Middle East

Published — May 30, 2007 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Renditions vs. rights

Jordan’s apparent willingness to participate in transfers of suspects trumps poor record on human rights


Jordan, according to a U.S. State Department request that Congress appropriate the country nearly $500 million in 2007 military aid, continues “to lead the way as a regional model for democracy, good governance, economic reform, and tolerance.”

Jordan, according to the State Department’s 2005 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, has police and security forces that “allegedly abused detainees during detention and interrogation and reportedly also used torture.” The U.N. special rapporteur on torture said in June 2006 that torture is “systematically practiced” at prisons run by the Jordanian intelligence agency.

Jordan, according to Amnesty International, is a “key hub” in the United States’ secret program of “extraordinary rendition,” in which terrorism suspects are kidnapped and flown to secret prisons or to countries known for torture.

The Kingdom of Jordan, long a U.S. ally, is a tangle of internal contradictions — and since 9/11, U.S.-Jordan counterterrorism efforts have made the tangle even knottier.

A major ingredient of this foreign policy stew is Jordan’s strategic placement on the world map: It shares borders with both Iraq and Israel, as well as with Syria and Saudi Arabia. Another major ingredient is Jordan’s historically consistent pro-U.S. foreign policy.

ICIJ’s database of U.S. military assistance, compiled from data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, shows that in the three years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Jordan received $2.7 billion in military aid from the U.S. government, a 170 percent increase from the roughly $1 billion it received in the three years prior to the attacks; it is now the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, after Israel, Egypt and Pakistan. Jordan was also one of the countries that the United States reimbursed, with little congressional oversight, for its help in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While some countries in the post-9/11 era have relied on high-paid lobbyists to secure American largesse, Jordan’s close relationship with the United States on security issues has paid significant dividends. In a June 2005 visit to the constitutional monarchy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the United States has “no better friend than Jordan.”

Its loyalty in the war on terror continues to be generously compensated by U.S. taxpayers. As the State Department’s own budget justification for 2007 aid to Jordan put it, “Jordan is on the forefront of the war on terrorism, providing intelligence, diplomatic, military and security cooperation to the United States and our allies in the region.”

Renditions and torture

The government of Jordan has repeatedly denied involvement in the U.S. renditions program, and despite careful documentation by Western governments as well as journalists and human rights advocates the United States has never acknowledged the practice. Various independent investigations have pointed at Jordan as either a transit point or destination for CIA-operated planes known to have been used in renditions.

One well-known case of rendition involving Jordan is that of Syrian-born Canadian software engineer Maher Arar, who was detained by U.S. officials in 2002 while changing planes in New York City. He was flown to Jordan — where he has said he was repeatedly hit in the back of the head by guards — and then transferred to Syria, where he was held and allegedly tortured for 10 months, according to the Commission of Inquiry in Canada that investigated his case. He was released without charge and returned to Canada.

The commission concluded that the United States acted on faulty information about Arar provided by Canada, and the Canadian government has since apologized and announced an $8.9 million compensation package for Arar.

Amnesty International has documented nine other cases in which “rendered” suspects have been held in Jordan. In some of those cases, detainees ultimately ended up at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, while the whereabouts of others are unknown.

“There’s an expression that says: ‘If you want someone tortured, send them to Syria; if you want someone killed, send them to Egypt; if you want someone disappeared, send them to Jordan,'” said Zahir Janmohamed, Amnesty advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We have reason to believe that the higher levels are involved” in the rendition of suspects, he added. “Nothing happens in Jordan without the king’s knowledge.”

According to Amnesty, testimony from former prisoners and media reports suggest that “many other individuals may have been or may currently be held secretly in Jordan and subjected to interrogation and at high risk of torture or other ill-treatment.”

A constant and intimate friend

Jordan is regarded by the United States as a moderate player in a tough neighborhood. The kingdom has traditionally supported U.S. interests, experts say, including talks between Israelis and Palestinians. However, it has found itself in an odd position both times the United States has gone to war with Iraq.

In the Persian Gulf War, in which the United States forced Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, Jordan did not join the allied coalition. Frank Anderson, a former CIA Middle East division chief, said that in 1991 Jordan didn’t take a pro-Hussein position but rather a strong anti-war position. “The Jordanians throughout that [war] never committed an anti-American act,” he said.

