Saturday, October 28, 2006

911 Mysteries: Part I 

Monday, October 23, 2006

An American in Dublin 

Island magazine (Ireland), June 2006:

An expatriate speaks out against the war

Senator David Norris and Caitlin O'Rudhain on O'Connell Street in Dublin, Feburary 2006

When American Caitlin O’Rudhain arrived in Ireland three years ago, she longed for a respite from the militaristic atmosphere that grips the United States. Instead of a peaceful sanctuary, however, she touched down in what appeared to be a United States airbase.

‘I just wanted to kiss the earth and smoke a cigarette,’ says O’Rudhain, recounting her landing at Shannon Airport at 4:30 a.m. on 4 February 2003. ‘Then I went into the airport (terminal) and I was greeted by 1,500 US Marines. I mean you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was flabbergasted.

‘I thought I would be coming to a neutral country,’ she says. ‘I believed I was going to experience the ultimate getaway from it all. I had a lot of romantic notions about Ireland, neutrality being one of those romantic notions.’

O’Rudhain recalls being vaguely aware that Ireland provided support to the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror, but until that moment she hadn’t realized the extent of the cooperation.

Standing in a queue at the airport coffee stand that morning, she remembers striking up a conversation with a young female recruit who expressed doubts about the morality of her pending combat duty. The brief encounter left a lasting impression on O’Rudhain. Foremost, she realized that Ireland was not a haven from the global effects of US foreign policy -- it was a staging ground.

The US had already invaded Afghanistan by the time she arrived in Ireland and was set to do the same in Iraq. She has watched with alarm as the troop numbers passing through Shannon have more than doubled in the intervening years. By 2005, the annual total had leaped to more than 300,000. Moreover, Shannon is now known to be a refueling stop for covert US Central Intelligence Agency flights, which are now under investigation by various European nations and the Council of Europe. The so-called ‘extraordinary rendition’ missions reportedly involve the illegal abductions of terror suspects in Europe. The kidnapped suspects are then reputedly flown to countries often located in the Middle East that permit torture as part of the interrogation process.

Since moving to Ireland to join her husband Eamonn Ruane, an Irish citizen, O’Rudhain, a former Texan, has adopted a Gaelic name as a gesture of respect for Irish culture. But she exhibits little or no deference towards what she sees as the Government’s complicity in aiding US war crimes.

Within a month of her arrival, in March 2003, O’Rudhain says she began to take an active interest in the Irish anti-war movement. She attended protests in Dublin in advance of the American invasion of Iraq. Initially, however, the bulk of her involvement was limited to Internet exchanges, sharing information and commiserating with war opponents online. But last year, she came to the conclusion that wasn’t enough.

Her change in attitude started with a bit of innocent reconnaissance in her own backyard. She began observing the passing aircraft from the vantage point of her garden in County Wexford, wondering whether any of them might be American warplanes. If they were US military planes, O’Rudhain wondered whether they carried weapons of mass destruction or corpses of American soldiers. The thoughts disturbed her. She felt compelled to act.

‘I really decided that this just this wasn’t going to happen unless I did something. I really had to get up off derriere and into the streets. I really had to do it. I had spent almost two years sending photographs and information, posting on Indie Media wires, different forums, and still nothing was happening.

‘You expect someone else to do something with this information and make something happen,’ O’Rudhain says. ‘Finally you realize that that someone is me. If I don’t do it, nobody else is going to.’

Her epiphany came around the time that Ciaron O’Reilly, one of the Shannon Five, gave a talk in nearby Enniscorthy. The Catholic Worker and other members of the Pit Stop Ploughshares were charged in early 2003 with damaging a US Navy aeroplane at Shannon. O’Reilly’s words of resistance had the transformative impact of attending a religious revival or camp meeting, as it is known in the American South, says O’Rudhain. She had been inspired by the willingness of O’Reilly and other Irish activists to put their lives at risk for the cause.

As she speaks, O’Rudhain absent-mindedly touches the peace sign necklace that she wears, as if it is her rosary or worry beads. Seated in the small kitchen of her rented sexton’s cottage in rural County Wexford, she pauses to a sip Diet Coke from a glass on the table beside her, after folding a batch of pink bandanas.

