STOCKHOLM -- The CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of
here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen
agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the aircraft and
hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic
radicals from Egypt.
Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives
pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners' clothes, including
their underwear, according to newly released Swedish government documents and
eyewitness statements. They probed inside the men's mouths and ears and examined
their hair before dressing the pair in sweat suits and draping hoods over their
heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were
strapped to mattresses on the floor in the back of the cabin.
So began an operation the CIA calls an "extraordinary rendition,"
the forcible and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home
countries or other nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections.
The practice has generated increasing criticism from civil liberties groups;
in Sweden a parliamentary investigator who conducted a 10-month probe into the
case recently concluded that the CIA operatives violated Swedish law by subjecting
the prisoners to "degrading and inhuman treatment" and by exercising
police powers on Swedish soil.
"Should Swedish officers have taken those measures, I would have prosecuted
them without hesitation for the misuse of public power and probably would have
asked for a prison sentence," the investigator, Mats Melin, said in an
interview. He said he could not charge the CIA operatives because he was authorized
to investigate only Swedish government officials, but he did not rule out the
possibility that other Swedish prosecutors could do so.
The basic facts of the Stockholm rendition were reported last year; this article
is based on newly released documents from the parliamentary probe that provide
elaborate details about an operation that normally unfolds entirely out of public
view and about the government deliberations that preceded it.
Swedish security police said they were taken aback by the swiftness and precision
of the CIA agents that night. Investigators concluded that the Swedes essentially
stood aside and let the Americans take control of the operation, moving silently
and communicating with hand signals, the documents show.
"I can say that we were surprised when a crew stepped out of the plane
that seemed to be very professional, that had obviously done this before,"
Arne Andersson, an assistant director for the Swedish national security police,
told government investigators.
At 9:47 p.m., less than an hour after its arrival at Bromma Airport, the jet
took off on a five-hour flight to Cairo, where the prisoners, Ahmed Agiza and
Muhammad Zery, were handed over to Egyptian security officials.
The CIA has not acknowledged playing any part in the expulsion of the two men.
An agency spokesman in Washington declined to comment for this article, and
U.S. Embassy officials in Stockholm also declined to answer questions.
CIA officials have testified that they have used rendition for years after
tracking down suspected terrorists around the world. They say the U.S. government
receives assurances of humane treatment from the countries where the suspects
are taken. Human rights groups say that such pledges, from governments with
long histories of torture, are worthless.
The two Egyptians later told lawyers, relatives and Swedish diplomats that
they were subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture soon after
their forced return to their country.
Agiza, a physician, was convicted in an Egyptian military court and sentenced
to 15 years in prison after a trial that lasted six hours. He was charged with
being a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a radical group that the U.S. government
has listed as a terrorist organization. He and his lawyers have acknowledged
that he once worked with Ayman Zawahiri, a fellow Egyptian and the ideological
leader of al Qaeda, but say that he cut ties with the group many years ago.
Zery was released from prison in October 2003. Egyptian officials notified
the Swedish government last year that he was no longer under suspicion. His
lawyer said he remained under surveillance.
The Swedish government kept the CIA's role in the case a secret for more than
three years. Then, in 2004, following unofficial reports of the rendition, it
released documents showing that a U.S.-registered plane had been used to transport
the Egyptians to Cairo but said the details were classified. It wasn't until
March, when the parliamentary investigator released his findings, that the CIA's
direct involvement was publicly confirmed.
The revelations created a stir in Sweden, which has long been outspoken in
its support of international human rights. A parliamentary committee is scheduled
to open hearings on government officials' handling of the expulsion.
Although the parliamentary investigator concluded that the Swedish security
police deserved "extremely grave criticism" for losing control of
the operation and for being "remarkably submissive to the American officials,"
no Swedish officials have been charged or disciplined.
"It's quite clear that laws were broken. It is against Swedish law and
against international law," said Anna Wigenmark, a lawyer for the Swedish
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, which has worked on behalf of the Egyptian
suspects. She and other human rights advocates have charged that the treatment
of Agiza and Zery also violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
"It's unacceptable that something like this could happen on Swedish soil
and yet nothing has been done about it," Wigenmark said.
