Human Rights Watch have announced the discovery of correspondence between the Gaddafi regime and British and American intelligence agencies. The papers suggest close cooperation within the context of the War on Terror. Not only did this involve sharing the details of Libyan dissidents, but it also included a programme of extraordinary rendition for suspected militants.
Although verification of the documents has yet to be completed, the concerns they raise are not without precedent. The post-9/11 machinations of American dealings with Egypt took on a similar nature to that now alleged in Libya. The Egyptian military’s annual $1.3 billion package of US military aid has been well documented. However, less scrutiny has been trained on the logic of its continuation, beyond simple cooperation in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
American programmes of extraordinary rendition relied on cooperation from states which could provide ‘black sites’ for suspect interrogation. Technically speaking, rendition simply refers to the extrajudicial transfer of prisoners from one country to another. In practise, the term has become shorthand for torture by proxy.
Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt had the dubious honour of being a key node in America’s network of rendition sites, and its intelligence services are alleged to have overseen the torture of terrorism suspects in line with its ally’s wishes. There is little to suggest that the US issued direct instructions to this effect, but a growing body of evidence indicates that this relationship existed in an informal capacity. According to Jane Mayer , ‘the partnership between American and Egyptian intelligence services was extraordinarily close: the Americans could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning, and get answers by the evening.’ This could explain American hesitance to publicly condemn Mubarak’s repeated renewal of the draconian Emergency Law. The legislation permitted the suspension of basic rights, censorship of newspapers and prohibition of demonstrations, as well as providing a legal basis for detaining opponents indefinitely without charge.
Given the nature of the unspoken agreement between US and Egyptian officials, the Emergency Law provided the exact veil of unaccountability that American counterterrorism policy required. Since this state of affairs was mutually beneficial, providing Egyptian authorities with the tools to repress internal dissent, there was little incentive for either state to reconsider its stance. Indeed, one could argue that the Law was kept in part because of the direct assistance it gave to the US.
Of course, Egypt’s relationship with the British and American intelligence services has been driven by a number of concerns that cannot be directly mapped onto the Libyan context. It does not take too great a mental leap, however, to imagine that a relationship reforged within the context of the War on Terror might have led them to pursue a similar course of action with regards to intelligence cooperation.