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‘CIA planes used emirates airports’ in covert global ‘rendition’ programme

By KT Scrutiny Investigations Team / 16 May 2006

DUBAI — As the US Central Intelligence Agency comes under increasing criticism for its controversial renditions programme and alleged network of secret 'black site' prisons, a Khaleej Times review of evidence presented against the CIA reveals emirates airports were used at least 13 times by the spy agency's fleet of aircraft.

Three aircraft publicly linked to the CIA — a Boeing 737, and two Gulfstream executive jets — made multiple take offs and landings from Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, the evidence shows. All three planes are thought to have been used in the controversial practice of renditions - snatching suspects from one country and transporting them to detention facilities elsewhere.

A security official at Abu Dhabi airport last night denied the report, while an official at Dubai airport declined to comment.

The practice has attracted widespread criticism from human rights group after allegations prisoners were being 'disappeared' by holding them in secret CIA prisons in Europe, or were being taken to countries such as Egypt and Syria, where torture is allegedly used to extract confessions and information.

Last week, a group of European politicians investigating the scandal accused the US of trying to cover up the programme by refusing to cooperate with investigations. And intelligence agencies in Italy and Germany have now been dragged into the controversy after evidence emerged they had assisted the CIA's rendition operations.

According to records of approximately 3,000 flights obtained by Amnesty International and the research group TransArms, planes owned or chartered by the CIA and linked to the renditions programme, made stop offs in the UAE. The first plane, a Boeing 737, made a total of 5 stops in the UAE: four in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi. The plane was first registered by a company called Stevens Express Leasing (SEL), then by Premier Executive Transport Services (PETS) and finally in 2004 by Keeler & Tate Management (KTM).

Amnesty says all three firms are front companies set up by the CIA.

SEL has a mailing address in Tennessee, but no physical office. PETS lists corporate officers who have no addresses other than PO Box numbers near Washington D.C and who apparently have no credit or publicly identifiable personal histories. KTM owns no other planes, no premises and has no website. Nevertheless, both SEL and PETS had, until 2005, licences to land at US military bases worldwide.

The Boeing 737 was used to take Khaled el-Masri from Macedonia to Afghanistan in January 200, where he was held for five months before being dumped in Albania when the U.S. realized it had grabbed the wrong man.

El-Masri, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, is now suing the U.S. government claiming he was not only kidnapped, but tortured as well while in captivity.

A second plane, a Gulfstream V executive jet, was also run by PETS before being transferred to a company called Bayard Foreign Marketing which, according to Amnesty, is a 'phantom company' whose 'named corporate officer, Leonard Bayard, cannot be found in any public record.'

The Gulfstream made at least 590 landings and takeoffs between February 2001 and September 2005, including four in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi. The plane was put up for sale in late 2005, as per the evidence.

And "three flights were recorded in Dubai for a Gulfstream IV plane whose owners have admitted was leased to the CIA". The plane, which also held a licence to land at U.S. military bases, was allegedly used in the abduction of terror suspect Abu Omar. That rendition has resulted in Italy issuing 22

arrest warrants for CIA operatives implicated in Omar's abduction.

Omar was eventually taken by the CIA to Egypt. Vincent Cannistraro told Newsday newspaper in 2003 that an al-Qaeda detainee flown from Guantanamo Bay to Egypt was tortured. "They promptly tore his fingernails out and he started telling things," Cannistraro is quoted as saying.

Last week, members of a European Parliament committee investigating CIA activity in Europe travelled to the US to try and uncover more details.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice refused to meet them, as did former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

One of the MEPs, Italian Claudio Fava, said: "we came here with a mandate to find the truth and we got 'no comment' as a response." Two other MEPs, Jean Lambert and Cem Ozdemir issued a joint statement saying: "One thing to clearly emerge from this visit is the concerted effort on the part of the U.S. administration to keep a lid on the issue of CIA abuses.

Officials have been pressured not to cooperate with the investigation." The committee plans to hold a formal press conference about its findings tomorrow (Tuesday May 16).

John Bellinger, a legal advisor to Condolezza Rise, has dismissed the allegations over CIA renditions activity as 'absurd'.

Bellinger said the flights were not necessarily carrying detainees, but could have been simply transporting intelligence officials or evidence.

"There have been very few cases of renditions .. the suggestion that there has been a large number of flights is simply an absurd allegation." He claimed the last U.S. rendition flight occurred 'something like three years ago.'

A security official at Abu Dhabi International Airport denied the airport had received CIA rendition flights. He said flights to and from the airport were supervised by international as well as local teams, who prepare reports supported with pictures to show details of the flight including its destination. He added airport authorities did not involve themselves in political affairs. "This is a civilian airport and has nothing to do with politics," he said.

A source at Dubai declined to comment, saying he had 'no information available' on such flights at the airport.

An Interior Ministry official said the UAE's leadership rejected any kind of activity that might 'stain' the country's reputation. "The UAE has repeatedly rejected such operations and our country's position is known to everyone," he noted.

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