Lebanese man is target of first rendition under Obama
Contractor Raymond Azar is arrested in
Afghanistan, hooded, stripped and flown to the His alleged crime? Bribery. A human rights activist calls the case 'bizarre.' U.S.
By Bob Drogin
August 22, 2009
A Lebanese citizen being held in a detention center here was hooded, stripped naked for photographs and bundled onto an executive jet by FBI agents in
Unlike terrorism suspects who were secretly snatched by the CIA and harshly interrogated and imprisoned overseas during the George W. Bush administration, Raymond Azar was flown to this
Azar, 45, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit bribery, the only charge against him. He faces a maximum of five years in prison, but a sentence of 2 1/2 years or less is likely under federal guidelines.
Defense lawyers and prosecutors declined to comment on the case Friday.
But Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counter-terrorism director at Human Rights Watch, called the case "bizarre."
"He was treated like a high-security terrorist instead of someone accused of a relatively minor white-collar crime," she said.
Justice Department lawyers have denied any misconduct in the case.
"The FBI followed standard operating procedures when transporting prisoners to the
As the Obama administration steps up efforts to curb fraud at military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior Army official said Azar's case "should serve as a warning" to other contractors.
In court papers, Azar said he was denied his eyeglasses, not given food for 30 hours and put in a freezing room after his arrest by "more than 10 men wearing flak jackets and carrying military style assault rifles."
Azar also said he was shackled and forced to wear a blindfold, dark hood and earphones for up to 18 hours on a Gulfstream V jet that flew him from Bagram air base, outside Kabul, to Virginia.
Before the hood was put on, he said, one of his captors waved a photo of Azar's wife and four children and warned Azar that he would "never see them again" unless he confessed.
"Frightened for his immediate safety . . . and under the belief he would end up in the prison camp at
Prosecutors, however, said that Azar was "treated professionally," kept in a heated room, offered food and water repeatedly and "provided with comfortable chairs to sit in."
They said he was photographed naked and subjected to a cavity search to ensure that he did not carry hidden weapons and was fit for travel. Court records confirmed that Azar was shackled at the ankles, waist and wrists and made to wear a blindfold, hood and earphones aboard the plane.
Prosecutors also said that FBI agents read Azar his rights against self-incrimination on three occasions, and that he "voluntarily" waived them.
The FBI agent in charge, Perry J. Goerish, denied in an affidavit that Azar was "told he would never see his family again unless he confessed."
Arrested along with Azar was Dinorah Cobos, 52, a naturalized American from
Their case is different from the widely criticized "extraordinary renditions" carried out after the Sept. 11 attacks. In those cases, CIA teams snatched suspected Al Qaeda members and other alleged terrorists overseas and flew them, shackled and hooded, to prisons outside the United States without any arrest warrants or other judicial proceedings.
The FBI arrested Azar and Cobos with warrants signed by a federal magistrate. And the State Department, Talamona said, asked the government of
Azar and Cobos worked for a Lebanese construction company, Sima Salazar Group, which was awarded more than $50 million in Pentagon contracts for reconstruction and supply work in
Over the next four months, according to the charges, more than $106,000 was wired to the officer's bank account in
Sima Salazar Group is also under indictment.
On Wednesday, Cobos' sister, Gloria Martinez, 61, pleaded guilty in federal court in
As a candidate last year, President Obama vowed to end "the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries."
After taking office, he ordered the CIA to close its network of "black site" prisons and promised to shutter the detention camp at
The Justice Department has seized and transported foreign drug lords, terrorists and other high-profile fugitives to
In 1997, for example, FBI agents in
Azar is hardly in the same league, but Talamona pointed out that "we take very seriously criminal fraud against the
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs