Monthly archives: March 2006

Jack and Condi: not so much a match made in heaven as a computing error at Dateline

“Is that a rendition order in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

By Alison Rowat in The Herald

Condoleezza Rice is expected to pop the question when she arrives in Britain for her visit to Jack Straw’s constituency. The world’s most powerful woman and most eligible bachelorette might come out with it at the airport. Or she could wait till they are in Blackburn itself. But when the moment is right the US secretary of state will look into the British foreign secretary’s eyes and utter the immortal words: “Is that a rendition order in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

Expect a lot more of this as the love-in between Straw and Rice spreads across the weekend papers like an oil slick. When Straw visited her last October in her home town of Birmingham, Alabama, she took him to a football game and to a family dinner. He will escort her to what is billed as “a major industrial site” (Blackburn men know how to show a girl a good time), a school, and then on to Liverpool, home of Rice’s favourite band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Or it might have been The Beatles. Anyway, all will be revealed as Rice and Straw skip their way, hand in hand, through fields of swaying anti-war protesters.

So far, her visit to a mosque has been called off due to the threat of protests, and the host of a concert she is due to attend has pulled out. Faced with this level of discontent, any other pair would call the whole thing off and stay in London. Not these two. Not the Warrior Princess and the Straw Man.


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Pressure grows on the Straw-Rice visit to NW England

“The most unwelcome visit to Liverpool since Oswald Mosley came here in the 1930s.” Liverpool Echo

Blackburn: Muslims ‘withdraw Rice invitation’

An invitation to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit a mosque in Jack Straw’s home constituency has been withdrawn, it was claimed.

Mosque leaders in Blackburn decided on the U-turn following pressure from the local community, according to campaign group Stop the War Coalition.

The planned visit on Saturday was designed to repay a trip that the Foreign Secretary made to the Alabama hometown of Ms Rice last year.

Ms Rice will tour Blackburn and Liverpool as part of a two-day regional tour, which is due to start on Friday.

However, the Masjid Al Hidayah mosque in Millham Street is said to have cancelled the invitation because of community feelings about US and British policy on Iraq.

Liverpool: Straw in appeal to anti-war protesters

…It comes after news of Ms Rice’s impending arrival prompted the Stop the War Coalition to organise protests outside The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), when she visits on Friday.

Already poet Roger McGough has pulled out of his booking to compere the Celebration of Liverpool concert at the Phil, and Mona Lisa actress Cathy Tyson turned down an offer to step into the role.

Visit CondiWatch for up to the minute information on the planned protests.

Update: MEP tells Rice: Stay at home

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More investment in permenant US military bases in Iraq

From BBC Online

The Pentagon has requested hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency funds for military construction in Iraq, fanning the debate about US long-term intentions there.

“In other words,Rumsfeld has never given up the possibility of moving bases further east, which was part of the [reasoning behind] invading Iraq.”

“I think the administration is at the very least keeping its options open.”

Iraqis are also suspicious. According to a recent poll, 80% believe the US intends to retain a permanent presence in Iraq, regardless of whether the Iraqi government asked the US to leave.

For the full article go here

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Coming to a cinema near you … Alan Partridge as Our Man in Tashkent

By Ewen MacAskill in The Guardian

One of the most embarrassing episodes for the Foreign Office in recent years is about to become even more embarrassing. British film-makers are planning to make a movie for release next year about the exploits of the renegade British ambassador, Craig Murray, with Steve Coogan in the running to play him.

The producer, Michael Winterbottom, who directed The Road to Guant’namo and A Cock and Bull Story, which starred Coogan, has bought the film rights to Mr Murray’s Murder in Samarkand, an account of his two years as ambassador to Uzbekistan. The book, which is due out in June, is described by its publisher, Mainstream, as “an incredible true story of espionage, torture, high politics, sex and murder”.