The bandanas are O’Rudhain’s contribution to the improvised uniform of the Irish chapter of Code Pink, the group that sprang up to aid American anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey passed through Shannon shortly before his death in Iraq in April 2004. The name of the group is a satiric jab at the US Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded terror alarm system.

Last December, O’Rudhain arranged for Sheehan to meet with Senator David Norris, an outspoken Irish critic of US foreign policy.

O’Rudhain and Norris crossed paths while attending Irish anti-war rallies. An affinity developed between the two. Both share a devotion to Irish literature: Norris being a renowned James Joyce scholar and O’Rudhain a student of poet and playwright William Butler Yeats. They share something else in common, too: a desire for peace. O’Rudhain describes Norris as “one of the most passionate, eloquent spokespersons in the Irish Government against the use of Shannon or any Irish airport for the war on terror.’

Bringing Norris and Sheehan together seemed a natural fit to O’Rudhain. ‘Cindy came to prominence because (US President) George W. Bush would not meet with her,’ says O’Rudhain. ‘I thought here’s someone in the Irish Government who will meet with her. At that point, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the foreign minister had refused to meet with Cindy.’

Being an American protesting her own government’s foreign policies abroad has put O’Rudhain in a rather peculiar circumstance. The reaction she has received in Ireland to her anti-war activism has been at times both a blessing and a curse.

‘It really depends on the politics of the person you’re talking to, and also how the media is spinning it (the war) at the time. Sometimes it is very enthusiastic, and then there’s the negative (reactions), where they’re very suspicious of you,’ says O’Rudhain, who laughs off occasional accusations of being an American spy. ‘People think I’m CIA. That is so funny. I wonder who started that rumour?’ On a more serious note, she says: ‘It’s a difficult position to be an American in Ireland and be opposed to US foreign policy. You have to prove yourself.’

O’Rudhain is often asked quite bluntly why the American people have gone along with Bush’s policies and why he hasn’t been drummed out of from yet. ‘Then you find yourself in a position of trying to explain US constitutional law,’ she says.

On the other side of the argument, there are many Irish people who hold an allegiance to United States because of the two nations’ close historical ties. ‘This is the most pro-American country in Europe,’ O’Rudhain says. ‘The Irish seem to feel that they owe something to America. Americans sent a lot of money to Ireland after the famine. But it wasn’t the American government who was supporting them – it was Irish Americans.’

The rationale by Irish officials for supporting the US war in Iraq is equally dubious, according to O’Rudhain. ‘They’re afraid that if they oppose US foreign policy that the United States will pull its business from Ireland. But American businesses go where they’re going to make a profit. They don’t care about patriotism. During all of the French bashing, the United States corporations increased investments in France by 40 percent. They go where the money is. That’s what businesses do.’

Indeed, one of those opportunistic American businesses -- with current contractual ties to the Irish Department of Transportation -- is Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the corporation formerly headed by US Vice President Dick Cheney. Texas-based KBR, the largest beneficiary of no-bid US military contracts in Iraq, has also been awarded multiple highway construction contracts in Ireland, including the controversial Dublin Port Tunnel project.

After driving by the tunnel construction site a few years ago and seeing evidence of KBR’s involvement in the project, O’Rudhain became further dismayed. ‘I thought why did I leave America? Why did I leave? I didn’t leave’. They say Israel is the 51st state. This must be the 52nd.’

O’Rudhain, who calls Bertie Ahern the ‘Teflon taoiseach,’ begrudgingly credits the Irish leader for his ability to sidestep issues, including the use of Shannon by the US military. But she still can’t fathom why the Irish electorate so readily accepts transparent manipulations of public opinion such as Ahern’s annual pilgrimage to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.

‘Why does the prime minister of Ireland have to go pay tribute to the president of the United States? What if George Bush came over to Ireland on 4th of July,’ she asks, referring the American national holiday. ‘The Irish are being brainwashed. They think they’re being honored. It’s just awful.’