King Abdullah II, who was educated in Britain and the United States and has ruled the country since 1999, did not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq but nevertheless informally provided logistical support to the U.S.-led campaign to topple Hussein. Since then, Jordan has trained thousands of Iraqi police and military personnel in Jordan. It also provides security along its section of the Iraq border.

Anderson said that the United States and Jordan are “intimately tied” and that the Jordanians have been “consistent friends” of the United States in the region. According to Joost Hiltermann, Middle East (and North Africa) deputy program director of the International Crisis Group, an independent, nonprofit organization, Jordan’s lack of natural resources makes it one of the most dependable allies of the United States. “Yes, it is going to be a loyal ally, because it cannot afford to be anything else,” Hiltermann said.

Jordan and the United States also have common enemies. The Jordanian-born leader of “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” [Iraq], Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, responsible for scores of insurgency attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, was also behind the November 2005 triple hotel bombings in Jordan, which killed 60 civilians. Al-Zarqawi was killed in June 2006 when a U.S. warplane dropped 500-pound bombs on a house north of Baghdad where he was meeting with other insurgent leaders.

U.S. assistance to Jordan spans all major military aid programs, from grants under the traditional Foreign Military Financing program (to buy U.S.-made weapons and services) to newer post-9/11 programs such as Coalition Support Funds, which reimburses allies for logistical expenses in the war on terror with little congressional oversight. At more than $190 million in the three years following 9/11, Jordan is the third-largest recipient of Coalition Support Funds, behind fellow key U.S. allies Pakistan and Poland.

Jordan also benefits from another post-9/11 program, the Pentagon’s Regional Defense Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, which trains foreign troops in techniques to combat terrorism. Some of the courses that Jordanian security forces have taken under the program include “tactical intelligence,” “electronic warfare,” “defense decision making,” and “combating terrorism in a democracy,” according to Defense Department documents obtained by ICIJ through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The dreaded GID

Despite U.S. professional training, the Jordanian security apparatus continues to violate human rights, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2005 Country Report on Human Rights Practices.

As the principal state agency responsible for Jordan’s national security, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) has been singled out by international human rights groups as a “primary instrument of abuse of political detainees.”

Amnesty International said in a 2006 report that the GID holds detainees incommunicado for up to two months, and sometimes longer, and obtains forced confessions that are later used as evidence by military prosecutors at the State Security Court. Some forms of torture practiced by the GID, according to Amnesty, include beating the soles of the victims’ feet with a stick (a practice called “falaqa”), suspending prisoners in painful positions and extracting their toenails.

Anderson, the former CIA division chief, said the GID’s alleged brutality is more reputation than reality. “The GID is an institution that benefited greatly from the perception that they would hurt you if you walked in their door,” he said. According to Anderson, GID interrogators are useful in the war on terror because they know the culture. “When they get ahold of somebody, they are in a position of knowing everything about that person; they are able to consult with an uncle or a cousin and use the family’s influence,” Anderson added.

“This is why renditions make sense to Jordan,” said Hiltermann. “They can do early interception [of suspects] that may have local agendas or anti-Israel or anti-American agendas.”

U.S. officials have praised Jordan for the arrest, prosecution and conviction of terrorism suspects, including some linked to al Qaeda. In May 2006, two militants accused of gunning down a U.S. Agency for International Development official in Amman were executed by hanging.

While the relationship between Jordan and the United States is strong, the alliance has caused a backlash among Jordanians. The king “still thinks that their lifeline to the world is through the United States … but they also realize that the tensions are rising as the situation in Iraq is getting out of hand,” said Hiltermann. “There is no sign of reform whatsoever on the political front. And there’s no pressure from the U.S. on Jordan to carry on such reform.”

State Department officials did not return repeated calls seeking comment on the U.S. policy toward Jordan.

These days, Amnesty International is advocating that Congress not grant military assistance to Jordanian, Pakistani and Egyptian security agencies shown to have participated in the CIA’s renditions program. “The fact that the U.S. is increasing its military funding [to Jordan] and not adding strict conditions … is actually very alarming,” said Janmohamed. “For the Jordanian government … the increased funding sends the wrong message. And the message is that they have carte blanche.”

Assistant Database Editor Ben Welsh contributed this report.

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