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February 11, 2011

As Mubarak Resigns, Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Mamdouh Habib Reminds the World that Omar Suleiman Personally Tortured Him in Egypt [ 74874 ]

Andy Worthington


February 11, 2011


Less than 24 hours since he delivered a pompous, reality-defying speech, insisting that he would stay in power until elections in September, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s dictator for 30 years, has stepped down, providing the first major victory for the people’s revolution in Egypt, now in its 18th day. In a brief announcement on Egyptian State TV, Omar Suleiman, the Vice President appointed by Mubarak just two weeks ago, indicated that he would not be assuming power personally, but would be handing control of the country to a military council.

I very much hope that this is the case, and that Suleiman will not try to keep control himself, as he is, if anything, an even more hated and hateful figure than the 82-year old Mubarak, as was explained today in a timely article in The Australian. In the article, Mamdouh Habib, the former Guantánamo prisoner who received a financial settlement from the Australian government last year for its role in rendering him to Egypt, where he was tortured prior to his transfer to Guantánamo, forcefully reminded the world why any transfer of power to Omar Suleiman would be disastrous for the people’s revolution, which must continue to call for nothing less than the removal of every aspect of Mubarak regime from the corridors of power.

As Egypt’s intelligence chief, Suleiman’s crucial role in torture has been exposed by a handful of perceptive journalists, who have pointed out — ever since Mubarak appointed him as Vice President — that he was in charge of the torture regime that has terrified Egyptians throughout Mubarak’s 30-year reign, and that, in addition, played a major role in radicalizing the Islamists who went on to form the core of al-Qaeda.

As has also been noted, and as I explained in my articles Revolution in Egypt – and the Hypocrisy of the US and the West and As Egyptians Call for Mubarak’s Fall, He Appoints America’s Favorite Torturer as Vice President (in which I cross-posted an analysis of Suleiman’s torture history by Stephen Soldz), Suleiman played a crucial role in the unholy alliance between Egypt and the United States in the “War on Terror,” when an unknown number of prisoners, seized by the Americans, were rendered for torture in Egypt.

It has not yet been confirmed that Suleiman was personally involved in the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of a training camp in Afghanistan, who falsely confessed, under torture, that al-Qaeda was discussing the use of chemical and biological weapons with Saddam Hussein, but in 2006, the author Ron Suskind, in his book The One Percent Doctrine (which also first exposed the US government’s false claims about the supposed “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah), stated that Suleiman was directly involved in his torture, and it seems likely, given that Mamdouh Habib has stated that Suleiman was responsible for personally overseeing his own torture.

The importance of this cannot be overstated, as Suleiman, described by a former senior US intelligence official as having a “close and continuing” relationship with the CIA, would therefore be directly implicated in one of the most monstrous lies of the “War on Teror,” in which, whether by accident, or, more likely, by design, torture was deliberately inflicted not to protect the US and its allies from further terrorist attacks, but to provide a justification for the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Al-Libi, who was eventually returned to Libya, where he died in mysterious circumstances in May 2009, later recanted his tortured lies about the connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but not before Colin Powell had presented the fruits of his torture as evidence of the need to invade Iraq during a crucial presentation to the UN Security Council in February 2003.

Mamdouh Habib, who was kidnapped from a bus in Pakistan in October 2001, and suspected of involvement in terrorism because he had allegedly been in contact with supporters of the jailed Egyptian terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman (the “Blind Sheikh”) was also tortured (subjected to electric shocks, nearly drowned, beaten, and hung from metal hooks) until he made a false confession — in his case, that he had personally trained some of the 9/11 hijackers. Although this lie was also patently untrue, the Bush administration was prepared to put him on trial at Guantánamo until Dana Priest and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post revealed the story of his torture in January 2005, and he was immediately released.

Speaking to the Australian, Habib explained that “it would be a disgrace if Mr. Suleiman became leader of Egypt given his personal role in overseeing the torture of terror suspects” from the mid-1990s onwards, when, under President Clinton, the US first started sending kidnapped terror suspects to Egypt, to be tortured. disappeared and/or tried and executed. In The Dark Side, Jane Mayer described how the program began — and how crucial Suleiman was to its development:

Each rendition was authorised at the very top levels of both governments … The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top [CIA] officials. [Former US Ambassador to Egypt Edward] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognisant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”

Technically, US law required the CIA to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the EGIS [the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat el-Aama], such assurances were considered close to worthless. As Michael Scheuer, a former CIA officer [and head of the al-Qaeda desk], who helped set up the practise of rendition, later testified, even if such “assurances” were written in indelible ink, “they weren’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Reinforcing these claims, Mamdouh Habib told the Australian, “This guy is an agent for the United States and the CIA. If Australia supports Suleiman, they are supporting torture and crime.” As the Australian described it, Habib said that, after he was rendered to Egypt, “Mr Suleiman helped torture him,” and explained that, in his book, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t, Habib “wrote that Mr. Suleiman had often been present during his interrogations.”

