/ / Petra Bauer
Deleted Swedish Stories, Part 1.
Presented at Gasworks on Friday 11 April 2008.
Hi, my name is Petra Bauer. Great that you could come tonight. This evening I want to talk about several examples that are related to a discussion on hegemony, ideology and power strategies. However, I must admit that I am still in the middle of my research, so what I’ll do tonight is open up my research process for public scrutiny. Or to put it another way, you are my test audience! Some of the examples that I’m going to talk about here tonight may be excluded in the final lecture whereas others will stay to be developed and changed. So I think that your response and critical reflections afterwards will be very valuable.
All of the following examples I want to talk about this evening are extracted from a Swedish context and history.
The Battle of Algiers
In the first example I will talk about a scene from the film The Battle of Algiers. The film came out in 1965. In 1967 the film was imported to Sweden by AB Svensk Filmindustri, or SF. In the Swedish film print there is a scene missing compared with the original film; it has been cut. I’d like to talk about this scene and why it was cut.
In the cut scene, Ali, the main character of the film, meets the ideologist for the National Liberation Front, the FLN. It’s a scene that gives us a more ideological explanation for the use of violence in the struggle against France, but also about the reasoning behind the Algerian national strike announced by the FLN. It is also one of the few scenes where we see Ali reflecting on his actions from an ideological perspective.
Why was this, of all scenes, cut?
My first thought was that the film had been censored. So I called Statens biografbyrå, the SBB, which is Sweden’s state-controlled film censorship body. They have been in existence since 1905. They have accurate records of every scene that has been cut from films shown in Sweden and even information on how the censor reasoned and justified his/her decision. It turned out that The Battle of Algiers was never censored, which meant that the scene must have been cut either by the production company or by the company that imported the film. The imported film ran at 123 minutes, but the version first shown in a Swedish cinema was only 117 minutes long, meaning that exactly 6 minutes were missing. I called SF, the company that imported the film to Sweden.
– Hello, my name is Petra Bauer. I have noticed that the film The Battle of Algiers is missing a scene where the lead character meets the ideologist for the FLN and they discuss the reasons for the national strike and the use of violence within the FLN. This is one of the few scenes where the viewer gets a deeper ideological explanation of the FLN’s strategies, but also one of the few scenes where Ali reflects over his own actions. I would like to know why this specific scene was cut from the Swedish copy?
– Listen dear, that was over 40 years ago! I didn’t even work here then and neither did anybody else here now.
– No, I’m aware that this was a while back. But if I understand correctly, you have worked there since the 1970s, and I thought that you might know whom I should talk to, or if it might be possible to find the minutes detailing the decision to cut the scene?
– No, I can’t imagine there being any minutes. I can see here in the computer that we bought the film in 1967. But you see we only save our minutes for 10 years before throwing them away. Besides, most of the people that worked here are either dead or retired.
– I’d really appreciate it if you could give me the name of a retiree that might be able to help me carry on my research.
– You could try ringing Jörgen.
* * *
– Hello, is this Jörgen?
– I’m trying to find out the reason that a scene from The Battle of Algiers was cut from the Swedish print. I thought you might be able to help as you worked with imports at the time.
– I remember the film but I can’t remember us cutting anything. The production company must have done it. We were way too proud of the film to have made any changes to it. It was a really important film at the time.
– Yes, but I know that it was cut down here in Sweden. When it was bought into Sweden it had a 123-minute running time, and now it’s only 117. Besides I know that it had been cut before it got to the SBB, the censor.
– Really? No, I can’t remember. Anyway I can’t imagine that we would have cut it to fit the cinema schedules.
– What do you mean?
– Well, at that time we showed films at 7 pm and 9 pm. If a film was longer than two hours we could only manage one showing per day, which would naturally affect our takings.
– Do you mean that films were cut to allow two showings?
– Yes, exactly. But as I was saying, I can’t imagine us doing that with The Battle of Algiers. But try calling Lennart, he’s 90 years old now, but he was Head of Import in those days, so he should know more about the film.
– Yes, OK, thank you very much.
