This story was taken from Bulatlat, the Philippines's alternative weekly newsmagazine (www.bulatlat.com, www.bulatlat.net, www.bulatlat.org).
Vol. VII, No. 11, April 22-28, 2007


 

ANALYSIS
The Attempted Rendition of Satur Ocampo

Ka Satur appears to have been subjected to a form of High Value Rendition (HVR) such as the CIA has been conducting all around the world since the mid-nineties. American agents use privately-contracted Gulfstream V turbojets to do their dirty work whereas Ocampo only got a small Cessna.

By Peter M. Sales*
Contributed to Bulatlat

The official abduction of Congressman Satur Ocampo on March 19 this year and the attempt to take him to Leyte should not be swept aside too quickly.  Such would be another insult to the fragile Philippine democracy.  What happened on that Monday morning must be clearly understood as a frontal attack on civil liberties in this country or else Filipinos will be left with rights they cannot actually exercise. Only those with epaulettes on their shoulders will be allowed to speak! 

Largely overlooked already is the fact that while the chieftains of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were heaping scorn and abuse on Prof. Philip Alston, the United Nations Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings who visited the country in February, another of the world body’s most respected experts – Martin Scheinin, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights – delivered a stinging critique of the new Philippine terror legislation.  He warned that Filipinos are at risk from the excesses of their own government – just like Congressman Ocampo!  The lack of adequate safeguards is alarming, Scheinin warned, and “many provisions of the Human Security Act are not in accordance with international human rights standards.”

During a torrent of international criticism, the Security group (Cluster E) in the Arroyo cabinet apparently decided to transport Ka Satur to Leyte in central Philippines, where the warrant for his arrest had been issued, a decision more influenced by the popularity of Bayan Muna than by any substance in the 20-year-old allegations leveled against the congressman.

Commentators were quick to note the bizarre nature of the whole episode, but some interesting aspects were overlooked. Not least, Ka Satur appears to have been subjected to a form of High Value Rendition (HVR) such as the CIA has been conducting all around the world since the mid-nineties.  American agents use privately-contracted Gulfstream V turbojets to do their dirty work whereas Ocampo only got a small Cessna.  But the technique was similar to that of the CIA and he would have been much more vulnerable to harm from his official abductors if they had managed to spirit him away to the Visayas.

A “joyride”

Ocampo himself described his abduction as “a joyride” and pointed out that the PNP “just looked stupid.” Maybe, but something much more sinister can be seen in the antics of the authorities. A primary goal of so-called rendition is to confuse the prisoner.  Ocampo’s 3 a.m. wake-up call would do that to anyone.  Transfer to Leyte would also have compromised the congressman’s ability to protect his rights.  Having filed a case at the Supreme Court, he needed to remain in Manila. Once his captors had brought him to Leyte, they would have done everything to ensure that the court he faced there was converted into something like the notorious military commissions of the United States.    

How implicated in this aspect of U.S. dirty tricks is the Philippines likely to be?  The U.S. CIA was certainly involved in one of the earliest cases of rendition, which occurred in April 1995 when Abdul Hakim Murad was transferred from Manila to the United States.  It was only the second ever rendition; he was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in the Bojinka plot and got no public sympathy. Many other victims of CIA kidnaps, however, have been completely innocent of any crime.  Interestingly, HVR is banned by the new Philippine terrorism legislation, but with provision for sweeping exceptions.

Known as the Spider’s Web, this global network transfers prisoners hither and thither around the world partly to disorient them, partly to separate them from family, partly to transport them to the dungeons of countries where torture is acceptable.  After September 11, 2001, a “critical deviation” occurred in U.S. rendition policy to imprison detainees at notorious “black sites … outside the reach of any justice system”.  Ocampo is too well known to fear such a fate, but his mini-rendition would have been devastating for the campaign to clear his name.  The AFP created a hostile environment in Leyte and clearly planned to exile him there until at least the end of the election campaign, another example of military manipulation of the May poll.  

Rendition can take other forms, of course.  A fascinating example occurred in May 2003 when American operatives took bomb-maker and provocateur Michael Meiring from his bed at the Davao Doctors Hospital after he blew off his legs in a downtown hotel.  They eventually flew him from Mindanao back to the United States.  This was rendition of an agent in trouble, something which the Spider’s Web can do whenever required.  More recently, U.S. Marine L/Corporal Daniel Smith was rescued from a Makati gaol and transferred to the U.S. Embassy after being convicted of raping a Filipina.  He remains in American custody, revealing how flexible and convenient HVR can be when Washington is dealing with a lackey state.

The Ocampo incident should provoke public skepticism and outrage.  Does the Philippines perhaps have a more direct role in the HVR program?  A number of detainees subsequently sent to Guantanamo Bay, when recalling their torture flights, believed themselves to be in the Philippines. Why? U.S. military advisers now have oversight of all AFP operations in Mindanao, after all, and many Moros are alleged to be secretly detained there.  The notorious Intelligence-Operations (Intel-Ops) Fusion program places Americans in effective control of the southern warzone and the CIA clearly maintains a strong presence, probably liaising with Camp Justice on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The Philippines seems to be pioneering a terrible project.  Leading scholar Prof. Al McCoy explains in his new book, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Henry Holt, 2006), that the abuse by American personnel against prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere was developed decades ago in the safe-houses and prisons of Ferdinand Marcos.  McCoy also notes:  “The use of the CIA techniques produced six violent coup attempts against the Philippine state”.  The treatment of Ka Satur emphasizes that the behavior of the Philippine government continues to be arbitrary and repressive; abduction and harassment remain common techniques among the United States and its allies.

Any reluctance to accept that spying, intelligence gathering, and political repression are features of the so-called Second Front in the Philippines must surely be dispelled by the rendition-like treatment of Congressman Ocampo. Whatever else, Washington has created a situation in which people can be moved around and intimidated with impunity.  The AFP is simply following the American lead in what could be called rendition-by-proxy. An official culture has developed in which habeas corpus and civil liberties are frequently ignored. The CIA is busily training the U.S. military as well as the armies of friendly states in the techniques of HVR.

Ka Satur got rendition with a twist. He knew where he was going and the kidnappers were compelled to bring him back. But it is a warning:  Democracy in the Philippines is not doing very well; if people ignore the sinister undercurrents of the incident involving Ka Satur on March 19, it will do even worse. Bulatlat

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*Peter M. Sales is a political scientist from Australia with a broad experience in terrorism and counter-insurgency studies.

 

© 2007 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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