Background Briefing

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Pre 9/11 Renditions

The practice of extraordinary renditions is not a new phenomenon. In the United States, it can be traced back at least to the early 1990’s, when policies were formulated for the apprehension and transfer of terrorist and other suspects outside of any formal legal process. In June 1995, then-President Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 39, which includes the following language:

When terrorists wanted for violation of U.S. law are at large overseas, their return for prosecution shall be a matter of the highest priority. … If we do not receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbors a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking, we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation. Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government, consistent with the procedures outlined in NSD-77, which shall remain in effect.6

This policy was reiterated in May 1998 with a new directive, PDD-62, which outlined ten policy programs, the first of which was “apprehension, extradition, rendition and prosecution.”7

Before September 2001, the available information regarding extraordinary renditions strongly suggests a focus on delivering criminal suspects to prosecution, particularly in the United States. During the decade prior to 1998, the U.S. government usedextraordinary rendition to bring 13 terrorist suspects to the United States to stand trial on criminal charges.8 Then FBI Director Louis Freeh told the Senate Judiciary Committee that in the majority of terrorist renditions, the United States acted with the cooperation of the government in whose jurisdiction the suspect was located. Freeh described the framework for what he considered a useful tool in the FBI’s arsenal for bringing suspected terrorists and criminals to justice in the United States:

The rendition process is governed by Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 77, which sets explicit requirements for initiating this method for returning terrorists to stand trial in the United States. Despite these stringent requirements, in recent years, the FBI has successfully used renditions to bring international terrorists and criminals to justice in the United States.9

Because of the secretive nature of extraordinary renditions, little is known about the cases that pre-date September 11, 2001. It is not clear how many other persons were rendered to the United States for prosecution after 1998, and how many suspects were handed over to other governments by or with the assistance of the U.S. government in the decade prior to September 11. The House-Senate Joint Inquiry into the September 11th attacks claimed “dozens” of renditions took place before September 11, 2001, although it did not specify how many of those involved the transfer of a person to a country other than the United States:

Working with a wide array of foreign governments, CIA and FBI have helped deliver dozens of suspected terrorists to justice. CTC [Counterterrorist Center] officers responsible for the renditions program told the Joint Inquiry that, from 1987 to September 11, 2001, CTC was involved in the rendition of several dozen terrorists.10

According to the testimony of George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, before the 9/11 Commission, there were over 80 cases of extraordinary rendition prior to September 11, 2001.11 The CIA played the leading role in carrying out renditions, but other agencies such as the FBI may have been involved.12  Apparently, extraordinary renditions prior to 9/11 required review and approval by interagency groups led by the White House.13 

Several cases of pre 9/11 extraordinary renditions to third countries have been uncovered. One such case involves an Egpytian national named Tal`at Fu’ad Qassim, also known as Abu Talal al-Qasimi. Qassim, who was living in exile in Denmark where he had been granted political asylum, was apprehended in Croatia in 1995. Before his forced transfer to Egypt, Qassim was allegedly questioned aboard a U.S. navy vessel and handed over to Egyptian authorities in the middle of the Adriatic Sea.14  Because Qassim had already been tried and convicted in absentia by a military tribunal in 1992, he was not retried after his return to Egypt. Instead, the death sentence that he received after that trial was apparently carried out. He is believed to have been executed by the Egyptian government.15

[6] Presidential Decision Directive 39, June 21, 1995, available at It should be noted that although PDD-39 was unclassified in 1997, it is still heavily redacted. NSD-77, or National Security Directive 77 was issued in January 1992 by President George H. W. Bush. Its contents remain classified.

[7] 9/11 Commission, Staff Statement no. 5, in the 9/11 investigations, at page 7, [online] (retrieved May 3, 2005). The list of all ten policy programs can be found in “U.S. Counter-Terrorism Policy and Organization,” Roger Cressey, Director, Transnational Threats, National Security Council, September 27, 2000. PDD-62 is still classified; a fact sheet is available [online] at (retrieved May 4, 2005).

[8] U.S. Counterterrorism Policy: Hearing Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 106th Cong. (Sept. 1998) (statement by Louis J. Freeh, Director of Federal Bureau of Investigation), available at (retrieved April 29, 2005).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Steven Strasser, ed., The 9/11 Investigations, Public Affairs Reports, 2004, p. 463.

[11] Counterterrorism Policy: Hearing Before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (March 24, 2004) (statement by George Tenet, former Director of Central Intelligence Agency), [online]  (retrieved May 3, 2005).

[12] See Counterterrorism Policy: Hearing Before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Kojm Statement, “Though the FBI is often part of the process, the CIA is usually the main player.”

[13] See Douglas Jehl and David Johnson, “Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails,” New York Times, March 6, 2005 [online] (retrieved May 5, 2005).

[14] See Mayer, “Outsourcing Torture”, The New Yorker; Anthony Shadid, America Prepares the War on Terror; U.S., Egypt Raids Caught Militants, Boston Globe, October 7, 2001.

[15] Qasim’s attorney, Muntassir al-Zayyat told Human Rights Watch that a source in the Military Prosecutor’s office had confirmed his execution, but no government official has done so publicly. Human Rights Watch interview, Cairo, Egypt, November 2004.Another example of renditions to Egypt prior to September 11, 2001, is known as the case of the Tirana cell. See Human Rights Watch report, “Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt,” May 2005, pages 21-24, [online] (retrieved May 13, 2005);Anthony Shadid, “Syria is Said to Hand Egypt Suspect Tied to Bin Laden,” Boston Globe, November 20, 2001; Andrew Higgins and Christopher Cooper, “Cloak and Dagger: A CIA-Backed Team Used Brutal Means to Crack Terror Cell,” Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2001.

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