Torture, Rendition, Terror & Oil: A Primer on “Deep Politics”
February 9th, 2009
By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed
Category: International Terrorism
Why is the Obama administration hell-bent on continuing rendition, and covering-up torture? Why are Western states complicit in these illegal activities? How can the systematic perpetuation of such criminal practices under the rubric of the ‘War on Terror’ be conducted by the very states who claim to be the guardians of ‘international law’ and ‘human rights’?
The practice of rendition, linked inextricably to the facilitation of torture, is an integral part of the conduct of the western ‘War on Terror’, initiated after 9/11. It therefore needs to be understood in the context of western geopolitical, strategic and economic strategies, and their connection to national security policies. Only by grasping this wider context can rendition be understood in terms of its relationship to the logic of current western strategies, which are themselves rooted in longstanding social, political, ideological and economic processes tied to the protection of powerful vested interests. The movement against rendition will be ineffective if it fails to understand and confront precisely these underlying strategies, processes and interests in the context of which rendition is being practiced and facilitated by western states.
Torture and Rendition: Preliminary Definitions
It’s important to start by being absolutely clear what we mean by these terms. Confusion about the inextricable linkage between kidnapping and human trafficking, rendition, and torture has led even groups like Human Rights Watch to come out and suggested there is a “legitimate place” for the “limited” practice of rendition.
Rendition is the process of transporting detainees from one jurisdiction to another without any due process. The practice of rendition by the United States government in alliance with the British and some European governments is generally linked to torture, as detainees are often sent to countries known to practice torture.
At every stage of its execution, rendition overrides due process and lacks legal justification:
1. Rendition begins with the identification of individuals as “terrorist suspects”. New anti-terrorism laws across the US, UK and Europe are designed to grant states the widest possible scope in ascribing this label to individuals in the absence of specific evidence. As such, individuals can be identified as “terrorist suspects” by the state without justification. It is no surprise then that the vast majority of individuals detained as “terrorist suspects” under new anti-terrorism legislation are never charged with any crime.
2. After being identified as a “terrorist suspect”, an individual is detained indefinitely without charge. For all intents and purposes, then, the label of “terrorist suspect” in itself fails to elicit any sort of criminal implications. In the absence of criminal charges, “terrorist suspects” are not “suspects” in any meaningful legal sense – they are merely detainees who remain innocent until proven guilty.
3. The “terrorist suspect” is subsequently transferred to another jurisdiction, often across other jurisdictions, where the presiding state routinely practices torture against detainees, and where due process and legal accountability are lacking. In this climate, the detainee is liable to be subject to torture. Information thereby obtained might be used as a basis to identify other “terrorist suspects”, or in relation to other security policies implemented as part of the “War on Terror”.
4. The “terrorist suspect” is at no time inserted into an accountable or objective legal process, and in fact is prevented from a process of prosecution and trial that might attempt to test the state’s actions toward them.
One will note the obvious fact that at every stage, rendition is devoid of legal justification. It violates the individual’s most basic human rights to due process, in particular the elementary notion of habeas corpus. The western state practice of rendition, in other words, although it portrays itself as an extension of the state’s law-enforcement powers pursued to protect national security, is on the contrary an entirely criminal act that violates the most basic security of the person.
“Deep Politics” and the Criminalization of the State
Rendition, however, is only one criminal practice among numerous others implemented in the context of the ‘War on Terror’. Iraq provides an obvious example, including issues such as the illegal commencement and conduct of the war on Iraq; the fabrication of intelligence on WMD; the systematic use of torture in Iraqi prisons; among many other policies. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that rendition be seen as integrally conjoined to other criminal practices by western states.
This demonstrates that rendition manifests a much deeper phenomenon in the development of western state policies: the increasing criminalization of the state. What is driving this process of criminalization? In the service of what powerful vested interests are states acting in this increasingly criminal manner?
The analysis of these issues is known as “deep politics”, a term coined by the Canadian political scientist Peter Dale Scott, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.
According to Scott, a deep political system or process is one in which institutional, non-institutional and para-political bodies, criminal syndicates, politicians, judges, media, corporations and leading government employees, resort to
“… decision-making and enforcement procedures outside as well as inside those sanctioned by law and society. What makes these supplementary procedures ‘deep’ is the fact that they are covert or suppressed, outside public awareness as well as outside sanctioned political processes.” 
Deep political analysis is concerned with revealing the tendency of the state, which is the locus of law, to enter into criminal activity that conventionally would be viewed as anathema to the state’s professed laws. As Scott observes, from the viewpoint of conventional political science, law enforcement and the criminal underworld are opposed to each other, the former struggling to gain control of the latter. However:
“A deep political analysis notes that in practice these efforts at control lead to the use of criminal informants; and this practice, continued over a long period of time, turns informants into double agents with status within the police as well as the mob. The protection of informants and their crimes encourages favors, payoffs, and eventually systemic corruption. The phenomenon of ‘organized crime’ arises: entire criminal structures that come to be tolerated by the police because of their usefulness in informing on lesser criminals.” 
