Posted by: L | June 22, 2007

The torture express: planes still rendering prisoners? – updated 6/26


From Glen Owen (more by this author) comes this report in the UK’s Daily Mail (the story was withdrawn as this links shows) on what is claimed to be a torture flight that touched down recently in Britain. The report (this is the link that works) has been making the blog rounds, and I’ll be able to check its authenticity in a few days. (Update: I found another short piece here at the Mail, seems to be a version of the above, dated June 15).

In the nearly two weeks since it broke, there hasn’t been a credible denial, so I’ll take it as plausible, but not proven. The British police, of course, denied it. So did the foreign office. However, this story in the Scotsman suggests that aviation experts had enough evidence to get the justice minister to check if torture planes were actually touching down at Scottish airports. And, it seems, the police didn’t really get around to checking out Scotland. This astute reader on the discussion board at democraticunderground points out that the police chief’s denial might involve some close reading…

“Britain did not allow CIA planes to use its airports to secretly transport terrorism suspects . . .”
We can conclude that the British government had full knowledge, so it wasn’t secret.
Or we can conclude that these weren’t terrorism suspects but hapless captives.
And the statement remains “true,” but our worst suspicions are still true.”
Forbes published a story claiming the Mail story was false and had been retracted accordingly, but as you can see, the Forbes story itself is not a news story, but is a public relations release by the prominent intelligence contractor Blackwater, which (as the alleged owner of the alleged plane) is an interested party in the story……alas and alack..

So, back to square one…

For those not familiar with the US government’s outsourcing of torture to private contractors, here’s background information at The Spy Who Billed Me.

And here’s a fax from the Egyptian foreign ministry to its ambassador in London, confirming CIA sites in Europe, (also confirmed by Guantanamo prisoners). And this piece in the Times is about the torture of Abu Omar in Egypt, apparently a combined effort of Italian and American intelligence that became the subject of an Italian judicial inquiry. 26 Americans are accused of their roles in it.

And here’s some information about the plane in question, N964BW.

And some interesting discussion in this blog comments section about the type of plane and the likelihood of its being used in such an operation.

Meanwhile – in his confirmation hearings to be general counsel of the CIA, John Rizzo refused to state publicly that the intelligence agency did not render suspects for torture, according to ABC’s Blotter.

With those preliminaries done, here’s the story/allegation/ report/rumor/filthy treasonous gossip…take your pick:

“The row over CIA ‘torture flights’ using British airports has deepened following fresh evidence that a plane repeatedly linked to the controversial programme landed in the UK just days ago.

The plane was logged arriving at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk last weekend, and watching aviation experts said the aircraft, piloted by crew clad in desert fatigues, was immediately surrounded on the runway by armed American security forces.

This flight was spotted landing at a UK airport – proof that ‘rendition ‘ flights are still taking place

Its registration number, clearly visible on the fuselage, identifies it as a plane which the European Parliament says has been involved in ‘ghost flights’ to smuggle terrorist suspects to shadowy interrogation centres abroad.

Records show the plane is owned by Blackwater USA, a CIA contractor described as “the most secretive and powerful mercenary army on the planet”. An eyewitness, who previously worked as an RAF electronic warfare expert, said that as the plane – a CASA-212 Aviocar – taxied to a stop on the runway it was met by a US military Humvee.

The vehicle contained four US security policemen armed with M16 assault rifles, who accompanied the camouflaged crew to the airport terminal.

The man, who did not want to be identified, added: “I thought it was curious that they would give a civilian plane an armed guard.”

Another spotter, who took the picture of it landing, recorded it touching down at 4.36pm on Saturday.

The disclosure follows damning findings by the Council of Europe human rights organisation, which accused Tony Blair on Friday of colluding in a CIA operation to run secret prisons in Poland and Romania by allowing the agency to use UK airports.

The study was contradicted on the same day by a report from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which concluded that there was no evidence to support the claims.

But the director of the human rights group Liberty revealed that ACPO had admitted it restricted its inquiry to a review of media reports on the issue. (Here’s a link to Liberty and their prior reporting on the rendition flights and also to the blog of Stephen Grey, the U.K. based freelance journalist who first wrote about the “ghost planes” and is keeping track of them).
She accused them of rushing out their ‘cursory’ findings as part of a politically-motivated ’spin’ operation.

