The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

More on Omar Suleiman, torturer-in-chief

I'm seeing my 2009 Foreign Policy profile of Omar Suleiman cited far and wide since Omar Basha filed to run in the elections, and it's been an occasion for reporters to review a bunch of what's been written about him over the years. Of particular interest is all the work Suleiman did torturing people for the United States, particularly this chilling Ron Suskind anecdote that this Feb. 2011 ABC report by Matthew Cole and Sarah Wall talks about:

Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, called Suleiman the "hit man" for the Mubarak regime. He told ABC News that when the CIA asked Suleiman for a DNA sample from a relative of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman offered the man's whole arm instead.

"He's a charitable man, friendly," said Suskind. "He tortures only people that he doesn't know."

Suskind said Suleiman "was our point man in Egypt for many years. Everything went through Omar. We never had to talk to anyone else. When we wanted someone to be tortured, we'd send him to Egypt to have them tortured. We wanted to get intelligence and we didn't need it to be stuff that could be doublechecked."

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer in particular has reviewed books written about the war on terror and unearthed this tidbit about Suleiman's role in giving the Bush administration the lies it wanted to justify invading Iraq, in the rendition case of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi:

What happened to Libi in Egypt, while in the custody of the Egyptian intelligence service, is documented in detail in a bipartisan report released in 2006 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. According to the report, Libi later told the C.I.A. that the Egyptian authorities grew dissatisfied with his level of cooperation, so they locked him in a tiny cage for eighty hours. Then they took him out, knocked him over, and punched him for fifteen minutes. The Egyptian officials were pressing Libi, who knew Bin Laden personally, to confirm the Bush Administration’s contention that there were links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. In particular, the Egyptians wanted Libi to confirm that the Iraqis were in the process of giving Al Qaeda biological and chemical weapons. In pushing this line of inquiry, the Egyptians appear to have been acting in accordance with the wishes of the U.S., which wanted to document its case for going to war against Iraq. Under duress, Libi eventually gave in. Details from his confession went into the pivotal speech that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in Feburary of 2003, making the case for war.

Several years later, however, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq turned up no such weapons of mass destruction, or ties between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Libi recanted. When the F.B.I. later asked him why he had lied, he blamed the brutality of the Egyptian intelligence service. As Michael Isikoff and David Corn first reported in their book, “Hubris,” Libi explained, “They were killing me,” and that, “I had to tell them something.”

Although some in Egypt and the US see Suleiman's as "the CIA's candidate" I am not sure that the Obama administration sees his candidacy as a good thing — a victory causing as it would no end of destabilization of Egypt's political scene. The administration has worked pretty fast to turn the page and engage with the emerging political power represented by the Muslim Brotherhood — and as long as the Brothers are telling them they don't want to interfere in the bilateral military relationship or review the peace treaty with Israel, I suspect they are fine with that.

Incidentally, one more thing about Omar Basha: it is said that on September 4, 2001, he warned the US Embassy in Cairo about an imminent al-Qaeda attack on the US. So did the Saudis at the time, based on chatter in their informant networks. Like the August intelligence memo Condoleeza Rice disregarded, it was never passed up.

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