In time, this can lead to a form of police-crime symbiosis, where the defining parameters of which side controls the other are no longer clear. The present condition of western state practices in relation to the ‘War on Terror’ suggests that we are facing a serious state-crisis, challenging the legitimacy of the state as the harbinger of law, order and security. The comprehensive nature of the criminalization of the state, its penetration of both domestic and foreign arenas of policy, can only be explained in the context of the state’s increasing subservience to powerful vested interests that are unlikely to meet public approval, and that therefore must be secured without public consent. So what are these interests?
The Deep Politics of Terror in Algeria: A Case Study
The case of Algeria provides a powerful example of the overlap of these criminal western state practices which converge on a very precise set of strategic and economic interests:
1. Individuals identified as “terrorist suspects” have been transferred to, among many other states, Algeria. Algeria is a regime with a notorious record of human rights abuses including the systematic practice of torture which was detailed by the British Home Office in an April 2004 report prepared by the Country Information and Policy Unit used in assessing asylum claims. After its visit to Algeria in June 2005, Human Rights Watch concluded that the regime continues to practice torture, especially during interrogation of security suspects.
The interrogation of “suspects” using torture was responsible for the production of the false ricin-plot narrative. Algerian security services alerted the British in January 2003 to the plot after interrogating and torturing a “terrorist suspect” and former British resident Mohammed Meguerba. We now know there was no plot. Four of the defendants were acquitted of terrorism and four others had the cases against them abandoned. Only Kamal Bourgass was convicted after he murdered Special Branch Detective Constable Stephen Oake during a raid. Rendition attempts to institutionalize and legitimize torture as a means of the production of fundamentally compromised information used by western states to manipulate domestic public opinion. 
2. Algeria plays a crucial role in relation to the west’s ‘War on Terror’, and cooperates closely with the US, UK and France in particular on regional anti-terrorist initiatives. US and Algerian joint operations in the last few years for instance have involved the construction of a ‘terror zone’ across southern Algeria, northern Nigeria, Mauritania, Northern Mali, Northern Niger and Chad. In July 2003, under US auspices, Algeria, Chad, Niger and Nigeria ‘signed a cooperation agreement on counter-terrorism that effectively joined the two oil-rich sides of the Sahara together in a complex of security arrangements whose architecture is American.’ 
The agreement was quickly followed up with what has become the principal vehicle of American involvement, the Pan-Sahel Initiative, a $7.75 million military programme providing training and equipment to Algeria, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania to ‘improve their border security and deny the use of their sovereign territory to terrorists and criminals.’  One thousand US Special forces, marines and contractors were sent to these countries in January 2004 to supply extensive military counter-terrorist assistance and coordination. The US is expanding the programme to include Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia, with a new budget of $500 million for the period until 2011, now with a new name, the ‘Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative’. A major US military base operates from Tamanrasset in the south of Algeria, with 400 Special Forces. Algeria is viewed as pivotal to US plans for future military deployment in the region.
3. Thirdly, Algeria is complicit in the facilitation of radical Islamist terrorist activity - with Western knowledge and support. Former Algerian government and security officials have independently confirmed that Algerian military-intelligence services had infiltrated and controlled almost all radical Islamist terrorist groups in the country, including the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). 
Foreign Office documents released to the Honourable Court in 2000 relating to the trial of three alleged Algerian terrorists, who were all acquitted, revealed extensive evidence to this effect. Whitehall’s Joint Intelligence Committee cited evidence of Algerian ‘government manipulation or involvement in [Islamist] terrorist violence’. One document stated, ‘Sources had privately said some of the killings of civilians [blamed on Islamist terrorist groups] were the responsibility of the Algerian security services’. Multiple documents ‘referred to the ‘manipulation’ of the GIA [the Armed Islamic Group, one of the principal Islamist terrorist groups in Algeria] being used as a cover to carry out their own operations’. A US intelligence report confirmed that ‘there was no evidence to link 1995 Paris bombings to Algerian militants’. On the contrary, ‘one killing at the time could have been ordered by the Algerian government.’ 
According to social anthropologist Jeremy Keenan – Senior Research Fellow and Director of Sahara Studies at the University of East Anglia – ‘contradictory Algerian intelligence reports and eyewitness testimonies suggest collusion between agents of Algeria’s military intelligence services and the Salafist Group.’ Not surprisingly, the State Department has ‘declined to comment on the matter.’ Indeed, the United States needs the GSPC terrorist threat to justify the extension of US hegemony to northwest Africa. ‘Without the GSPC,’ observes Keenan, ‘the US has no legitimacy for its presence in the region.’
In several extraordinary analyses published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Review of African Political Economy, Keenan documents ‘an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that the alleged spread of terrorist activities across much of the Sahelian Sahara, has indeed been an elaborate deception on the part of US and Algerian military intelligence services.’ Keenan thus finds that the expansion of the GSPC presence in the Sahara was jointly facilitated by US and Algerian security services.
