The CIA IG Report on Renditions

There are a couple of details I want to return to in this AP story on what has happened to those responsible for CIA’s biggest fuck-ups and crimes.

One is this discussion of the CIA Inspector General’s report on “erroneous” renditions.

While the inspector general was investigating the mishandled el-Masri case, congressional investigators discovered several other CIA renditions that seemed to rest on bad legal footing, a U.S. intelligence official said. The CIA looked into them and conceded that, yes, the renditions had been based on faulty analysis.

But the agency said the renditions would have been approved even if the correct analysis had been used, so nobody was disciplined.

Now, we’ve heard of this investigation before. References to it (but no details) appear in a lot of the documents or Vaughn Indices released as part of the torture and ghost detainee FOIAs (often in the form of Congress nagging the CIA for the results of the study). The most detailed early description of the investigation comes from a 2005 Dana Priest article that was also one of the earliest detailed description of Khaled el-Masri’s treatment.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls “erroneous renditions,” according to several former and current intelligence officials.

One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

“They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association” with terrorism, one CIA officer said.

Priest reviews several of the people rendered by the CIA but ultimately dumped in Gitmo which served–one of Priest’s sources explains–as the dumping ground for CIA’s mistakes.

Among those released from Guantanamo is Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, apprehended by a CIA team in Pakistan in October 2001, then sent to Egypt for interrogation, according to court papers. He has alleged that he was burned by cigarettes, given electric shocks and beaten by Egyptian captors. After six months, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay and let go earlier this year without being charged.

Another CIA former captive, according to declassified testimony from military tribunals and other records, is Mohamedou Oulad Slahi, a Mauritanian and former Canada resident, who says he turned himself in to the Mauritanian police 18 days after the 9/11 attacks because he heard the Americans were looking for him. The CIA took him to Jordan, where he spent eight months undergoing interrogation, according to his testimony, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay.

Another is Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian imprisoned by Indonesia authorities in January 2002 after he was heard talking — he says jokingly — about a new shoe bomb technology. He was flown to Egypt for interrogation and returned to CIA hands four months later, according to one former intelligence official. After being held for 13 months in Afghanistan, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay, according to his testimony.

Note Habib is one of the former detainees whose treatment at the hand of Omar Suleiman has come under new scrutiny given Suleiman’s role in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

Now, the AP piece doesn’t provide many new details, but two are worthy of note.

First, apparently Congress identified the erroneous renditions, not the CIA. That suggests the CIA was not forthcoming in admitting its mistakes to Congress (which is about par for the course).

But I’m interested too in the conclusion:the renditions had been based “on faulty analysis” but they would have been approved even if “the correct analysis” was used.

That suggests Inspector General John Helgerson, not long after CIA had finagled a way to limit his conclusions about torture, focused on just the analysis–presumably, the approval process–that went into the rendition. I’m not sure what that means, but looking back at Priest’s description of the problem behind “erroneous” renditions–notably, its reliance on torture-induced evidence from al Qaeda detainees–I wonder whether Helgerson assessed the actual facts behind the rendition, or just whether the rendition, using those faulty facts, would have been approved according to the right decision process. That is, I wonder whether the CIA decided that the disappearances that even it considers were wrong didn’t matter so much because they didn’t evaluate the lies and misinformation their torture program had introduced into the process by which they chose people to disappear.

That is, it appears CIA has labeled its disappearances simply a matter of flawed bureaucracy rather than a clear example of the problems that result when you eliminate due process.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. radiofreewill says:

    The 800-lb gorilla in this story is the ‘authority’ that made these renditions happen – so powerful that it’s decisions were beyond the reach of analysis, or due process.

    Since the scope of Helgerson’s report clearly didn’t include ‘review of authorizations’…we’re left with the puzzling conclusion that “the renditions would have been approved even if the correct analysis had been used, so nobody was disciplined.”

    In other words, once the ‘authority’ ran the label gun across your forehead – ‘Terrorist’ – you were Gitmo-bound without hope.

    • Mary says:

      If authorizations came from the AG or the WH, no one in the IG offices is really empowered to investigate. Congress is supposed to …. sorry, laughing too hard to finish that one. DiFi investigating – bwahahaha.

      • bluewombat says:

        DiFi investigating – bwahahaha

        Why, then surely truth, justice and the American way will triumph as the malificent evildoers are exposed to the light of day!

        [/snark]

  2. skdadl says:

    EW, how do you understand where the congressional investigations of these cases comes from, what drives them? I do think it’s notable that it was Congress that discovered the erroneous cases, but I am puzzled. Since I’m not there, I sometimes feel I’m getting crossed signals from Congress — a Congress that caves to paranoia about taking in even innocent prisoners from GTMO, and yet one that pursues investigations like these.

    • emptywheel says:

      It would have been people on the intelligence committees–definitely Jello Jay (his name is associated with a lot of the nagging about this investigation in his role as ranking member), people like Rush Holt, probably McCain, and a few others).

