Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced on Egyptian state television today that he has sworn in a new vice president, former Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman. US state cable07CAIRO1417 states that according to Article 82 of Egypt’s constitution, the vice president should assume presidential powers “if on account of any temporary obstacle the president is unable to carry out his duties.”
So who is the new vice president who, in the seemingly imminent departure of President Mubarak may begin ruling Egypt? Jane Mayer asks the question in her article today in the New Yorker, and answers it with information from her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. “Since 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.”
She also references Stephen Grey’s book Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program “beginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the U.S. and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, described 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.”
According to Mayer Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former C.I.A. officer who helped set up the practice of rendition, later testified before Congress, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”
“Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak.” says Mayer. US state cable 09CAIRO746 describes Admiral Mullen’s April 21, 2009 meeting with Suleiman and cable 09CAIRO1349 describes a June 29, 2009 meeting between Suleiman and General Petraeus. From cable 05CAIRO5924
In 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.
Post has received written assurances from the Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) regarding the acceptance and humane treatment of three Egyptians currently detained in Guantanamo:
- Abdul Rahman Mohammed AL-MARZOUQ, ISN US9EG-00369DP;
- Allah Muhammad SALEEM, ISN US9EG-00071DP;
- Sami Abdul Aziz Salim ALLAITHY, ISN US9EG-000287DP.
Post believes that these assurances represent a firm commitment by the GOE to handle the matter in accordance with our stated principles. We recommend that the interagency consider approving transfer now on the basis of these assurances.
Post has established that the most effective conduit for addressing this issue is through Cairo Station – EGIS Liaison. The written assurances (reftel) were passed directly from EGIS Chief General Soliman through this channel. General Soliman’s stature and power in the Egyptian establishment, and his history of close cooperation with the USG on counterterrorism, corroborate the Egyptian intent take responsibility for the detainees in such a way that protects both U.S. and Egyptian security interests. In addition to the written assurances regarding the detainees treatment, EGIS has conveyed orally to Cairo station that all three will be taken into custody upon arrival in Egypt and will be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with Egyptian law.
We understand the need for specific language on this matter. However, the danger of seeking specificity beyond what we have already received in EGIS’ written assurances is that EGIS may decide to turn the case over to the MFA. MFA involvement will complicate the process and delay disposal of the cases.
The Washington Post, in predicting Suleiman’s appointment yesterday, pointed out
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.”
Stephen Soldz has an article in OpEdNews
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.”
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 metal hooks.
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.
From US state cable 07CAIRO1417
EGYPTIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF AND MUBARAK CONSIGLIERE, IN PAST YEARS SOLIMAN WAS OFTEN CITED AS LIKELY TO BE NAMED TO THE LONG-VACANT VICE-PRESIDENTIAL POST. IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, SOLIMAN HAS STEPPED OUT OF THE SHADOWS, AND ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED, AND HIS MEETINGS WITH FOREIGN LEADERS REPORTED. MANY OF OUR CONTACTS BELIEVE THAT SOLIMAN, BECAUSE OF HIS MILITARY BACKGROUND, WOULD AT THE LEAST HAVE TO FIGURE IN ANY SUCCESSION SCENARIO FOR GAMAL, POSSIBLY AS A TRANSITIONAL FIGURE. SOLIMAN HIMSELF ADAMANTLY DENIES ANY PERSONAL AMBITIONS, BUT HIS INTEREST AND DEDICATION TO NATIONAL SERVICE IS OBVIOUS. HIS LOYALTY TO MUBARAK SEEMS ROCK-SOLID. AT AGE 71, HE COULD BE ATTRACTIVE TO THE RULING APPARATUS AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE AS A RELIABLE FIGURE UNLIKELY TO HARBOR AMBITIONS FOR ANOTHER MULTI-DECADE PRESIDENCY. A KEY UNANSWERED QUESTION IS HOW HE WOULD RESPOND TO A GAMAL PRESIDENCY ONCE MUBARAK IS DEAD. AN ALLEGED PERSONAL FRIEND OF SOLIMAN TELLS US THAT SOLIMAN “DETESTS” THE IDEA OF GAMAL AS PRESIDENT, AND THAT HE ALSO WAS “DEEPLY PERSONALLY HURT” BY MUBARAK, WHO PROMISED TO NAME HIM VICE-PRESIDENT SEVERAL YEARS AGO, BUT THEN RENEGED.