Despite her criticisms, O’Rudhain remains confident that the Irish people will recognise the errors of its Government and ultimately hold those responsible accountable. ‘If you speak to the average Irish person,’ she says, ‘they’re not in favor of torture, they’re not in favor of killing people.’

All He Is Saying Is Give Peace a Chance 

Island magazine, June 2006

Irish Senator David Norris Sounds Off on America's Misguided Foreign Policy

Senator David Norris doesn’t mince words when it comes to his opposition to the US war in Iraq: ‘I’m opposed to the war because the war is illegal, immoral and unjustifiable,’ he says.

It is a message Norris, an Independent, has been repeating for years in the Seanad Eireann. As a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Oireachtas, he opposed the war before the invasion in March 2003 and has been a staunch critic of the so-called ‘war on terror’ ever since. With the ongoing revelations of kidnapping and torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency, his criticisms appear more valid than ever and show no signs of abating.

Earlier this year, the efforts of Norris and other legislators to establish a Government inquiry into the CIA’s use of Shannon Airport for its ‘extraordinary rendition’ flights failed to gain the necessary support of the ruling Fiann Fail party. But the senator, who branded the majority party’s inaction as cowardly, remains undeterred, redoubling his support of the European Union’s investigations of the issue, while continuing the debate in Ireland via the mass media.

Norris, a Trinity University graduate and noted James Joyce scholar, is no stranger to uphill political battles. Since spearheading the campaign for gay rights in Ireland 30 years ago, the indefatigable Dubliner has remained an outspoken figure in Irish politics, winning a seat in the upper house in 1987 after several unsuccessful tries.

Seated at a cluttered desk in his basement office in Leinster House, the windowsill crammed with books, the bearded Norris appears professorial in his three-piece suit, wire-rimmed specs and receding hairline. But when he launches a series of broadsides against the US, British and Irish governments’ foreign policies he sounds less like an academic lecturer and more the firebrand orator.

‘A hundred thousand civilians at least have been killed by Anglo-American bombardment,’ says Norris. There seems to be no control. Chemical weapons and torture have been used. No doubt about that.’

Unlike members of the American regime such as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Norris says he consistently opposed Saadam Hussein’s dictatorship. But the US and British occupation of Iraq have made matter only worse.

‘Even from the American point of view the foreign policy objectives have been completely reversed,’ says Norris. ‘They went in there allegedly to find weapons of mass destruction and there were none. But the whole country has now turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Nuclear materials were not guarded. God knows where they’ve gone from the reactors and research establishments. They may have spread all over the place.’

Moreover, says Norris, Iraq is now a harbor for Al Qaeda forces, which prior to the invasion was not the case. He adds that the social conditions in the country have deteriorated under the occupation further destabilizing Iraq. Before the invasion, ‘it was a secular state, which despite the (United Nations) sanctions had reasonably efficient education and health service,’ with violence limited to relatively low levels of government repression. ‘Now it is complete and absolute chaos. And there is very little infrastructure. … So it has been an absolute disaster both in terms of achieving American foreign policy objectives and also in terms of the well being of the vast majority of the Iraqi people.’

Last year, the Irish government allowed more than 300,000 US military personnel to move through Shannon Airport. The air facility in County Clare has also been used as a refueling station for secret aircraft used in the CIA’s covert programme to kidnap suspected terrorists and fly them to countries where they are tortured as a part of the interrogation process in flagrant violation of Irish, European and international laws.

Norris faults Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s reasoning for allowing the US to appropriate Shannon as a de facto military installation. The Irish leader’s citing of precedent during the Vietnam era only buttresses his argument, Norris contends. ‘Ahern was foolish, in my opinion, to make this point,’ says Norris. ‘I thought everybody knew, especially America, that that particular escapade (the Vietnam War) was a total disaster. It cost a very large number of American lives, traumatized a lot of young American people, who went back and are now on welfare, in veterans’ hospitals or just roaming the streets in a psychotic condition because of post-traumatic stress. It was very damaging to American society.