      It’s one thing for Congress as a whole to fearmonger about Gitmo. But a number of the people on the Intell committees do track these details quite closely, and some of them do ask real oversight questions.

      I think–but it’s just a guess–that interest in this arose first out of concerns about ghost detainees wrt Abu Ghraib, and then with the details on el-Masri and the obvious 2+2 that we our entire system of moving around detainees was a clusterfuck.

      The Intell committees actually got more info on renditions, IMO, than other stuff, perhaps because they went back to Clinton and therefore before the period when Bush tried to keep so much info from Congress. It’s pretty clear that Congress was getting notices of indiv renditions. So that may have made it easier to track individuals.

  3. dick c says:

    But the agency said the renditions would have been approved even if the correct analysis had been used, so nobody was disciplined.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t just another faulty analysis. The odds seem to favor it.

  4. canadianbeaver says:

    None of this stuff is going to stop until there are big time protests, with major support from big namebrand organizations. Sadly, that seems to be gone. When was the last time anyone heard of a massive union solidarity strike? Why not? Are unions and their members that happy to be sh*t on for the past 20 years? Sure seems that way.

  5. Mary says:

    Here’s my spec on this one (and it’s biased, bc it goes back to the things I’ve wanted to get unearthed for a long time).

    If you go back to the beginning of the “extraordinary rendition” programs, you walk back to what Scheuer described for Jane Mayer. What he told Mayer is that, when Clinton told them to roll up terrorist suspects that did not have warrants outstanding against them here in the States, Scheuer went to Mary Jo White, then USAtty for S.D.NY.

    In terms of DOJ authorization, that was a bit of an odd workaround, to go to White rather than to CIA lawyers or have CIA lawyers go to the OLC for authorization. Supposedly this was because Scheuer’s unit was working so closely with SDNY to start with. To my knowledge (which is way sketchier than yours – you always fill in things I wasn’t aware of) no one has ever pushed for or tracked down or released or had White testify with respect to the advice she gave. Presumably, it was in writing.

    As Scheuer descibed it to Mayer, though, it was based on a kind of Yoovian logic. Since it was ok to have a branch of the US government go into other countries and extract suspects who had charges outstanding against them in the US, to face trial in the US (rendition), the it would be ok to have a branch of the US government go into other countries and extract suspects who had “charges” outstanding against them (or maybe had a lesser connection such as being a citizen of a country to which they were being sent) that were a different nation’s charges and then ship the extracted subjects to that foreign nation (extraordinary rendition – aka kidnapping with intent to transport over national boarders).

    So apparently what they did originally under the White approvals was to work with other countries, in particular Egypt which was the sourcing for a lot of Zawahiri’s crew, and either began cherrypicking from the existing Egyptian warrant roles or, where there were people they wanted to get who didn’t have charges/convictions, the CIA/US persuaded Egypt to issue warrants (much easier there with the emergency powers and military trials where real courts were mostly cut out)

    Going into the ramped up US gov sanctioned kidnap-renditions, we haven’t seen much yet from OLC releases or elsewhere that takes the White advice and endorses it or otherwise sets up the rendition policy. The closest is Goldsmith’s “draft” memo that endorsed taking detainees across national borders for abusive interrogation sessions as not being a violation of the Geneva conventions because, umm, well, because that’s what the Bush torture crew wanted said.

    And if I’m recalling correctly, when the CIA grabbed al-Libi from the FBI to take him off for CIA requested torture in Egypt, someone (Cloonan maybe?) pointed out that the CIA tried to assert that al-Libi was Egyptian, even though the FBI corrected them that he was Libyan, and the CIA stuck with the Egyptian appellation. To me, that sounded as if they were still using the White authorizations in combination with the broad Egyptian “emergency powers” that sidestepped courts for detention authorizations.

    Again if I’m recalling correctly, something similar happened with respect to the shipment of Ethiopian Binyam Mohamed to Morroco – where there were some weird assertions that he was Morrocan.

    So my admittedly cynical take is that there was no big, in depth, Congressional investigation but rather something as simple as Congress looking at a couple of the really high profile cases like al-Libi and Binyam Mohamed (especially given the Padilla case where the FBI affidavit that resulted in Padilla’s arrest was apparently based on the torture of Zubaydah and Mohamed. So just looking at a couple of the high profile cases, the Congressional investigators would very quickly get to the questions of how/why al-Libi was taken to Egypt and how/why Binyam Mohamed was taken to Morocco.

    My guess is that then the CIA offered up the completely disingenuous explanations that they thought al-Libi was Egyptian when they sent him there and they though Mohamed was Moroccan when they sent him there. The “faulty analysis” might be as simple as the made up information on nationality that was used to claim the White authorizations for the kidnappings. There was also Arar’s case, where, despite the fact that he ended up in Syria is Syrian, he was actually directly handed off by the US to Jordan – which had no nationality or warrant ties with respect to Arar.

