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Rendition: How 54 nations – and 'Axis of Evil' – cooperated with CIA in wake of 9/11

New report reveals how a quarter of the world's countries assisted US in covert terror operations

More than a quarter of the world’s countries provided covert assistance to the United States in its extraordinary rendition programme in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, including some branded by Washington at the time as members of the ‘Axis of Evil’, a human rights group has claimed.

Releasing the most comprehensive independent report yet into the programme, which saw terror suspects spirited to secret prisons around the globe without legal process, interrogated and sometimes tortured, the New York-based Open Society Foundation said no fewer than 54 countries participated to varying degrees. Twenty five – including Britain – were in Europe, 14 in Asia and 13 in Africa. Australia and Canada assisted too.

The 216-page report will reignite the rendition controversy, including in some countries where their participation had hitherto not been well advertised. Also, it comes on the eve of confirmation hearings tomorrow for John Brennan, nominee for CIA director. His own proximity to renditions while at the CIA during the administration of President George W Bush is certain to come under scrutiny.

Laid bare by the report, which is entitled ‘Globalising Torture’, is the sheer scope of the programme. The group identifies 136 individuals who were targeted in extraordinary rendition operations, a longer list than seen previously, and attempts to describe the experience of each of them. They include Sami al-Saadi who was rendered to Libya with help from the British authorities.  Britain, the report says, also gave access to air space and airports and provided intelligence.

“By engaging in torture and other abuses associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, the US government violated domestic and international law, thereby diminishing its moral standing and eroding support for its counterterrorism efforts worldwide as these abuses came to light,” lead author Amrit Singh wrote. But she added: “The moral cost of these programs was borne not just by the US but by the 54 other countries it recruited to help.”

As America denounced avowed enemies it meanwhile gladly accepted help from them, the report reveals. They included Syria and Iran, both identified by the Bush administrations as members of the ‘Axis of Evil’. The latter handed 15 suspects to Kabul shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan. Syria, meanwhile, ended up being one of the “most common destinations for rendered suspects”, the report asserts, an indication that ties between Washington and the regime of Bashar al-Assad were once tight. It was to a secret prison in Syria, for example, that the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar was sent. He was held for a year and tortured. 

The report provided further proof that the US “cooperated with dictatorial regimes that they condemned publicly but cooperated with clandestinely,” Mr Arar told the Huffington Post.

Other countries cited as hosts to clandestine prisons include Poland, Lithuania and Romania. Other states said to have assisted include Ireland, Iceland and Cyprus. They allegedly offered airspace and airport facilities for aircraft used for the renditions.  Some, meanwhile, will note those countries not identified in the report. They include such staunch allies of the US as France, Israel and Norway.

Debate about torture has been reignited by the film Zero Dark Thirty which implied that it helped lead the US to Osama Bin Laden. President Barack Obama denounced torture when he took office but declined to open an independent investigation into past detention and interrogation activities. A 6,000-page study was recently completed for the Senate Intelligence Committee. It has not been made public.