Flight Logs Reveal Secret Rendition
By Stephen Grey
The London Sunday Times
Sunday 25 November 2007
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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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