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Ahmed Agiza and Mohamed el-Zery

Photo: sverigesradio.se

 

Ahmed Agiza (right)

Full name: Ahmed Hussein Mustafa Kamil Agiza
Nationality: Egyptian
Date of Birth: 8 November 1962

Capture: 18 December 2001, Stockholm, Sweden
Detentions: Sweden and Egypt
Current Status: Released, 2 August 2011

Mohamed el-Zery (left)

Full name: Mohamed Sulelman Ibrahim el-Zery
Nationality: Egyptian
Date of Birth: 23 September 1968

Capture: 18 December 2001, Stockholm, Sweden
Detentions: Sweden and Egypt
Current Status: Released, 27 October 2003

 

Timeline of Key Events

18 December 2001
Capture, Stockholm, Sweden

18 December 2001
Rendition to Cairo, Egypt

19 December 2001
Arrival in Cairo, held by Egyptian intelligence

27 October 2003
El-Zery released

April 2004
Agiza sentenced to 25 years in prison

2 August 2011
Agiza released

Analysis

Ahmed Agiza and Mohamed el-Zery are two Egyptian citizens who claimed asylum in Sweden (in 2000 and 1999, respectively). Both men had, separately, been accused by the Egyptian regime of membership in violent Islamist organisations, and were subjected to repeated harassment and arrest by the Egyptian security forces. Both men allege that they were tortured while in detention in Egypt in the 1980s. Agiza and el-Zery left Egypt in 1991, and each sought refuge in other Middle Eastern countries, moving on when it looked as though they may be returned to Egypt. By 2000, both had made their way to Sweden, and made formal applications for asylum, based on the fact that they would be detained, tortured and even executed if returned to Egypt (Agiza had been tried in absentia for terrorist activity, found guilty, and given a 25 year sentence).

Both men were questioned by Swedish Security Police (Sӓpo) and placed under surveillance. In October 2001, Sӓpo recommended to the Migration Board that their applications be rejected ‘for security reasons’. The Migration Board concluded that both men may have a right to be protected under asylum law and, given the conflicting views, referred the case to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for final determination.

As Sӓpo were awaiting this final decision, they prepared for the possible enforcement of an expulsion order, including chartering an aircraft for the morning of 19 December, the day after the likely decision date. At some point during this time, however, the CIA offered use of one of its aircraft that had, according to the Sӓpo officer with overall responsibility for the case, ‘what was referred to as direct access so that it could fly over Europe without having to touch down’.

On 12 December, a senior Swedish official met with a representative of the Egyptian government to determine whether the men could be returned to Egypt without violating Sweden’s international obligations. In short, the Swedish government was seeking ‘diplomatic assurances’ that he would not be subjected to torture or other inhuman treatment of punishment, or indeed, the death penalty. On 17 December, Sӓpo presented their case for expulsion to the Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, and outlined the two alternatives for transport. According to Sӓpo officers present at the meeting, as well as internal memoranda drawn up by the agency in 2002, Lindh gave approval to the use of the CIA for the expulsion. This explicit approval by the Foreign Minister was later confirmed by Arne Andersson, Sӓpo’s Administrative Director, when testifying to the Swedish Parliament’s Standing Committee on the Constitution.

After this meeting, Sӓpo contacted the CIA, and met US officers at Bromma airport at lunchtime of 18 December. It was agreed at this meeting that the Americans would conduct their own security checks of the two men, in a police room at the airport, and that US agents would take charge from there. Room on the flight was negotiated for Sӓpo officers, after the Americans had initially denied them space.

In the afternoon of 18 December 2001, the Swedish Government formally rejected the asylum applications for Agiza and el-Zery, and requested Sӓpo to expel the two men to Egypt immediately. The men’s lawyers were not informed, and they were denied the opportunity to challenge the decision before an independent body. Both men, who had been under surveillance, were arrested separately and driven to Bromma airport, arriving around 8.30pm. By 9pm, the CIA aircraft had landed at the airport, and a security team of seven or eight people – all of whom were masked – disembarked and were escorted to the waiting cars.

An investigation carried out by the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman in 2004 and 2005, in order to establish ‘what occurred at Bromma airport and the manner in which the expulsion of the two Egyptians was carried out’, has established an account of the treatment of these two detainees during the preparation for the flight and the flight itself. This included both men being subjected to having their clothes cut to pieces, full cavity searches, the insertion of anal suppositories, being dressed in diapers and overalls, hooded, handcuffed and strapped to a mattress on the aircraft. Throughout, the security team did not speak at all, communicating instead with hand signals.

Account of the treatment of Ahmed Agiza and Mohamed el-Zery during their rendition from Sweden to Egypt.

