US 'used front companies' to hide CIA flights
5 April 2006, LONDON - Amnesty International appealed Wednesday to governments and firms that have tolerated secret US flights which transported terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation to be more aware of their own responsibility.
5 April 2006
LONDON - Amnesty International appealed Wednesday to governments and firms that have tolerated secret US flights which transported terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation to be more aware of their own responsibility.
The US Central Intelligence Service (CIA) used private aircraft operators and front companies to avoid declaring the so-called rendition flights to aviation authorities, the human-rights watchdog charged.
Governments shouldn't allow kidnappings on their territory and aircraft leasing firms should not allow their aircraft to be used for such purposes or else they are accomplices in severe breaches of human rights, Amnesty said.
In particular Amnesty called on the British government to investigate fresh claims that CIA flights used British airports such as at Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland.
Amnesty said it had analysed the movements of planes directly linked to the CIA between 2001 and 2005, specifically aircraft that transported high-profile rendition detainees, such as Khaled al-Masri, Maher Arar and Abu Omar.
The nongovernmental organization said it obtained records of nearly 1,000 flights that were operated by the CIA through front companies, most of which flew through European airspace. It said it also obtained records of about 600 flights made by planes that the CIA at least temporarily used.
"The analysis shows that these aeroplanes often used European airspace although it does not prove that they were always transporting prisoners," Amnesty said.
Amnesty added that the exact number of detainees effected by the flights was difficult to ascertain, given the secrecy of the flights, but cited information from governments that would put the number in the hundreds. A report from the Council of Europe in January said hundreds of CIA-chartered flights passed through European airspace, carrying more than a hundred detainees in recent years.
Amnesty and European governments have charged the United States with detaining terrorism suspects, denying them legal rights such as right to council or to appear before a court, and transporting them to third countries without legal safeguards where they might face torture.
The United States has said it does not send suspects to other countries without assurances from their governments that the detainees will not be tortured.
But Amnesty said in its report, Below the Radar: Secret Flights to Torture and "Disappearance," that all of the detainees it interviewed said they had been ill-treated or tortured.
Amnesty's report said rendition flights took off or landed in dozens of locations in Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Southeast Asia and the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The latest evidence shows how the [US] administration is manipulating commercial arrangements in order to be able to transfer people in violation of international law," said Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary general. "It demonstrates the length to which the US government will go to conceal these abductions."
"The report shows not just how arrest and extradition procedures have been ignored, the ban on torture and other ill-treatment has been disregarded, but also how aviation practices have been undermined," she added. "In essence, the rule of law has been put aside."
The Czech government said Wednesday it plans to reply to Amnesty's claim that Prague airport was used for the rendition flights.
Minister of Interior Frantisek Bublan is preparing the response to the watchdog group's latest report, Amnesty's spokeswoman in Prague Eva Dobrovolna said.
Bublan's report should arrive "in a few days," she said, citing information from a ministry official.
The report said 20 landings and takeoffs occurred at the Prague airport, more than in any other East European country. Less than five flights each were recorded in other regional cities including Warsaw, Bucharest and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
"We think this information is very serious," Dobrovolna said.
Dobrovolva admitted that Amnesty has no proof that any of the flights actually carried terrorism suspects. "We don't know if any detainees were on board," she said.
A European Parliament committee investigating alleged secret CIA actions in Europe on Tuesday criticized national governments for obstructing its efforts to cast light on the sensitive issue.
"There is a list of documents and invitations to governments that have not been replied to," said British Socialist Euro MP Claude Moraes, adding, "This is emerging as a key weakness in our inquiry."
"We have asked for the outcomes of national inquiries into these matters, but so, far we have not received any report," said Austrian Socialist Euro MP Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler.
Members of the EU parliamentary committee are to go on a fact-finding mission to Macedonia next month to investigate charges by al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German national, that he was kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia and held captive in Afghanistan as a terrorism suspect in 2004.
In May, EU lawmakers are to travel to Washington to quiz US government officials. The committee also plans talks with German secret service officials and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who headed the office of former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
The parliamentary committee investigating the CIA charges was set up in January. It is working in tandem with the Council of Europe inquiry and intends to present its first findings by the end of June. However, the committee has no power to sanction European governments.
Subject: German news