Close U.S. ally and new Egyptian VP Soliman ‘keeps the domestic beasts at bay’

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has appointed Omar Soliman, the country’s head of intelligence, as vice president in Mubarak’s first big move following continuous days of protest that are threatening to end his regime.  But Soliman’s appointment will not placate the Egyptian demonstrators–Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddos, who is on the ground in Egypt, reports that Egyptians have begun “chanting against Omar Suleiman.”

Cables written by U.S. diplomats released by WikiLeaks over the past two months point to why Soliman’s appointment is looked at with disdain by Egyptians: he is extremely close to President Mubarak and the United States.  Furthermore, Soliman is closely linked with the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program, in which the CIA abducted suspected terror suspects and sent them to U.S. allies to be tortured, as well as a key player in Egyptian policy towards the Palestinians, according to various WikiLeaks cables.

A dispatch written in 2006 from the U.S. embassy in Cairo reports that Soliman “wields enormous influence over national security policy and is known to have the full confidence of Mubarak.”  A 2007 cable titled “Presidential Succession in Egypt” similarly notes that Soliman’s “loyalty to Mubarak seems rock solid,” and raises Soliman as a potential successor to Mubarak.

U.S. officials see Soliman as an indispensable ally in the region, and hold meetings with him regularly.  Cables released by WikiLeaks show that Soliman met with Admiral Michael Mullen in April 2009; Congressional delegations in January 2008 and May 2008; and with General David Petraeus in July 2009.

Tellingly, a May 2009 cable classified by the U.S. ambassador to Egypt says that “EGIS Chief Omar Soliman and Interior Minister al-Adly keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics.”  These tactics, as outlined in various reports written by human rights organizations, include arbitrary detention, torture a clampdown on political dissidence.

Jane Mayer’s award-winning book The Dark Side details Egypt and Soliman’s cooperation with the U.S. “rendition” and torture program, which began in 1995:

The United States offered its rich resources to track, capture and transport terrorist suspects globally–including access to a small fleet of aircraft.  Egypt embraced the idea immediately.  “What was clever was that some of the senior people in Al Qaeda were Egyptian,” [Michael Scheur, former head of the CIA’s “Bin Laden Unit”] said.  “It served American purposes to get these people arrested, and Egyptian purposes to get these people back, where they could be interrogated.”  Technically, U.S. law required the CIA to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t be tortured.  But even during the Clinton Administration, this obligation appears to have been little more than a sham…

Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”

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