Billing dispute reveals details on CIA rendition flights

Court documents revealed that the CIA
used a private Gulfstream jet to ferry
terror suspects around the world
© AFP Robyn Beck

AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A billing dispute in New York has revealed details of secret CIA rendition flights that transported terror suspects around the world following the 9/11 attacks, court documents reviewed Thursday show.

Documents filed in a New York appeals court detail dozens of rendition flights — to locations including Bucharest, Baku, Cairo, Djibouti, Islamabad and Tripoli — organized by Sportsflight, a private, one-man aircraft business on Long Island that procured the charter flights for the US government.

According to the documents, copies of which were obtained by AFP from a London-based rights group, Sportsflight secured a plane from Richmor Aviation, which is now suing Sportsflight for breach of contract.

When Sportsflight began procuring the flights in 2002 shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the purposes “were undisclosed at the time.”

But “it was ultimately learned that the flights would be going to and from Guantanamo Bay and would be used for assorted rendition missions,” according to the court filing.

Secret CIA flights were conducted in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to transfer “war on terror” suspects to third countries for interrogation. Many of the suspects subjected to the rendition program said they were tortured.

The business dispute, in which the two companies are fighting over more than $1.1 million sought by Richmor for unused but contracted flight hours, has helped lift the veil of secrecy on the rendition program.

The 1,775 pages of documents include the invoices and itineraries of numerous CIA flights, and they are extraordinary in that they have become part of the court record.

Richmor, which flew its final flight for the government in January 2005, billed at a rate of $4,900 an hour for the use of the plane, which was chartered to transport “suspected terrorists,” the documents said.

The Washington Post, citing the invoices and other court records, reported that Richmor earned at least $6 million over three years.

It accounted for a small percentage of the total flights, according to the Post, suggesting that the Central Intelligence Agency spent tens of millions of dollars to use private planes to transport suspects for interrogation.

The spy agency would not confirm any of the details.

“The CIA does not, as a rule, comment on pending litigation, especially that to which we are not a party,” agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told AFP.

The State Department also declined to comment.

The court documents said Sportsflight had agreed to make the Gulfstream IV executive jet available to fly at 12 hours’ notice.

“The client says we’re going to be very, very busy,” Sportsflight told Richmor, according to the filing. “We’re going to fly more than 50 hours a month.”

The same documents quote Richmor President Mahlon Richards as saying “we were transporting government personnel and their invitees.”

The court filing was brought to media attention by Reprieve, a group which advocates for prisoners’ rights and focuses on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba, where the United States has held high-profile terror suspects since 2001.

The Post described one such rendition flight that took place on August 12, 2003, when a Gulfstream IV aircraft carrying six passengers took off from Dulles International Airport near Washington and flew to Bangkok.

Before returning four days later, it touched down in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ireland, and appears to have coincided with the capture of Riduan Isamuddin, a suspected terrorist from Indonesia known as Hambali.

The entire journey cost $339,228.05, the Post said.

Hambali, the alleged planner of the 2002 terror attacks in Bali, was captured in Thailand and would spend the next three years being flown between secret prisons until his transfer to Guantanamo, where he is currently held.

The Gulfstream IV was identified publicly in 2005 after it was used in the capture and rendition of a cleric in Milan who was flown to his native Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which also received the court documents, said the plane may have also been used in the rendition of senior Al-Qaeda militant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who was later waterboarded 183 times in a single month.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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