The CIA has always tried to downplay the actual number of times terror suspects have been "extraordinarily renditioned"--in other words, flown oversees, imprisoned secretly, and tortured. No surprise, it's a national disgrace that even many in the CIA are ashamed of.
The European Union Parliament today issued a report that blew the cover off the vague and disingenous picture painted so far by the Bush administration. The EU will have an ongoing investigation, but this preliminary finding shows that the CIA has run more than 1,000 secret flights through European airports since 2001. Many of the flights are so suspicious in nature that the known facts about their flight patterns and stop-overs draws attention to itself. Indeed, the number of suspicious CIA flights given by the EU is very preliminary; it is based entirely upon an analysis of the flights of fewer than 50 aircraft used by the CIA. There could be still other planes in use by the CIA.
The actual number of torture flights through European countries, therefore, is very likely to be much higher than the "100 to 150" prisoners Bush administration officials admitted in last December to having "renditioned".
According to the Associated Press report on the EU report today:
U.S. officials previously said that as of late December, some 100 to 150 people had been seized in "rendition" operations involving detaining terror suspects in one country and flying them to their home country or another where they were wanted for a crime or questioning.
Let me add that in Dana Priest's report on secret prisons from Nov. 1, 2005 in the Washington Post, the number of people sucked up into these hell-holes was reported to be "more than 100".
More than 100 suspected terrorists have been sent by the CIA into the covert system, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.
That figure was intended by Dana Priest to be a conservative estimate, obviously. The release of this EU committee's report gives some measure of just how much it may have underestimated the actual situation.
The committee, which set out initially in January to investigate reports of secret European prisons, ended up focusing on the CIA flights themselves. Information about the flights was given by Eurocontrol, the air-safety agency for the EU. As the AP reports:
"We were requested by EU Parliament to make an analysis of the flight routes for these planes. There may be others," said Jean-Jacques Sauvage, a senior official of the Brussels-based agency. He said Eurocontrol did not keep track of who was on the planes.
The report said that on a number of occasions the CIA was clearly responsible for detaining terror suspects on European territory and transferring them to countries where they could face torture.
[Italian lawmaker Giovanni] Fava told the AP it was unclear how many people were transferred by the CIA on undeclared flights....
He accused the CIA of breaching the Chicago Convention, an international treaty governing air traffic. It requires aircraft used in military, customs and police operations to seek special authorization to land in signatory states.
The Guardian has further details.
Data showed CIA planes made numerous undeclared stopovers on European territory, violating an international air treaty requiring airlines to declare the routes and stopovers for planes on police missions, the Italian politician Giovanni Claudio Fava, who drafted the report, said.
"The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect ... they are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel," he added.
Mr Fava referred to the alleged secret transfer of an Egyptian cleric abducted from a Milan street in 2003, a German who claimed he was transferred from Macedonia to Afghanistan, and the transfer of a Canadian citizen from New York to Syria among other suspect flights.
He said documents provided by Eurocontrol showed the plane transferring suspect Khalid al-Masri, a Kuwaiti-born German national, from Macedonia to Afghanistan in 2004 flew from Algeria to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on January 22; from Palma de Mallorca to Skopje, Macedonia, on January 23, and from Skopje to Kabul via Baghdad overnight on January 24.
Fava also said that according to his information, the groups of agents on these flights often were the same. In other words, the CIA has a cadre of rendition and torture specialists who are running something like a regular service on an illegal airline.
That would fit well with the observation by Ken Silverstein about what he's been told about the current culture and climate at the CIA:
But what's been little noted thus far is what looks to be a similar revolt brewing at the CIA. An ex-senior agency officer who keeps in contact with his former peers told me that there is a "a big swing" in anti-Bush sentiment at Langley. "I've been stunned by what I'm hearing," he said. "There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don't want to get caught up in it."
This former senior officer said there "seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people" at the agency to avoid involvement in some of the particularly nasty tactics being employed by the administration, especially "renditions"--the practice whereby the CIA sends terrorist suspects abroad to be questioned in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan, and other nations where the regimes are not squeamish about torturing detainees. My source, hardly a softie on the topic of terrorism, said of the split at the CIA: "There's an SS group within the agency that's willing to do anything and there's a Wehrmacht group that is saying, 'I'm not gonna touch this stuff'."
And well they should be afraid. The "rendition" of even one human to be tortured at a convenient time in a place to-be-announced-later, is despicable. What word is available, then, to describe the "rendition" of hundreds or possibly thousands by our government?
UPDATE There was a diary on this subject earlier today by allmost liberal european. Note the links in the comment by old pedant. (Hat tip to slouise217 for the link.)