Rendition: “Put Him on the Plane”

by James M. Wall


Update: Friday 1 p.m. CST

Mubarak Resigns; Army Takes Command

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has given into popular demand and turned over all authority to run Egypt, to the Egyptian military high command. Muburak ended 30 years of autocratic rule in a dramatic step that will have repercussions throughout the Arab world.

Egypt’s recently appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, made the brief announcement Friday night, Cairo time:

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs.”

For more on the final days of Muburak’s reign, read below:


President Obama initially greeted the Egyptian revolution as the second domino to fall, following Tunisia. His instincts were correct.

This is a popular uprising which will only be satisfied with something resembling an “orderly transition” of power that allows Egyptians a future free from a dictator. Or not.  And that is the dilemma the President faces.

The President must contend with Israel, which needs Egypt to continue its agreement to seal the southern Gazan border and keep tight control over the Muslim Brotherhood.

Israel, Egypt and the US are the “three musketeers” of the Palestinian Occupation.  They are inseparable friends who live by the motto “all for one, one for all”.

Egypt. for its part, must balance its musketeer role with the anger felt by Arabs in the region who deeply resent Egypt’s role in keeping Gazans locked in their Israeli-controlled prison.

The timing of the uprisings in the region, first in Tunisia and now in Egypt, was perfect, arriving just as Wikileaks and the Palestine Papers were revealing the secrets of the cooperation between Egypt, the US and Israel in maintaining Israel’s military control of the region.

Given President Obama’s initial instinct to voice US support for the peoples’ uprising, it was only a matter of time–say a couple of days–for his partners in Israel and Egypt to dissuade him from his idealism and have him embrace, instead, the long-running US policy: Give Israel whatever it wants.

And right now, Israel wants to keep Egypt in the hands of a reliable dictator.

Who would that be, this reliable dictator selected by Egypt, approved by Israel, and sanctioned by the US? That decision was made years ago.

The US, Egypt and Israel discussed a replacement for President Mubarak at least as far back as 2008. At that time Mubarak was 80 years old. He was also in bad health. Now Mubarak is 83 and still in bad health.  So bad that there are already reports that the outgoing dictator will soon depart for a luxury medical center in Germany for treatment and quite likely, a permanent residency.

Recent Wikileaks released cables from 2008 revealed conversations between American embassies in Cairo and Tel Aviv. These cables were reported in the London Daily Telegraph.

In these earlier leaked conversations, it was revealed that Suleiman, then the director of Egypt’s intelligence service, “had become Israel’s main point of contact in the Egyptian government.”  He was also Israel’s choice to replace Mubarak. And that was in 2008.

After the Egyptian uprising signaled his early departure, Mubarak named Suleiman as his vice president.

Israel, which cares only for the reliability of its guardian on the southern border of Gaza, was no doubt pleased with the new vice president’s appointment. Suleiman had long been “their man” in Egypt.

At some point prior to 2008, Israel’s defense minister and Suleiman established a hot line between Tel Aviv and Cairo. The London Telegraph reports that they talked almost every day, no doubt finding ways to allow Egypt to pretend a friendship with the imprisoned Gazans. while keeping the southern portal tightly sealed.

Who is Omar Suleiman?  From 1993 to 2011, before he resigned to become Egypt’s vice president, Sulieman was Egypt’s General Intelligence Director. He is now the Egyptian-American-Israeli Orderly Transition leader.

It will be Suleiman who will “negotiate” with the various factions slowly emerging in a country that has known nothing but dictatorial military control since King Farouk was overthrown in the 1952 Egyptian Revolution.

Few political parties have been allowed to develop. The party with the best political structure is the Muslim Brotherhood, the one group that Egypt, Israel and the US most fear coming to power. It was the Brotherhood that spawned Hamas and Hezbollah.

The threesome will go through the motions of talking to the Brotherhood leaders, because that is what countries do when they are pretending to love democracy.  But do not look for any heavy participation of the Brotherhood in a Sulieman-run Egypt.

Suleiman is no friend of the crowds who gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo, that is for sure. He is genuinely hated by many who know of his reputation as the dreaded “torturer” of political prisoners in Egypt.

Because of the American rendition program initially set up by Hillary Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, in the mid-1990s,  Sullieman’s Egyptian torture team has been a reliable partner in the US “enhanced interrogation” program.