But the Foreign Office, which sacked Mr Murray in 2004, warned yesterday that it could take legal action if publication goes ahead. It described the book as misleading and incorrect, and the criticism of colleagues as “unfair and unwarranted”.

Mr Murray, who is on holiday in Ghana, said yesterday that he intended to go ahead with the book, adding: “Let’s see if they try to ban the film.” He was pleased at the prospect of being played by Coogan, who is best known for his creation Alan Partridge. Mr Murray met Coogan for a chat in London last month at the office of Mr Winterbottom’s Revolution film company. He said Coogan had liked the book. “He is keen to do it. He seems to have a genuine empathy with the part.” He did not know who might play the foreign secretary, Jack Straw.

While Mr Murray, 47, was ambassador, he made many public statements condemning the regime of the Uzbekistan president, Islam Karimov, for its atrocious human rights record. At the time, the US government was seeking Mr Karimov’s help, especially in using Uzbekistan as a base for US operations in Afghanistan after September 11.

Eva Yates, a spokeswoman for Revolution, said: “We have the rights and we are intending to make it. Because of the nature of the book, we are trying to be quite discreet in terms of research over there [in Uzbekistan].” She said the film was at an early stage and it had not been confirmed who was to play Mr Murray, though Coogan has a long-standing relationship with the company.

“I do not come across as a hero,” said Mr Murray. “I am an ordinary, fallible guy who could not go along with what the government was doing. He [Coogan] likes the fact that the humour is self-deprecating.”

He added: ” There is a lot of satirical humour as well as total horror, really awful moments. We had a certain gallows humour in the embassy.”

Since being removed from his post, he has been a continual irritation to Mr Straw, standing against him at the last general election to publicise his case. He has received several letters from the Foreign Office warning him against publication, which he has posted on his website. Last month he went to the Foreign Office to discuss contentious parts of his book but refused to back down.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday: “There is still ongoing discussion with Craig Murray. We have made it clear it is not right to publish this book. The reason we gave to Craig Murray is because it is a betrayal of trust. Some of its contents are misleading and incorrect and we also believe that criticism of former colleagues is unfair and unwarranted.”

She added: “We will actively consider our legal options if he publishes his book.” After sacking him, the Foreign Office claimed the breakdown of its relationship with Mr Murray was not about his outspoken comments but came about because he was suffering from personal problems.

Downing Street bitterly regrets allowing the former Washington ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, to publish his memoirs last year. The Foreign Office later blocked a detailed account of diplomatic manoeuvring in the run-up to the Iraq war by former United Nations and Iraq ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

Asked about the sex content of the book, Mr Murray said: “There is part of me that is a bit fallible. During my couple of years in Uzbekistan, I went through a marriage break-up and started a relationship with a younger woman. The government has been trying to discredit me.”

But he said this was only a small part of the book: “It is not a Jackie Collins bodice-ripper.”

Undiplomatic language

Murray on the FCO: “Ponderous, self-important and ineffective.”

On the foreign secretary, Jack Straw: “It seems to me essential that Straw is punished for the illegal war, for the decision that the intelligence services should regularly use information obtained under torture, for the dossier of lies on Iraqi WMD.”

On the British government’s alleged use of unreliable information obtained by torture: “We are selling our souls for dross.”

On how a British diplomat should deal with repressive governments such as Uzbekistan’s: “There is no point in having cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.”

On the US need for bases in central Asia: “Above all, we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.”

On sex and drinking: “I have no intention of living like a monk – not that I have anything against monks.”

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MI5 enabled the extraordinary rendition of UK residents

From BBC Online

Telegrams sent by the British security service led to the “extraordinary rendition” of two UK residents now in Guantanamo Bay, BBC News has learned.

Flight details sent to US authorities allowed Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna to be arrested in Gambia. The UK government has always said it opposes “extraordinary rendition” – secret flights taking terror suspects for interrogation in other countries. The Foreign Office denies requesting the men’s detention.