The US plane’s arrival was also logged by Touchdown News, a group of enthusiasts who record the movements of military aircraft at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath.

The group said the plane used its civilian call sign when talking to air traffic control and took off again early on the morning of Sunday June 3, flying east.

Scroll down for more…
The path that the ‘torture flight’ took

A report last November by a European Parliament committee placed the plane – registration number N964BW – on a list of “companies and aircraft used by the CIA for extraordinary rendition flights”. The plane was previously registered with the Bolivian army, and has been pictured on the ground in the Afghan capital Kabul within the past year.

The American Federal Aviation Authority lists the plane as being operated by two companies, Aviation World Wide Services and a sister company, Presidential Airways.

The European Parliament report describes these as shell companies operating as subsidiaries of Blackwater USA, “an important contractor for the CIA and the US military” which bases the planes in Malta.

Research by a further group, The American Centre for Media and Democracy, claims that flight-tracking internet technology shows the plane landed at least twice in the first six months of 2006 at Camp Peary, the U.S. naval reservation in Virginia known as The Farm and widely alleged to be a CIA training facility.

Tracking technology shows that the plane was en route from Canada to Greenland two days before it was sighted at Mildenhall: the internet software does not extend beyond American airspace, but the expert explained that its route would be consistent with a refuelling stop in the Arctic – it only has a range of about 2,000 miles – followed by a further refuel in East Anglia, before heading to Malta.

From there it could ‘leapfrog’ from US bases in the the former Soviet states bordering Afghanistan on to Kabul.

A recent book on Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill, an American author, described the company as the world’s “most secretive and powerful mercenary firm”, carrying out quasi-military operations on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the U.S.

It was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former elite Navy Seal and fundamentalist Christian millionaire who bankrolls far-Right causes.

This newspaper first cast doubt on the Government’s claim to have no knowledge of the CIA’s activities 18 months ago when we published pictures of three planes at Scottish airports which had been linked by human rights activists to rendition.

Flight records showed the planes had been given landing rights by the MoD, despite there being no record of passenger lists or details of the purpose of the flights.

The Council of Europe dossier, compiled by Swiss senator Dick Marty, said the U.S. had used Britain’s help to establish a “global spider’s web” of jails and airports to pursue a war on terror without rules.

It claimed the secret centres had been set up so it could use interrogation techniques amounting to torture which are illegal in the US.

These include “waterboarding” – the dunking of blindfolded suspects so they believe they are drowning – solitary confinement, shackling in confined cells and exposure of naked captives to extremes of heat, cold and noise.

Separately, the Washington Post newspaper has reported that mercenaries working for Blackwater were at the centre of an infamous firefight in Iraq in April 2004 when guarding the U.S. headquarters in Najaf – despite never having applied to operate as a private security company in the country, The report said that in the battle, footage of which circulated on the internet, the troops had opened fire on Shia Iraqi civilians protesting outside, unleashing rounds so rapidly they had to pause every 15 minutes to allow their gun barrels to cool down.

In his book, Scahill claims that the Blackwater employees in the country are using “experimental ammunition’ made of ‘blended metal, which shatter on impact to create untreatable wounds”.

Shami Chakrabati, the director of Liberty, alleges that 210 CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects for possible torture have entered Britain since 2001.

She called for a full investigation, claiming the ACPO probe was unsatisfactory.

“ACPO have admitted to me in a private letter that their investigation amounted to little more than a cursory review of reports on the issue – which they issued, 18 months after I requested it, to coincide with the Council of Europe’s report,” she said.

“Maybe now The Mail on Sunday has produced this photographic evidence they will conduct a proper inquiry.”

An ACPO spokeswoman said: “These planes could be empty – there is no evidence that prisoners were on board.”

She denied Liberty’s claim that their inquiry had been limited and driven by spin.

“There has been a full examination to see if there was any evidence to suggest criminal activity, and there wasn’t,” she said.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We have been through the records, and there is no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK since 1997.”

No one at RAF Mildenhall was available for comment.

Here’s a link to a piece on the Malta stops.

