26 July 2004
The words "Sweden" and "human rights violations" do not often find their way into the same sentence. But authorities in Stockholm face mounting embarrassment over their decision, in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, to deport two Egyptian nationals suspected of having links to Islamic extremists without going through the usual legal channels.
The Swedish government has already admitted the extradition was a bad mistake because the assurances it sought from Egypt that the two men would not be mistreated appear to have been ignored. Now the tale has taken an extra twist following revelations that the deportations were conducted with at least the partial collusion of the US intelligence services.
Since the mid-1990s, the Central Intelligence Agency has organised dozens of so-called "extraordinary renditions" deportations of terrorism suspects to Third World nations, often their home countries, where the rules of interrogation and imprisonment are not as constrained by human rights considerations as they are in Western democracies.
The CIA has acknowledged arranging about 70 renditions before 11 September 2001, and the assumption based on statements andofficial policy pronouncements much criticised by human rights groups is that the number has vastly increased since. The operations are secret and it is rare to uncover details of any of them. Hence the mounting interest in the cases of Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Zery, whose links to Islamic extremists appear ever more tenuous, even as evidence grows that the Egyptian authorities have subjected them to torture and extended detention without trial and other abuses.
The two men, who do not appear to have known each other, were seized in Stockholm on 18 December 2001 and put on a plane to Egypt five hours later. Their lawyers were not notified of the expulsion until they were airborne. According to an account in yesterday's Washington Post, the men were handled by two non-Swedes in suits, who appeared to be Americans, as well as half-a-dozen hooded security agents of uncertain origin.
They were flown out on a US-registered jet with permits to land at US military bases around the world. Two declassified Swedish documents, both heavily edited in their published form, allude to "help" from the Americans. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have urged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate, arguing that delivering suspects to countries where torture is routine and due legal process frequently circumvented is in itself an infraction of international law.
Sweden has admitted responsibility for the fate of the two, saying it should not have taken at face value Egyptian assurances that they would be treated fairly. Government officials have, however, refused to be drawn on the extent to which they bowed to US pressure.
The evidence of Egyptian human rights groups, Swedish diplomats and others suggests the men were subjected to electric shocks and other abuses. Agiza was sentenced to 25 years in prison by military tribunal while Mr Zery, who has never been charged, was held without trial for two years and remains in Egypt under house arrest.