Jane Mayer / The New Yorker & Al Jazeera – 2011-01-31 21:33:40
Who Is Omar Suleiman?
Jane Mayer / The New Yorker
NEW YORK (January 29, 2011) — One of the â€œnewâ€ names being mentioned as a possible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects. After dissolving his cabinet yesterday, Mubarak appointed Suleiman vice-president, and according to many commentators he is poised to be a potential successor, and an alternative to Mubarakâ€™s son and intended heir until now, Gamal Mubarak.
Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington. Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage from the standpoint of those looking for a clean slate on human rights. As I described in my book The Dark Side, since 1993, Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service.
In that capacity, he was the CIAâ€™s point man in Egypt for renditions — the covert program in which the CIA snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.
As laid out in greater detail by Stephen Grey, in his book Ghost Plane, beginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the US and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former US Ambassador to Egypt, described Suleiman as â€œvery bright, very realistic,â€ adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to â€œsome of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.â€
Technically, US law required the CIA to seek â€œassurancesâ€ from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldnâ€™t face torture. But under Suleimanâ€™s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such â€œassurancesâ€ were written in indelible ink, â€œthey werenâ€™t worth a bucket of warm spit.â€
UPDATE: Further documentation of Suleimanâ€™s role in the rendition program appears in Ron Suskindâ€™s book, â€œThe One Percent Doctrine.â€ Katherine Hawkins, a sharp-eyed human-rights lawyer who did legal research for my book, points out that, according to Suskind, Suleiman was the CIAâ€™s liaison for the rendition of an Al Qaeda suspect known as Ibn Sheikh al-Libi. The Libi case is particularly controversial, in large part because it played a role in the building of the case for the American invasion of Iraq.
In late November, 2001, Pakistani authorities captured Libi and turned him over to U.S. officials at Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, for questioning. There he was questioned by two FBI agents from New York who had worked on terrorism cases for years. They believed they were making great headway — getting valuable, actionable intelligence from Libi. But back in Washington, a custody battle broke out between the FBI and the CIA over who should get to lead his interrogation. Suskind writes:
The debate went up to [FBI director Robert] Mueller and [CIA director George] Tenet, and Tenetâ€”appealing directly to both Bush and Cheney — prevailed. Al-Libi was bound and blindfolded for a trip to Cairo, where heâ€™d be handed over to Omar Suleiman, Egyptâ€™s intelligence chief and a friend of Tenetâ€™s.
What happened to Libi in Egypt, while in the custody of the Egyptian intelligence service, is documented in detail in a bipartisan report released in 2006 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. According to the report, Libi later told the CIA that the Egyptian authorities grew dissatisfied with his level of cooperation, so they locked him in a tiny cage for eighty hours.
Then they took him out, knocked him over, and punched him for fifteen minutes. The Egyptian officials were pressing Libi, who knew Bin Laden personally, to confirm the Bush Administrationâ€™s contention that there were links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In particular, the Egyptians wanted Libi to confirm that the Iraqis were in the process of giving Al Qaeda biological and chemical weapons.
In pushing this line of inquiry, the Egyptians appear to have been acting in accordance with the wishes of the US, which wanted to document its case for going to war against Iraq. Under duress, Libi eventually gave in.
Details from his confession went into the pivotal speech that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in Feburary of 2003, making the case for war.
Several years later, however, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq turned up no such weapons of mass destruction, or ties between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Libi recanted. When the F.B.I. later asked him why he had lied, he blamed the brutality of the Egyptian intelligence service. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn first reported in their book, â€œHubris,â€ Libi explained, â€œThey were killing me,â€ and that, â€œI had to tell them something.â€
VIDEO: Al JAzeeraâ€™s Live Stream
Spy Chief Made Mubarak Deputy
Omar Suleiman is made vice-president of Egypt, but his appointment fails to quell public anger in the country
(January 31, 2011) — Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s intelligence chief, has been appointed as president Hosni Mubarak’s first-ever vice-president. The move came after days of violent protests in which tens of thousands had called for the president’s resignation. But the appointment did little to quell the unrest. The man now second-in-command has been working closely with Mubarak during most of the president’s three decades in power.
As the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services (EGIS) since 1993, Suleiman has been in charge of some of Egypt’s most sensitive foreign policy issues, including the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
The 75-year-old has orchestrated a series of albeit short-lived truces between Israel and the Palestinians over the past 10 years and has won the trust of both the US and Israel. But while he may be liked and trusted abroad, many in Egypt consider Suleiman part of Mubarak’s inner circle, and as such a pillar of a corrupt regime.
Born to a well-off family in 1936 in the southern Egyptian town of Qena, Suleiman enrolled in Egypt’s premier Military Academy at the age of 18. He later received additional military training in the then Soviet Union. He also studied political science at two leading Egyptian universities.
He took part in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel. He also participated in the North Yemen Civil War in 1962, in which the republicans were supported by Egypt and the Soviet Union in their fight against royalists.
In 1995, Suleiman’s advice to Mubarak to ride in an armoured car during a visit to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, is believed to have saved the president’s life. The two men survived a failed ambush but the car’s driver was killed.
During the 1990s, Suleiman began to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the officially banned but tolerated opposition party in Egypt. He also co-operated with foreign intelligence agencies on cracking down on violent groups, at home and abroad. Among his main targets were homegrown groups such as the Gamaa Islamiya and Jihad after they carried out a string of attacks on foreigners that hit Egypt’s vital tourism industry hard.
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