By Rafik Saley, Okoth Osewe, and John Goss
By his own admission, Sweden’s Ambassador to Australia Mr. Sven-Olof Petersson had advance knowledge of the CIA rendition flight that took place on December 18, 2001 from Stockholm to Egypt. This flight ended in Egyptian nationals Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery being illegally rendered and tortured. Mr. Petersson’s admission comes from a statement to the Swedish Parliament’s Constitutional Committee, confirming that he attended a briefing on December 17, 2001 at which the rendition process was finalized. Moreover, the Constitutional Committee’s 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 Minister of Foreign Affairs Anna Lindh updated on the progress of deportation arrangements with the CIA in November 2001.[i] Petersson was then Sweden’s Director General for Political Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[ii]
Illegal and unconstitutional decisions of this sort, made behind closed doors, show contempt for the Swedish legal system, which has been further denigrated by attempts to get Wikileaks founder Julian Assange flown 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 learned about the diplomatic tiff between the US and Sweden that brought an end to Swedish rendition in 2006.[iii]
As the Director General for Political Affairs, Mr. Petersson was in regular contact with the US Embassy in Stockholm and was 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 the law. An admission of Sweden’s culpability can be found in the SEK 3 million (about $458,000) compensation paid to each of the two men after their eventual release.[v] This “hush money” appears to have paid for the non-disclosure of the identities of the Swedish representatives who sought assurances from Cairo prior to the men’s rendition.[vi]
Not only Petersson, but also Minister of Justice Thomas Bodström and then Foreign Minister Anna Lindh knew about the renditions.[vii] Thomas Bodström spent a year in the US between 2010 – 2011, purportedly for rehabilitation in connection with alcohol and substance abuse, while he was a partner in the legal firm 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 known to be friendly with Irmeli Krans, the police interrogator who took SW’s original statement against Assange. Irmeli Krans, in turn, is friendly with the other complainant, AA, who, it is said, illegally sat in on Irmeli Krans’ interview of SW.[viii]
The rendered Egyptians, both of whom were asylum seekers, were returned to Egypt despite Sweden’s Aliens Act (1989) that forbids 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 prior personal involvement in renditions. Even more disturbing is the fact that they have been echoed by Australian Foreign minister Bob Carr. The adoption of the statements shows a lack of judgment on Carr’s part and brings the Australian government’s foreign policy under scrutiny. Carr has urged Assange to travel to Sweden and claimed that it was unlikely that he would be extradited.[xi] Recent statements by EU Home Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmström, urging Mr. Assange to “just go to Sweden” have the same hollow ring.[xii] Malmström has worked closely with US interests in Sweden and elsewhere in adopting harsh measures to stifle free speech in Europe. She purports to know nothing about the Assange case. On the other hand, her partiality and close affinity to the United States are demonstrated by her recent joint briefing with US attorney general Eric Holder.[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 light of Sweden´s complicity in illegal rendition right up to 2006, a diplomatic guarantee to Assange that he won’t be extradited to the US 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, Assange’s fears about extradition or rendition to the United States are justifiable.
The Swedish Ambassador accuses Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly of having no knowledge of Sweden.[xv] It is imperative that the columnist learns about Sweden and its foreign policy of the past 20 years, so she might 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, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (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 it has looked poised for greater involvement.[xvii] This is not the old Sweden but a new country that demonstrates an unparalleled hypocrisy in its international relations. This trend continues in the refusal by authorities to grant Assange the reasonable assurances that he seeks.
Prominent international supporters of Mr. Assange, like Baltasar Garzon, John Pilger, Michael Moore, and Jemima Khan are ridiculed in Sweden today. In addition to the recent changes in foreign and domestic policy, the third largest political party in the country, called Sweden Democrats (SD), has made massive gains during the last elections, despite openly calling for the repatriation of immigrants from Sweden. The SD party enjoyed a 10% parliamentary share of the vote, which translated into 20 Parliamentary seats. 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 Sweden’s pro-American stance on key political issues, a legal system has developed with multiple loopholes that could easily be exploited to Assange’s disadvantage. This legal framework is constitutionally racist against foreigners, especially when they contest ethnic Swedish nationals of the cherished blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordic model. Most worrying of all, Sweden’s history of hypocrisy, lopsidedness and double-speak in dealings with the international community highlights the risk that Julian Assange would be in physical danger if extradited to Sweden from the UK. Under such circumstances, it is reasonable for him to seek unequivocal diplomatic assurances that he would not be extradited to the US if he agrees to go to Sweden for questioning.
Despite the pressures from the United States and other pro-western governments, the Republic of Ecuador has granted political asylum to Mr. Assange. On the other hand, the United Kingdom has hindered the free movement of Mr. Assange even though the same government blocked the extradition to Spain of the late Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Mr. Pinochet was wanted 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 and has instead accommodated Swedish Ambassador Sven-Olof Petersson, who supports rendition and torture. This is unacceptable in a free, democratic and transparent society.
Editor’s Notes: Rafik Saley is general secretary of the African Committee for Development in Stockholm, Sweden; Okoth Osewe writes for Kenya Stockholm Blog; John Goss is a writer and researcher, United Kingdom.
[vi] http://www.redress.org/CAT_2005_AgizavSweden.pdf (Paragraph 4.12)
[ix] http://www.redress.org/CAT_2005_AgizavSweden.pdf (Paragraph 3.3)