypt’s assurances to the Swedish government that he would not be tortured, and despite a post-transfer monitoring mechanism that involved Swedish diplomats visiting him while he was held in Egyptian custody.  According to Agiza, he was imprisoned and tortured for a year in the State Security prison in Nasr City, while being temporarily transferred to Tora prison only for the Swedish ambassador’s visits.  After that, Agiza says he was held in Tora prison for two years, after which he was transferred to the ‘Scorpion’ prison.
In April 2004, after a six-hour military trial, Agiza was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for membership in a banned Islamic organization.  The court, without explanation, denied his requests for a forensic medical examination to prove his allegations of torture; according to Human Rights Watch, which acted as an independent trial monitor, the proceedings did not fulfil internationally recognized due process requirements.  In June 2004, Agiza’s prison sentence was reduced to 15 years, again without explanation.  Agiza was released from prison in August 2011.  In July 2012, Sweden granted him permanent residency (30-31)”.

It is hard to know—the indignities he suffered aside—how to interpret Agiza’s release and residency confirmation as anything other than an admission by the Swedish and U.S. authorities—who abducted and humiliated Agiza and colluded in his torture—that he was innocent from the outset.  And the point of the extrajudicial kidnappings and killings in which the U.S. participates is that we are asked to take authorities—authorities with very poor track records of making good decisions about public interest and safety where ‘national security’ is concerned—at their word that they are not presiding over a massive miscarriage of justice.

Agiza’s case is one of many examples of why the U.S. War of Terror, waged with the assistance of allies in virtually every part of the world, is an affront to decency and humanity.

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"We also have to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will.  We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.  A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.  That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective"--Dick Cheney

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