London Times: Flight logs reveal secret rendition


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

From The Sunday Times
November 25, 2007

Flight logs reveal secret rendition

Stephen Grey

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

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 

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
Additional reporting: Natalia Viana

© Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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