Mr al-Rawi and Mr al-Banna were arrested at Gatwick airport in November 2002, BBC2’s Newsnight has learned. British intelligence then sent US authorities a telegram saying one of them had been carrying an object that could have been used as part of an improvised explosive device.

The men were later released after MI5 found the device to be an innocent battery charger – but this time the US authorities were not informed. The following week the men continued their journey – a business trip to Gambia, west Africa.


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Rendered Meaningless: The Rule of Law in the US ‘War on Terror’

By Margaret Satterthwaite of the New York University School of Law, writing in the Jurist

Since 9/11, the U.S. government has used the discourse and authorizing rules of the laws of war while simultaneously flouting the limiting and protective rules of that regime, labeling them ‘quaint’ and inapplicable. At the same time, the Administration insists that human rights law is not applicable to this new ‘war,’ arguing alternatively that the relevant norms do not apply to extraterritorial conduct, that there is no relevant implementing legislation requiring the U.S. to abide by its international obligations, and that human rights law does not apply in situations of armed conflict. As to those standards it does concede applicability ‘ such as the prohibition on torture ‘ the Administration has largely defined away the practice. The effect is to take U.S. actions in the ‘War on Terror’ outside of both frameworks, dealing a blow to the rule of law.


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Your government is corrupt! Ghana 2000

The bulk of this material is hidden behind a subscription wall, at least at the quoted site, but I thought it might be fun to post some material from my period as Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana (1998 to 2002).

This will I hope lay to rest the accusations that my passion for democracy, human rights and honesty in Uzbekistan was a temporary career move of some kind.


Ghanaian Chronicle 9/1/2000


By Joyce Mensah Nsefo

Nobody expected Wednesday’s conference on accountability to produce any fireworks, but then nobody reckoned with the Scotsman His Excellency Mr.Craig John Murray, deputy British High Commissioner, the open minded,respected, free-speaking diplomat. And when he decided to make an intervention it came in the form of a bombshell, lifting his audience off their feet with surprise, followed by moments of embarrassing silence.

Craig, who had been invited to say a few words at the workshop on “Information for Accountability” declared that corruption in Ghana is a problem and specifically pointed accusing fingers at the government in the area of awards of contracts.

The Dispatch 9/5/2000


Government to Deport Diplomat?

There are credible indications within high places that the government is thinking about the possibility of asking the British government to recall the deputy British High Commissioner, Mr. Craig Murray, for what a highly-placed official described as “irresponsible, undiplomatic and unsubstantiated allegations of governmental corruption.”

In a story first carried by JOY FM and later by The Ghanaian Chronicle, Mr.Murray is reported to have said corruption is a problem internationally but it was rather on the high side in Ghana. He alleged that even foreigners who win contracts are required to pay a percentage of the contract value, to be given to certain highly-placed people in government. He also said Ghana has had a record of waivers from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for non-compliance with benchmarks for releasing funds.


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The Haditha Massacre

From Time Magazine

The incident seemed like so many others from this war, the kind of tragedy that has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq. On the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha, a restive town in western Iraq. The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas. The next day a Marine communiqu’ from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that “gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire,” prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other…..

But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.

Click to visit Time to read the whole article

For another reminder of what happens during an ‘insurgency’ see this entry in Wikipedia

For the view from the back of a ‘private contractors‘ vehicle watch this video

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Publication of Political Memoirs: Tony Benn makes the case for openess

The Public Administration Select Committee has been conducting an inquiry into ‘The Publication of Political Memoirs.’ We post here the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given by Tony Benn, who presents a robust defence of openess.

“I believe Craig Murray, who was the ambassador in Uzbekistan, has been told that he cannot publish his diary. I think this is just in the interests of ministers; it is nothing whatever to do with the public interest, indeed quite the opposite, it makes it hard to hold people accountable for what they do.” Tony Benn

Oral Evidence Taken before the Public Administration Select Committee

on Thursday 16 March 2006

Witness: Rt Hon Tony Benn gave evidence.