(Source: Mats Melin, Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman, ‘review of the enforcement by the Security Police of a Government decision to expel two Egyptian citizens’, 22 March 2005)

Just before 9 p.m. the American plane touched down. Officer Y went to speak to the occupants of the plane. These included, in addition to its crew, a security team of seven or eight, among them a doctor and two Egyptian officials. Officer Y informed the American officials that A. [Agiza] and E.Z. [el-Zery] were waiting in the vehicles parked in front of the police station and the Americans were taken to them.

The security team, all of whom were disguised by hoods around their heads, then went up to the vehicles in which A. and E.Z. were sitting. One of the men was taken first to the police station by the team. Inside the station, in a small changing room, the American officials conducted what they had referred to as a security check. According to reports, a doctor was present in the changing room. When the check had been completed, the second man was sent for and the same procedure repeated.

The inquiry has revealed that this security check comprised at least the following. A and E.Z. were subjected to a body search, their clothes were cut to pieces and placed in bags, their hair was thoroughly examined, as were their oral cavities and ears. In addition they were handcuffed and their ankles fettered, each was then dressed in an overall and photographed. Finally loose hoods without holes for their eyes were placed over their heads. A and E.Z. were then taken out of the police station in bare feet and led to the aircraft.

In addition, K.J. has reported that E.Z. said that the security team had forced him to lean forwards in the changing room and he had then felt some objects being inserted into his anal cavity. Afterwards he was equipped with a diaper. According to K.J., E.Z. then felt calmer, as if “all the muscles in his body were slack”. E.Z. was, however, fully conscious for the entire journey. K.J. has added that E.Z. was blindfolded and placed in a hood and also forced to lie in an uncomfortable position on board the aircraft.

Officer Y has stated that “he has the impression” that he asked two of his fellow-officers to keep an eye on the two security checks so that they had “some grasp as it were” of what was going on. There was only room for a very few people in the changing room. While the security checks were taking place, Y himself was standing some distance away and could not see what was happening. The two Security Police employees, a police officer and a civilian interpreter, who were with the security team in the changing room have stated that they did not see suppositories being administered to A. and E.Z. or diapers being used. Their information reveals, however, that the changing room was very crowded and so they had difficulty in observing what was going on for the entire time. The Security Police officer says that because it was so crowded he left the changing room after only a short time. He did not, therefore, even see the garments being cut to pieces. The interpreter says that he was present for the entire time but that when E.Z. had been undressed he turned away for about 20 seconds. When he looked back, E.Z. was in principle fully clothed. According to both witnesses, the security team conducted the security inspection rapidly, efficiently and professionally. The members of the team did not speak to each other but communicated using hand signals. Nor did any of the Security Police officials in attendance at Bromma state that they had noticed or been informed that A. and E.Z. had been administered suppositories or equipped with diapers.

The two men were then taken to the aircraft. Just before 10 p.m. the plane took off from Bromma for the flight to Egypt. Two representatives of the Security Police were on board the plane: officer Y and the civilian interpreter. The original intention had been for three people to accompany the plane to Egypt but late in the day they were informed by the captain of the plane that there was only room for two from the Swedish Security Police. A. and E.Z. were placed at the rear of the plane, each lying on a mattress to which they were strapped. Their handcuffs, ankle fetters and hoods were not removed during the flight to Egypt.

Source: Mats Melin, Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman, ‘review of the enforcement by the Security Police of a Government decision to expel two Egyptian citizens’, 22 March 2005

Click here to read the account in full.

Analysis of flight data and associated documentation demonstrates that the rendition took place on board a CIA-owned Gulfstream V executive jet, with tail number N379P. The logistical aspects of the rendition were arranged by Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, Inc. which provided flight planning services for multiple renditions. Click here for an analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with Agiza and el-Zery’s rendition from Sweden to Egypt.

On arrival in Egypt, the two men were handed over to Egyptian officials, and driven off in a transit bus. Agiza was held incommunicado for the first five weeks. He was repeatedly tortured, including through electric shocks, death threats, and threats of sexual abuse against his female relatives. He was also denied access to legal representatives. The arrangements for monitoring the ‘diplomatic assurance’ that he wouldn’t be tortured was found by the UN Committee Against Torture to be inadequate, with no visits in the first five weeks, no unannounced visits, and no private visits. Indeed, there were sometimes up to 10 other people in the room, including the Egyptian prison guards. In April 2004, Agiza was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for membership in an organisation banned under Egyptian law, in a trial that failed to comport with universally recognised fair trial standards. Human Rights Watch, observing the trial, noted ‘a catalogue of fair trial violations’, including the use of secret evidence by the military court and the inability for Agiza to consult adequately with his lawyers or to call witnesses. It also noted that Agiza’s allegations of torture in detention were ignored at the trial, with the request for an investigation denied. In fact, after testifying in court regarding his torture, Agiza was approached by an officer of the Egyptian security forces and warned not to mention it again.