Norris is quick to add that Vietnam and Southeast Asia fared even worse as a result of the US war. ‘The place was pounded into the earth; Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant, used all over the place. And half-a-million citizens of a neutral country, Cambodia, killed by carpet bombing without a declaration of war. So should we facilitate this kind of operation?’

Norris places the onus on the Government’s misguided belief that Irish business interests would somehow be harmed if support for the US foreign policies were questioned. ‘We know that our hospitality of our airports and air space was abused during the Vietnam War,’ he says. ‘Why should we do it again? Answer: Because Bertie has his snout in the corporate American trough. The prevailing view of our government (is) that it would be unwise to alienate the American establishment because they might clamp down on multi-nationals and implement a more severe tax regime against us.’

This presumption is a canard, too, says Norris. Though the current US regime is intimidating and vindictive, in the end, American capitalists are only concerned about the bottom line. He cites the US trade policies toward China as an example. ‘Corporate America lives in a big, tough, bad old world. They don’t even give a shit about their own employees. They move wherever they see profit. It’s the almighty dollar, that’s what they’re after,’ says Norris.

The senator is just as blunt in gauging the veracity of the US Secretary of State’s denial of American human rights violations. ‘Condoleezza Rice has unequivocally lied to the Irish government when she said there was no torture. There most definitely is (proof) even in terms of what she disclosed herself,’ says Norris, citing her admission of the use of sleep depravation and other extreme interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects. Referring to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights condemning the use of such methods by the British on IRA suspects, Norris maintains that the US, by the testimony of its top diplomat, has already confessed to torturing so-called detainees at its prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

Covert CIA flights to Guantanamo and other secret interrogations centres are so far known to have operated in Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. In each case, the US spy agency has employed private airlines as front companies to carry out the missions. Flight logs, released by other European countries show that CIA aeroplanes have landed and taken off from Shannon. Of these many flights, there is at least one verifiable instance in which the CIA transported a prisoner through Shannon who was later tortured elsewhere, Norris says. Despite the evidence, the Government has yet to investigate the so-called ‘extraordinary rendition flights.’

After the Irish anti-war movement began asking questions about such aircraft using Shannon, says Norris, registration numbers on the otherwise unmarked planes quickly changed. The names of the front companies that operate the aircraft are also subject to change.

‘The CIA uses shell companies for all kinds of things,’ says Norris. ‘So it’s a series of Chinese boxes. … They don’t reflect any reality. They’re located at post office boxes.’ Citing an anonymous source, Norris alleges that CIA funding of at least part of this illegal operation is funneled through a mail drop in central Africa. He also contends that Shannon is not the only Irish airport involved in the CIA flights.

‘We know that CIA planes have gone through Baldonnel on a regular basis,’ asserts Norris, referring to the Irish military airbase north of Dublin. ‘We know that those planes were used exclusively for rendition purposes. There is no reason to imagine that they were taking people through on little holiday trips. There is no doubt that some people have actually died as a result of being rendered to this system of outsourcing of torture. And these people are tortured in the presence of CIA operatives.

‘There has been a lot of dancing around this issue,’ says Norris. ‘The British, for example, want to send people back to places like Jordan, Syria, Egypt and so on, and they know perfectly well that torture is endemic there. It’s part of the system. They go and get a kind of written excuse from the government there, which says we’ll make an exception in these cases; we won’t torture them. Like hell they won’t.’

Norris continues to be confounded by how the current US president has been able to evade accountability for conduct of the war. ‘I just don’t understand how Bush has gotten away with it because he’s broken domestic law, federal law, human rights law, international law – the whole works. I mean, they impeached Nixon over a botched burglary. They tried to impeach Clinton over a blow job. And yet they let this cowboy create a world war over bugger all. I don’t know what he has to do to get impeached. The Democrats have just laid down and let him trample all over them. I think it is about time America, which is a country I greatly admire, … (realize it) is traveling backward at the speed of light. … I think it is such a shame.’