The following passages are taken from the article in the Australian:

“I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English,” Mr Habib writes. “He said, ‘Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands’.”

Mr Habib writes that Mr Suleiman had told him that he wanted him to die a slow death: “No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly. I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything if you want to be saved. What do you say?”

When Mr Habib said he had nothing to tell him, he says Mr Suleiman had said: “You think I can’t destroy you just like that?”

They had taken Mr Habib to another room and then Mr Suleiman had said: “Now you are going to tell me that you planned a terrorist attack. I give you my word you will be a rich man if you tell me you have been planning attacks. Don’t you trust me?”

Mr Habib had replied that he did not trust anyone.

“Immediately he slapped me hard across the face and knocked off the blindfold; I clearly saw his face,” Mr Habib writes.

Mr Habib alleges Mr Suleiman said: “That’s it. That’s it. I don’t want to see this man again until he co-operates and tells me he’s been planning a terrorist attack.”

When you think that a similar process must also have taken place with Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose death in a Libyan prison in May 2009 suited three parties — the US, the Libyans, and the Egyptians, who had been somewhat humiliated by the revelations of his tortured lies — it becomes horrifically clear that the last person who should be anywhere close to a position of power in Egypt is the CIA’s most trusted foreign torturer.

Suleiman, like Mubarak, must go — and in his wake, those seeking an end to Egypt’s torture regime, and accountability for America’s repulsive alliance with the Mubarak regime in the torture program at the heart of the “War on Terror,” must focus not only on Omar Suleiman, but also on those who were feeding on the tortured lies emanating from Egypt’s dungeons — former US President George W. Bush, and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

:: Article nr. 74874 sent on 11-feb-2011 21:49 ECT


:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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Commander who stuck to his guns

Sa’ad Al Shazly was an armyman to the core. His military brain gained Egypt key victories in the Arab-Israeli War but could not defend him against the country’s politics

  • By Joseph A. Kechichian, Special to Weekend Review
  • Published: 00:03 June 13, 2008

  • Image Credit: Illustration by RAMACHANDRA BABU/Gulf News

Although the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War was quickly transformed into a political and economic struggle, it was, nevertheless, a major military victory for the Egyptian army, which crossed the Suez Canal and destroyed the famed Bar-Lev Line in what is now a classic chapter in Arab military studies.

The hero who devised this significant initiative was Sa’ad Al Shazly, an otherwise unassuming officer who rose through the ranks, restored Egyptian military pride, delivered to president Anwar Sadat necessary negotiating tools, served his country as a diplomat, authored two critical books on his experiences, and became a role model for his countrymen and Arab brethren.

An egotistical Sadat, who cherished media attention, dismissed the warrior-diplomat at the pinnacle of his military career in 1973, when Al Shazly opposed the Camp David agreements between Egypt and Israel.

From his undeserved exile, he wrote The Crossing of the Suez, a work that provided unprecedented details on how the military command prepared for and executed the war.

This valuable book was never published in Egypt, though an Arabic translation was readily available online.

Remarkably, a military tribunal tried Al Shazly in absentia for writing his tome without Ministry of Defence authorisation and sentenced him to three years in prison, allegedly for revealing military secrets.

The episode confirmed that one was seldom a prophet in his own homeland, especially when pharaohs hogged national attention.


Al Shazly was born in 1922 into a modest family in Shubratana, a small village in the Nile delta not far from Cairo.

Like his grandfather, who fought and died in Isma’il Pasha’s armed forces in Sudan, Al Shazly quickly joined the army and served in the king’s guard until 1948, when he participated in the first war against Israel.

Over the years, he distinguished himself in the army, founded the paratroopers division in 1954 and commanded its first battalion until 1960.

Al Shazly’s first brush with international exposure occurred in 1960, when he represented Egypt in the messy aftermath of the Congo civil war as part of ONUC (the French acronym for the United Nations forces in Congo).

In turn, this service led to his posting as Defence Attaché in London between 1961 and 1963, where he perfected his language skills.

Given his organisational experience, however, he was recalled by army commanders in 1967 to lead the Special Forces [1967-1969].

