Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rendition Redux: Amnesty Int'l issues damning report

Cross Posted and Recommended at Booman Tribune

Remember the whole "exporting torture" thing that dropped off the radar screen when the latest 50 or so scandals erupted?  Well, the rendition story is back, and it should be an ugly one for Dear Leader.

Amnesty International has just released a report today that shows how the CIA used private airlines and other front companies to hide the rendition and "detention facilities" (read: torture camps) outside of the US.

The report is here, and lists specifics on dozens of rendition flights, including the origination and destination of such flights and the names of the private airlines that landed at US military bases around the globe.

As originally reported by Raw Story, the report is titled Below the Radar: Secret flights to Torture and 'Disappearance', and

Amnesty will reveal how the CIA exploited aviation practices to hide behind the identity of private plane operators and circumvent authorities. Countries that allow CIA planes to cross their airspace and use their airports often cite the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention. These states claim that they do not have the authority to question the reasons for the flight because there is a clause in the Convention that allows private, non-commercial flights to fly over a country, or make technical stops there, without prior authorization or notification.

So, these countries can't even question what the flights are for, what they are doing or why they are stopping in the country since it is a private flight.

Additionally, the report claims that:

Amnesty claims that the United States may have transferred hundreds of individuals for the purposes of interrogation by nations with "dubious human rights records." They are further set to claim that "rendition is part of an elaborate clandestine detention regime that includes the use of 'black sites' and 'disappearances,' as well as torture and inhuman treatment."

It should be interesting to see how the wingnuts attack Amnesty International, but this is not something that is really new, as you can see by this, this, this and this, just to name a few.

But this report is more specific and will be another black eye to America and the legacy of this administration.

Amnesty just made the report available, and while it is a big one, here are some real juicy (and damning) tidbits:

On the low end estimate of the numbers:

The number of cases currently appears to be in the hundreds: Egypt's Prime Minister noted in 2005 that the USA had transferred some 60-70 detainees to Egypt alone, and a former CIA agent with experience in the region believes that hundreds of detainees have been sent by the USA to prisons in the Middle East. The USA has acknowledged the capture of about 30 "high value" detainees whose whereabouts remain unknown, and the CIA is reportedly investigating some three dozen additional cases of "erroneous rendition", in which people were detained based on flawed evidence or confusion over names

Testimonial of former CIA Official:

Robert Baer, a former CIA official in the Middle East, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): "As I understand it, there's a lot of franchising stuff out. Syria is a country, like Iraq, where they torture people. They use electrodes, water torture. They take torture to the point of death, like the Egyptians. The way you get around involving Americans in torture is to get someone else to do it."

Our "friend" Pakistan:

Hassan bin Attash was only 17 years old when he was detained in a house raid in Pakistan in September 2002. He was sent first to the "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan for about a week, then rendered again, this time to Jordan, where he said he was severely tortured while being interrogated about the activities of his brother, Walid bin Attash, who has "disappeared" and is presumed to be held in a secret US detention centre. Announcing Walid bin Attash's capture in 2003, President George W. Bush called him a "killer", adding "he is one less person that people who love freedom have to worry about". After 16 months in Jordan, Hassan bin Attash, a Yemeni national, was rendered back to US custody in Afghanistan, then resurfaced at Guantánamo Bay in May 2004.

Although cases of rendition from Western countries have received substantial attention in the media and from human rights organizations, it remains the case that most of the known victims of rendition or secret detention were initially detained in Pakistan, where the government maintains a close working relationship with the USA on intelligence matters. Some of them are known to be in Guantánamo Bay; others in "black sites"; some were rendered by the USA to Middle Eastern countries where they are believed to have been tortured. Transfers to US and other custody have been carried out in contravention of Pakistani national extradition law as well as the international prohibition of refoulement.

The Pakistani government has publicly stated that some 700 terrorist suspects have been arrested, many of whom have been handed over to US custody. Many of these detainees have "disappeared", including men, women and children; journalists reporting on the "war on terror"; and doctors alleged to have treated "terrorists". Given the degree of secrecy surrounding security operations, and the overlap between US and Pakistani intelligence interests, it is difficult to find out which detainees have been turned over to the USA and which have been kept in Pakistani custody.