Q386 Chairman: May I welcome Tony Benn, not for the first time, to the Committee. We draw upon you regularly, always to great effect and we are delighted that you are able to come to help us with one of our inquiries at the moment which is on memoirs. You of all people should be able to tell us about this as one of the great diarists of our time. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or shall we go straight to questions?

Mr Benn: May I just briefly say, and I put it in my note, that the balance of information between the Government and the people is what determines whether it is democratic or not. Looking over history, the Heresy Act of 1401 meant that if a lay person read the Bible they were burned at the stake. That was an attempt by the Government to control people thinking out for themselves their religious beliefs. Then the Church of England was nationalised by Henry VIII because he wanted to control the Church. Charles II nationalised the Post Office because he wanted to open everybody’s letters – I looked this all up when I was Postmaster General – and Hansard was imprisoned for reporting what was said in the House of Commons.

All of these related to the availability of information. The position at the moment is that the Government want to know all about us. When I use my Oyster card the police know what station I went into, where I went and when I came out again. My phone is bugged, or can be bugged, quite legally now and everything about us is known, but we are to know very, very little about what the Government do. Under the 30-year rule I shall be 111 before I know what the Cabinet minutes for yesterday are. I think that there is an imbalance and I am making a very, very simple point, which is that the argument about secrecy and so on confuses the convenience of ministers with the national interest.

My experience, if it is of any help, and I was a departmental minister for 11 years, is that there are very, very few secrets in Government at all. I once put this either to Burke Trend or Armstrong, I forget which, and they agreed with me. Some relate to security. For example, atomic matters are very, very secret, but even there I once had a document marked “Top Secret Atomic UK Eyes Only, page one of 20 pages, copy one of two copies”, so secret that we used to say “Leak before reading. Eat before you read”. It said that we could enrich uranium by the centrifuge. When I was reading this, New Scientist was publishing every week that it could be done. All I knew was that we could do it. They said they thought they could do it. I do not think that there is much.


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MOD publishes confused and misleading figures for British casualties in Iraq

The MOD has now published a summary of information on British casualties in the Iraq war online.

However, whether the figures provide a full and complete picture of casualties suffered by the armed services is far from clear. LFCM argues that release of this data is a continuation of the policy of obfuscation and that the political benefits of such an approach are all too obvious.

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Macedonian minister refuses to collaborate in CIA Probe

By Aleander Balzan in the EU Observer

“I have just learnt, to my regret, that the Macedonian Minister of the Interior, Ljubomir Mihailovski, does not want to meet the delegation of the European Parliament’s temporary committee,” said socialist MEP Claudio Fava in a statement. Claudio Fava is the rapporteur of the European Parliament committee created in January to investigate alledged CIA activities in Europe.

A group of EU lawmakers were planning to visit Macedonia in April, after a German citizen of Lebanese origin claimed that he was arrested by CIA agents in Macedonia.

On 13 March, Khaled el Masri gave his testimony during a sitting of the temporary committee on the alleged activities in European countries by the CIA. Khaled El- Masri said that he was arrested by CIA agents in Macedonia in December 2003, flown to Afghanistan and held there for months. Following five months of alleged torture he was than declared innocent and released in Albania.

In the European Parliament, members from the main conservative group challenged his allegations and insisted that he had no proof while liberal deputies accused the conservatives of trying to undermine the work of the committee.

“To find the truth about this case and about other likely cases of ‘extraordinary rendition’ is both political and moral obligation for our committee or for any European country,” added Mr Fava.

Allegations of illegal CIA activities in Europe were first voiced in November last year, after a Washington Post report said that the CIA used camps in Eastern European countries to interrogate terrorist suspects. Later on, the NGO, Human Rights Watch, reconfirmed the allegations, adding that interrogation methods amounting to torture could have been used.

Washington has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations over secret prisons in Europe but has denied using or condoning torture.

