Come Fly with Me: Airports and Geographies of Rendition

C-130 Hercules prepares for landing during KEEN SWORD 2015 at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Image: US Air Force/Flickr.

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 18 December 2014.

A recent Senate intelligence committee report on the use of torture concluded that the CIA has mislead the American public and by implication the wider world. Although fiercely contested by former members of the George W Bush administration, the report served as a reminder about the extensiveness of torture – or specifically the geographies of torture. The process of finding, transporting, imprisoning, questioning, torturing and archiving the treatment of suspects/illegal combatants/terrorists involved a great deal of labor.


One Thousand and One Nights Gone Wrong

Remember reading those fancy folk tales when you were little, commonly known as the “Arabian Nights,” about oriental princes, ghouls and magical wonder lamps? In The History of Gherib and His Brother Agib, things are getting a tad bit more gothic:

“So they seized the prince and binding his hands behind him, beat him till he lost his senses; after which the king imprisoned him in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth.”

Many Arabian nights later, in 2004, roles were reversed, as a very disturbing videotape recently smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates by Bassam Nabulsi and aired on ABC News suggests.

In this very sequel the prince is called Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Sheikh Issa torturing an Afghan merchant.
Spoiler warning: This time not the prince is beaten till he loses his senses.

He is the son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, late president of the UAE, and the brother of current UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who also rules Abu Dhabi, as well as of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of UAE’s armed forces.

The video shows Sheikh Issa, assisted by an obedient uniformed police officer, sadistically torturing an Afghan merchant by the cynical name of Mohammed Shah Poor half to death. Sheikh Issa “is seen stuffing sand in the Afghan’s mouth. As the grain dealer pleads and whimpers, he is beaten with a nailed board, burned in the genitals with a cigarette lighter, shocked with a cattle prod, and led to believe he would be shot. Salt is poured on his wounds. In the end, the victim can muster up only weak moans as an SUV is repeatedly driven over him.”

“The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior,” UAE’s Ministry of the Interior, presided by yet another of Sheikh Issa’s brothers, declared, at the same time officially acknowledging the prince’s involvement. “All rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department”, the statement concluded. O rule of law, where art thou?

After reviewing the tape once more, this time with eyes open obviously, another official statement hit the public: “The HRO [Human Rights Office] of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department will conduct a comprehensive review of the matter immediately and make its findings public at the earliest opportunity.” In the meantime, the prince was set under house arrest, being the first senior member of the royal family ever to be publicly detained in Abu Dhabi.

It remains to be seen if the original tale might prove not-that-fictional, and the prince (who has lately been accused with at least 25 more cases of cinematic bestiality) will finally be imprisoned “in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth”. Insha’Allah.

Screenshot: ABC News