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8277Flight Logs Reveal Secret Rendition

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  • World View
    Nov 30, 2007
      Flight Logs Reveal Secret Rendition
      By Stephen Grey
      The London Sunday Times
      Sunday 25 November 2007
      http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/112607R.shtml


      The secret flight plans of American military planes have revealed
      for the first time how European countries helped send prisoners,
      including British citizens, to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

      Despite widespread criticism of alleged human rights abuses and
      torture at the US base in Cuba, a Sunday Times investigation has shown
      that at least five European countries gave the United States
      permission to fly nearly 700 terrorist suspects across their territory.

      Three years ago, The Sunday Times published flight logs of CIA
      civilian jets in Europe, setting off a controversy over the whether
      countries across the continent have been secretly involved in
      America's rendition of terrorist suspects to countries that carry out
      torture.

      The row is now set to be reignited. Inquiries by Ana Gomes, a
      Portuguese member of the European parliament, have uncovered not only
      more CIA flight logs but also more sensitive military flight plans,
      which until now have remained a closely guarded secret.

      The logs show how most prisoners changed planes at a Turkish
      military airbase and flew across Greek, Italian and Portuguese
      airspace. Others reached Cuba after touching down in Spain, whose
      governing socialist party once expressed indignation at conditions in
      Guantanamo.

      The flight logs show that three Britons - Shafiq Rasul, Jamal
      Udeen and Asif Iqbal - were flown across Europe to Cuba on January 14,
      2002. Moazzam Begg, another Briton, was taken by the same route to
      Guantanamo on February 2, 2003; and Binyam Mohamed, a British resident
      whose release the British government is now trying to negotiate,
      arrived in Cuba after crossing Europe in a special flight in September
      2004.

      According to the flight plans, the first 23 prisoners to arrive at
      Guantanamo - including another British citizen, Feroz Abbasi, then 21,
      and an Australian, David Hicks - had arrived at the American naval
      base in Cuba after flying from the Moron airbase in Spain.

      Abbasi has claimed in a statement that prisoners were abused
      within hours of arriving. "We were made to sit on our heels, one foot
      over the other, supported by one foot's toes alone, for hours. Some of
      us were old, weak, fatigued, and injured - they were the ones to drop
      first in the searing Caribbean heat."

      Described by the Pentagon as the "worst of the worst" from
      Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the images of prisoners such as Abbasi
      dressed in orange jumpsuits, their heads shaved and shackled by their
      wrists and ankles, shocked the world. Within a day, Donald Rumsfeld,
      then US defence secretary, announced that the Geneva conventions would
      not apply to what were now called "enemy combatants".

      Last week, Europe's leading watchdog on human rights alleged that
      European countries had breached the international convention against
      torture by giving the US secret permission to use its airspace.

      Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human
      rights, said: "What happened at Guantanamo was torture and it is
      illegal to provide facilities or anything to make this torture
      possible. Under the law, European governments should have intervened
      and should not have given permission to let these flights happen."

      Gomes added: "It's clear to me that Guantanamo could not have been
      created without the involvement of European countries."

      Methods used at Guantanamo Bay, condemned by Britain's Court of
      Appeal as a legal "black hole" and as a "monstrous failure of justice"
      by one law lord, have included the prolonged use of isolation, sleep
      deprivation, and use of stress positions. "These are methods that have
      been declared as unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights,"
      Hammarberg said.

      The military flight plans show that all key flights arriving in
      Guantanamo had come across European airspace either through Spain or
      the Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey. The Sunday Times compared
      the military flight plans against a database compiled by Reprieve, the
      British-based charity that represents Guantanamo prisoners, of when
      prisoners first weighed in at the camp.

      The investigation, cross-checked against other Pentagon documents,
      shows for the first time which prisoner arrived on which flight at
      Guantanamo, and by what route. At least 170 other prisoners flew over
      Spanish territory, more than 700 crossed Portuguese space, and more
      than 680 were transshipped at Incirlik. Most flights also crossed
      Greek and Italian airspace, according to a source in European air
      traffic control.

      On February 2 2003, for example, a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster
      plane took off from Incirlik with 27 prisoners on board for Cuba. The
      same day, prisoner number 558 weighed in at 136lb (62kg) at the camp.
      He can be named as Moazzam Begg, now 39, from Birmingham, who was
      released in January 2005, and has never been charged with a crime.

      Interviewed by phone last week, Begg recalled: "Inside the plane
      there was a chain around our waist, and it connected to cuffs around
      my wrists, which were tied in the back, and to my ankles. We were
      seated but it was so painful not being able to speak, to hear, to
      breathe properly, to look, to turn left or right, to move your hands,
      stretch your legs, or anything." At the time flights were landing in
      Spain and crossing Spanish airspace, socialist leaders there were
      expressing "indignation" over conditions in Guantanamo. Now the
      socialists are in government after winning an election in March 2004
      just after the Madrid train bombings and they are being asked to
      defend Spain's continued collaboration with American operations. Under
      international law, government and military planes can cross another
      country's territory only with diplomatic permission.

      In a statement to the European parliament on the visits of CIA
      planes to Spain, the foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has
      testified: "Our territory may have been used not to commit crimes on
      it, but as a stopover on the way to committing crime in another country."

      Spain, it has now emerged, had a specific agreement with the US to
      allow flights and visits to Spanish airbases for American planes.

      In Portugal, the foreign minister Luis Amado has said flights
      across his country's airspace took place "under the aegis of the UN
      and Nato and that Portugal naturally follows the principle of good
      faith in the relations with its allies". Nato's role in Guantanamo
      stems from a secret agreement made in Brussels on October 4 2001 by
      all Nato members, including Britain. Although never made public, Lord
      Robertson, the former British defence secretary who was later Nato's
      secretary-general, explained that day that Nato had agreed to provide
      "blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other allies'
      aircraft for military flights related to operations against terrorism".

      Today, Nato is more coy about its role in helping send prisoners
      to Guantanamo.

      In a letter to Gomes, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the current
      secretary-general, said no Nato planes had "flown to or from
      Guantanamo Bay" and that Nato "as an organisation has no involvement
      or co-ordinating role in providing clearance or overflight rights for
      other flights". Turkey, meanwhile, has declared that its agencies had
      "reached no findings regarding any unacknowledged deprivation of
      liberty conducted by foreign agencies within the territory of the
      republic of Turkey or any transport by aircraft or otherwise of the
      persons deprived of their liberty".

      In London, Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve, said,
      with America threatening that Guantanamo prisoners faced the death
      penalty, European governments had made "pious statements" that they
      would never send prisoners to the US without obtaining assurances they
      would not be executed.

      Stafford Smith added: "Some European governments, it's now clear,
      systematically assisted in clandestine flights and illegal prisoner
      transfers to Guantanamo Bay. We need a full investigation and
      Europeans need to face their responsibility for these crimes."


      See flight logs and complete list of prisoners at www.ghostplane.net.

      Additional reporting: Natalia Viana.
      *********************************************************************

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