Of course, the CIA, the intelligence service of the United States, does not torture prisoners. Instead terror “suspects” are flown to other countries where torture is practiced.  Such an operation is called an “extraordinary rendition”.

Wikipedia defines “extraordinary rendition” as “the abduction and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one nation to another.” Critics of such transfers refer to this practice as “torture by proxy”. According to Wikipedia,

The CIA allegedly ran a capture and imprison operation of suspected terrorists, known as “extraordinary rendition”, which since 2001 has allegedly captured about 3,000 people and transported them around the world. It has been alleged that torture has been employed with the knowledge or acquiescence of the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Condoleezza Rice, then United States Secretary of State, said in an April 2006 radio interview, that the United States does not transfer people to places where it is known they will be tortured.

Raise your hand if you believe her.

This movie clip is a preview of the 2007 movie, Rendition, which describes an extraordinary rendition operation from the moment Anwar El Ibrahim (Omar Metwally), an Egyptian-American, is arrested by US officials as he returns from an overseas trip. His wife Isbella (Reese Witherspoon) and small son Jeremy, are waiting for him in the terminal. The film is fiction; the renditions are all too real.

In the film, Egyptian-born El-Ibrahimi is a chemical engineer who lives in Chicago with his pregnant wife Isabella. His name is tracked to a “terror” organization through telephone records. It could be a case of mistaken identity.

CIA chief Corrine Whitman (Merle Streep, pictured above) is briefed on his case. She is told by her deputy that El Ibrahimi has a clean record,  and that there is not enough evidence to charge him with a crime. Streep pauses, and then says, “put him on the plane”.  Ibrahimi is flown to an unidentified Arab country where he is interrogated and tortured in the basement of a prison.

CIA analyst Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in the city on another assignment. He is new to the CIA and is not a field operator. But, hey, he is already in on site.  All they want him to do is monitor torture of an American citizen in an Arab prison.

You most likely did not see Rendition when it was released in 2007.  (It is n0w available on DVD.) The film was marketed as a “thriller”. It featured Witherspoon, Gyllenhaal, Alan Arkin, and Streep. Witherspoon won an Oscar for portraying Johnny Cash’s wife, June, in the movie, Walk the Line.

Rendition brought her no awards. In fact, it disappeared from sight in a few weeks. Movies critical of American foreign policy do not sell well with popcorn.

The movie makes no reference to Egypt nor to the Egyptian Director of Intelligence. But Egyptians know who has held that position in their country for many years. He is  Omar Suleiman (pictured at right), the man President Obama and Israel are pushing to succeed Hosni Mubarak as president.

Of course, Obama and Israel want “reforms” in the government which would be run by Suleiman. But the Intelligence chief as the next Egyptian president? That would appear to be a hard sell to the young leaders of the revolution of Tahrir Square. So, again, we must ask, who is this man  Israel, the US and Egypt now trust to lead Egypt into the post-Mubarak era?

Jane Mayer wrote in the New Yorker magazine:

One of the “new” names being mentioned as a possible alternative to President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Omar Suleiman, is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects. . . .Suleiman is a well-known quantity in Washington.

Suave, sophisticated, and fluent in English, he has served for years as the main conduit between the United States and Mubarak. While he has a reputation for loyalty and effectiveness, he also carries some controversial baggage from the standpoint of those looking for a clean slate on human rights.

Mayer also wrote about Suleiman in her book, The Dark Side.

[S]ince 1993 Suleiman has headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service. In that capacity, he was the CIA’s point man in Egypt for renditions—the covert program in which the C.I.A. snatched terror suspects from around the world and returned them to Egypt and elsewhere for interrogation, often under brutal circumstances.

Jane Mayer cites Stephen Grey’s book, Ghost Plane, for more on Suleiman:

[B]eginning in the nineteen-nineties, Suleiman negotiated directly with top [US} Agency officials. Every rendition was greenlighted at the highest levels of both the U.S. and Egyptian intelligence agencies. Edward S. Walker, Jr., a former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, described Suleiman as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant 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.”

Asking what Barack Obama should do to prevent Sulieman from becoming president, brings us back to the dilemma he faces.  Should he break with Israel on an issue the Republicans will most certainly use to defeat Obama’s bid for a second term? If a Republican does succeed Obama, the next American president might be a dedicated Zionist like Mike Huckabee, who, in recent weeks, has been campaigning in Israel more than he has in Iowa.