El-Zery was detained at the Tora prison. He remained blindfolded until 20 February 2002, and then only had the blindfold removed during visits by the Swedish Ambassador. These visits were conducted as part of the ‘diplomatic assurance’ monitoring regime, although complaints by el-Zery to the ambassador did not make it any further, with the Swedish Secretary of State assured that there continued to be no risk of torture. Moreover, although the visits by the ambassador were to occur monthly, the meetings were not conducted alone; Egyptian personnel were always present and taking notes.

Early in 2002, el-Zery was moved to a wing of the prison run by Egyptian Security Services, rather than General Intelligence, and was subjected to five weeks of interrogation and torture, including electric shocks to the genitals, nipples and ears. He was forced to confess to crimes he had not committed. He was moved again on 20 February 2002 to a correction centre where he was held in a cell measuring 1.5 by 1.5 metres. He was held there until the second week of December 2002. He finally learned of the reasons for his detention in late 2002: he was told that he was alleged to be one of 250 people who were members of a forbidden organisation, with respect to criminal proceedings that had been instituted in 1993. Many of the co-accused had already been sentenced to death and executed.

On 27 October 2003, el-Zery was finally released without charge. Agiza, however, was not released until 2 August 2011.

 

Investigations and Accountability

In May 2004, Swedish TV4 broadcast the first account of the rendition of Agiza and el-Zery, in a documentary ‘The Broken Promise’ (read the transcript here). After this broadcast, the Swedish Public Prosecutor examined the case and concluded that there were no grounds for suspecting that any offence had been committed by Swedish police officers. An inquiry was therefore not instigated.

However, the Swedish Chief Parliamentary Officer, Mats Melin, launched his own inquiry in May 2004, reviewing the enforcement of the men’s expulsion from Sweden by the Security Police. He did not investigate the expulsion decision itself, or the diplomatic assurances, both of which were outside his remit. The review was published in March 2005, and found that Swedish officers ‘failed to maintain control of the enforcement, thereby allowing American officials free hands to exercise public authority on Swedish territory’ in a way incompatible with Swedish law. He also found that the enforcement was ‘carried out in an inhuman and therefore unacceptable manner’, and questioned whether it ‘constituted a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention’.

This investigation was complemented with one by the Swedish Parliament’s Standing Committee on the Constitution, which examined the legality of the Swedish Government’s decisions to expel the two men. Its report was published in June 2005, and concluded that the government violated its own laws in sending them to a country where there existed a substantial likelihood of torture.

In May 2005, in response to a petition filed by Ahmed Agiza in June 2003, the UN Committee Against Torture concluded that Sweden had violated Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture. It found, specifically, that ‘it was known, or should have been known… that Egypt resorted to consistent and widespread use of torture against detainees, and that the risk of such treatment was particularly high in the case of detainees held for political and security reasons’. Moreover, the ‘procurement of diplomatic assurances which, moreover, provided no mechanism for their enforcement, did not suffice to protect against this manifest risk’.

In November 2006, the UN Human Rights Committee similarly concluded that Sweden had violated multiple articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in respect to the expulsion of Mohamed el-Zery. El-Zery had submitted a complaint against Sweden for alleged violations of articles 2, 7, 13 and 14 of the Covenant, and article 1 of the Optional Protocol.

In May 2007, Ahmed Agiza was included as one of three plaintiffs (later joined by two more), in a case filed against Jeppesen Dataplan alleging complicity in their rendition and torture. Ultimately, however, the case itself was not heard in court, after the US Government intervened, asserting ‘state secrets privilege’ and claiming that the litigation would damage national security interests. In arguing that the Government’s intervention should not be allowed to stand, Agiza’s lawyer, Anna Wigenmark, submitted a declaration in December 2007 outlining the extent to which the facts of the case were already in the public record (discussion of which in court could therefore not be said to damage US national security). Click here for further discussion of this case, and a collection of relevant documents.

 

Further Reading

Broken Promise (transcript)
TV4, Kalla Fatka, May 2004

A review of the enforcement by the Security Police of a Government decision to expel two Egyptian citizens, Part One
Mats Melin, Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman, March 2005

A review of the enforcement by the Security Police of a Government decision to expel two Egyptian citizens, Part Two
Mats Melin, Chief Parliamentary Ombudsman, March 2005

Security Report 2005/06: KU2 (extract)
Swedish Parliament Standing Committee on the Constitution, June 2005

Decision: Agiza v Sweden (CAT/C/34/D/233/2003)
UN Committee Against Torture, May 2005

Decision: Mohamed el-Zery v Sweden (CCPR/C/88/D/1416/2005)
UN Human Rights Committee, November 2006

Declaration of Anna Wigenmark in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to the United States' Motion to Dismiss
Binyam Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., December 2007

(Click here for full documents in this case, including exhibits supporting Wigenmark's testimony)

 

Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C