Bird of Prey 

click on map to enlarge

Island magazine (Ireland), June 2006:

by C.D. Stelzer

After the sleek Gulfstream V executive jet, tail number N379P, touched down at Stockholm's Bromma airport on 18 December 2001, two Egyptians were escorted onboard and whisked away to Cairo. Neither Muhammad Zery nor Ahmed Hussein Agiza had booked passage on the privately-owned aircraft. They weren't returning home to visit friends or family. They had no business affairs to tend to in the Egyptian capital. They weren't going on holiday to visit the Pyramids, either.
Instead, the asylum seekers had been kidnapped by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, while Swedish authorities turned a blind eye. The Americans made no pretense of abiding by any laws or diplomatic niceties. No extradition papers were served. No arrest warrants issued.

Zery and Agiza, having been deemed terrorist suspects by the US, were snatched as a part of a covert CIA operation euphemistically referred to as 'extraordinary rendition'. Piecing together evidence, human rights advocates conservatively estimate that there have been at least 150 similar abductions since 9/11, though the exact number of cases is impossible to ascertain and may be many times higher.

In Sweden and elsewhere, the precise identity of the captors remains unclear, too. But their methods are always the same. After snaring their prey, a team of black clad, masked, abductors strip, drug, blindfold, manacle, diaper, and, finally, dress their victims in orange jumpsuits.

Once in Egyptian custody, Zery and Agiza underwent interrogation that allegedly involved torture, including electrical shocks to the genitals. Ultimately, The Egyptian Supreme Military Court meted out a 25-year sentence to Agiza for his alleged ties to an armed Islamic faction. The harsh sentence came despite the defendant's renunciation of violence while in exile. President Hosni Mubarak later reduced the sentence to 15 years. Zery, on the other hand, was released without charge - after being imprisoned under abysmal conditions for two years.

Ireland has become a staging ground for such abductions, a hub for the CIA's flight plan to perdition.

The aeroplane used to fly these men to Cairo, where they were handed over to Egypt's brutal secret police, landed at Shannon Airport 22 times between February 2001 and September 2005, according to aviation records compiled by Amnesty International. In a report issued in April, the human rights agency listed a total of 77 landings by the Gulfstream V and three other CIA-linked aircraft at Shannon.

Irish anti-war activists have duly reported many sightings of these and other suspicious aircraft at Shannon. So far the reaction of the Government has been to condemn the possibility of such reprehensible behaviour, while accepting US denials of wrongdoing. This apparent duplicity is exemplified by the stance of Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern, who has evaded responsibility by adopting a see-no-evil attitude. Ahern has told the media in recent months that there is no reason to search the suspect planes for evidence of kidnapping or other US malfeasance "because we have received categorical assurances from the US that they are not using Shannon in this way". A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry reiterated those assurances to Island in late May.

US President George W. Bush and other members of his regime have repeatedly mouthed those assurances. On 25 January 2005, for instance, the US president told the New York Times that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture". Bush reiterated that promise at a White House press conference last April, saying: "It's in our interest to find those who would do harm to us, and we will do so within the law, ... honouring our commitment not to torture people. And we expect the countries where we send somebody to not torture, as well". During her European tour in December, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "the United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured". Rice added: "Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured".

When asked for a clarification of the Government's position last month, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry cited the US secretary of state's guarantees. "In relation to the issue of extraordinary rendition, the response again emphasises the clear, categorical and unqualified character of the assurances the Government has repeatedly received from the US authorities, including Secretary of State Rice, that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission".

Despite diplomatic assurances on both sides of the Atlantic, however, the torture flights, as they are sometimes called, have apparently continued unabated - with Shannon playing an integral part in the operation. Indeed, reliance on assurances from duplicitous nation states that are party to the 'renditions' seems part of the strategy to circumvent inter-national, European, and American laws. Due to the CIA's use of privately registered planes, the Irish government has so far neglected to search suspected aircraft at Shannon, citing a clause within the Convention on International Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention), which allows non-commercial flights to cross international borders and make stops without prior authorisation or notice.