* * *
– Hi, Lennart. My name is Petra Bauer. I’m trying to find out the reason that a scene in The Battle of Algiers was cut when it was imported into Sweden.
– I have no memory whatsoever that we cut any scenes. But how long did you say the original was?
– It was 123 minutes long, and now it’s only 117. It’s rather a special scene that’s missing, where Ali meets the FLN’s ideologist.
– Yes, we surely cut it down to fit the cinema times. We did that quite often.
– Do you think it might be possible to find any minutes that were taken, or do you think that it might be worthwhile ringing the production company to see if they have any kind of contract with you confirming that the film was cut?
– No. We never kept records of things like that. We cut films however we wanted to. It was that simple.
– My problem is that I’m trying to find out why this specific scene was cut out of the film. It could have been shortened in many other places. I want to know why the one scene that gives a more ideological reflection of the FLN’s strategies in the war against France was removed. Even if the film was cut for commercial reasons it doesn’t explain why the scene in question was removed. When information is removed, a choice has been made, and I’m interested in that choice. This is a scene that the Swedish cinema-going audience never got to see, that is not until it was released on DVD a few years ago. The Swedish audience never got to know why the FLN announced a strike, in other words the ideological strategy behind the national strike. So I would be very grateful if you can put me in touch with anyone who might have a good recollection of the film. All information that is removed affects our knowledge and our experience of an event, or in this case, the film. We build up a memory and a perception that is based just as much on information that has consciously been removed. Even if it took place over 40 years ago, it’s still a relevant question, because the action, that is the fact that the scene was cut, has influenced the audience’s relation to the film.
– I think you should speak to Mats. He’s Head of Development now, but back then he worked as a projectionist. He was the one that actually ran the film when it was shown. Perhaps he can help you. Give him my regards.
* * *
– Yes, I remember the film very well. I remember that Lennart and Jörgen thought the film was a little long and slow. Not terribly much happening. So they tried to cut whatever they could to up the tempo. And the scene they cut was a scene of just dialogue, and besides it was comparatively theoretical dialogue. It didn’t add anything to the plot. The audience didn’t even notice that it had been removed, but rather the film itself was made tighter.
– OK, thank you very much!
* * *
There are three things that I would like to focus upon during this presentation: plots, politics and history in relation to moving images.
Within classic Hollywood film it’s all about efficient storytelling, each scene should have a clear purpose. Scenes should be built causally, that is each scene should lead clearly to its following scene. No action should be unnecessary but must be clearly motivated by its preceding action. Characterisation is clear and characters are driven by a desire to solve a problem.
This type of storytelling is naturally part of an ideological structure and paradigm, and affects how we construct and view stories. If we accept that film contributes to how we experience society and to construct memories of events, then a discussion about the narrative structure is central. The narrative structure limits the possible information, concerning both contents and how the possible information can be structured.
It is my assertion that the Swedish distribution company, in this case, treated the film as though it followed the classical storytelling model, whether it actually did or not. With classical storytelling as a reference point, the scene between Ali and the ideologist was deemed superfluous; it contributed nothing to the plot. Thus it could be removed. The information contained within the scene doesn’t fit the narrative structure, which is based on a clear causal structure.
Within the classic Hollywood model (which in many respects is the predominant model in film industries throughout the world) there is no room in the plot to pause and reflect upon plot and structure. Within this narrative model, plot is seen as something concrete, one thing that leads directly to another. A scene that is a theoretical reflection upon the purpose and conditions of a revolution is unnecessary, as it doesn’t lead directly to a new sequence of events. One is also uninterested in the political content of a scene and its role within the narrative.
Neither is there place within this paradigm for non-rational action, nor for the unexplainable nor the unpredictable. Classic storytelling is constructed upon a rational logic in which there is only room for leading characters that either succeed or fail in solving certain given problems. Within this paradigm, the story must develop in a straightforward manner and finish before the conclusion of the film.
The historical Saltsjöbadsavtalet corporatist agreement in Sweden, 1938
From Socialism to Increased Equality?
– Hi Torsten, thanks for calling back. I guess you have listened to my message?
– I think you wanted me to tell you a bit about the TV series From Socialism to Increased Equality?
