From “Extraordinary Rendition” To Unimaginable Torture

Adam Fitzgerald
8 min readNov 20, 2019

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, “Beyond Good and Evil”, 1886)

U.S President Bill Clinton would officially decree the initial “war on terror”, by publishing Presidential Directive 39 on June 21st 1993. In it, Clinton ensures that the United States can and will extract suspects of terrorism against the United States, even if by force. Under the directive “Return Of Indicted To The U.S For Prosecution” one of the most important directives that was ever implemented in fighting the “war on terror” while also being one of the most harrowing statements ever issued in U.S history that would witness multiple instances of inhumane torture, and illicit kidnapping, would be the following:

“ If we do not receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbors a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking, we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation. Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government, consistent with the procedures outlined in NSD-77, which shall remain in effect.”

In essence the current rendition program would not necessarily need the approval of a host government. The initial country which the Clinton Administration focused on was obvious, Egypt. Home to some of the world’s most notorious Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Gamma al-Islamiyyah and Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Al Qaeda affiliate). The program was in response to a previous attack inside the United States, the bombing of the North Tower at the World Trade Center in February. The primary suspects were many, Hezbollah, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Fatah. However intelligence reports started coming in that an individual named Ramzi Yousef was a suspect, this due to the remarkable capture of Mohammad Salameh. The tie to Egypt was Omar Abdel Rahman, who was the imam at the Al Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn, next door to the Al Kifah refugee Center, a base for Afghan Mujahideen during the 1979 Afghan-Soviet War while it was also partly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. The rendition program would capture it’s first suspect in September of 1995. Talaat Fouad Qassem, Egyptian born and a high ranking member of Gamma al-Islamiyyah (which was led by Omar Abdel Rahman).

Qassem was captured while in Croatia while on a directive from another Islamic fundamentalist organization to head to the “jihad” going on in Bosnia. He had lived in hiding in Denmark, living with seven others. Qassem had been sentenced to death while in “absentia” by Egyptian courts for his role in Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination. Qassem would be arrested by the Croatian security services, The Security and Intelligence Agency, along with officials from the CIA ran a covert joint operation in capturing Qassem. In which he was then held in a detention facility located on a U.S vessel off the port of Rabac. Afterwards, Qassem was then handed over to Egyptian authorities, where he was never seen or heard from again. Most likely executed by Egyptian security services. Meanwhile the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) had asked the Egyptian government to at least confirm Qassem’s death. According to Hafez Abu Saeda, the secretary-general of EOHR:

“ We asked the government to tell us what happened, to answer whether or not he had been tortured to death. We had received information that he had died in custody. They never responded.”

The rendition program would also be acknowledged by Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian President, at least on “face value” of it’s agenda. Mubarak had seemingly nothing to become alarmed about, after Sadat’s assassination most of the high level Egyptian fundamentalist were expelled to places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bosnia, Croatia, even the United States. The Egyptian State Security Investigations Service (SSI) had rounded by hundreds of suspected Islamists and some were brutally tortured. In 1997 the CIA would construct the Counter-terrorist Intelligence Center, which would become an agency unto itself, assisting in the collection of information and even capturing known suspected terrorists here and abroad. According to a report by Dana Priest entitled “Foreign Network at Front of CIA’s Terror Fight” (11–18–2005):

  • CTICs exist in more than two dozen countries, including Uzbekistan, Indonesia (intelligence services headed by Lt. Gen. Abdullah Hendropriyono), France (Alliance Base in Paris, which is headed by a DGSE French General and includes British, German, Canadian and Australian intelligence agencies).
  • They are “financed mostly by the agency and employ some of the best espionage technology the CIA has to offer”. They also have “computers linked to the CIA’s central databases, and access to highly classified intercepts.”
  • They are used by the CIA and the foreign services to jointly “make daily decisions on when and how to apprehend suspects [of terrorism], whether to whisk them off to other countries for interrogation and detention, and how to disrupt al-Qaeda’s logistical and financial support.”
  • They are distinct from the CIA “black sites”, or secret detention centers.

