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U.S. Operating Secret 'Torture Flights'

StoryNovember 17, 2004
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The Sunday Times of London is reporting that it has obtained evidence that the US government is leasing a special Gulfstream Jet to transport detained suspects to other nations that routinely use torture in their prisons. We speak with the reporter who broke the story. [includes rush transcript]

The Sunday Times of London has obtained evidence that the US government is leasing a special Gulfstream Jet to transport detained suspects to other nations that routinely use torture in their prisons. Logs for the airplane show the Pentagon and CIA have used the plane more than 300 times and dropped off detainees in Syria, Egypt and Uzbekistan. The Gulfstream and a similarly anonymous-looking Boeing 737 are hired by American agents from Premier Executive Transport Services, a private company in Massachusetts.

Analysis of the plane’s flight plans, covering more than two years, shows that it always departs from Washington DC. It has flown to a total of 49 destinations outside the US, including the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and other US military bases, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Libya and Uzbekistan.

Witnesses have claimed that the suspects are frequently bound, gagged and sedated before being put on board the planes, which do not have special facilities for prisoners but are kitted out with tables for meetings and screens for presentations and in-flight films. The US plane is not used just for carrying prisoners but also appears to be at the disposal of defense and intelligence officials on assignments from Washington.

  • Stephen Grey, journalist with the Sunday Times of London who exposed this week how the US is operating secret flights to transport detainees to countries that torture prisoners.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Stephen Grey, who is a journalist with the Sunday Times, who exposed the story this week, how the U.S. is operating these secret flights. Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us further about these flights, who the people are, and how you found out about them?

STEPHEN GREY: Well, first of all, it has remained something of a mystery, the whole story. Obviously, bit by bit, the whole — this kind of secret world is unraveling. And we are getting more and more information about the individual cases, where these planes are being used. What it exposes is the tentacles of a wider system whereby prisoners are being taken in the war on terror, not only to Guantanamo, but to many other place and those places include the prisons of so-called allies of the U.S. and Britain, around the world. Those countries which are allies of the U.S. include countries where torture is routine. Obviously, the concerns that many people have are that these kind of transfers basically allow the U.S. to pass prisoners into the hands of the secret police of other countries to do the kind of interrogation, torture in fact, of prisoners that the U.S. is not allowed to do itself. Kind of torture by proxy.

AMY GOODMAN: The company, can you talk about that?

STEPHEN GREY: Yeah. I mean, I think the company is not that important in a sense. These are private planes. They’re being leased. They’re not marked. That’s the point about them. They can appear anywhere, and you have, you know, innocent-looking, if you like, executive jets parked on the runways of airports around the world. No one is to know they’re actually planes run by the U.S. military and intelligence services. So, they have a perfect cover, if you like. But it’s — what’s happening is that — I mean, they’re hired from a company that operates in Massachusetts, and others. But you know, they’re probably just a normal, private company. What they’re doing is leasing it out. They only work for the government. As I say, the plane is not just used for carrying prisoners. It’s also used for transferring of interrogators and also regular V.I.P. and defense and intelligence officials from Washington. But what we have found is at least four cases which have emerged where this plane has been seen actually picking up prisoners, and in the first case which we discovered, the prisoner was — the two prisoners were taken from Sweden to Egypt, and at the time — this has happened just after September 11, and it’s been going on since, but in this case, just after September 11, two prisoners were taken on board. The Swedish government never mentioned the U.S. at the time. They said they were just sending — extraditing two prisoners. What actually happened was that the U.S. was there with the secret plane. They stripped these men of their clothes, handcuffed them, put them in diapers, gave them sedatives against their will, put them on the plane, and took them to Egypt. And since then, we have discovered these planes — these prisoners complained of being very seriously tortured with electric shocks all over their bodies as a result of being taken to Egypt. That’s the consequence of this kind of process which we know is rendition.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Grey, I want to thank you for being with us, the Sunday Times of London, exposing the U.S. torture flights.

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