Thursday, June 28, 2007

You might have imagined that recent media exposure of the CIA’s worldwide programme of torture and rendition flights has curbed what the European Parliament has called illegal acts, massive violation of fundamental human rights and contempt for the rule of law. But in fact the CIA has simply moved its operations from Poland and Romania to other countries and continues to work closely with repressive regimes around the world, including those in North Africa.

Evidence of one CIA interrogation and torture centre surfaced two days ago in the form of a letter from Ramzi Bettibi, a Tunisian prisoner. It is published on a blog site. “This is a call from my imprisonment” Bettibi writes. “It’s a call to the world to save me from imminent danger to my safety. At the end of last April, I was transferred to another prison located 15 minutes driving from my previous Bizerte Civil prison. I was totally shocked when I found myself in a secret CIA detention where other detainees also were held in containers."

Ramzi is serving a four-year sentence at Bizerte, 65 kilometres from Tunis, for copying, onto a forum board he moderated, an online statement from a group threatening terror attacks if former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon attended the World Summit on the Information Society that was held in Tunisia in 2005. Ramzi Bettibi was arrested on 15 March 2005 at the internet café where he worked.

Sami Ben Gharbia, Advocacy Director at Global Voices, describes how Bettibi’s letter was smuggled out of a secret detention facility near Bizerte city, where he has been interrogated by CIA and French-speaking agents about his alleged ties to Jihadist groups in Iraq and online activities.

Bettibi’s letter offers the first concrete evidence of the existence of such facility in Tunisia. It also details the prison’s possible location and the identities of some of the prisoners who are being interrogated and held clandestinely. Ironically, the letter was written on June 9, one day only after the publication of the second report Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states adopted by the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

“I was interrogated by a French-speaking person about my online relationship with Iraqi Jihadist groups. I mentioned to him that his information is totally not accurate and I’m a free speech prisoner. I also told him that HRW, Amnesty, and many other organizations have talked about my case. The American interrogator so surprisingly yelled at the Tunisian officers. They assaulted and threatened me with fabricating a story of my attempting to escape from prison. They also threatened to relocate me to another secret prison if I talked to my family about what I saw.

“Things didn’t stop at that. They returned two weeks later. Tunisian state security officers cuffed me and an American security officer asked me about my role in ALSAHAB (Al-Qaeda’s media agent). He also questioned me about the ALIKHLAS website and Alansar online forum. They gave me two documents to pick from. The first is my death certificate and the second is my release certificate. They also threatened me to hurt my brother.”

On the day that Bettibi’s desperate appeal surfaced on the Internet, the CIA declassified nearly 700 pages of secret records detailing its illegal activities during the cold war. They are now published on the CIA’s own website. They include a collection called the “family jewels”. Buried in these internal documents is clear evidence that CIA Director Allen Dulles personally approved the agency’s plot to assassinate Castro in 1960 and 1961.

Although the documents are publicly available on the CIA’s website, it has chosen to keep scores of pages partly or totally blacked out. Although the CIA is legally forbidden to spy within the USA, Richard Ober, head of the Special Operations Group and deputy to James Jesus Angleton, former chief of counterintelligence, directed Operation CHAOS, which spied on racial, anti-war and other protest groups inside the United States. Many sections relating to Ober remain blacked out. Inside and outside the US, the CIA continues to operate in close association with secret spy agencies in the UK and elsewhere. Let us take note.

By Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary

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