– Yes that would be great. But can’t you first tell me a little about how you think it suits my research?
– Well, the fact is that From Socialism to Increased Equality is one of the most widely discussed programmes in Swedish television history. Senior Social Democrats and other powerful figures got involved in the debate following the series. I believe the debate became an arena for a struggle between political actors on ideology and hegemony within the medium of TV. The debate came primarily to concern more who should have the preferential right of interpretation, and less the programme’s actual content.
The programme, broadcast in 1971, was about the development of Social Democracy. In one of the episodes the Saltsjöbadsavtalet, an agreement reached between LO and SAF in 1938, is criticised. In this agreement, which is one of the pillars upon which Social Democracy is based, representatives for employees and employers regulated the right to strike and the potential for negotiation. The agreement formed the foundation for the politics of consensus that was established in Sweden. The television series advanced criticism of the agreement from a Marxist perspective, insisting that the agreement contributed to the strengthening of bourgeois ideologies and hegemony.
During the presentation the footage was shown at this point.
As you can see, the makers of the series were obviously very critical of Social Democracy and the politics of compromise that the party had developed.
Amongst other things, the programme was reported to the Swedish Broadcasting Commission for being too partial and containing factual errors. The experts that examined the programme found that there should at least have been mention of the “official” position on the Saltsjöbads Agreement and the Spirit of Saltsjöbaden, so as to counter the contemporary and latter-day Communist-tinged interpretation that characterised the programme. The experts continued that if one deviates from a generally accepted interpretation, then one must present the argument for doing so.
I’d like you to emphasise how it was deemed desirable to call attention to the “official position”. What’s really interesting is that what is meant by “official position” is never revealed. It’s quite simply taken for granted. But I believe it is precisely within what is deemed unnecessary to problematise, discuss or criticise, that the ideological position is revealed. This applies to all of society, and all times.
It was also held that the Marxist view of history presented in the programme lacked the support of the majority of historians and sociologists in Sweden and other western European countries. Can you believe that? It’s just incredible! Irrespective of what you might think of Marxism, you can’t just assert that it was a marginalised theory: that’s a falsification of history.
It is my belief that when the experts seek the “official” position it is nothing more than an attempt at hindering the type of research that leads to a critical approach and a reconsideration of this “official position” and its modern legends, such as the Saltsjöbads Agreement.
Within Social Democracy there was clearly a fear that the far left wasn’t going to be content with just a debate; that what it was interested in was to establish hegemony. So the Social Democrats launched a serious attack on the TV programme From Socialism to Increased Equality. The producers of the series were deemed to have crossed the line marking the established consensus that existed in 1971 within Swedish Television. Ok, I think that should be enough in order to understand the stir the programme caused.
– Thank you very much, Torsten!
* * *
The Olympic Games, Mexico City 1968
– Hi, Bo. My name is Petra Bauer. I was recommended to contact you about a research project I’m working on, in which I’m examining how society has been built upon information which has deliberately been marginalised, hidden, forgotten or repressed. I’m trying to do this by, amongst other things, taking a closer look at situations where there has clearly been a struggle for the preferential right of interpretation. In addition to examining the type of information that has been marginalised in Sweden, I’m also interested in the strategies that have been used to try to legitimise and support existing power relations. I’ll be presenting part of my findings in a lecture in London on the 11th of April. I was wondering if you’ve come across any examples during your research where there has been a clear struggle for the preferential right of interpretation and which you think may be worth taking up in London?
– That sounds like an interesting project. Of course, I’ve primarily been researching media strategies, amongst other things looking at the discussion on the relations between politics and TV-mediated sport. There’s actually an interesting example from the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 that might well be something for you. It’s perhaps even more interesting today, with the upcoming Olympics in Peking in mind.
– That does sound interesting, would you like to tell me about it?
– The breakthrough of television brought a global viewing audience to the 1968 Olympic Games. That year they were due to take place in Mexico City. At this point in time, Mexico was a country with great differences of income amongst the general population and was run by a repressive regime. Hosting the Olympic Games means having the eyes of the entire world upon you. The regime saw this as an opportunity to show themselves in a positive light. But the world’s spotlight on Mexico also meant that democratic forces had the chance to make themselves heard.
