‘Ghost Planes’ Make Suspects Disappear
Pentagon has new secret weapon in ‘war on terror’
There has been a flurry of articles recently in
the U.S. press about an executive jet used by “American intelligence agencies”
to transport abducted “terrorist suspects” for interrogation to third countries
that use torture. The mainstream media, however, largely omits essential
details about “extraordinary rendition,” a practice begun during the Clinton
administration, and ignores the legal questions it raises.
The Sunday Times (UK) wrote about the mystery jet, a Gulfstream 5, on Nov.
14, saying it had obtained the logs of some 300 flights showing “the movements
of the Gulfstream 5 leased by agents from the U.S. defense department and the
According to the Times, the logs indicate
that the U.S. has used the plane to transport abducted “prisoners” to “countries
with poor human rights records” where they have been turned over to the
authorities for “torture by proxy.”
During the past two years, the plane, which
“always” departs from Washington, “has flown to 49 destinations outside
America, including the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and other U.S.
military bases.” Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are
among the foreign destinations of the “torture jet,” which has the registration
The Gulfstream made at least seven trips to
Uzbekistan, a dictatorship allied with the United States in the “war on
terror,” where, the Times wrote, the “secret police are notorious for
their interrogation methods, including the alleged boiling of prisoners.”
“I have come across many cases of rape in front of
family members who they wish to extract information from,” Craig Murray, the
former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said recently on Swedish television.
“I have post mortem photos of a corpse,” Murray said. “These show that
the person was boiled to death.”
The Washington Post, Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune all recently reported on the
torture jet, but have focused on the phony companies with whom the plane is
registered rather than on the serious crimes it is being used to commit.
Much of the information about the “torture
flights” has come from a Swedish journalist, Fredrik Laurin, who has produced
four television programs about the kidnapping of two Egyptians from Sweden in
The four-part Kalla Fakta (Cold Facts) program
about the “enforced disappearance” of the two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza, 39, and
Muhammad Al Zery, 33, began on Swedish television on May 17, 2004, and can be
viewed on-line. The most important details of the abductions, however, are not
found in the U.S. press.
In the afternoon of Dec. 18, 2001, Ahmed Agiza was
picked up by police on his way home from Swedish lessons in the western Sweden
town of Karlstad. His wife and five children awaited him at home. Meanwhile in
Stockholm, Swedish security police, the SÄPO, arrested Al Zery at his job. The
two Egyptians were then driven to Bromma airport in Stockholm.
Paul Forell, a policeman with 25 years experience,
was stationed at the police station at Bromma airport that night. Forell told
Laurin what he observed:
“First came the security police. . . after five or
10 minutes two Americans arrived, in civilian suits, and we stood there for a
while talking,” he said. The Americans, he said, were about 35 years old, gave
their first names and said they were from the U.S. Embassy.
“Well, then came this group with the arrested men
into the station, and everything went very fast,” Forell said. “The arrested
men, wearing their own clothes, were shackled hand and foot.”
Asked who brought the men into the station, Forell
said: “The Americans. The Swedish policemen stayed behind in the outer, public
premises,” he said. “There were three to four men to each of the arrested.” The
Americans were “dressed in jeans and shirts, and wearing black masks.”
Forell, a bystander, was the only uniformed
policeman. “There was hardly room for me in my own station,” he said.
Laurin described what happened next: The arrested
men were placed in the station’s changing-room and, while shackled hand and
foot, their clothes were cut off in pieces. When the men were naked,
“suppositories of an unknown kind were inserted into their rectums.”
Dressed in diapers and dark overalls, blindfolded
and hooded, the men were taken to the cars, Laurin reported.
The Gulfstream 5 with the registration N379P, “flying
for the U.S. Department of Defense,” waited several hundred yards away, Laurin
“One of the prisoners was placed lying on the
floor with his hands and feet cuffed together behind his back. The other was
strapped fast in the cabin, with his hands over his head.”
The two arrested Egyptians, about eight Americans
and two SÄPO police took off at 9:49 p.m., Kalla Fakta reported. “When
the plane landed in Cairo at 3 a.m., the men were turned over to Egyptian
“Disguised agents from an elite American military
unit, answering directly to the White House, are allowed to take command on
Swedish soil, contrary to Swedish law. In a secret and brutal operation, two
Egyptians who have asylum in Sweden are kidnapped and brought to Egypt to be
tortured,” Kalla Fakta reported. “They are suspected of terrorism, but
no evidence is presented.”
After two and a half years of torture in an
Egyptian prison, Al Zery was declared innocent and released. Agiza, in a
military trial, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The Gulfstream 5 has completed at least 72 such
operations in more than 30 countries, Laurin reported. And it always follows
the same pattern. “After takeoff from its home base in Smithfield, N.C., it
makes a short stop at Dulles International Airport, close to CIA headquarters
and the Pentagon.
“It flies exclusively to countries that are allied
with the U.S. in the fight against terror: Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Jordan,
Uzbekistan and Pakistan,” Kalla Fakta reported, “countries where
prisoners are kept and interrogated, far beyond the reach of American and
U.S. enforced disappearances from Sweden are
nothing new, according to journalist Sven Anér. More than 10 years ago, on
Sept. 28, 1994, nine Estonian survivors from the Estonia ferry disaster
“disappeared” in a similar manner. The day after the sinking, nine crew members
were removed from the lists of 146 reported survivors as a Gulfstream 4 (Reg.
N971L), and a Boeing 727-200 (Reg. VR-CLM) left Stockholm’s Arlanda airport
carrying four and five unregistered passengers each.
Anér has the documents from the airport’s archive
that show that the fees for the two airplanes were paid by the U.S. Embassy in
“Enforced disappearance” and torture are “crimes
against humanity,” according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal
Court, which the Bush administration opposes.
While inquiries at the Departments of State,
Defense and Justice about the legality of “extraordinary renditions” went
unanswered, a March 19, 2004, memo from Jack L. Goldsmith, assistant attorney
general, clearly reveals the Bush administration’s intent to defy international