By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, January 13th, 2011 — 11:52 am
An attorney representing two Swedish women who brought sexual assault charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was investigated following revelations that during his time in the Swedish government, his administration helped facilitate extraordinary renditions that allegedly resulted in two terrorism suspects being tortured in Egypt.
The US policy of extraordinary rendition, or kidnapping terrorism suspects from foreign countries and transporting them to locations where torture is permitted, was a hotly contested issue during the administration of President George W. Bush — and it wasn’t just Americans who were outraged by the practice.
A Swedish investigation in 2009 ended up referring former justice minister Thomas Bodström, who now resides in the US, and former prime minister Göran Persson, to a constitutional committee looking into the expulsion of two terrorism suspects at the outset of America’s terror war in 2001.
Bodström insisted then and maintains today that he was unaware of CIA involvement in the deportation of Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed Alzery to Egypt. Sweden’s former foreign minister, Anna Lindh, was pegged as the official who ultimately made the decision.
Lindh, who ardently opposed the invasion of Iraq and sought to rally the United Nations against America’s determined course of action, was assassinated in 2003 by a 25-year-old Serbian man with a history of violent behavior who’d claimed he heard voices in his head.
Lindh’s former press secretary, Eva Franchell, released a book at the start of 2009 titled “Väninnan: Rapport från Rosenbad” (“Girlfriend: An Account from Rosenbad”) that addressed the rhetorical minefield that is politics and media relations.
A small portion of the book, however, suggested that her former boss did not act alone in approving Sweden’s cooperation with America’s rendition program — and that her politics were actually profoundly changed by the experience.
Franchell said that Swedish security services helped facilitate the renditions: a detail later confirmed by Bodström, who said he learned of CIA involvement from the country’s security chief on Jan. 7, 2002. He admitted to being aware of terrorism suspicions surrounding the two men before the government began preparing their deportations, which took place on Dec. 18, 2001.
It was later revealed that Göran Persson, the former prime minister who served with Bodström, knew full well that the CIA was involved with the flights. The Swedish defense forces even conducted surveillance operations on the flights, according to the Swedish newspaper Expressen, finding the aircraft were full of shackled and hooded prisoners.
It remained unclear whether Bodström indeed knew of the CIA’s involvement before the flights began, but he’s admitted involvement in efforts to see the men expelled from Sweden.
European investigations into complicity with the CIA’s rendition program later revealed the aircraft used to transport both men to have been coordinated by Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing.
The American Civil Liberties Union accused Jeppesen of carrying out the CIA’s rendition flights, and sued the firm in 2007 (PDF) on behalf of five men who said they were kidnapped by the CIA and tortured.
The lawsuit was dismissed on appeal in Sept. 2010, after a lower court sided with the ACLU in striking down the Bush administration’s claim of immunity on “state secrets” grounds.
The WikiLeaks connection
As it happens, after leaving public service, Bodström began working as a lawyer with Borgström and Bodström, the very firm that was representing two women who accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of sexual assault.
Anna Ardin, one of Assange’s accusers who’s said she is a supporter of WikiLeaks’ mission, was recently found to have worked with a feminist Cuban anti-Castro group supported by the US and backed by notorious CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles. She’s denied any direct affiliation with the US intelligence service.
With a history of anti-Fidel Castro militancy that dates back to the 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, Posada Carriles worked through the Cold War for intelligence services in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile and Argentina. US documents show he also worked for the CIA from 1965 to June 1976. Carriles was wanted in Venezuela, Cuba and Panama for terrorist activities, including the bombing of a commercial airliner that resulted in the deaths of 73 people.
Carriles, who’s lived with his family in Miami since 2007, was facing charges in Texas of lying to US immigration officers and entering the country illegally. The trial, which was just getting underway at time of this story’s publication, was mocked as a “farce” by some south American leaders.
Agiza and Alzery, the men who were allegedly tortured in Egypt, eventually had their deportations from Sweden overruled and were awarded damages totaling over $700,000 US dollars.
Lawyers for Julian Assange have suggested that the Swedish allegations were a facade for US efforts to have him extradited to the west, where he potentially faces torture or imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. The US Department of Justice was considering filing charges of conspiracy or espionage against Assange, but no final decision had been made.
President Barack Obama has insisted that the US no longer tortures terrorism suspects.
A secret jury investigating WikiLeaks filed a subpoena last week, seeking personal information on all of the site’s followers on Twitter, with a member of Iceland’s parliament singled out as a person of interest in their probe.
Former Bush political strategist Karl Rove, an ardent critic of WikiLeaks and a proponent of prosecuting Assange for espionage, was reportedly contracted to aid the 2010 reelection campaign of Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. It was unclear whether he played a role in influencing the case against Assange.
(h/t Legal Schnauzer)