Did the CIA exclude Israel from its extraordinary rendition program?

Open Society Foundations report cover
The most comprehensive non-classified account of the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s extraordinary rendition program has been published by a human-rights advocacy group. It details for the first time the fate of nearly 140 known targets of the controversial program, who were abducted by the CIA mostly during the administration of US President George W. Bush. Under the controversial program, individuals were systematically detained and transferred without due process to countries where the use of torture on prisoners was –in the words of the report– standard practice. The report, entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, was authored by Amrit Singh, formerly of the American Civil Liberties Union and currently senior legal officer at the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative. It concludes that the CIA was able to build and maintain the program with significant assistance from 54 countries, including 13 in Africa, 14 in Asia and 25 in Europe. The long list of countries that willingly cooperated with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition practices includes Canada, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Mauritania, Romania and South Africa. It even includes countries that are known to have had tense relations with Washington in the past decade, such as Zimbabwe, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, and even Iran. Certainly, the Open Society Justice Initiative report points to the fact that it is both shortsighted and inaccurate to refer to the Bush administration’s post-9/11 extraordinary rendition program as “an American operation”. It was informed and supported at all levels by America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, as well as by many countries which, for one reason or another, wished to be on the good side of the US. But the list of complicit states is also interesting for what it doesn’t include. Most importantly, it doesn’t include Israel. One could be excused for questioning how it is possible for countries like Iran and Syria to be listed as collaborators of the CIA’s rendition program, when Israel, widely viewed as Washington’s closest ally, is conspicuously missing. Could the list be incomplete, perhaps? I posed this question to officials from the Open Society Foundations, which funded the report, and was told that there is no evidence whatsoever that Israeli authorities participated in the CIA’s worldwide rendition program. One possible explanation, they said, is that, in order to secure the cooperation of Arab governments, the CIA had to ensure that Israel would not be directly involved in the program. One source told me that Langley saw the assistance of intelligence agencies from Muslim countries as essential for the success of the program. It therefore went to great pains to ensure that there would be no operational link between these agencies and Israel. Does this mean that the CIA did not collaborate with Israel in the so-called “war on terrorism”? Certainly not. But this collaboration presumably took place under a separate program, which probably remains classified to this day.

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