Though the 1967 Six-Day War was a total disaster for Egypt, Al Shazly managed to safeguard troops under his command, with relatively few losses.

He was entrusted the command of the critical Red Sea District for a short year between 1970 and 1971 when, on May 16, 1971, Al Shazly was appointed Army Chief of Staff, a position he held until December 12, 1973.

Al Shazly devised the major lines of the 1973 war but differed with Sadat on the conduct of operations, especially after the president ordered a freeze on operations that exposed Egyptian troops in the middle of the Sinai.

He was unceremoniously removed from military service by Sadat and appointed ambassador to England and, later, to Portugal.

When Al Shazly first published The Crossing of the Suez in 1980 (with a revised edition out in 2003), Cairo set to prove in court that the warrior-diplomat revealed military secrets, whereas he insisted that these were political in nature.

In the event, Sadat frowned on criticism for his controversial 1973 decisions and opted to silence the architect who restored Arab military pride.

In addition to a three-year prison sentence, Al Shazly was stripped of all political rights — which Sadat alone could prevent as head of state — and had his property sequestered.

When Al Shazly returned to Egypt in 1992 after a 14-year exile in Algeria, he was promptly arrested at the airport and served his prison term in full. Although Egypt was basking in the post-Camp David era, with some rights restored by President Hosni Mubarak, Al Shazly’s legal efforts — to void his military sentence as being unconstitutional — produced mixed results. A civilian court ordered his release but Mubarak, a former air force pilot, did not budge.

In the General’s own words, his military memoirs were written reluctantly but with “anger directed primarily” at Sadat.

It was, he said, “an inescapable duty” to honour the memories of the soldiers and officers of the Egyptian armed forces who perished in 1973.

After serving his jail sentence, Al Shazly published The Arab Military Option, which examined future military capabilities of Israel and leading Arab countries.

In this second study, he contended that Arabs could only negotiate a just settlement from a position of strength.

Coming in 1983, which was after the disastrous Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, there was an element of truth to his thesis.

Today, Al Shazly lives in Cairo and periodically writes various commentaries in Arab and international outlets.

Key Policies

When president Sadat appointed Al Shazly as Chief of Staff, little did he know that Egypt would enter a new era, since the promotion ushered in a genuine strategist into a command post.

Over a relatively short period, Al Shazly prepared the necessary elements for a successful crossing of the Suez Canal and an epoch-making breach of the Israeli Bar-Lev defensive line.

The new chief of staff knew that Cairo lacked an offensive military plan, was saddled with a weak air force, vulnerable fixed air defence assets, useless anti-air guns and qualitatively poor infantry.

The only minor advantage was an edge in artillery but Egypt faced two logistical dilemmas: the Canal itself and the Bar-Lev Line.

Artillery needed to be in the right place to be effective. He knew that intrinsic capabilities existed but with no rigorous analytical processes and limited training, Al Shazly concluded that Egypt could achieve little.

The goal, therefore, was to restore the army’s capabilities, focus on what could be done and permit politicians to negotiate an honourable peace accord.

Military Sophistication

With a largely dated air force, Al Shazly created fixed forests of surface-to-air (SAM) missile batteries to protect ground units that would advance about 12 kilometres beyond the eastern shore of the Suez Canal.

This was a key decision that created serious problems when the war was launched, but for the pragmatic Al Shazly, the initiative was eminently doable. With the air defence umbrella in place, attention was devoted to the Bar Lev Sand Barrier.

The much-heralded Bar-Lev Line was presumably impenetrable and consisted of sand ramparts three to ten metres high to prevent Egyptian tanks from crossing into the Sinai.

It included 17 command centres at 10- to 30-kilometre intervals, each manned by 30 to 90 soldiers, with sensors linking the entire line to a network in Tel Aviv.

Given undeniable technical hurdles, Egyptian decision-makers considered many options to breach these defences, including boring holes through the sand barriers and blowing them up.

While deemed to be of the achievable variety, such a scheme required heavy equipment to be transported across the waterway and involved several hours of work.

Time was critical and, in a blitzkrieg scheme, not to be wasted. In the event, a young Egyptian engineer with experience on the Aswan High Dam construction project provided the solution.

He proposed, and following various tests, persuaded Al Shazly and his staff that the easiest and fastest way to breach the line was to use pressurised water to clear away sand.

Egypt destroyed the Bar Lev Line with hundreds of pressurised-water cannons.