    So I, too, am interested in what they mean by saying that “the renditions would have been approved” (by whom, with what support, etc.) even if the “correct analysis” (that the renderees were being rendered to nations with which they had no ties whatsoever, to be disappeared and interrogated) was used. Especially since Obama has claimed over and over that he’s a happy boy when it comes to using kidnap to torture/disappearance. Wouldn’t it be nice to what kind of basis is used for the US gov employees to kidnap, (strip, involuntarily drug, threaten the life of –bc who volunteers for kidnapping without having their life threatened -destroy clothing, hood, etc. ) a targeted person (like a Wael Ghonim) and send them off to be disappeared into torture?

    Obviously, if Egypt gets its act together and no longer resides such wide emergency powers in its dictator, it will put a crimp on the US renditions programs – but not a very large crimp if no one has bothered to put limits on our own President’s so far unenumerated, unexamined and unnatural claims of power.

  6. nonpartisanliberal says:

    Ever since the biggest asshole to ever be president Harry Truman created the CIA, the “operations” portion has done nothing but harm to this country and others. It has functioned as the president’s secret army–a goon squad–and it ought to be eliminated. The analysis portion of the CIA ought to be folded into other intelligence agencies and the CIA dissolved.

    • PeasantParty says:

      I may disagree with the dissolve issue, but everything else you say is truth.

      The problem I see is that there is absolutely no oversight and facts prior to action in all cases. Why is this agency allowed to operate without answering to our government which pays for their existence?

  7. madma says:

    Not only does our government have close ties to the torturers but according to the article in HuffPO some of the money ties lead directly to the Chamber Pot. NO wonder our gov is doing all it can to control the outcome in Egypt.

    “Close friends of the Mubarak government also prosper. Taher Helmy, adviser to Gamal and Hosni and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, recently bought a $6.1 million apartment overlooking New York City’s Central Park. Ahmed Ezz, a steel magnate and close confidant of Gamal, has been accused of using his connections to monopolize the steel market”

  8. PeasantParty says:

    Congress found the mistakes! However, we are just now finding out about it.

    The more I learn, the sicker this country becomes.

    I’m beginning to think we are going to have to form groups to oversee each congressional committee, almost to the point of micromanagement!

    The most important idea of Democracy has been lost to these people. THEY WORK FOR US! Where, when, and why has that fact been dissolved?

    Excellent post and the best reporting evah. As always, Marcy!

  9. buckinnm says:

    If we lived in a just world there would be some sort of mechanism to administer to those responsible for these atrocities equal treatment. At the Nurenburg trials there were few excuses accepted as were the judgement of those Japanese deemed to be responsible for torture and worse. Atrocities happen to people, not nations. This needs to be remembered and adressed.

  10. Arbusto says:

    The use of prison ships doesn’t seem to appear in any of these reports. How easy is it to disappear your mistakes that may or may not be “erroneous renditions” in a weighted body bag.

  11. Willi says:

    As a naturalised American citizen with German Citizenship (native born ethnic German), were I to be considered a potential terrorist & deported, would I be deported to Germany ( a blessing in these times) or to some Jordanian torture cell? This is definitely not about due process but about petty minded Macho & an inability to admit one’s mistakes. In essence,how are we different from Mubarak’s Egypt? We now have a Wisconsin Republican Governor who wants to ban unions, void labour contracts, & put the National Guard on alert should these Unionists assemble in protest. It is hoped he could render them to Algeria before the govt. there falls. Even under the so called ‘liberal’ Obama, the taint of fascism fowls the air, & not just from conservatives. We are heading for some hard times in human rights.

    • Mary says:

      were I to be considered a potential terrorist & deported, would I be deported to Germany ( a blessing in these times) or to some Jordanian torture cell

      That is exactly the issue I think re: the “bad legal footing” element of what was going on.

      And you’re right about the rest as well. I had a very hard time an hour or so ago listening to an NPR program on democratization of Egypt and what it means for America. They were using democracy as a replacement for justice. It’s not. A democratic process can be subverted and made unjust in the same as other processes. What I saw in Egypt wasn’t a demand for democracy – it was a demand for justice (social, legal, political, economic). So far, the “world’s greatest democracy” has shown that it has no taste for justice. So to all those who were calling in and asking the “panel” what America could do to show Egyptians how democracy is done – one big ARRRRRGH!

      What America could do is show a commitment to justice – be a leader. But no one seemed interested in exploring that option.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The CIA does consider one of its primary missions is to lie, spread false and misleading information, in order to corrupt the media, the social, political and decision-making processes of enemies and allies alike.

    It was not hyperbole when in the Good Shepherd, the fictionalized version of the CIA’s James Jesus Angleton, claimed that only a few Ivy League Wasp patriots were real Americans and that the rest of us were just visiting:

    Joseph Palmi: Let me ask you something… we Italians, we got our families, and we got the church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the n****rs, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?
    Edward Wilson: The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Such characters and their bureaucracy don’t admit that the rest of us have a right to know what they do let alone criticize it, correct it or impose sanctions on it for gross violations of the law.