In July 1968, around a hundred or so students marched through Mexico City to commemorate the Cuban Revolution. The march was violently quelled by the Mexican police. The following day thousands of students protested against this treatment. A large number of them barricaded themselves inside one of the university’s buildings. The police gained entry to the building with the aid of bazookas and several students were shot dead. This was the start of a restless summer, with many student-police clashes. On the evening of October 2nd, just 10 days before the games were due to begin, troops opened fire on several thousand people gathered on the Plaza de las Culturas to listen to the students. Over 60 people – men and women – were shot dead.
– But wasn’t it more than sixty, I’ve heard that the figure may have been as high as several hundred but that the regime tried to hide it?
– Yes it’s possible. But in my book I’ve used the official figures because it’s not the specific amount of people that were killed that I’m interested in questioning, but rather how the event was treated by Swedish Television.
– But do you think it’s possible to just ignore it?
– I don’t really know, but for the purpose of this lecture we have to. Anyway, the preceding months had seen many discussions taking place on the wisdom of locating the games in Mexico. The bloodbath gave added fuel to the debate. Nevertheless, the International Olympics Committee chose to move ahead with the games. The day following the bloodbath the committee chairman Brundage made an appearance, insisting that as the Mexican authorities had guaranteed the incident-free passage of the Olympic flame into the Olympic stadium, there was no reason to move or postpone the games. Brundage continued: “If the Olympic Games were to be stopped every time politicians violate the bill of human rights, we shall never be able to hold international competitions.”
In any event, Swedish Television deemed the situation in Mexico so strained that it would be a good idea to have the games commentated not only by a sport-commentator but also by a political-commentator. Together they would be able to give a more complex picture of the events.
This led to the inauguration ceremony being commentated by two commentators: a sport-commentator and a political one. I think that when you are in London you should read aloud an excerpt from their dialogue, because one can very clearly experience the struggle for the preferential right of interpretation. The ceremony lasted for over two hours, but I’ve chosen a passage for you that I think is very interesting:
Plex Petersson: […] the Greeks in dark blue jackets and grey trousers, followed by the Afghani squad. The Greeks have 92 registered participants.
Per Grevé: Yes, we shouldn’t glorify this event because this is the most controversial Olympics there has ever been. Even if it looks idyllic, the fact is that just one week ago an emergency meeting was being held to discuss whether the the Olympics should happen or not, and during which the International Olympic Committee eventually made the decision to carry on as normal. But obviously all the orderliness and pleasantness we’re seeing now is in the shadow of a tragedy. The fact is that this is the most controversial Olympics yet. One could almost describe it as a four-dimensional controversial Olympics.
Plex Petersson [interrupting]: You just watched Central Africa pass by as third nation. They have 6 registered participants. [pause] The West German squad just being announced. Here it comes and it is the largest yet. The ladies [pause] in what colour shall we call that?
Per Grevé: Oh, I wouldn’t dare to say. Light red maybe. [laughs]
Plex Petersson: Yes, something like that. Very tasteful. The men dressed in light grey. The West German squad is 302 members strong… A squad hoping for a medal or two. They’ve certainly won a great many in the past.
Per Grevé: If I can just say something here then feel free to interrupt me when you have something to say. But whilst presenting this one really has to talk about the flip side of the medals and as I was saying the Olympics were preceded by an emergency meeting a week before their start with the intention of discussing whether to hold them or not. I’m talking about a four-dimensional controversy. It all began of course with whether Mexico could even provide adequate conditions.
Plex Petersson [interrupting]: The East Germans march in with Karin Balzer, who won the 80 metre hurdles in Tokyo, bearing the flag. And the East Germans too look very good. Dressed completely in yellow. The ladies wearing pretty, modern hats. And the men in a combination of dark jackets and light grey trousers. Also a strong squad, 286 members.