Many other innovations were introduced in the 1973 war, ranging from fire retardant chemicals to counter napalm pipes spread across the desert, the acquisition and use of night vision goggles — and, in the case of anti-tank infantry teams, darkened welding glasses to counter “xenon rays” emitted by Israeli tanks to blind infantrymen — to electric and gas golf carts to carry ammunition and supplies.

A stickler for detail, Al Shazly supported his officers in many ways, giving them opportunities over several years to train, innovate and apply at will. What worked was saved. What didn’t was discarded.

Political Alliances

Like most professional soldiers, Al Shazly did not trust non-uniformed personnel and loathed politicians.

His major drawback was an inability to create political alliances, even though Sadat and war minister Field Marshal Mohammad Sadek supported him at first.

Al Shazly and Sadek clashed several times, but unlike his minister, the Chief of Staff often spoke his mind on tactical and operational matters.

Unfortunately for Al Shazly, he was also opposed by Sadek’s successor, General Ahmad Isma’il ‘Ali.

Although Isma’il ‘Ali was an officer, Al Shazly considered his a political appointment, recalling their shouting match in the Congo in 1960, when Isma’il ‘Ali pulled rank under extremely difficult circumstances.

Yet, what truly differentiated the two men were their sharp disagreements over tactical philosophies.

In fact, while they agreed on strategic goals, Isma’il ‘Ali dismissed Al Shazly’s concerns on how best to protect the army beyond the Suez Canal following a successful crossing.

An overconfident Isma’il ‘Ali argued that Israel could not simultaneously withstand a Syrian onslaught in the Golan Heights and an Egyptian offensive into the critical Gidi and Mitla passes.

As the latter lay beyond the 12-kilometre SAM-protection distance, Al Shazly insisted that it would be suicidal to rush to the passes without air defence cover.

This was a serious enough matter that angered Isma’il ‘Ali, who, according to several accounts, persuaded Sadat to dismiss the hero of the war.


When ordered by president Sadat to push his troops beyond the range of the SAM air defence umbrella, Al Shazly assumed a defiant mode. He knew that such a move was tactical suicide.

According to many witnesses, including the late Chief of Operations General Abdul Ghani Al Gamassy and General Abdul Mina’am Khalil, the commander of the 2nd army, Al Shazly was livid.

Aware of the dangers to his men, the chief of staff initiated an argument over the order, which was not acceptable to the president.

Though Sadat relieved Al Shazly after the latter insisted that Cairo pull back either one or two divisions to counter-attack General Ariel Sharon’s units — which had meanwhile crossed into Egypt proper — Sadat rejected the recommendation and opted to concentrate on a political solution instead.

Al Shazly’s most important legacy, therefore, must be his loyalty to his men, not to politicians. It may also be important to note that the officer’s other contribution was the adoption of meticulousness.

The Egyptian army was filled with capable men and women (whom he encouraged to join because his plans required educated officers) but was largely neglected for a variety of reasons, which produced the tragic results of 1967.

Al Shazly aimed at the highest professional levels he could imagine and applied himself to that end. He planned for every endeavour, trained his troops as necessary and embarked on what was allegedly invincible.

Impact on Egypt and the Arab world

In his The Crossing of the Suez memoirs, Al Shazly describes how his lifelong journey led to the fated crossing of the Suez Canal in October 1973, a feat that restored Egyptian and Arab pride.

While it is customary to grant such honours to political leaders, and president Sadat may well deserve his share of the Nobel Peace Prize, it was Al Shazly’s doing that left a valuable impact on the morale of Egyptian men and women in uniform.

In fact, the political controversies associated with the October 14 Sadat decision to deploy forces beyond their air defence cover to reach the strategic passes, spoke volumes.

As oft-repeated, war was too serious to leave to politicians, and the 1973 experience proved it.

Al Shazly was dejected to find his 2nd and 3rd armies surrounded or under air attack.

He squarely placed the blame that befell the 3rd army on Sadat’s shoulders and, to a lesser extent, on war minister General Isma’il ‘Ali, especially for jeopardising the lives of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian troops.

If he personally never recovered from Sadat’s orders, which in reality seriously damaged incredible military gains and cost thousands of lives, he, nevertheless, left with his head high.

Allegations that he dabbled with Islamist politics were unfounded since AL Shazly was, above all, a loyal officer.

Unrepentant to this day, his impact on the Egyptian army will probably outlive him, befitting the contributions of a war hero.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is an author, most recently of Power and Succession in Arab Monarchies, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, Colorado, 2008.

This article is the third in a series, which will appear on the second Friday of each month, on Arab leaders who greatly influenced political affairs in the Middle East.


As you already know, he is staying

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