It is a loophole in the law big enough to allow the CIA to fly a fleet of more than two dozen aircraft through European airspace with absolutely no oversight. Shannon is often the logical choice for refuelling because it is the westernmost air facility among European Union states, and already utilised as a pit stop by the American military. Amnesty International has tracked more than 2,600 flights over the last five years that are directly or indirectly related to CIA covert operations. Most of these flights crossed through European airspace, often stopping at one or more airports. Of those flights, nearly 1,000 have been directly linked to the CIA. About 600 are tied to CIA-linked aircraft that have been used on an interim basis. The last category - more than 1,000 flights - is reserved for aircraft associated with CIA front companies.

The actual number of flights and their respective objectives remain an enigma because of secrecy surrounding CIA operations and the limited information available to the human rights and anti-war activists attempting to monitor the situation. In a report to the Council of Europe earlier this year, Foreign Minister Ahern affirmed the Government's opposition to 'extraordinary rendition'.

The report also states that Irish authorities have the right under international law to board civil aircraft to investigate possible human rights abuses, but thus far such allegations have been deemed unwarranted by officials of An Garda S’ochána. Moreover, the Office of the Foreign Minister claims that all of the alleged CIA flights that have stopped at Shannon have been recorded, according to regular procedures.

But some available numbers still don't seem to add up. US Federal Aviation Authority data compiled by Amnesty International shows that two planes owned by a CIA front company landed 50 times at Shannon Airport between 2001 and 2005.

But the same records indicate a total of only 35 take offs for the same aircraft. The CIA started the rendition programme under a directive signed by former US President Bill Clinton in 1995. Its purpose: to quickly apprehend and interrogate alleged terrorists. An ancillary objective was to keep them locked up to prevent future terrorist acts. In the wake of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, the CIA opted to use any means necessary, including torture, to meet these ends. The agency also wanted to prevent suspected terrorists from gaining access to the US criminal justice system, through which defence attorneys could use subpoenas to pry into the agency's darkest secrets. To accomplish these goals and still retain plausible deniability, the CIA chose to use proxies. Abductees have been dispatched to prisons in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and elsewhere, where torture is routinely employed by secret services to extract information from prisoners.

The use of Syria for these purposes is ironic in that the US has charged that country with being a sponsor of terrorism. As former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, who helped create the rendition programme, told the New York Times last year, the agency "preferred to let other countries do our dirty work". In an interview with British journalist Stephen Grey, another retired agent explained it this way: "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear - never see them again - you send them to Egypt".

After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration ordered the CIA to boost its efforts. As a result, increasing numbers of flights have carried abductees to a squalid prison in Afghanistan or the detention camp at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where approximately 550 detainees are still being held.

The US has acknowledged that about 30 so-called 'high-value detainees' have simply disappeared after being captured. Amnesty International estimates that for each of these acknowledged dis-appearances there are perhaps hundreds more that have gone unreported. Moreover, the human rights organisation claims that the CIA has operated its own secret prisons, so-called 'black sites,' in at least eight countries. In a report issued last year, Human Rights Watch, another monitoring organisation, alleged that abductees are being held in Romania and Poland.

To date, European investigators have been unable to substantiate this claim. But this spring the CIA added credence to the claim by firing a CIA analyst for allegedly leaking information on European 'black sites' to the Washington Post. Other suspected locations of the secret prisons include: Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and the Slovak Republic.

Evidence suggests the CIA rendition programme is part of broader US operations that engage the US Defence Department and White House. A former CIA agent revealed to the Chicago Tribune last year, for example, that the Gulfstream V jet, used in the Swedish abductions and other kidnappings, was operated by the Joint Special Operations Command, an inter-agency unit that coordinates counter-terrorism actions between the CIA and US military. The same CIA-linked plane is listed as doing business with the US Navy Engineering Logistics Office, a secret military intelligence agency. Landing permits for US airbases and US Defence Department fuelling contracts also connect the CIA rendition programme to the US military. More telling is the direct intercession by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a rendition case. In May 2004, as White House national security advisor, Rice ordered the release of Khaled el-Masri, a 42-year-old German citizen of Lebanese descent, mistakenly abducted by the CIA in Macedonia. After Rice interceded, el-Masri was subsequently transported from an Afghan dungeon, known as the Salt Pit, and freed in Albania.