Per Grevé: First the question was whether Mexico could provide the adequate conditions for the athletes: there was the country’s geographical position, the difference in altitude and so on. So there were rows about that. Then the somewhat dictatorial president Avery Brundage introduced the amateur rule and succeeded in turning 7,500 athletes practically into liars when they had to give assurances that they had never taken payment for practicing their sports. And elite athletes nowadays can hardly say that. That was the second controversy. And then we had the row about South Africa and her exclusion over apartheid. The United States too grappled with the same problem, the question of whether her coloured athletes should boycott the squad. Czechoslovakia was a tricky problem for the Olympic Committee. And finally, internal relations threatened to capsize everything. So, a controversial Olympics, more than any that have taken place before I think one can say.
Plex Petersson: The Algerian squad on its way in there. And Argentina following. With the ladies in delightful light blue and white hats and white shoes. Very pleasant looking. Argentina has registered 117 participants for the games. The men perhaps not as colourful. They have dark jackets and dark grey trousers.
Per Grevé: Those in power are painting this as the Peace Olympics whilst the students here have characterised it completely differently. On one demonstrator’s placard a little while back I read “68 – the Brutal Olympics”.
Plex Petersson [interrupting]: Australia on screen. 137 in their squad. The girls in gorgeous yellow dresses, the men in green and white. The green jackets that Australians usually wear on occasions such as this. And white hats with green bands. They looked very dapper.
Per Grevé: I saw in the newspaper this morning that the Olympic Committee is appealing to the entire world to observe peace and peaceful coexistence during the 15 days that the Olympics are underway. As I said, the whole town has been decorated with doves of peace. But there’s no getting away from it, it is a little, one almost has to say it, a little grotesque seeing soldiers armed to the teeth with doves of peace on their arms, a remarkable paradox.
Plex Petersson [interrupting]: Gentlemen in shorts! From the Bermudas. Looking back one could say that Plex Petersson won that battle, as Per Grevé never got to commentate the Olympic Games again. This was the only time that Swedish Television has had a general reporter act as commentator at a sporting event.
Facebook and Palestine
– Hi, my name is Rana, I’m a good friend of Jila’s.
– Jila told me that you’re working on an essay about hegemony, resistance and power strategies.
– Yes, one could say that.
– I have something interesting for you. Do you know Facebook?
– Yes, I do.
– Well it’s like this, I’m from Palestine, or rather my parents come from Palestine. Yeah, and on Facebook I’m a member of the Palestine network. But last spring they suddenly closed down that network without any explanation whatsoever. 16,000 people were left without a network. One girl wrote a letter to Facebook and asked which regional network she should belong to now, when Palestine had been removed. The Facebook team replied that she should either belong to the West Bank or Gaza. High politics had made a clear entry into the banal part of cyberspace. Facebook quite simply meant that Palestine wasn’t a country. You have to wonder where Facebook think that Palestinians come from? Besides, even the UN has accepted Palestine as a country. The conflict is not about whether Palestine is a country or not but rather where the borders should go. If it starts becoming acceptable around the world to say that Palestine isn’t a country, then that means that one’s certain viewpoint or one’s certain policy has the preferential right of interpretation. That would be catastrophic for everything that Palestinians have fought for so long. I get really annoyed just thinking about how Facebook without a second thought can make a political decision without there being any kind of consequences.
– Yes, it sounds just terrible. But I have taken more of an interest in Swedish historical examples so I don’t know if this really suits me that well.
– But you can’t discuss ideology and power strategies without including contemporary examples and besides, Facebook is a Swedish phenomenon too.
– What do you mean by that?
– Facebook is a global network, and thus a Swedish phenomenon. If you are interested in discussing hegemony and power strategies then you can’t limit yourself to just national examples, you have to include strategies operating on a global scale. They may seem insignificant but may be incredibly effective. For example this thing with Facebook. It may seem like a trifle, something of no importance. But don’t let that fool you. Every decision that seems unimportant may push the boundaries for what is deemed OK. It’s in the small events that ideology is being expressed.
– I think you are right, but what network are you in now?
