Official Denial of U.S. Torture Flights Undermines Bush Administration in Europe
By Christopher Bollyn
“Does anyone believe Miss Condoleezza Rice?” Germany’s leading news magazine Der Spiegel wrote after the U.S. Secretary of State’s visit to Berlin on Dec. 7. Revelations of illegal abductions, torture flights and secret U.S.-run gulags in Europe have been the front-page news around the world for weeks.
Shortly before Miss Rice arrived in Berlin, Der Spiegel revealed that at least 437 secret CIA flights had crossed German airspace or landed at German airports.
A study by the law school of New York University has reportedly concluded that a nation is in violation of international law when it allows a torture flight to use its facilities.
Suspects abducted by U.S. agents have been flown to third countries, such as Uzbekistan, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for interrogation and torture.
In the much-publicized CIA abduction of an Egyptian cleric named Abu Omar in Milan, Italy, in 2003, the “extraordinary rendition,” or illegal kidnapping, was carried out via the U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany. An Italian judge has issued arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents charged with the kidnapping of Omar.
“The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights, but it also seriously damaged counter-terrorism efforts in Italy and Europe,” Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor in Milan, said.
American Free Press was the first U.S. newspaper to have covered the enforced disappearance in 2001 of two Egyptians who had obtained asylum in Sweden. The two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari, were picked up by Swedish police and turned over to U.S. authorities at a Stockholm airfield where they were stripped, drugged and hooded before being put on a plane bound for Egypt, where they were apparently tortured.
The role of the Swedish authorities in the illegal abduction and rendition of the two Egyptians presents a serious legal problem for the government of Sweden. The Council of Europe has determined that states involved in illegal abductions or torture may lose their voting rights.
While Romania, Poland and NATO-occupied Kosovo are named as the most likely locations of secret gulags, AFP has investigated U.S. military bases in Germany and Hungary as being possible locations of Soviet-style detention centers.
In a recent article in Der Spiegel, the Hungarian connection is noted. On Oct. 10, 2005, “a Gulfstream V, often used by the CIA, was on its way from a U.S. base in Keflavik, Iceland, to Budapest, Hungary, and was presumed to be carrying Islamic terror suspects,” Spiegel reported.
A Gulfstream V plane involved in many of the torture flights was registered to a company called Premier Executive Transport Services, Inc. The company was registered in Massachusetts and is described as a “foreign corporation.”
The Council of Europe and the European Court of Justice are currently investigating the torture flights as violations of European law.
AFP went to Kaposvar, in southern Hungary, in September 2003 to visit “Camp Freedom,” a converted Soviet-era base at Taszar, where the U.S. military reportedly trained a militia known as the “Free Iraqi Forces” and where it planned to train Iraqi policemen. AFP found that the Taszar base resembled a high-security prison about which the local authorities knew nothing.
Few knew what went behind the high walls and razor wire of Taszar, and those who did weren’t talking.
“I can’t give you any information, because my boss says I can’t,” Nemeth Zsolt of the office of Somogy County told AFP when asked about the base. “My hands are tied.”
A taxi driver, who showed AFP around the perimeter of the base, said: “2,000 Iraqis are here but they never leave the base.”
A Kaposvar resident who worked on the base told AFP that anyone who talked about activities on the base would be fired by the contractor, Texas-based Kellogg, Brown and Root, which is a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton.
A day after Miss Rice left Germany, the front-page story of the Garmisch-Partenkirchner Tagblatt focused on Khaled Masri, the innocent Lebanese-born German citizen who was kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia in December 2003 and flown to Afghanistan for interrogation and torture, where he was held for five months.
Otto Schily, the former German interior minister, was reportedly informed of the kidnapping of Masri in May 2004 by the U.S. ambassador to Germany at the time, Daniel R. Coats, and did nothing. The previous German government led by Gerhard Schroeder “was quietly complicit” in the abductions and torture flights, according to Der Spiegel.
Germany has been the hub of the secret torture flights, according to Der Spiegel, with most of the CIA flights passing through U.S. military bases in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Ramstein.
The torture controversy has shed new light on the U.S. military bases on German soil that operate outside the purview of any German authority.
AFP asked Franz Worndle, archivist at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen city hall, if it was possible that detainees could be held at the U.S. base in the town without the knowledge of local authorities.
“Yes,” Worndle said. “It is entirely possible.”
Asked if local authorities and media were prevented from knowing about any illegal activities that could have occurred at the local U.S. base, Marin Heussler, an editor at the Garmisch-Partenkirchner Tagblatt, said, “totally.”
“It’s like a foreign country,” Heussler said.
Secretary of State Rice has denied that the United States engages in any illegal activity at its detention centers.
“The United States does not use the air space or airport of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee when we believe he or she will be tortured,” Rice said as she left for Europe.
Rice’s tortuous denial was the subject of two extremely critical editorials in The International Herald Tribune, owned by The New York Times, on Dec. 8.
The fact that “the secretary of state had to deny that the president condones torture” to reliable European allies “was a sad enough measure of how badly the Bush administration has damaged its moral standing,” the paper’s lead editorial said.
“It was even worse that she had a hard time sounding credible when she did it,” it said.
“Does Rice think anyone is buying her loophole-riddled defense?”
Maureen Dowd of the Times echoed. “Maybe she figures that if she was able to fool people once with doubletalk about weapons of mass destruction, she can fool them again with doubletalk about rendition.”
The German press was even more critical: “Rice may have left Berlin, but her visit has left all sorts of bad tastes in the mouths of Germans,” Der Spiegel wrote.
Rice had used “a blackmailing tone,” the paper said, and threatened that “whoever discloses the work of [U.S.] intelligence services would have to live with a higher threat of terror.”
“The Americans have to finally realize that the long-term existence of camps like Guantanamo is a disgrace for a democracy and they do more harm than good in the fight against terror,” the business daily Handelsblatt wrote.
(Issue #51, December 19, 2005)