By Craig Whitlock writing in the Washington Post
STOCKHOLM — The CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt.
Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners’ clothes, including their underwear, according to newly released Swedish government documents and eyewitness statements. They probed inside the men’s mouths and ears and examined their hair before dressing the pair in sweat suits and draping hoods over their heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were strapped to mattresses on the floor in the back of the cabin.
So began an operation the CIA calls an “extraordinary rendition,” the forcible and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home countries or other nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections.
The practice has generated increasing criticism from civil liberties groups; in Sweden a parliamentary investigator who conducted a 10-month probe into the case recently concluded that the CIA operatives violated Swedish law by subjecting the prisoners to “degrading and inhuman treatment” and by exercising police powers on Swedish soil.
“Should Swedish officers have taken those measures, I would have prosecuted them without hesitation for the misuse of public power and probably would have asked for a prison sentence,” the investigator, Mats Melin, said in an interview. He said he could not charge the CIA operatives because he was authorized to investigate only Swedish government officials, but he did not rule out the possibility that other Swedish prosecutors could do so.
The basic facts of the Stockholm rendition were reported last year; this article is based on newly released documents from the parliamentary probe that provide elaborate details about an operation that normally unfolds entirely out of public view and about the government deliberations that preceded it.
Swedish security police said they were taken aback by the swiftness and precision of the CIA agents that night. Investigators concluded that the Swedes essentially stood aside and let the Americans take control of the operation, moving silently and communicating with hand signals, the documents show.
“I can say that we were surprised when a crew stepped out of the plane that seemed to be very professional, that had obviously done this before,” Arne Andersson, an assistant director for the Swedish national security police, told government investigators.
At 9:47 p.m., less than an hour after its arrival at Bromma Airport, the jet took off on a five-hour flight to Cairo, where the prisoners, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Zery, were handed over to Egyptian security officials.
The CIA has not acknowledged playing any part in the expulsion of the two men. An agency spokesman in Washington declined to comment for this article, and U.S. Embassy officials in Stockholm also declined to answer questions.
CIA officials have testified that they have used rendition for years after tracking down suspected terrorists around the world. They say the U.S. government receives assurances of humane treatment from the countries where the suspects are taken. Human rights groups say that such pledges, from governments with long histories of torture, are worthless.
The two Egyptians later told lawyers, relatives and Swedish diplomats that they were subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture soon after their forced return to their country.