Or maybe Obama should wait until he is reelected to break with Israel’s control over American politics.  That is his dilemma. It is also known as the burden of leadership.

Obama told the recent Washington Prayer Breakfast that he prays for guidance in all decisions, large and small. Sounds like the right way to confront a dilemma of this magnitude.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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8 Responses to Rendition: “Put Him on the Plane”

  1. Cotton Fite says:

    Thank you, Jim. I think you named Obama’s dilemma accurately. I wonder if the price the U.S will pay in the Arab world if we do not back the Egyptian people’s demands is not so high that deciding not to back Suleiman and, perchance, be a one term President is not worth it. Mike Huckabee would turn my stomach, but so would crushing this popular movement for freedom.

    Suleiman is certainly not a household name, but the popular media is, at least in this case, reporting some of the more sordid aspects of his career. He’s not exactly a lover of democracy.

  2. Bill Gepford says:

    One would be naive to believe that the United States government (no matter who is president or what party is in power) will ever change its position on Israel. The decades of secret agreements, multi-billion dollar grants of money and military equipment, hipocrisy, lies and “double standards,” is adequate testimony to this fact. Even the most sensitive politician to the on-going plight of the Palestinian people is sooner or later converted to this. The question is, why? It is only when that queston is answered will there be peace/justice in the Middle East. I am not sitting on the edge of my chair waitng for Obama. Thank you Jim for continuing to raise these issues. We need more like you who are courageous enough to speak the truth.

  3. Marina Gutierrez says:

    We saw the movie, it is very good, before I saw this movie I read a lot about the rendition ofan Egyptian citizen living in Milan, Italy. After extensive investigation the truth was revealed, USA and Italians agents were responsible.

  4. Brenda Bentz says:

    The adjective “realistic” is often applied to Suleiman. That seems to be a new way of saying “without moral compunction that might get in the way.”

    Thanks for navigating with an old-fashioned sense of morality.

  5. Robert Assaly says:

    A view from Canada: however unlikely, events in Egypt as they already have done may yet overtake Mr. Obama, Israel, Mr. Mubarak and his cronies. As one doctor noted in Tahrir square, “if Mubarak doesn’t go, we are better to die here than than to be arrested and spend the rest of our lives in his torture chambers.”
    “Rendition” was based on the infamous case of Syrian-Canadian computer engineer Maher Arar (google him), who was simply on a flight from Ottawa to Africa when he was hauled off by American officials at his JFK stopover, “rendered” to Syria and tortured. His crime ultimately proven: eating a shawarma at Palestinian-run Mango’s cafe, a short walk from my house where we often got take-out, yet where someone else also under surveillance for no good reason was having a shawarma at the same time. Mango’s is so tiny it is hard not to brush up against someone in the aisle…the rest was sad history for Maher and his wife Muna….

  6. wallwritings says:

    Thanks, Robert, for drawing attention to the connection between the case of Canadian Maher Arar, and the fictional story in Rendition. While I do not know if the film makers relied on the Arar case in developing the film’s script, you are correct to note the connection. Glenn Greenwald followed the story closely as it unfolded from 2002 through the final decision by the US Supreme Court not to hear the case. Greenwald wrote about this decision He includes several links to his earlier reports. As Greenwald notes, the US response to Arar is shameful, through both the Bush and Obama administrations. The Canadian response, in contrast, was honorable and reflects well on Canadian leadership. Jim Wall

  7. Ara Gregorian says:

    Here is a true anecdote about Suleiman which is quite revealing of his nature:

    Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, tells another story. The CIA had in its possession the head of a man suspected of being al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. They asked Suleiman to provide a DNA sample from Zawahiri’s brother, who was in Egyptian custody. According to Suskind, “Suleiman said, ‘It’s no problem. We’ll just cut the brother’s arm off and send it to you.’“ A CIA agent told Suleiman that a vial of blood would do.

  8. Awad Paul Sifri says:

    Outstanding article! It seems to me that US aid to Egypt should be squarely placed on Israel’s tab. As you eloquently mentioned, the primary purpose of US aid to Egypt is simply a mega bribe to its “military club” to become the “Guardian” of Israel’s Southern border and to give Israel a free hand in invading and strangulating Palestine and threatening other countries in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood may have been a threat to the regime of Mubarak. It was never a threat to Israel. However, democracy will hopefully be an barrier to tyranny in Egypt and occupation in Palestine.

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