|Anna Lindh, former Minister for Foreign Affairs. Photo:Wikimedia
Was the Prime Minister Göran Persson in charge of the deportation of two Egyptian citizens in 2001 and was the Minister for Justice Tomas Bodström aware that a CIA-airplane was picking them up on Swedish soil? According to a new book, the answer is yes on both questions, even though both of them have denied it.
First a brief background. Ashmed Agiza and Mohammed Al-Zery were suspected of having leading positions in Al-Qaida. CIA and the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) both made this allegation. USA therefore put pressure on the Swedish government to deport the men to their native Egypt. This was done in December 2001 despite Swedish laws saying that no one can be deported to a country were they risk to face torture. The Egyptian government had given guarantees that they would get a fair trial and not face torture, something the Swedish government accepted.
CIA assisted in the deportation by picking them up with one of their airplanes at Bromma airport in west Stockholm. They then transported them to Egypt under very humiliating forms. According to human rights organizations they did face torture when they came to Egypt. Both of them were last summer granted SEK 3 million in damage from the Swedish state. Agiza was convicted to fifteen years in prison by an Egyptian military court while AL-Zery was released in 2003 without a trial.
The event did not get any public attention until 2004, when media started to look into the deportation and how it happened.
Any day now, a new book will come out by Eva Franchell who was then press secretary for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anna Lindh. She writes that Bodström was informed about the American involvement the day before the deportation. He has said to media that he was informed several months later.
Göran Persson has said that Anna Lindh was the one in charge of the whole operation. Both he and Bodström put the responsibility on Lindh. Lindh was murdered in September 2003 and could therefore not give her version.
Thomas Bodström, former Minister for Justice. Photo: Stockholm News
In December 2004 the story had started to grow to a scandal in the media and the Prime Minister was put under hard pressure, which culminated in an interview in the Swedish radio on Christmas Day 2004. Persson had very difficult to explain the decision and claimed he was informed of the CIA involvement two months after the deportation. It would indeed be rather sensational if a foreign power had performed these kinds of operation on Swedish soil without the government’s knowledge. Or if the Minister for Foreign affairs knew it without informing the Prime Minister. The day after the radio interview came however the tsunami in south-east Asia which killed 543 Swedes and put the medias attention on other things. During the years after the media focus did occasionally return to the deportation of the Egyptians but not specifically to the role of the Prime Minister. Lindh has got most parts of the blame.
Göran Persson, former Prime Minister. Photo: Wikimedia
Even though the book is not in the stores yet, the newspaper Aftonbladet (Franchells current employer) revealed some parts of it yesterday. According to them Franchell writes that USA threatened with trade sanctions against the European Union if Sweden did not deport the Egyptians. Anna Lindh and Göran Persson were under a lot of pressure. Persson wanted to proceed with the deportation as soon as possible and Lindh accepted in order to keep her job.
They did not have so much time, because if Agiza and Al-Zery would get time to speak to their lawyers and appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights, the deportation would most likely be impossible. The rush was also one of the reasons why an American plane was used. The deportation had to be conducted on the same day as the decision to avoid an appeal. No Swedish transportation plane was available that night, so Sweden accepted an offer by CIA to immediately send one of their planes.
The Swedish prisoner at Gantanamo Bay, Mehdi Ghezali, was according to the book, released partly as a reward for the Swedish cooperation about the Egyptians. Ghezali did however not arrive at Gantanamo until 2002 (after the deportation) and was released in 2004.
What the truth is is of course hard to know. Franchell has had some problems to back up and specify some of her allegation when asked by journalists. Especially concerning the trade sanctions that she claims USA threatened to impose on EU.
Göran Persson says that the government as a whole was responsible for the deportation (which under the Swedish constitution is true for all decisions the government makes) but that Anna Lindh was the one who prepared the issue. He also says, according to Expressen that he “has other memories of what happened” than what is said in the book.
Tomas Bodström says he does not want to make any comments until he has read the book. Several Säpo officials have previously said that Anna Lindh took the decision to accept the American offer to send an airplane.
Sources: Aftonbladet, Expressen, Swedish public service television and Swedish Radio.
The interview with the Prime Minister which is referred to in the article is available (in Swedish) here.