Whereas, CIA covert operations may technically be beyond the purview of international laws, knowledge and participation of US military personnel and executive branch officials is not. This prospect places the US government and those individuals who have participated in the rendition programme in potential violation of the Geneva Conventions, the UN Convention Against Torture and other laws.

After it gained worldwide notoriety, the CIA passed the Gulfstream V to N126CH Inc, a Miami-based company in late 2005. The company's name is the same as the aircraft's new tail number. This is not the first time that the ownership and tail numbers have switched. Before the latest transfer, the plane was passed from one CIA front company to another, changing tail numbers twice in the process. Records indicate that Premier Executive Transport Services, a Massachusetts corporation that folded in late 2004, transferred registration of the plane to Oregon-based Bayard Foreign Marketing, another phantom company. Besides landing at Shannon 22 times, the plane's destinations have included: Guantanamo Bay Cuba, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Qatar, Morocco, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan, as well as countries throughout Europe.

The previously cited case of mistaken identity demonstrates how a rendition can easily go awry. On New Year's Eve 2003, while on holiday, el-Masri was seized at the Macedonian-Serbian frontier. The unemployed car salesman and father of five from Neu-Ulm, Germany, had travelled to the Balkans on a spree, after having a row with his wife.

Assuming his passport was a forgery, the Macedonian police reported him as an al Qaeda suspect to the CIA station in Skopje. On or about 24 January 2004, a CIA rendition team, bundled el-Masri aboard a Boeing 737 bound for Afghanistan, where he was tortured for months before being released. Like the Gulfstream V, the 737 belonged to Premier Executive Transport Services. The same plane reputedly flew from Afghanistan to Poland and Romania twice in 2003 and 2004, leading Human Rights Watch to suspect those countries of harbouring CIA black sites.

The 737 also passed through Dublin Airport twice and Shannon 23 times in the past five years. In December 2004, the now-defunct Premier Executive Transport Services handed the plane over to Keeler & Tate Management, yet another CIA front company in-corporated in Nevada. Corporate records list the only real person connected to Keeler & Tate as solicitor Frank R. Petersen, who shares his Reno, Nevada office with Peter Laxalt, the brother and business partner of former US Senator Paul Laxalt, a confidant of the late US President Ronald Reagan. Since retiring from the public office in 1987, Paul Laxalt has headed an influential Washington D.C. lobbying firm. In recent years, besides its private clients, the Paul Laxalt Group has represented the US Defence, State and Justice Departments. Public records also show the Executive Office of the President (the White House) hired the Laxalt Group for unspecified reasons in 2003.

In a suit recently rejected in US federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union sought to sue former CIA Director George Tenet on behalf of el-Masri. The other plaintiffs were Premier, its successor Keeler & Tate and Aero Contractors Ltd of North Carolina. Some Aero employees are reported to have past connections to Air America, the notorious CIA airline of the Vietnam War era.

The abduction of Islamic cleric Hasan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from Milan in February 2003 illustrates just how tangled the web of affiliates involved in the rendition programme can be. After the kidnapping, pilots of CIA-linked Aero Contractors flew Omar to Egypt in a Gulfstream IV aircraft leased by Richmor Aviation of Hudson, New York. FAA registration records, however, list the actual owner of the plane as Assembly Point Aviation Inc of Glens Falls, New York. The chairman and sole officer of Assembly Point Aviation is Robert Morse, part owner in the Boston Red Sox professional baseball team.

If Omar's flight to Egypt is a reliable indicator, it would be reasonable to deduce that this gaggle of private and CIA front companies is making a tidy profit off the rendition programme at US taxpayer's expense. Richmor Aviation, for example, leases the plane on behalf of its owner for $5,365 an hour, or a little more than $900,000 a week, according to the Boston Globe. Aside from free rides given to kidnap victims bound for torture chambers in the Middle East, not too many people could afford such luxurious air travel. One notable passenger granted the privilege without being shackled or diapered is former President George H. W. Bush, the current US leader's father, who accompanied Morse on a leisurely trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York a few years ago.