Before their expulsion, the two men had lived in Sweden for extended periods
and had applied for political asylum.
The Swedish government has revealed little about why it suddenly decided to
expel them, three months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
It has said only that the decision was made on the basis of secret intelligence
information, some of it from foreign services, indicating that the men posed
a security threat. Swedish officials have refused to disclose any of the evidence
or reveal where the information came from.
Fresh details of the transfer are contained in more than 100 pages of interview
transcripts with Swedish police officers who witnessed the events at the Stockholm
airport and police commanders who oversaw the case, as well as in other documents
from the national security police. The records describe a hectic and haphazardly
planned effort to deport the men.
Swedish security police wanted to arrest the men and put them on a flight to
Cairo immediately to avoid giving their lawyers a chance to file an emergency
appeal in court.
Swedish government ministers hastily scheduled a meeting for Dec. 18, 2001,
to formally approve the expulsion. But the security police were unable to charter
a flight to take the Egyptians to Cairo until the next morning. Police officials,
worried about an overnight delay, turned to the CIA for help, according to the
CIA officials told the Swedes they had a private jet with special security
clearances that could fly nonstop to Cairo on a moment's notice. Andersson,
the Swedish police commander in charge of the case, characterized the offer
as a "friendly favor from the CIA which allowed us to have a plane that
had direct access throughout Europe and could take care of the operation very
About 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, the CIA plane left Cairo for Stockholm. About a
half-hour later, the Swedish government ministers voted to expel Agiza and Zery.
By 5 p.m., Swedish police had arrested both men and were waiting for the plane
to arrive. Already, however, problems had begun to surface.
Two unnamed officials from the U.S. Embassy informed Swedish officers that
there would be no room on the jet for them on the trip back to Cairo. The Swedes
complained and were ultimately given two seats on the plane, but raw feelings
"I felt that they were backing into our territory," an unidentified
female Swedish security officer told investigators, according to a transcript
of her interview.
More conflicts arose after the plane landed. One Swedish officer walked up
the steps of the aircraft to greet the crew and was surprised to see that the
agents -- a half-dozen or so Americans and two Egyptians -- were wearing hoods
with semi-opaque fabric around the face, even though the small airport was essentially
"I told them that you don't need to wear hoods because there is no one
here," the officer recalled in his statement to investigators. The foreign
agents ignored him.
The Swedish police said they were also perplexed by a demand from U.S. agents
that they be allowed to strip-search the prisoners, even though the two men
had already been searched and were in handcuffs. The Swedes relented after the
captain of the plane said he would refuse to depart unless the Americans were
allowed to do things their way, the documents show.
The prisoners were taken into the airport police station, one by one, to be
One agent quickly slit their clothes with a pair of scissors and examined each
piece of cloth before placing it in a plastic bag. Another agent checked the
suspects' hair, mouths and lips, while a third agent took photographs from behind,
according to Swedish officers who witnessed the searches.
As the prisoners stood there, naked and motionless, they were zipped into gray
tracksuits and their heads were covered with hoods that, in the words of one
Swedish officer, "covered everything, like a big cone."
Swedish police later marveled that the whole search procedure took less than
10 minutes. "It surprised me," one officer told investigators. "How
the hell did they dress him so fast?"
Paul Forell, a Swedish airport police officer who was on duty that night, added:
"Everything was very smooth, professional. I mean, I thought, they have
done this before."
Zery later complained to his lawyers that the CIA agents tranquilized him by
inserting suppositories in his anus during the search and that the two prisoners
were forced to wear diapers. Swedish police officers said they couldn't recall
if the Egyptians had been forcibly medicated.
Investigators did find a report written by one of the Swedish officers that
said Agiza and Zery were both "probably given a tranquilizer before takeoff."
While investigators said they could not prove that the prisoners had been forcibly
medicated, such a tactic would have violated Swedish law.
In a January letter to parliamentary investigators, the new director of the
security police, Klas Bergenstrand, said the decision to rely on the CIA was
"In my judgment, it is clear that some of the measures adopted after the
two Egyptians had arrived at Bromma Airport were excessive in relation to the
actual risks that existed," Bergenstrand wrote. "For my part, I would
find it alien to use a foreign aircraft with foreign security staff."
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