Did Sri Lanka sign agreement with U. S. for torture-rendition program?
'Globalizing Torture' report on CIA torture and rendition program authored by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's daughter Amrit Singh for New York-based Open Society Foundation released on February 5, reported in these columns about the then prime minister Ranil Wickreemasinghe's collaboration in it, has raised a vital question Sri Lanka needs to answer.
Did the Ranil Wickremasinghe-led segment of the Sri Lanka government (2001 through 2/2004) sign an agreement with the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense in 2003 to covertly make the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayaka available as a transit point for the 'Extraordinary Rendition' program to transfer prisoners who were under the custody of the U.S. for alleged terrorist activities to other nations some of which have now been disclosed as 'torture centers' ?
Ms. Amrit Signh in an interview said "the scale and sweep of these operations, the number of people who were put through this and the number of governments that were co-opted, and of course, the U.S. was a ringleader and this was the CIA’s invention".
She clearly says that the "U.S. co-opted other (54) governments".
Amrith Singh further states "I think that we don't know all of the facts with respect to each government, but we do know that there were a number of bilateral agreements that were signed".
She continued: "We know, for example, in Poland there have been reports of an agreement that was arrived at between the Polish authorities and the United States. Now, the—apparently, there was actually a document in Poland that bore the signature of the Polish official but not the American official. The Americans might have been more careful in not committing their signatures to writing. But nonetheless, these were very secret operations that could not have been implemented without very high-level authorizations from top officials in all of these governments".
The follow-up question that was posed to Ms. Amrit Singh was "have any of the governments sought to come clean and to hold their officials responsible for what maybe a prior administration in that country did" to which she replied "Well, it’s interesting that Canada has apologized to Maher Arar for its involvement in his extraordinary rendition to Syria. Canada supplied faulty intelligence to the United States that led to the rendition of Arar to Syria. But there—by and large, most governments have not owned up to the truth. And there is evidence in the public domain to suggest that the United States has exerted diplomatic pressure on a lot of governments not to disclose information about this highly classified operation".
The comprehensive 116-page research/investigative report of the Open Society Foundation authored by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's third daughter Amrit Singh revealed Sri Lanka's collaboration with the CIA in this manner:
(Quote) Sri Lanka permitted use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with CIA
extraordinary rendition operations. Court documents indicate that at least one flight operated by Richmor Aviation (a company that operated flights for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program) landed in Sri Lanka in 2003. The documents show that between August 12 and 15, 2003, a Richmor flight registered as N85VM took off from Washington, D.C., and stopped in Bangkok before making another stop at Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike international airport in Colombo, and then flying on to Kabul, Dubai, and Shannon airport in Ireland. That flight coincided in time with the capture of Riduan Isamuddin (Hambali) in Bangkok in 2003. Isamuddin spent the next three years in secret CIA prisons before ultimately being transferred as a “high value detainee” to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, where he remains detained. There have been no known judicial cases or investigations in Sri Lanka relating to its participation in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations. (End Quote)
The Open Society Foundation declares: "The report seriously emphasizes that responsibility for this violation of IHL, abuses and torture does not lie solely with the United States, but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out. By participating in these operations, these governments too violated domestic and international laws and further undermined the norm against torture".
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency embarked on a highly classified program of secret detention and extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects. The program was designed to place detainee interrogations beyond the reach of law. Suspected terrorists were seized and secretly flown across national borders to be interrogated by foreign governments that used torture, or by the CIA itself in clandestine “black sites” using torture techniques.
Questions For Sri Lanka
In the previous Political Note the Asian Tribune very clearly stated that during the 'disabled presidency' of Chandrika Kumaratunga, the Ranil Wickremasinghe-led segment of the government which had effective control over defense and aviation allowed the CIA, as mentioned in the 'Globalizing Torture' report, the use of Katunayake Airport for the rendition network of the United States.
According to the author of the report who undertook the extensive research/investigative project all those 54 governments have entered into some pact/agreement with the U.S. to collaborate in the rendition program.
Did the Ranil Wickremasinghe-led segment of the Sri Lanka government enter into an agreement with either the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defense to facilitate the U.S. program?
Will the incumbent Rajapaksa administration take steps to investigate if there were any agreements between the Ranil Wickremasinghe-led segment of the government and the CIA and/or U.S. Department of Defense in 2003 or the previous year?
The above two questions are of serious nature because the Amrit Singh-authored report very categorically said that "responsibility for this violation of IHL, abuses and torture does not lie solely with the United States, but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out. By participating in these operations, these governments too violated domestic and international laws and further undermined the norm against torture".
The issue well connected to the above is highlighted by Amrit Singh in the interview: "And there is evidence in the public domain to suggest that the United States has exerted diplomatic pressure on a lot of governments not to disclose information about this highly classified operation".
Assessing the political climate of Sri Lanka following the defeat of the separatist/terrorist Tamil Tigers in 2009 and the diplomatic pressure by the Western nations especially the United States on Sri Lanka addressing the issues arising out of the concluded domestic terrorist battle reaching as far as UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Asian Tribune does not believe that the incumbent Rajapaksa administration succumbed to the United States pressure "not to disclose information about this highly classified operation".
Nevertheless, could the incumbent Rajapaksa administration give reasonable answers to the questions raised above based on what Ms. Amrit Singh says?
Could the Rajapaksa administration undertake an investigation as to whether an agreement was indeed signed?
She says in the interview "I think that rendition is obviously, as documented in this report, the source of grave human rights violations. It damaged the United States reputation around the world. It co-opted as many as 54 governments into a torture program. It was flagrantly illegal".
Did the Ranil Wickremasinghe-led segment of the Sri Lanka government (2001 through 2/2004) engage in illegal act in collaborating with the CIA to effectively carry out the rendition program that was later discovered ending in torturing those rendered to other countries, is the question that is before Sri Lanka now.
Amril Singh says “the moral cost of these program was borne not just by the US but by the 54 other countries it recruited to help”.
And, Sri Lanka is one that was dragged into this by Mr. Wickremasinghe, as prime minister and Tilak Marapona as his defense and aviation minister who had effective control over Sri Lanka during a 'disabled presidency' to participate in the CIA's covert rendition and torture operation.
The Asian Tribune in the previous political Note disclosed with photographs Prime Minister Wickremasinghe being given a 'guard of honor' when entering the Pentagon with deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and engaged in talks with the latter at his office in late 2003.
Amrit Singh, the youngest of all three daughters of Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh is a senior legal officer at the National Security and Counter-terrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative. She was previously staff attorney at American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrant’s Rights Project.
She keeps a very low profile in Indian community for which she does not speak about his famous father Dr. Manmohan Singh and her job profile in US.
She is a graduate from Cambridge University, Oxford University and Yale Law School. She attained BA in Economics from Cambridge, M Phil from Oxford and Law Degree from Yale Law School. She is married to Barton Beebe who is a Law professor at New York University School of Law.
She is also the co-author of the book “Administration of Torture”. Once the attorney who represented the American Civil Liberties Union, was honored with the Access to Justice Leadership Award from SABANY for her work as a counsel in the ACLU vs. Department of Defense case, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed to seek records relating to the torture of detainees held in US custody abroad.
- Asian Tribune -