Mubarak to Grant VP Omar Suleiman More Power

Former intelligence chief oversaw torture programs, author says.

ByABC News
January 25, 2011, 1:58 PM

Feb. 10, 2011 — -- [This story has been updated.]

Despite widespread belief in the U.S. and Egypt that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak would announce his resignation from office today, Mubarak told the nation he would stay in office until elections in September and would transfer some of his executive power to his recently appointed vice president, Omar Suleiman.

But as the audible anger of protestors reverberates through Cairo's Tahrir Square, it is not clear how much power -- and what kind -- will be vested in Suleiman, formerly the country's notorious intelligence chief.

For the U.S., the CIA, Israel, and Egypt's Islamist opposition, 74-year-old Suleiman, who has been the head of Egyptian intelligence since 1993, represents a continuation of the policies of the old regime, intelligence experts told ABC News.

"Mubarak and Suleiman are the same person," Emile Nakhleh, a former top Middle East analyst for the CIA, said shortly after Suleiman was named vice president just days into Egypt's anti-government protests. "They are not two different people in terms of ideology and reform."

CLICK HERE to hear more from Emile Nakhleh on "Brian Ross Investigates".

Ron Suskind, author of the book The One Percent Doctrine, called Suleiman the "hit man" for the Mubarak regime. He told ABC News that when the CIA asked Suleiman for a DNA sample from a relative of Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Suleiman offered the man's whole arm instead.

"He's a charitable man, friendly," said Suskind. "He tortures only people that he doesn't know."

Suskind said Suleiman "was our point man in Egypt for many years. Everything went through Omar. We never had to talk to anyone else. When we wanted someone to be tortured, we'd send him to Egypt to have them tortured. We wanted to get intelligence and we didn't need it to be stuff that could be doublechecked."

"As chief of the Mukhabarat, or General Intelligence Directorate," said John Sifton, who authored the 2007 Human Rights Watch report on torture conducted by Egypt's other intelligence agency, SSI, Suleiman oversaw joint intelligence operations with the CIA and other Arab countries "which featured illegal renditions and tortures of dozens of detainees."

As revealed in U.S. cables released by WikiLeaks, Suleiman has cooperated closely with the U.S. and with Israel in trying to undercut Hamas, the Islamist party in the Palestinian territories. The Mubarak regime views Hamas, which has its roots in Egypt's own Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, as a threat.

"Our intelligence collaboration with Omar Soliman," says a 2006 U.S. State Department memo, using an alternate spelling of his name, "is now probably the most successful element of the [U.S.-Egypt] relationship." During a 2009 meeting with U.S. military officials, Suleiman said his "overarching regional goal was combating radicalism, especially in Gaza, Iran and Sudan," according to another WikiLeaks cable.

Other U.S. cables describe paranoia within the Mubarak regime, call it a dictatorship, say "torture and police brutality are widespread" -- and that six years ago, Suleiman was already seen as likely to become vice president.

Nakhleh said many officials in Washington were stunned at Mubarak's choice of Suleiman, and called it a "dead-end appointment. . . . He is not the right person to conduct negotiations with the opposition."

ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.

Click Here for the Blotter Homepage.