Monday, October 17, 2011

Those Pesky Renditions Again!

By William Fisher

If you thought you were finished reading about CIA “black sites” and “extraordinary renditions,” you were just a tad premature.

Turns out that after all the investigations in a raft of countries, a virtual treasure trove of never-seen-before documents has reached the major European legal charity, Reprieve.

As a result, Reprieve is calling on Lithuanian authorities to re-open their investigation into CIA renditions and secret prisons on their own soil, and to focus on a newly-discovered web of new documents exposing well-disguised CIA flights through Europe that demonstrate the European Union’s complicity in the CIA’s secret prisons program.

Reprieve charges that “data focusing on Lithuania, but linked to suspected CIA activity in a raft of other countries in Europe, North America, the Middle East and North Africa, has been identified by Reprieve investigators and passed to the Lithuanian prosecutor.”

In a letter to Lithuania’s Deputy Prosecutor General, Darius RauluĊĦaitis, Reprieve’s Director, Clive Stafford Smith said: “Compelling new information that has now come to light about the landings of CIA-connected planes in Lithuania makes a rigorous and wide-ranging investigation all the more urgent. It is now clear that previous efforts to chart the extent of the CIA’s rendition operations in Europe revealed ONLY the tip of the iceberg.”

Reprieve claims that the new documents show that:

· Lithuania’s attempts to establish what the CIA did in the country between 2004-06 have been oddly unsuccessful, failing to identify key clues to several potential rendition flights;
· Two flights entered Lithuania from Morocco and Bucharest – known secret prison sites – in February 2005, around the time that ‘High Value Detainee’ Abu Zubaydah was transferred to a CIA black site in Lithuania;
· A crucial plane identified by the previous Lithuanian inquiry (registered as N787WH) tried to disguise its true destination (Lithuania) by filing a route plan to Gothenburg, Sweden;
· Many other European countries now linked to the CIA’s rendition flight program have questions to answer, including Austria, Canada, Germany, Iceland, Jordan, Portugal, Romania and the USA;

Filling in key details, Reprieve said:

· Documents recently released by Reprieve show how the US-based conglomerate, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), contracted a Richmor Aviation plane, N85VM, to perform renditions and other government missions on behalf of the CIA between 2002 and 2005.

· Confidential documents in possession of Reprieve show that the same corporation contracted two other jets in February 2005 to fly into Lithuania from two other known secret prison sites: Morocco and Bucharest. The flight plans of each plane included multiple stop-offs, and multiple possibilities for disguising the true provenance and purpose of the flights. The arrival of these planes in Lithuania was confirmed by a freedom of information request made jointly by Reprieve and Access Info Europe.

· The planes flew into Lithuania within 24 hours of each other in February 2005 – significant timing in the light of public source accounts stating that “high value detainee” Abu Zubaydah was moved from Morocco to Lithuania around this time.

· Records collected by a previous Lithuanian inquiry showed that a plane registered as N787WH flew from Bucharest, Romania to Lithuania on 18 February 2005. Documents obtained by Reprieve and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights show that this plane disguised its true destination by filing a route plan to Gothenburg, Sweden. Furthermore, it has yet to be disclosed where this plane stopped prior to Bucharest; in particular, the question arises as to whether it shared some of the same stop-off points as N724CL, which landed in Lithuania en route from Morocco on the previous day.

· Freedom of Information replies from the Lithuanian Civil Aviation Authority, showing the landings of N724CL and N787WH in Lithuania; from Vilnius Airport, confirming the landing of N724CL in Vilnius; and from the Polish civil aviation authority showing the overflight permission for N787WH and its disguised route plan (to Gothenburg) are available on Reprieve's website.

Lydia Medland of Access Info Europe said: “Once information about violations of human rights has come to light through compliance with the public’s right to know, government have an obligation both to act on this information and to ensure that they release all other related documents.”

Access Info Europe is a human rights organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the right of access to information in Europe and globally as a tool for holding governments accountable.

Computer Sciences Corporation is an American information technology (IT) and outsourcing company headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia. It is one of the largest independent outsourcing organizations in the world, employing about 93,000 people in 90 countries.

Amid the intense white noise surrounding the killing of bin Laden and al-Awlaki, the trial of the so-called “underwear bomber”, and the recent alleged terrorist plots against the homeland, extraordinary rendition and CIA black sites have virtually vanished from the news.

The Washington DC press corps seems quite content taking down its stenography and presenting it as news. I can find no evidence that Reprieve’s latest disclosures resulted in any coverage whatsoever from the Beltway press corps, either in print or on radio or television.

Is it important that the public has a way to access this kind of information? You betcha! A government’s commitment to transparency – not just in words but in actions – is a pretty good barometer of how well it trusts its own people. When governments stonewall, it is those very people – taxpayers and voters – who begin to distrust those it hired to do the people’s business.

President Obama promised a new era of transparency and accountability when he took office. American citizens are still waiting for him to deliver.