opednews.com, January 29, 2011
In response to the mass protests of recent days, Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak has appointed his first Vice President in his over 30
years rule, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. When Suleiman was first
announced, Aljazeera commentators were describing him as a
"distinguished" and "respected " man. It turns out, however, that he is
distinguished for, among other things, his central role in Egyptian
torture and in the US rendition to torture program. Further, he is
"respected" by US officials for his cooperation with their torture
plans, among other initiatives.
Katherine Hawkins, an expert
on the US's rendition to torture program, in an email, has sent some
critical texts where Suleiman pops up. Thus, Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, pointed to Suleiman's role in the rendition program:
Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of
both governments....The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central
intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top
Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described
the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as "very bright, very realistic,"
adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to "some of the
negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But
he was not squeamish, by the way" (pp. 113).
Stephen Grey, in Ghost Plane, his investigative work on the rendition program also points to Suleiman as central in the rendition program:
To negotiate these assurances [that the Egyptians
wouldn't "torture" the prisoner delivered for torture] the CIA dealt
principally in Egypt through Omar Suleiman, the chief of the Egyptian
general intelligence service (EGIS) since 1993. It was he who arranged
the meetings with the Egyptian interior ministry.... Suleiman, who
understood English well, was an urbane and sophisticated man. Others
told me that for years Suleiman was America's chief interlocutor with
the Egyptian regime -- the main channel to President Hosni Mubarak
himself, even on matters far removed from intelligence and security.
Suleiman's role in the rendition program was also highlighted in a Wikileaks cable:
the context of the close and sustained cooperation
between the USG and GOE on counterterrorism, Post believes that the
written GOE assurances regarding the return of three Egyptians detained
at Guantanamo (reftel) represent the firm commitment of the GOE to
adhere to the requested principles. These assurances were passed
directly from Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) Chief Soliman
through liaison channels -- the most effective communication path on
this issue. General Soliman's word is the GOE's guarantee, and the GOE's
track record of cooperation on CT issues lends further support to this
assessment. End summary.
Suleiman wasn't just the go-to bureaucrat for when the Americans
wanted to arrange a little torture. This "urbane and sophisticated man"
apparently enjoyed a little rough stuff himself.
Shortly after 9/11, Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was captured by
Pakistani security forces and, under US pressure, torture by Pakistanis.
He was then rendered (with an Australian diplomats watching) by CIA
operatives to Egypt, a not uncommon practice. In Egypt, Habib merited
Suleiman's personal attention. As related by Richard Neville, based on Habib's memoir:
Habib was interrogated by the country's Intelligence
Director, General Omar Suleiman.... Suleiman took a personal interest in
anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited
Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was
repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to
his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from
That treatment wasn't enough for Suleiman, so:
To loosen Habib's tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to
murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib -" and
he did, with a vicious karate kick.
After Suleiman's men extracted Habib's confession, he was transferred
back to US custody, where he eventually was imprisoned at Guantanamo.
His "confession" was then used as evidence in his Guantanamo trial.
The Washington Pos t's intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein reported some additional details regarding Suleiman and his important role in the old Egypt the demonstrators are trying to leave behind:
"Suleiman is seen by some analysts as a possible successor to the president," the Voice of American said Friday. "He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism."
An editorialist at Pakistan's "International News" predicted
Thursday that "Suleiman will probably scupper his boss's plans [to
install his son], even if the aspiring intelligence guru himself is as
young as 75."
Suleiman graduated from Egypt's prestigious Military Academy but also
received training in the Soviet Union. Under his guidance, Egyptian
intelligence has worked hand-in-glove with the CIA's counterterrorism
programs, most notably in the 2003 rendition from Italy of an al-Qaeda
suspect known as Abu Omar.
In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked Suleiman as the Middle East's most powerful intelligence chief, ahead of Mossad chief Meir Dagan.
In an observation that may turn out to be ironic, the magazine wrote,
"More than from any other single factor, Suleiman's influence stems
from his unswerving loyalty to Mubarak."
If Suleiman succeeds Mubarak and retains power, we will likely be
treated to plaudits for his distinguished credentials from government
officials and US pundits. We should remember that what they really mean
is his ability to brutalize and torture. As Stephen Grey puts it:
But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman, the country's most
powerful spy and secret politician, did our work, the sort of work that
Western countries have no appetite to do ourselves.
If Suleiman receives praise in the US, it will be because our leaders
know that he's the sort of leader who can be counted on to do what it
takes to restore order and ensure that Egypt remains friendly to US
There are some signs, however, that the Obama administration may not
accept Suleiman's appointment. Today they criticized the rearrangement
of the chairs in Egypt's government. If so, that will be a welcome sign
that the Obama administration may have some limits beyond which it is
hesitant to go in aligning with our most brutal "friends."
We sure hope that the Egyptian demonstrators reject the farce of
Suleiman's appointment and push on to a complete change of regime.
Otherwise the Egyptian torture chamber will undoubtedly return, as a new
regime reestablishes "stability" and serves US interests.
Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology