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Barack Obama's presidency

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The CIA's Man in Egypt

By Scott Horton
February 12, 2011

Editor’s Note: The final collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade dictatorship – with the Egyptian military now overseeing a transition to free elections – leaves the fate of Mubarak’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, in doubt.

At one point in the crisis, Suleiman, the long-time head of Egypt’s feared intelligence service, was seen as the likely heir to Mubarak’s power but his standing slipped as he defended Mubarak and questioned Egypt's readiness for democracy. In this guest essay, human rights advocate Scott Horton takes a look at Suleiman’s background:

With Mubarak’s departure, the focus now falls on his chosen successor, Omar Suleiman.

According to a classified American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Suleiman was Israel’s pick to succeed Mubarak. But there’s little doubt that he was also the choice of the United States, or at least of one particular American agency with which he has been closely tied through much of his career, the CIA.

During the “war on terror,” Suleiman headed Egypt’s foreign intelligence agency and as such he was the key contact for the CIA in a number of activities, particularly including its highly secretive extraordinary renditions program.

When American interrogators wanted to use the crudest torture techniques, they did so through proxy arrangements, and their first stop was in Egypt. The CIA’s Cairo station chief, who now heads the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center and who routinely briefs President Obama, developed a legendarily tight personal relationship with Suleiman.

And Omar Suleiman also appears in the background of some of the most damaging torture stories to emerge from the war on terror, involving Egyptian cleric Abu Omar, whose case led to the conviction of 23 American agents in an Italian criminal court; Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi, whose false statements under torture about Saddam’s armaments programs were used by Colin Powell to justify the Iraq War before the UN Security Council; and Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen whose positive ID’ing of Suleiman in the midst of a torture session now figures in an Australian criminal probe.

Suleiman, it appears, has a long track record of close dealings with the CIA, and the agency is extremely anxious to keep the lid on all of it.

Scott Horton is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine; see his No Comment blog.

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