– The thing is that we wrote a protest letter to Facebook where 16,000 people threatened to leave Facebook if they didn’t open up the network again. And it helped, now you can be a member of the Palestinian network again. So the protest helped. Facebook have never explained themselves though, one day they took the network away and a few months later Palestine was back as a network. I know that a few people have tried getting an explanation from Facebook, but they have refused to comment.
The Olympic Games, Mexico City 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos
– Hi Petra, it’s Bo here again. I’ve been thinking for a few days now and have come up with a further example from the 1968 Olympics that might interest you.
As you know, on 17th October 1968, the black runner Tommie Smith won the 200 metres and his black compatriot came third. Up on the winners’ podium, both men stood still, dignified, each with his arm raised, fist clenched. They each wore a single black glove. It was a symbol for Black Power. The pictures were seen by 600 million people. The day following the prize ceremony, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were disqualified from taking further part in the games and thrown out of the Olympic village. The event received huge attention in the media. But not on Swedish TV. The early morning broadcasts summarising the previous night’s events featured nothing of the prize giving nor of the protest, only pictures from the race were shown. The man responsible for the morning broadcast was interviewed in the newspaper Aftonbladet the following day.
I think the article ma interest you; the attempt to justify certain actions, that is the non-discussion of the protest, is quite evident. The article even exposes the ideology behind the justification. I think you should read the articles in Aftonbladet from 17th and 18th October 1968. They more or less speak for themselves.
Aftonbladet, 17th October 1968
TV didn’t want to show pictures of the most dramatic Olympic prize ceremony of all time. TV’s morning reporter Peo Nilsson, 42, refused to utter a single word about the race drama following the 200 metres. American TV station ABC (who bought the Olympic Games for 23,5 million Swedish crowns) apparently completely avoided filming Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ black-gloved, raised-fisted protest of the Star Spangled banner.
Captain Peo Nilsson, of Air Force Unit F13 in Norrköping, was in charge of TV’s morning broadcast: “I didn’t even want to mention this demonstration. It didn’t belong in a sports arena.”
“I don’t have any film of what happened either. Most likely American ABC, who are in charge of the live broadcast, avoided pointing their cameras at the winners’ podium.”
Peo Nilsson never uttered a word on TV. Despite having access to the same pictures shown in today’s Aftonbladet. “I was in charge of the morning broadcast and my personal viewpoint is this: We here at home know so very little about the race-problem. We think that we know more than we do. I myself have been a reserve at the Olympics, and an athlete in Texas, USA. I don’t want to take a position on the race question.”
Peo Nilsson has five World Championship Military Pentathlon and Air Force Pentathlon gold medals. The five-time world champion continues: “Being a former athlete I’m only interested in sporting achievement. I showed a repeat of the 200 metres finals twice this morning. I don’t know if we can show anything from this prize giving in any of today’s three remaining Olympic TV broadcasts either. That will depend upon whether we can find a film that someone other than TV broadcaster ABC shot at the time.” Peo Nilsson finishes.
Friday 18th October 1968
Peo Nilsson: “I’ll explain it once again. I have been an athlete in the USA. I think that the race problem is detestable. And when I realised, whilst there, how little of the hostilities I understood I became completely neutral. The problem was too big for me, I can’t make a stand.”
Do you believe that one can’t mix sport and politics?
“Somehow politics have entered the sporting sphere. Harmony and brotherhood have always been guiding influences there. It’s a shame that it’s turned out the way it has. […] I once believed in brotherhood across all borders and think that it’s sad to see how it’s become. I wish it were different.”
It sounds like a delusion.
“Yes, but I prefer to believe in it. I am from Småland, I am stubborn and have a lot of opinions but I don’t form them without thinking first. I can’t have opinions on something that I know nothing about or don’t understand.”
Agiza and Al Zery
In my final example I want to focus on a very well known Swedish case from 2001. A number of reports and articles have been written about the case. However I still think that it is topical and clearly visualises power strategies that have been adopted by several western countries. On top of that, I don’t want the case to enter history yet, but to be a part of the present. There are certain things we shall not stop talking about. The following text has been compiled and written by myself and my colleague Anna Eineborg.