There are also a number of specific examples of rendition that are listed, and the specific statements indicating the violations of international law here.

A summary of examples of secret detentions and transfers here.

A summary of the worldwide support network for rendition flights is here. However, here are some excerpts:

Of particular importance for rendition cases is the clause that allows private, non-commercial flights to fly over a country, or make technical stops there, without prior authorization or notification. The CIA planes identified to date have been chartered from private companies, real or fictional. "State aircraft" - defined by the Convention as those "used in military, customs and police services" - do require specific agreement or authorization to fly over the territory of another state or to use its airports. Experts on rendition believe that this is one of the main reasons why privately contracted aircraft are used in rendition operations, rather than military or other official aircraft.

The intelligence and military community of the USA has long used private air carriers for secret operations. Some of the covert carriers identified by past US congressional inquiries and other investigations are still in business.
In November 2003, for example, carriers such as Southern Air, Kalitta Air, Evergreen International Airways, and Tepper Aviation - all known for their connections to covert intelligence and military operations - received a "US Transportation Command Certificate of Appreciation" for their support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in the "Global War on Terrorism".

A summary of CIA front companies used is here, but here is a summary:
The CIA rendition programme has relied on private planes contracted from companies listed as private air charter services. In some cases, these are CIA front companies that exist only on paper. Premier Executive Transport, for instance, first appeared as a Delaware company in 1994, and was then re-registered in Massachusetts in 1996 as a "Foreign Corporation".

Premier was the listed owner of only two planes: the Gulfstream jet most frequently identified with rendition operations, originally registered as N379P; and a Boeing 737, initially N313P, which appeared regularly in locations such as Afghanistan, Libya, Jordan, Baghdad, Germany and the UK, and which Amnesty International believes was used to render Khaled el-Masri from Macedonia to Afghanistan in January 2004. Flight records show that the plane flew from Skopje to Kabul, touching down in Baghdad, on 24 January 2004, the day Khaled el-Masri was transferred from Macedonia to Afghanistan.

Other transport contractors have actual premises and staff, but appear to be largely controlled by the CIA. Aero Contractors, for instance, was described by the New York Times newspaper as "a major domestic hub of the Central Intelligence Agency's secret air service". The New York Times went on to say that the CIA owns at least 26 planes, and "concealed its ownership behind a web of seven shell corporations that appear to have no employees and no function apart from owning the aircraft. The planes, regularly supplemented by private charters, are operated by real companies controlled by or tied to the agency, including Aero Contractors and two Florida companies, Pegasus Technologies and Tepper Aviation."

A summary of other US agencies (including the DoD) that are involved is here, but here are some excerpts:
Although renditions have largely been carried out under the auspices of the CIA, other US agencies have apparently been involved in both flight leasing and operations. Contracts for identified rendition planes have been issued through an obscure US Navy office, rather than the CIA, according to US Department of Defense (DoD) documents obtained by Associated Press (AP). In September 2005, AP reported that the Navy Engineering Logistics Office (NELO) had issued classified contracts with 10 different companies and 33 planes for the "occasional airlift of USN (Navy) cargo worldwide." This was the first indication that the DoD had participated in the rendition programme; the companies previously identified as operators of rendition planes were widely believed to be under CIA contracts.
There have been other indications that responsibility for the rendition programme should not be laid solely at the door of the CIA. It has been reported that the teams that actually carry out the rendition operations include members of military Special Forces units, as well as CIA personnel. Amnesty International has copies of police investigation reports into CIA flights in Spain that suggest that the pilots of the rendition planes were US military officers; when their names were checked against FAA databases, it was found that not all were currently registered as private pilots. If any pilots involved in rendition flights were found to be US military officers, the legal implications would be important: members of the armed forces are not only subject to international legal standards and to US criminal law, but also to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which explicitly forbids both "unlawful detention" and "cruelty and maltreatment". The armed forces do not appear to be covered by the memorandum authorizing the CIA to carry out renditions.

A summary and detail of nearly 1,000 flights used for rendition from 2001 through 2005 is here.

Lastly, a listing and summary of companies who are or were likely to have been involved is here.


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