Trans-Atlantic Meanderings: Reactions to Yosri Fouda’s <em>Triangle of Anger</em>


(German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was a victim of mistaken identity and kidnapped and ‘rendered’ by American intelligent agents to a foreign secret interrrogation and detention center)
TWN had a productive adventure in London, where I had been asked to give a talk and then invited to participate in meetings with a number of Arab intellectuals and public officials.
I also met with journalists from The Economist, the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Al Jazeera Channel, and the BBC to discuss how they were covering the American and British occupation of Iraq, revelations about ‘extraordinary rendition’, secret detention centers, and the increasing number of kiss-and-tell stories by national security bureaucrats whose loyalties to the US President and British Prime Minister have been shredded by duplicity, moral and political recklessness, and in some cases illegality that they witnessed as insiders.
As I reported yesterday, I was going to a screening in London of Yosri Fouda’s 46-minute, made for Al Jazeera Channel (in Arabic), production on the topic of ‘extraordinary rendition’ of terror suspects to third countries for interrogation, and as the cases have turned out, frequent application of torture.
Fouda and his project producer, Giles Trendle, have transformed the Arabic-language production into an English-language version, and the result is seriously provocative. The clip will run on Al Jazeera International, the new English language Arab satellite network.
TWN has made arrangements with the management at Al Jazeera International to be the first blog to provide web-based access to the production. Details are still being worked out regarding whether the digital version will be based on TWN‘s servers, or Al Jazeera International’s — but as matters firm up, I will keep readers posted.
“Triangle of Anger” is a must see for those worried about a global-war-on-terror practice whose mistaken application against innocents has undermined the American brand among many Muslims (as well as non-Muslims) around the world.
As one friend of mine who was a senior intelligence and foreign service official who has worked in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan told me, rendition has a decades long history in the US national security arena. But rendition in the pre-al Qaeda era was generally used by American police and intelligence agencies to pick up non-American criminals or likely criminals — usually in the narcotics racket — who often were in the US illegally without visas or faked passports. In these cases, the suspects would be apprehended and deported to the nation of which they were a citizen.
However, what has happened in the era of al Qaeda is that American intelligence agencies are kidnapping terror suspects and without providing any public record of the act essentially are ‘disappearing’ people to detention and interrogation centers in various countries around the world. In many cases, the recipient country is not the rended individual’s home of national citizenship.
One particularly outrageous case that Fouda documents was that of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, who while vacationing in Macedonia was arrested and packed off to a detention/interrogation facility in Afghanistan. After authorities discovered that the man they had was innocent and was taken on the basis that he had the same name as a wanted al Qaeda operative, they still held him incommunicado for an extra two months.
Even after he was released — without passport or identity papers or any gesture of apology from American officials — on the border of Albania and Macdenia, El-Masri was later refused entry into the US and had to fly back to Germany because the known to be innocent German was still on border watch/reject lists.
Condoleezza Rice herself had to personally intervene to compel the immigration and border bureaucracy to allow him entry into the US on his next trip, when he met with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union to appropriately file suit against the US government.
I don’t know the rules for submitting documentary productions at the Sundance film festival, but Yosri Fouda’s film should compete in this year’s competition as it is a highly revelatory depiction of an intelligence practice that most know nothing about — and in my view is extremely fair-minded.
Fouda takes no below-the-belt shots and interviews not only victims of extraordinary rendition, innocent cases and some perhaps not, and their family members and associates — but he interviews a few of the architects of America’s rendition policy.
Former CIA official Michael Scheuer is one of the primary backbones of the film. Scheuer helped construct the contemporary rendition program and applie it to al Qaeda operatives. On the film, he openly and self-critically questions the utility of the rendition program, which he thinks has done more harm than good to the perception of America in the world, and has not contributed much to American safety that could not otherwise be achieved by existing laws.
One thing I did not realize and learned from Fouda’s and Giles Trendle’s treatment on rendition history is that the founding fathers of the policy were President Bill Clinton, then National Security Council official Richard Clarke, and National Security Advisory Sandy Berger. Scheuer gave the program its practical legs and application, but these other three conceptualized and authored the program.
George W. Bush’s team ratcheted up the use and broad application of extraordinary rendition as a key part of their actions against targeted terrorists and collaborators.
The film was finished the week that Dana Priest’s blockbuster scoop on secret European detention centers hit the Washington Post, so those themes were not developed in this production, but it seems to me that a program on ‘extraordinary rendition’ itself
Some of the best footage comes from a Swedish journalist who first broke the story on America’s fleet of private planes commissioned by the CIA to render suspects from third countries and the US to other nations. The journalist actually tracked down the CIA front company that operated one of the planes and pulled of a ‘sting’ phone call by implying he was a Swedish intelligence official and had a suspect who needed to be ‘rendered’ elsewhere — and was the plane available. His answer from the firm was “of course, when and where?”
Another journalist got a good film clip of the plane as it landed on a refueling stop in Iceland and got the tired crew and operators of the flight on camera, though they actually tried to hide their faces behind the nose of the plane when they saw that they were being filmed.
Fascinating production. 150 people attended the Frontline Club standing room only screening in London, and the folks I spoke to gave it rave reviews.
One reason the film is very brave is that it indicts governments in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere that have received the ‘rendered’ victims.
I highly recommend it and will have it linked when it becomes available.
— Steve Clemons