CIA Director George Tenet would later claim that the rendition program under the CTC were relatively “successful”, in that over 70 renditions took place. With at least over a dozen suspects were captured in this manner, before the Sept 11th attacks. Although former CTC Alec Station chief, Michael Scheuer, would dispute the number and claim that well over 40 were captured in the rendition program. The program was mostly unknown to the American public, since Presidential Directive 39 was still classified. Although local judicial agencies such as the NSA, whom partnered with the CIA and it’s CTC to help conduct these operations abroad, in the general premise the highly secretive operations were only known to the those involved in them. With rendition operations still in its initial stages, U.S officials took the necessary steps to give it some “legitimacy” by implementing regulations against torture. Under Title 18 of the US Code, Chapter 113C, Section 2340A

“ Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

Under CIA Director Tenet however, the rendition program would take a turn for the more inhumane, and immediately after the attacks of September 11th 2001….it would become a reoccurring exploitation which went outside judicial boundaries, and which led to some of the worst abuses of power that saw those who claim to protect and serve our nation become the very monsters that their captives were characterized to be. After some of the most abhorrent abuses which took place at sites like Abu Ghraib in Iraq, even in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, it made the rendition program utterly useless to the dissenting public’s eyes, since most of those who were victim to said rendition were not even declared “terrorists” by the United States.

John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, two senior officials in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal groundwork that allowed American interrogators to use sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other torture methods against terror suspects, the memo would be in effect a “torture memo” in which Yoo gave U.S law enforcement agencies to conduct legal methods of torture as ascribed in the memo. Yoo would draft a memo to the Department of Defense on March 14, 2003, concluding that “federal laws against torture, assault and maiming would not apply to the overseas interrogation of terror suspects”. It would give the CTC and other agencies involved in counter-terrorism overseas, cart blanche, to conduct physical and mental stress test exercises which included, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, sexual abuse, slapping, punching, rape, feces smearing and in one case, murder (Manadel al-Jamadi).

In 2005 according to a listing made publicly available from the Department of Defense, there were 775 detainees brought to Guantanamo Bay prison, as of November 18, 2019…there are only 41. Most of the detainees released, were released due to no evidence, whatsoever, that they were involved in any act of terrorism against the United States or involvement in any terrorist organization. After the abuse scandals, the White House reacted immediately to the reports of torture from agents employed at the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center:

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice’s statement in 2005:

“The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.”

However according to a report by the European Parliament report of 2007, the CIA has conducted 1,245 flights, many of them to destinations where suspects could face torture, in violation of Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In 2009, under the Obama Administration, the “extraordinary rendition” program would allowed to be continued, however, with more oversight. There would be multiple cases of “wrongful detention”, this was a common occurrence with the rendition program since most of those captured were based on intelligence reports from third parties, Afghan and Pakistan tribesmen who gave U.S intelligence agents false information, due to the fact that they simply wished to collect a reward or get rid of an opposing tribesman. This led to many question the “validity” of having such a program to continue.

The Obama Administration would not have it eliminated, in fact it would give a green light to even military personnel to become involved in kidnapping members suspected of being involved with the Taliban or Al Qaeda to be transported on private jets, even using foreign commercial jets to become transport hubs for these prisoners. Most of these prisoners would be held in CIA detention facilities overseas called “black sites” which were located in over 8 countries, but in 2017, it was reported that a total of 54 countries had participated in the CIA’s rendition and torture programs….some of them had even conducted internal reviews of the abuses held in these countries secret detention centers.

On January 22, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, which required the CIA to “close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and… not operate any such detention facility in the future.” The Executive Order prohibited any U.S. government employee from using interrogation techniques other than those in the Army Field Manual 2–22.3 on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, was one of the many victims of the CIA’s rendition program. He was suspected of being involved with Al Qaeda, and providing members of the Hamburg Cell (9/11 suspects) with logistical support and funding. He was sent to a CIA black site in Jordan and ultimately became a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, serving 14 years there without a single charge. He was freed October 17, 2016…to Mauritania located in North Africa, they did not give him back his passport. he remains there still today, however after all that he would endure over the years….he still managed to forgive his captors…something which was not reciprocated by anyone involved in the CIA extraordinary rendition operations or from Guantanamo Bay…..Lynndie England, a former U.S Army reserve who was stationed at Abu Ghraib.

While there some of the most notably grotesque acts of abuse became worldwide after photos taken by a fellow servicewoman at the prisoner released the many instances of abuse became available for the media to showcase to the public. England would agree to plead guilty to four counts of maltreating prisoners, two counts of conspiracy, and one count of dereliction of duty. She would be given a retrial however but still found guilty. She would only serve less than 17 months before being released in 2007. In 2012 she would be granted an interview in which she stated:

“Their (Iraqis’) lives are better. They got the better end of the deal. They weren’t innocent. They’re trying to kill us, and you want me to apologize to them? It’s like saying sorry to the enemy.”

The enemy wasn’t in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else…..they were right here inside the United States, in plain sight.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.