During the spring of 2001, the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) commenced work on a case concerning two Egyptian citizens, Agiza and Al Zery (who were seeking asylum in Sweden). For the next six months the Security Service ran surveillance and investigative operations on both men. Simultaneously, the Swedish Migration Board was processing asylum applications for Agiza and Al Zery. The Migration Board, however, considered the case of a nature that warranted a governmental decision. Thus in the autumn of 2001, the case was passed on to the Swedish Government Offices for processing.
On 18th December 2001, the government decided to reject Agiza and Al Zery’s applications for residency and work permits and that both men should be deported. Furthermore it was decided that the deportations should be enforced by the Swedish Security Service with immediate effect and that the men should be taken to Egypt. Amongst other things, the decision stated that Agiza and Al Zery had held leading positions within an organisation responsible for acts of terrorism and that they could be seen as being responsible for the actions of the organisation in question. Prior to the decision it was arranged that the transport to Egypt would be carried out with the assistance from the American government using an American governmental aircraft. Upon return in Egypt they were tortured by prison guards.
This deportation was one of several extraordinary renditions that have taken place in Europe since 9/11. In Great Britain alone CIA-planes that have been involved in the transport and illegal detention of prisoners have landed at least 170 times. For a long time the people involved in the case in Sweden kept silent. Not until 2004 did we learn about the event, when two journalists started to investigate it. Not till then did we learn that Agiza and Al Zery were not only deported to a country that is known for using torture but they were also humiliated and abused in Sweden before boarding the plane. The physical and mental abuse were conducted by CIA agents, but were observed by Swedish policemen. When the Swedish policemen were asked by the journalists and the parliamentary ombudsman what had happened, they said that they had neither heard nor seen anything. The Swedish government too rejected any involvement in the event, despite the fact that they had granted the American plane with accompanying CIA agents approval to land and arrest two men in Swedish territory. It was not until the journalists and the parliamentary ombudsman produced their report that the event was documented and brought to light. I would like to read an excerpt from this report in order not to let it enter into history, but to keep it as part of contemporary political discussions about power strategies and violations of human rights.
Source: Der Spiegel, 2005
Maps showing the flows of European inter-state detentions in the name of ‘war on terror’.
Excerpt from the parliamentary ombudsmen’s review of the Swedish Security Service’s enforcement of a government decision to deport two Egyptian citizens:
18 December 2001 – The day of the enforcement
At lunchtime on Tuesday 18 December 2001, Swedish Security Service officer Y – who had planned the enforcement of the government decision – met with American officials at Bromma Airport (in Stockholm). During the meeting he was informed that there was an (American) security presence on board the plane, due to land at Bromma at around 9pm.
During the meeting it was also made known that security personnel may be wearing hoods and that they wanted to carry out their own security check of Agiza and Al Zery before boarding the plane. The men would not be allowed transport on the plane without such a check.
Security Service officer Y contacted his superior AA and informed him that the American officials wanted to carry out their own security check at Bromma. According to Security Service officer Y, AA offered no objection to this. AA has stated that it is probable that he was contacted on the matter but that he has no recollection of that taking place. He has further stated that, “purely hypothetically”, he probably would have considered it “quite alright” to have a security check before taking the Egyptians on board the plane, though “naturally under the command of, so to speak, the participation of Swedish personnel”.
Later that day the government decided, in accordance with the Aliens Act, to reject Agiza and Al Zery’s applications for residency and work permits and that both men should be deported. Furthermore, it was decided that the Swedish Security Service should enforce the deportations immediately and that the men should be transported to Egypt. The Swedish Security Service journal for the case has an entry showing notification of the government decision at 3.10pm.
At 4.43pm it was decided that Agiza and Al Zery should be detained.
Almost immediately, the Security Service took Agiza into custody as he stood at a bus stop in Karlstad. A security search was conducted but no weapons or other dangerous objects were found. Agiza was informed of the government decision in his native tongue, placed in a vehicle and taken to Bromma airport. According to the journal entry Agiza was “arrested and informed of the government decision” at 4.55pm. No violence was used whilst taking Agiza into custody, neither were handcuffs used during the trip to Bromma. Medicine that Agiza need for a stomach ailment was brought along from Karlstad.
