How Sweden Collaborated With CIA on Renditions and Framing of Assange
By Rafik Saley, Okoth Osewe, and John Goss
By his own admission, Mr. Sven-Olof Petersson, Sweden’s Ambassador to Australia, has revealed that he was fully aware of the pending CIA rendition flight which took place on 18th December 2001 from Stockholm to Egypt. This flight ended in two Egyptian nationals, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery, being illegally rendered and tortured. His admission comes from a statement to the Swedish Parliament’s Constitutional Committee which confirms his presence at a briefing on 17th December 2001, a briefing at which the rendition process was being finalised. However, the Constitution Committee report shows that he knew about the renditions at the end of November and probably even in mid-November. In fact, it was he who kept the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh, updated with progress about deportation arrangements with the CIA in November 2001.[i] At the time Petersson was Sweden’s Director-General for Political Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.[ii]
Illegal and unconstitutional decisions of this nature, made behind closed doors, show utter contempt for the Swedish legal system, which has been further denigrated by attempts to get Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to Sweden on flimsy allegations of a sexual nature, from where, concerned parties believe the CIA would pick him up and put him on trial in the United States. Ironically, it was through Wikileaks that the world learnt about the diplomatic tiff between the US and Sweden, which brought an end to Swedish rendition in 2006.[iii] In his capacity as Director-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Petersson was in regular contact with the United States embassy in Stockholm and he was fully aware of the US request that two Egyptian nationals be illegally rendered.[iv] The rendition went ahead without protest or representation on behalf of the victims and no one in the Swedish government has been made accountable for this flagrant breach of Swedish law. An admission of Sweden’s culpability can be found in the SEK 3 million compensation paid to each of the two men after their eventual release.[v] However this ‘hush money’ does not bring the perpetrators to account for their involvement. Petersson is one such perpetrator. What the ‘hush money’ appears to have paid for is non-disclosure of the identities of the Swedish representatives who sought assurances from Cairo prior to the men’s rendition.[vi]
Apart from Petersson being personally aware of the renditions, the Minister of Justice Thomas Bodström, and the then Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, also knew about them.[vii] Thomas Bodström, spent a year in the USA between 2010 – 2011 purportedly for rehabilitation in connection with alchohol and substance abuse while in partnership in the legal firm of Borgström & Bodström. It would be lax not to point out to readers that Claes Borgström is the lawyer who was called upon to prosecute Julian Assange over allegations that had previously been dismissed. Further, Borgström is a man known to be friendly with Irmeli Krans the police interrogator who took SW’s original statement against Assange. Irmeli Krans is herself friends with the other complainant, AA, who, it is said, sat in illegally on Irmeli Kran’s interview of SW.[viii]
Both the rendered Egyptians, who were asylum-seekers, were sent back to Egypt despite Sweden’s Aliens Act (1989) forbidding repatriation to a country where nationals are likely to be tortured. It was well known even then that Egypt uses torture against political prisoners.[ix] The torture of both men on the flight to Egypt, included them being hooded, handcuffed and strapped down. The brutality of the torture in Egypt was captured in a comment by Mr. Agiza who noted that the interrogators routinely beat him, strapped him to a wet mattress and subjected him to electric shock through electrodes attached to his ear lobes, nipples, and genitals.[x]
Mr. Petersson´s statements to the Australian media on the impartiality of the Swedish legal system ring hollow when judged against his personal involvement in previous renditions. Even more disturbing is the fact that Mr. Petersson’s statements have been echoed by Australian Foreign minister Bob Carr. The adoption of the statements shows a serious lack of judgment on Carr’s part and brings the Australian government’s foreign policy under scrutiny. Carr actually urged Assange to travel to Sweden claiming that it was unlikely that he would be extradited.[xi] In the same light recent statements by EU Home Affairs Minister, Cecilia Malmström, urging Mr.Assange to “just go to Sweden” has the same hollow ring to it.[xii] Malmström has worked closely with US interests both in Sweden and elsewhere in adopting harsh measures to stifle free speech in Europe. She purports to know nothing about the Assange case. Her close affinity to, and partiality in favour of, the United States, is demonstrated by her recent joint briefing with Eric Holder, US attorney general.[xiii] She has also co-authored an article with him.[xiv]
The question on every reasonable person’s lips is: why can´t the Swedish government “just give Mr. Assange the diplomatic guarantees that he has asked for?” In the light of Sweden´s complicity in illegal rendition right up to 2006, a diplomatic guarantee to Assange stating that he won´t be extradited to the United States is of integral importance. After all, the Swedish government has the final say in the matter and, if its past history in illegal renditions is anything to go by, it can be argued that Assange´s fears about extradition or rendition to the United States are justified.
The Swedish Ambassador accuses the Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly, of not having any knowledge of Sweden.[xv] It is imperative that the columnist knows about Sweden, and its foreign policy over the past twenty years, so she can pass on the sinister dealings to her readership. Until recent years, Sweden had a peace policy of which to be proud. For 150 years, the country abstained from war and, in 1966, to celebrate this highly-enviable record, SIPRI was established. After Sweden started cooperating with NATO, the situation began to change.[xvi] Not long afterwards the Swedish military became involved in world conflicts and more recently has looked poised for even greater involvement.[xvii] This is not the old Sweden but a new country that has consistently demonstrated unparalleled hypocrisy in its international relations. This trend continues to be exhibited by the refusal of responsible authorities to grant Assange the reasonable assurances that he seeks.
Today, prominent international supporters of Mr. Assange, like Michael Moore, John Pilger, Jemima Khan and Baltasar Garzon are ridiculed in Sweden. Adding to the recent changes in foreign and domestic policy, Sweden today has an openly racist party called Sweden Democrats (SD). Its parliamentary share of the vote is 10%, which translates to 20 Parliamentary seats. It is the third largest political party in the country. Although the Party openly calls for the repatriation of immigrants from Sweden, it made massive electoral gains in the last elections. At the moment, the Swedish government seems to be following the direction of the SD party, especially in its foreign policy positions which are increasingly pro-American and anti-democratic.
Because of the country’s pro-American stance on key political issues; a legal system has developed with multiple loopholes which could easily be exploited to Assange’s disadvantage. The legal framework is constitutionally racist against foreigners, especially when in competition with ethnic Swedish nationals of the cherished blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordic model, but most worrying of all, Sweden’s history of hypocrisy, lop-sidedness and double-speak in dealings with the international community shows that there is a substantial risk that Julian Assange would be in physical danger if extradited to Sweden from the UK. Under such circumstances, it is not unreasonable to seek unequivocal diplomatic assurances which contain a cast-iron guarantee that he would not be extradited to the United States should he agree to go to Sweden for questioning.
President Rafael Correa has bravely granted political asylum to Mr. Assange in spite of peer-group pressures from the United States and other pro-western governments. The republic of Ecuador has thus underlined its efforts to campaign for basic human rights. Great Britain has demonstrated dual-standards by hindering the free movement of Mr. Assange even though the same government blocked the extradition to Spain of the late Chilean military dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who was wanted there for the murder of 94 Spanish citizens, and many other charges of torture and rape against his own people. Although Julian Assange is an Australian citizen the Australian government has refused to protect him while accommodating Mr. Sven-Olof Petersson, the Swedish Ambassador, who, as this article demonstrates, clearly supports rendition and torture. This is unacceptable in a free, democratic and transparent society.
Rafik Saley – general secretary of the African Committee for Development in Stockholm, Sweden
Okoth Osewe – journalist – writes for Kenya Stockholm Blog
John Goss – researcher, United Kingdom