Here’s a piece naming some of the sites of outsourced torture, including Poland and Romania, and in case people in Asia are feeling left out, at Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean.

Again – this story stills need more investigation; one shouldn’t discount the possibility of a hoax or some sort of disinformation to muddy the issue…but it’s certainly worth a proper government investigation, instead of the usual runaround.



  1. Cool story. Uh, only problem is that the Daily Mail retracted it b/c it wasn’t true.

  2. Yes, I saw that. But, I see that it is a PR release by Blackwater, not a news story. That isn’t a kosher news item, or refutation, sorry.

    The Daily Mail may have withdrawn it from fear of legal pressure from the very well heeled Blackwater company, not because of its lack of veracity – has happened before. It happened to their torture story too, over which Piers Morgan resigned – only to find that a year later the photos (which were claimed to be hoaxed) were after all substantially true.

    As I said, I will check.

  3. Here’s Source Watch on the flight number:

  4. Always some sad misled Brit filling the airwaves full of conspiracy theories. There are no facilities capable of holding the ‘tortured’ and just misunderstood prisoners at Mildenhall. Perhaps the councils can give them a free council flat and put them on the dole for you.

  5. Why is it a theory? When there’s evidence for something, it’s not a theory any more; it’s a working hypothesis; when there’s enough evidence, it’s the record…
    What is a conspiracy? A group of people getting together secretly to do something they can’t do out in the open.
    So – yes, there’s a working hypothesis, and many people would say, a proven set of facts establishing that government officials, who are supposed to enforce the laws, are breaking them – and in serious ways.
    It’s another thing if people have decided that torture is no big deal. In that case, by all means change the laws. But don’t have them on the book and pretend that what’s going on is legal — when it isn’t.

  6. Because I work there and know its not a theory its BS. There goes the hypothesis backed up by one photo of what could be anything, there goes the theory of conspiracy. Just because the operations at a military installation require security doesn’t mean the world is out to get you… at least not those behind the wire.. Got to go now my black helicopter is ready in area 51

  7. “Because I work there…”
    “and know”
    “backed up by one photo”
    “which could be anYthing”

    “just because the operations at a military installation require security doesn’t mean the world is out to get you”
    Got to go now my black helicopter is ready in area 51

  8. Fit this into YOUR logic
    DoD Identifies Air Force Casualty

    The Department of Defense announced today the death of an airman deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    Airman 1st Class Jason D. Nathan, 22, of Macon, Ga., died June 23, in Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle while on patrol.

    Airman Nathan was assigned to the 48th Security Forces Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, England.

    For more information related to this release, please call the 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs office at 44-1638-52-5638.

  9. N964BW was also spotted in Bangor (ME), Reykjavik, Prestwick, Barcelona, Malta on its route. Evidence story with movement logs and a nice photo from Barcelona from a German blogger:

  10. How does it fit my logic? Perfectly.
    Don’t be a patsy for the government – yours or anyone else’s.
    Why I am blogging – hoping to prevent a few of those unnecessary deaths…

  11. Don’t be a patsy for the liberal loony left bringing about even more deaths

  12. No return blog Luton? What got to get your car from the London tow park..?

  13. N964BW was also spotted in Bangor (ME), Reykjavik, Prestwick, Barcelona, Malta on its route. Was it spotted in London with a bomb inside fused to go of by a cell phone???

  14. So when someone detonates a dirty bomb in your front yard, you will complain that we weren’t aggresively fighting terrorism? GET A GRIP!!!! Myself, I’m arming for the future.

  15. The religion of “Conspiracy Theorism” is not amenable to logic. I remember my Dad saying something about teaching a pig to sing – how did that go???

    On the other hand, I personally like the idea that we can use appropriate means – including waterboarding and the like – to squeeze scumbag gangster terrorists for the information we need to keep them from killing innocent London partygoers, innocent Bagdhadi shoppers, innocent ____ (fill in the blank).

  16. LONDON – “Those who cure you are going to kill you.”

    That, a British priest said Wednesday, was the cryptic warning made to him in Jordan by a purported al-Qaida chief months before the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow that have been linked to a group of foreign Muslims working as doctors in Britain.

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