4. Algeria is the subject of crucial strategic and economic interests on the part of the US, UK and several EU states, especially with regard to its oil and natural gas reserves. Northwest African oil reserves currently meet 17 per cent of US needs. An Algerian company, Sonatrach, plays a major role in US oil exploration as the largest company in Africa, with an estimated turnover of $32 billion in 2004. Experts agree that by 2015, ‘Africa will become the US’s second-most important supplier of oil, and possibly natural gas, after the Middle East.’
US commercial involvement in Algeria began in 1991, after the military coup that cancelled national elections. At the end of that year, the regime ‘opened the energy sector on liberal terms to foreign investors and operators.’ The main US firms include ‘Arco, Exxon, Oryx, Anadarko, Mobil and Sun Oil.’ According to European intelligence sources, CIA meetings with Algerian Islamist leaders from 1993 to 1995 are responsible for the lack of terrorist attacks on US oil and agribusiness installations in Algeria. Approximately 90 per cent of Algeria’s crude oil exports go to western Europe, including Britain, where BP has a 31.8 billion pounds contract with the regime.
The case of Algeria demonstrates that CIA-MI6 sponsored rendition and torture in Algeria cannot be understood in isolation from the dynamics of Algeria’s deep political relations with Western states, which can be explained by the economic and strategic interests that appear to inextricably bind the West and Algeria. Similar configurations of mutual interests explain the trajectories of Western security policies, including torture and rendition, in many other strategic regions in relation to the ‘War on Terror’. One of the most disturbing elements of these deep political ties is their implication for western policies toward ‘international terrorism’. The case of Algeria highlights how:
1. Western states use rendition and torture to manufacture intelligence to magnify the threat of terrorism in support of domestic and foreign security policies.
2. Western states are indirectly complicit in disturbing policies of cohabitation with radical Islamist networks, which appears to have selectively facilitated their activities.
3. This in turn has legitimized the expansion and consolidation of military-strategic control of regions considered crucial to western interests, particularly with regard to access to energy reserves and raw materials.
These three strands of policy cannot be separated, and to be challenged effectively they must be analyzed and deconstructed holistically. They are integral to a sophisticated international security system, geared to the protection of specific strategic and economic interests, that has been constructed by the US in cooperation with the UK and some EU states after 9/11, but many of whose principles were already in place well before those terrorist attacks.
This system has accelerated the criminalization of the state, resulting in a veritable crisis of corruption. In order to launch an effective and lasting challenge to western state criminal practices such as rendition, therefore, the security system itself – its structure, the key players responsible for its operation, and the corrupt interests it is designed to meet – needs to be understood, exposed and undermined.
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London. His latest book is A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (Pluto/Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). He is the writer and narrator of the documentary film, The Crisis of Civilization (2011).
 Scott, Peter Dale, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (California: University of California Press, 1996) p. 8.
 Neil MacKay, ‘The new boom industry: Torture with CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’’, Sunday Herald (4 December 2005)
 Jeremy Keenan, ‘Terror in the Sahara: the Implications of US Imperialism for North & West Africa’, Review of African Political Economy(September 2004, 31 (101): 475–486), p. 491.
 Ambassador Cofer Black, ‘The Prevention and Combating of Terrorism in Africa’, Remarks at the Second Intergovernmental High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism In Africa, Algiers (Washington DC: US Department of State, 13 October 2004)
 Jason Motlag, ‘US takes terror fight to Africa’s “Wild West”’, San Francisco Chronicle (27 December 2005)
 Salima Mellah and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, ‘Who Staged the Tourist Kidnappings? El Para, the Maghreb’s Bin Laden’, Le Monde Diplomatique(February 2005)
 For an extensive review of sources see my The War on Truth: 9/11 Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism (London: Interlink, 2005)
 Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Terrorist case collapses after three years’, Guardian (21 March 2000).
 Jason Motlag, ‘US takes terror fight to Africa’s “Wild West”,’ op. cit.
 Jeremy Keenan, ‘Terror in the Sahara’, op. cit. Keenan reviews a wealth of evidence in excruciating detail. Also see his two other briefings which contain more extensive background analysis demonstrating a US-Algerian intelligence deception in relation to the GSPC: Keenan, ‘Americans & ‘Bad People’ in the Sahara-Sahel’, Review of African Political Economy (March 2004, 31 (99): 130–9); ‘Political Destablisation and ‘Blowback’ in the Sahel’, Review of African Political Economy (December 2004, 31(102): 691–703). Look out for Keenan’s forthcoming book, The Dark Sahara (London: Pluto, 2009)
 Salima Mellah and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, ‘Who Staged the Tourist Kidnappings?’ op. cit.
 Pierre Abramovici, ‘United States: the new scramble for Africa’, Le Monde (July 2004)
 John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, (Pluto Press: London, 1998, pp. 205–6).
 Richard Labévière, Dollars for Terror: The US and Islam (New York: Algora, 2000), pp. 182–9.
 ‘Algeria’, United States Energy Information Administration (February 1999)