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‘Talking to Terrorists’ a review of the US production

Craig Murray portrayed in the American version of 'Talking to Terrorists'

From South Coast Today

The Sugan Theatre Company is producing the American premiere of one of the most thought-provoking political plays to come down the pike in a long while.

“Talking to Terrorists” by Robin Soans challenges a basic assumption held by many since 9/11–that terrorists are subhuman and should be treated as such. It’s an easy conclusion to reach and it may have made it easier to hunt down terrorists with few legal restrictions. But it has led to serious problems, such as the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, a controversial Iraq war, and a steep decline in how the United States is viewed by its allies.

There are serious questions as to whether this approach to terrorists is leading to less terrorism worldwide or actually fueling it.

“Talking” proposes that it’s fueling it and that it would be far more effective to talk and listen to terrorists without condoning their horrendous acts.


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Venice Commission lays down the law on secret detentions and extraordinary rendition in Europe

Dick Marty welcomes ‘important input’ of Venice Commission on member states’ legal obligations

“The Venice Commission has issued an excellent legal opinion that provides an important input for my inquiry on alleged secret detentions in Council of Europe member states,” said Dick Marty, Rapporteur and Chair of the Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee, which requested the opinion in December 2005. Mr Marty said the 38-page text was “a thorough analysis of member states’ international law and human rights obligations, highlighting standards developed by the European Human Rights and Anti-Torture Conventions. Secret detentions, abductions and irregular transport of detainees from or through Europe to countries where persons are at risk of torture are flagrant violations of these human rights standards”. Mr Marty also indicated that he intends to present his report in June 2006.

Venice Commission opinion

Mr Marty’s second information memorandum

Secret detentions: Council of Europe action so far

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Arar tells EU investigators of ordeal

By Jan Sliva in

Brussels ‘ Maher Arar told an investigative committee of the European Parliament on Thursday that he was kidnapped in New York and deported by U.S. authorities via Rome and Jordan to Syria, where he was tortured for 10 months.

Mr. Arar, an Ottawa telecommunications engineer who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, was travelling on a Canadian passport when he was grabbed at a New York airport in September, 2002, during a stopover on his way home to Canada from vacation in Tunisia. He said he was sent to Syria for interrogation on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaeda, an allegation he denied.

‘I am a victim of extraordinary rendition,’ Mr. Arar told the EU committee. ‘I am not a terrorist, I don’t know anyone from al-Qaeda. I have never been to Afghanistan.’


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A Lifeboat for the Media

By Andrew Stroehlein in Transitions Online

The fallout from last year’s massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijan continues throughout the country and throughout the region. Since 13 May 2005 ‘ when state security forces fired on mostly unarmed civilian demonstrators, killing hundreds, perhaps even 1,000 ‘ the regime’s paranoia about independent public activity and its desperate drive to control information have accelerated with no apparent bounds.

Along with nongovernmental organizations and human-rights activists, the media has been a primary target. The regime has openly denounced journalists, both foreign and domestic, who reported on the massacre and the subsequent crackdown on witnesses and their families. Several international news organizations have come under harsh criticism, from the BBC, CNN, and the Associated Press to the Moscow-based service

Uzbek First Deputy General Prosecutor Anvar Nabiev called journalists from these media outlets “hyenas and jackals searching for carrion,” and accused them of having known about the uprising plot beforehand and launching an “information war against Uzbekistan ‘ simultaneously with [the] terrorist aggression.”


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Saving Central Asia from Uzbekistan

By Chris Patten in the International Herald Tribune

To the list of the world’s most self-destructively repressive regimes we should add one name that is too often overlooked: Uzbekistan. Like North Korea or Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan suffers under a brutal authoritarian system that not only impoverishes and commits massive abuses against its own citizens, but also threatens to spread violent instability to its neighbors.

The international community needs to develop new strategies to prepare for such a potential meltdown in Central Asia. True, Uzbekistan represents no direct security threat to Europe or the United States, and the government in Tashkent is not at risk of imminent collapse.

