In a crowded city in northern Egypt, FRONTLINE/World investigative reporter Stephen Grey tracks down a man who was once one of the CIA’s “ghost prisoners.” The bulky, bearded man he finds is Abu Omar al-Masri, an Egyptian cleric who had moved to Milan, Italy.
“I was kidnapped on the 17th February, 2003,” he tells Grey. “Then I disappeared from history.”
Abu Omar had been preaching at a mosque in Milan. The Italian police began to suspect that he was recruiting young Muslims to wage jihad against Americans. The CIA put him under surveillance, believing he was plotting a bomb attack on a school bus of American children. One day, CIA agents suddenly snatched him off the streets of Milan and loaded him on to a secret Gulfstream jet. The next thing he knew, he was back in Egypt, where he says he was interrogated and tortured.
“They started to beat me,” says Abu Omar, “with their fists, with sticks, with truncheons.”
Abu Omar says his torture lasted 14 months; the worst of it taking place at the secret police headquarters in Cairo. To date, more than 60 prisoners are believed to have been sent there by the United States.
This is the dark story of “extraordinary rendition,” says Grey, a secret program in which the United States captures terror suspects around the world and flies them to countries like Egypt, Syria or Morocco, where, critics say, torture is routine.
“We cannot deny that there could be some excesses, some acts of cruelty by security officers,” Egyptian General Ahmad Omar tells Grey. But he denies that torture is state policy and he insists that Egyptian and U.S. intelligence agencies are justified in taking action against those suspected of terrorist activities.
Now released from jail, Abu Omar maintains his innocence, saying he’s willing to defend himself in court if the Egyptians or the Americans ever charge him with a crime. Guilty or not, Abu Omar and his rendition have become a disaster for the CIA. Italian police investigating the case were able to identify the CIA agents involved. They are set to go on trial, in absentia, on charges of conspiracy to kidnap — a rare and politically embarrassing instance of a U.S. ally in Europe trying CIA agents in court.
Democracy Now: Frontline Special on Rendition
As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote today on the nomination of retired judge Michael Mukasey to be attorney general, a new PBS documentary features interviews with victims of extraordinary rendition speaking for the first time on US television. We speak to investigative journalist Stephen Grey. [includes rush transcript]
Stephen Grey. Award-winning investigative journalist who first tracked the CIA’s rendition flights. He is author of the book “Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program.” His international investigation on Extraordinary Rendition airs at 9pm Eastern tonight on FRONTLINE/World on PBS.
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