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U.S. Renditions Are Operation Condor Version 2

by Jim Lobe

U.S. Suspected Of Running Dozens Of Secret Detention Centers Worldwide

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- According to his memoirs, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel considered the secret abduction and rendition to Germany of suspected Resistance members -- otherwise known as the Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) Decree -- to be the worst of all of the orders issued by Adolf Hitler for the western occupied territories of the Third Reich during World War II.

But the Fuehrer thought it would be effective in deterring sabotage, which often claimed innocent civilian lives, as well as those of German soldiers, officers and civilian occupation officials. So he decreed that, with the exception of those cases where guilt could be established beyond a doubt, presumably through torture, anyone arrested on suspicion of "endangering German security" was to be transferred to Germany under "cover of night."

"(T)he prisoners are to be transported to Germany secretly...," according to the directive issued by Keitel, then chief of the German High Command, in February 1942. "These measures will have a deterrent effect because (a) the prisoners will vanish without leaving a trace, (and) (b) no information may be given as to their whereabouts or their fate."

"Effective intimidation," Keitel, who would be executed for war crimes in 1946, had written in an earlier directive, "can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminal and the population do not know his fate."

While the Germans practiced this early form of what Human Rights Watch (HRW) last year called "a quintessential evil practiced by abusive governments," primarily for its presumed value in deterring others from participating in resisting Nazi occupation, "Nacht und Nebel" was the earliest known 20th century precursor of what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) refers to as "renditions."

The line between the two, of course, is not a direct one. Nacht und Nebel-type practices were used by the French themselves with great elan in trying to suppress successive uprisings in Algeria in the 1950s. Some experts believe that subsequent French military training programs, as much as Nazi fugitives like Klaus Barbie (the "Butcher of Lyon" during the German occupation), introduced them to Latin America, where they really came into their own in the 1970s, when they were called "disappearances."

While the practice of "disappearances" has since spread around the globe -- according to HRW, Iraq and Sri Lanka account for the most cases of "disappearances" between 1980 and 2003 -- it was precisely in the southern cone of Latin America that the technique was successfully internationalized under "Operation Condor."

The operation, which was conceived and effectively headed by Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, brought together the intelligence agencies of Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay, as well as Pinochet's own secret police chief, Manuel Contreras, in 1975. Although not a charter member, Brazil also participated.

Its purpose was to "enhance communications among each other and integrate tactical operations in tracking down, secretly detaining, torturing, and terminating (the lives of) critics or suspected militants, who were often referred to as 'terrorists,'" according to Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the Washington-based National Security Archive (NSA).

"Agents from one nation would fly to another to participate in brutal interrogations at secret detention centers," Kornbluh wrote last week in the Chilean newspaper, 'Siete.' "Often the Condor victim would be secretly rendered back to his country of origin to another secret torture camp for further interrogation before being killed." As in occupied France, families would never be informed.

"The terrorist problem is general to the entire Southern Cone," Argentina's foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Gazetti, told then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976, according to a secret U.S. document obtained by the NSA four years ago. "To combat it, we are encouraging joint efforts to integrate with our neighbors."

"Other parallels between Condor and the CIA's rendition program are despicably similar," Kornbluh told IPS. "In fact, virtually from conception to implementation to methodology of actual torture practices to the mendacious denials that they are taking place, they could be considered carbon copies."

Thus, just as Condor was based on multinational cooperation in which each member knew what the other was doing on its territory, so the U.S., at least according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has relied on the acquiescence, if not active collaboration, of its allies in the "war on terror." These include Eastern European countries that have reportedly provided secret detention centers, and certain Arab "friends," such as Egypt and Morocco where torture is common.

The U.S. "has fully respected the sovereignty of other countries that cooperate in these matters," Rice noted Monday. Intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Europe, she stressed, has "helped protect European countries from attack, helping save European lives."

Even some techniques are common, Kornbluh wrote in Siete. "Condor victims were submitted to what their Southern Cone torturers called 'the wet submarine,' while President George W. Bush has reportedly authorized 'waterboarding,' the CIA equivalent."

There are also major differences between CIA renditions and Condor; among them, the fact that Condor's targets were virtually all eventually killed, while the U.S. has merely tried to hold its suspected terrorists incommunicado indefinitely.

And while Condor officials brazenly denied their responsibility for "disappearances," U.S. officials have simply refused to comment, citing, as Rice did Monday, fears that "intelligence, law enforcement and military operations" could be "compromised."

And, in the kind of legalistic subtlety of which the Condor regimes seemed largely incapable, U.S. officials have based their insistence that they have done nothing that violates U.S. or international law -- assertions that cause nothing but consternation among human rights experts -- on carefully constructed sentences that, on close examination, appear designed to mislead, rather than to outright lie.

Thus, Rice stressed Monday that the U.S. government had not transported detainees to other countries "for the purpose" of interrogation using torture, as opposed, for example, to transporting to them to other countries where torture is commonplace.

Such assertions may now be tested in a court of law by Khaled El-Masri who, according to the Washington Post, was detained by local authorities while on holiday in Macedonia in 2003, beaten, drugged, and flown by a CIA Rendition Group to a secret prison in Afghanistan. He says he underwent coercive interrogation and confinement for five months before being released, two months after the CIA concluded it was a case of mistaken identity. Such cases no doubt also plagued the German occupation in the western sector and Condor's overseers.

El-Masri, who is, perhaps ironically, a citizen of Germany, is suing former CIA director George Tenet with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. In filing the suit here Tuesday, the group said it was seeking to "reaffirm that the rule of law is central to our identity as a nation."

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Albion Monitor December 6, 2005 (

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