But when the regime does snap in the medium to long term, this will have a significant impact on Western interests. It could, for example, prompt an aggressive Russian intervention in the region and stimulate the undercurrents of Islamist extremism that so far have been more of an irritant than a major threat.

Never a shining light of freedom since the former Soviet republic became independent in 1991, Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov has grown increasingly authoritarian. This process accelerated on May 13, 2005, when state security forces opened fire on a demonstration of mostly unarmed protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, killing hundreds. That massacre sparked a new surge of state repression against the survivors and their families, and Tashkent has been pressuring neighboring states to hand over refugees.


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Human Rights Watch: Do Not Close U.N. Refugee Office

From HRW

(New York, March 21, 2006) ‘ The Uzbek government’s closure of the U.N. refugee agency in Tashkent will deprive refugees in Uzbekistan of international protection and set a terrible precedent, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the Uzbek government to reverse its decision.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated yesterday that on March 17, the Foreign Ministry ordered it to close its office in Uzbekistan within one month, claiming that UNHCR was no longer needed in the country.

‘Uzbekistan is one of the few countries ever to kick out UNHCR,’ said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. ‘If a government can get away with expelling UNHCR every time it objects to the agency assisting its nationals abroad, the international refugee protection regime will fall apart.’


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The rendition row: history and hypocrisy

‘This illustrates how dangerously out of touch the US State Department is with most of Western opinion’ Andrew Tyrie, chairman of Britain’s all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary renditions

By Hannah Strange in London for ISN Security Watch (22/03/06)

As Europe probes allegations that US intelligence flights involved in renditions of terror suspects passed through its territory, Washington is moving to bolster the case for the practice, which it insists is an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.

The policy of extraordinary rendition – under which individuals suspected of terrorism are transferred to detention facilities abroad – has been denounced by critics as immoral, uncivilized, and counterproductive. But the US administration is now attacking what it calls the ‘recharacterization’ of the policy, which it says was for decades widely regarded as an acceptable, and even heroic practice.

Renditions were ‘an important tool for all countries in fighting terrorism’, a senior US State Department official told ISN Security Watch earlier this month. It had been practiced ‘for many decades, by many countries’, and until its recent recharacterization had been an ‘accepted practice and not a dirty word’, he said.

‘The purpose of rendition is not to send people where they could be tortured,’ he said. ‘It is to ensure that people who are wanted for terrorist acts around the world are brought to justice.’

The practice had been reviewed and upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, he said, specifically in the case of Carlos the Jackal, a terrorist captured in Sudan in 1994 and rendered back to France, where he is now imprisoned. It used to be that finding terror suspects and bringing them to justice ‘was a heroic thing to do [‘] people were applauding this’, he continued.

Asked why terror suspects would be transferred abroad for interrogation if it was not to evade human rights protections, the official said that in the majority of cases, renditions took place because an individual captured in one country was wanted by another country. ‘What happens is, all intelligence agencies around the world share information with each other and cooperate with each other,’ he said.


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Canadian flies in to testify at EU probe on extraordinary rendition

From the Toronto Star

It’s not surprising that Maher Arar travelled with some trepidation from Toronto to Brussels early this morning.

The 35-year-old Ottawa telecommunications engineer had his flight plan rerouted in 2002 by American authorities who believed he was a terrorism suspect, becoming one of the most famous victims of the controversial practice of rendition, in which detainees are transferred for interrogation to a country known to use torture.

Instead of allowing him to return to Canada from a family vacation abroad, U.S. authorities detained Arar during a stopover in New York and put him on a private jet to Jordan. He was then driven to Syria, where he was tortured and held for a year without charges.

Arar said in an interview yesterday he felt he had to overcome his fears of flying and the possibility of still remaining on some type of watch list, so he could testify this week before a European Union committee. His Toronto lawyers, Marlys Edwardh and Lorne Waldman, made the trip with him.


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