If that were not a strange enough coincidence, consider the diversified interests of Richmor Aviation. Besides leasing and maintenance, Richmor also operates a flight training school. One of its dropouts, from the early 1990s, was Abdul Hakim Murad, an associate of Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, a lieutenant of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Philippine authorities arrested Murad in Manila in 1995. He was later convicted in New York for plotting to blow up a dozen US commercial passenger jets over the Pacific and then crash a plane into CIA headquarters. To date only one country has taken serious steps to reveal these intricate machinations. At press time, Italy's case against 22 CIA agents charged in the Omar kidnapping case is slowly moving forward after stalling out temporarily in the wake of this spring's contested national elections. Those indicted include former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady. Prosecutor Armando Spataro has vowed to continue pursuing the case now that the centre-left government of Prime Minister-elect Roman Prodi is in power.

Investigations of the rendition cases elsewhere have fared even worse, with no prosecutions foreseen in the offing. The tepid response may be intentional. There is cause to suspect that European governments are dragging their bureaucratic feet on the rendition issue because they have quietly cooperated on one level or another with US efforts.

In February, law enforcement authorities in Munich initiated an inquiry into whether Germany had foreknowledge or tacitly approved the CIA kidnapping of el-Masri, a German citizen. The investigation is based on the victim's recollection that a German police official interviewed him three times while he was imprisoned in Afghanistan. Officials in the governments of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder have repeatedly denied any knowledge of the abduction and pressed counterparts in Washington to divulge information concerning the case.

The German doubletalk is not the only national voice lacking in candour. In December, the British press documented extensive CIA use of airbases throughout the United Kingdom, exposing earlier official denials. Such revelations, if they continue to mount, could lead to a political furore.

But that hasn't happened. Instead, an investigative report published by the Council of Europe in January failed to break any new ground. That Prime Minister Tony Blair chaired the Council's rotating presidency in the midst of the vapid inquiry gives an appearance of a conflict of interest. Blair is Bush's strongest ally, of course, and the CIA rendition flights are now known to have frequented the UK regularly. Nevertheless, Blair's former Foreign Minister Jack Straw feigned ignorance, publicly requesting that the US clarify whether CIA rendition flights used European airports - while the stifled investigation by Council rapporteur Dick Marty went nowhere.

The Venice Commission, legal advisor for the Council of Europe, has recommended that member states must inspect aircraft if there are 'serious reasons' to suspect prisoners onboard are bound for destinations where they will be tortured. But despite the urging of the Council officials, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's government has only paid lip service to the idea.

In May, the United Nations Committee Against Torture strongly recommended that the US close any prisons known to engage in torture, including the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The committee had ruled in May 2005 that Sweden had violated international law by permitting the United States to render asylum seeker Ahmed Hussein Agiza to Egypt in December 2001 in the agency's Gulfstream V, which then displayed the infamous tail number N379P.

A lot of time has passed since then. By now the names of some of the front companies have changed and the tail numbers of the spy planes, too. But one thing hasn't. The CIA's birds of prey still roost at Shannon.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

There He Goes Again 

Bloomberg Oct 22

President George W. Bush said Republicans can hold their congressional majority by focusing on national security and the economy, and that he will return to overhauling Social Security as a top domestic priority for his last two years in office. ...

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Arrogant and Stupid, That About Sums It Up 

The interesting thing about this story is that the Times is already reporting that the diplomat is apologizing for what he said, instead of reporting what he said first. The British press is using this spin.

New York Times, Oct 22:

A senior State Department official apologized Sunday night for saying that the United States had acted with “arrogance” and “stupidity” in its campaign in Iraq.

The apology from Alberto Fernandez, director of the office of press and public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in Washington, involved a comment that he had made during an interview conducted in Arabic and broadcast Saturday on Al Jazeera, the Arab television network.

In the 35-minute interview, Mr. Fernandez, who speaks Arabic fluently, said, “History will decide what role the United States played.” According to a translation by CNN, he said that while the United States had tried its best, its role might be criticized by future historians “because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq.” Other news sources have translated the remarks in a similar way. ...

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