The National Task Force took Al Zery into custody at around 5pm at his place of employment in Stockholm. He was thereafter transported to Kronoberg Remand Prison where he was kept until further transport to Bromma airport could be arranged.
According to the log kept by Security Service officer Y dated 21 December 2001 and detailing the transportation of Agiza and Al Zery, the transport vehicles arrived at Bromma Airport at 8.20pm and 8.30pm respectively. After being directed to the closed airport area by authorised personnel, the vehicles were parked outside the airport police station where they then waited. According to an official within the Security Service, E became agitated on realising that they were at an airport and commented in his native tongue, amongst other things, that blood would flow.
At this time at the airport there were five officials from the Swedish Security Service present, among them Security Service officers X and Y. None of these five held a high-ranking position within the force and none of them had been designated Incident Controller (IC).
Just before 9pm the American plane landed. Security Service officer Y received the Americans at the aircraft steps. On board the plane, besides the aircrew, were seven or eight people that made up the security presence, amongst them a doctor and two Egyptian officials.
The security officers, all of whom were wearing hoods, approached the vehicles containing Agiza and Al Zery. First, one of the men was taken into the police station by security officers. Inside, in a small changing-room, the American officials carried out the so-called security check. According to reports the doctor was present in the changing-room. On completion of the security check the second man was fetched and the procedure was repeated exactly as before.
Inquiries have shown that the security check comprised in each case the following elements; Agiza and Al Zery were given body searches, their clothes cut off and placed in bags, and their hair, oral cavities and ears searched. Further, each man was shackled hand and foot and dressed in overalls before being photographed. Finally, loose-fitting eyeless hoods were placed over their heads. Agiza and Al Zery were then taken barefoot from the police station and transported to the waiting aircraft.
Al Zery’s council KJ has additionally stated that El Zery has said that members of the security detail bent him forward in the changing-room, at which point he felt something inserted into his rectum. Following that he was fitted with a nappy. According to KJ, Al Zery subsequently felt calmer, as if “all the muscles in his body were relaxing”. EZ was however wide-awake whilst in transit. KJ has also stated that Al Zery was blindfolded and hooded and forced to lie in an uncomfortable position whilst on board the aircraft.
Security Service officer Y has stated that he “is under the impression” that he asked two of his colleagues to observe the respective security checks so that they “kind of have some idea” of what took place. There was only room for a few people in the changing-room. Whilst the security checks were taking place Y was standing further away and didn’t see what was happening. The two Security Service officials, a civilian interpreter and a Security Service officer, that accompanied the security personnel to the changing-room, have stated that they did not see Agiza and Al Zery being given suppositories or nappies. Information provided by them makes it clear however that it was crowded in the changing-room and that they therefore had difficulties in supervising events the entire time.
The Security Service officer has stated that, because of the crowding, he left the changing-room at an early stage. Thus he didn’t even see that the clothes were cut off. The interpreter has stated that he was present for the entire time, while when Al Zery was undressed he turned away for approximately 20 seconds. When he turned back again, Al Zery was more or less fully dressed.
According to both Security Service officials the security personnel carried out the security checks quickly, efficiently and professionally. The security officers did not talk with one another but communicated in sign language.
Both men were then taken to the aircraft. Just before 10pm the plane left Bromma for its journey to Egypt. Agiza and Al Zery were placed in the rear end of the plane, laid on separate mattresses and bound tightly with belts. Neither the hand and foot restraints nor the hoods were removed during the journey to Egypt.
Security Service officer Y produced a memorandum, dated 18th December 2001, noting measures connected with the deportation. In it he noted that the body searches and placing of restraints were carried out on the explicit orders of the aircraft’s commanding officer. It was also noted that the measure of hooding Agiza and Al Zery, along with the security personnel’s wearing of masks, had been explained as a policy adopted in the wake of the events of the 11th of September 2001, concerning the transport of terrorism-associated deportees.
At around 3am the aircraft landed in Cairo. Agiza and Al Zery left the plane and were received by representatives of the Egyptian authorities. They were thereafter driven off in a transit-bus. With that, the Security Service officers deemed their work complete.