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Conservative British MP in U.S. to Challenge Extraordinary Rendition; 3,000 Published Flight Logs Expose New CIA Rendition Activities

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A conservative British member of Parliament arrived in the United States this week to meet with U.S. lawmakers and challenge the practice of extraordinary rendition. We speak with Tory MP Andrew Tyrie as well as with Stephen Grey, the award-winning investigative journalist who first exposed the secret rendition program. He has just published more than 3,000 flight logs of suspected CIA-operated planes on his website. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: Italian prosecutors have asked a judge to indict 26 CIA agents accused of kidnapping an Egyptian Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 and sending him to Egypt. Osama Mustafa Hassan, or Abu Omar, has claimed he was tortured in detention in Egypt after his abduction in Italy. Those named in the request include former CIA station chiefs in Rome and Milan. Prosecutors also asked the judge to indict Italian agents over the case. If a trial is ordered, it would be the first criminal prosecution in the world over the U.S. practice known as extraordinary rendition.

The news comes a week after a new report by the European Parliament has concluded 11 European countries “cooperated actively or passively” in extraordinary rendition. The investigation found more than 1,200 CIA flights went through European airspace or landed at one of its airports.

This week, a conservative British member of Parliament arrived in the United States to meet with U.S. lawmakers and challenge this practice of extraordinary rendition. Andrew Tyrie is a Tory MP and chairman of All [Party] Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. He joins us from Washington, D.C. And on the line from London is Stephen Grey. The award-winning investigative journalist first exposed the secret rendition program back in 2004. His new book is called Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. He has just published more than 3,000 flight logs of suspected CIA-operated planes on his website. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Andrew Tyrie, let’s begin with you. Why are you here in the United States?

ANDREW TYRIE: I’m in the United States to put the case to the administration and to Congress that going ahead with this program, as it appears the Americans have been in the past, is not in America’s interest. It’s not in the West’s interest. And we’ve got to bring it to a halt. It’s not making us safer. It’s making us less safe. It’s alienating large sections of moderate Muslim opinion around the world.

And I’m not even sure the information that’s being collected in this way is of any practical use against the war on terror. If it is, we should be told that it is, absolutely straight. That should be explained to our politicians, and then we should change the law to legalize this practice. I believe there’s absolutely no stomach for doing that. And therefore, we’d better try and stick to the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Who exactly have you met with in Washington?

ANDREW TYRIE: I’ve been meeting with people in the administration, John Bellinger, Juan Zarate in the NSC, and a number of other people in the administration, putting this case to them. And what I get back from them is, I think—and I’m not attributing this to any individual person—but a recognition that maybe there was an overreaction after September the 11th. Totally understandable. But mistakes have been made, and now we’ve got to recover from those mistakes.

And that means clarifying what’s really gone on, having a congressional committee to inquire into this. We’ve got a committee inquiring into this in the United Kingdom at the moment. And then, once we’ve found out what’s going on, draw a line and say we’ve made some mistakes, we’re not going to make those mistakes again. That way, we can win back the confidence of our own domestic publics in Europe, and we can also start to win the battle of ideas with moderate Muslims around the world, because that’s the only way we’re going to win this battle against terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Zarate is the assistant secretary for terrorist financing?

ANDREW TYRIE: Yes, he’s the deputy national security adviser on terrorism and an assistant to the president and very close to these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: In Treasury. Also, State Department official John Bellinger. Congressmembers?

ANDREW TYRIE: I’ve seen Jim Moran and John Conyers and spoken to a good number of staffers from senators’ offices. It’s clear that on the Hill there’s also widespread concern about these issues, and I’m confident that at least one, if not more than one, congressional inquiries are going to be set up into this. And what we’re going to have, as a consequence, is parallel inquiries taking place in various countries in Europe, as well as on Capitol Hill. And I think between the two of them, I hope we can get to the bottom of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Conyers, very significant, is the incoming chair of the Judiciary Committee. Did he say he will be holding hearings on extraordinary rendition?

ANDREW TYRIE: I think he’ll speak for himself. I can only tell you what—and I’m only happy to tell you what I told him. It’s absolutely clear in my conversation with him that he’s deeply concerned about these issues and that he recognizes what we’re trying to achieve in our Parliament and that he sees every advantage in working together, as I do, to make sure we get to the bottom of this.

I’d just like to say one more thing. I am a British Conservative MP. I don’t want to be soft on terror. I want to make our countries as secure as possible. I’m an Atlanticist. I want to work with the United States. I’ve always believed that’s the way to make a secure, strong Atlantic alliance. I’m very pro-American.

But I am confident that some big mistakes have been made, and now we’ve got to admit them and put them right. There’s even bigger ones being made in Iraq, but there are some big mistakes being made here: the dark sites at Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition. All of these things have been very counterproductive for dealing with terror, and we’ve got to reverse those policies, as I think quietly some in the administration are beginning already to acknowledge.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member, a Tory member of the British Parliament. He’s in D.C. right now meeting with Bush administration officials and Congress members.

We’re also joined by Stephen Grey, on the line, award-winning investigative journalist, has contributed to The New York Times and Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly and many other publications; has set up a new website called ghostplane.net. Ghost Plane is also the name of his new book, Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. But on this website, Stephen Grey, you have posted more than 3,000 flight logs of suspected CIA-operated planes. Can you talk about the latest information, since we last spoke to you, that you have gathered?

STEPHEN GREY: That’s right. I’ve been sitting on this information for quite some time, poring over it. And I used these flight logs, these thousands of routes taken by CIA planes since September 11th, to help me with the research for the book I wrote and all of the work I’ve done on rendition.

But I thought it was time to put that stuff out in the public domain for two reasons. First of all, to be absolutely clear, to deal with any critics who said, “Well, how can you show these planes really are CIA planes? How can you prove what you’ve said?” Since we last spoke, I think I said to you, I named a company involved, Aero Contractors in North Carolina, as being at the center of a CIA plane operation.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Aero”?

STEPHEN GREY: That’s right. And I mentioned it on the program last time, and that company issued a statement to the local newspaper, saying I was clutching at straws saying they were the CIA. Well, I thought that by publishing the information, it makes absolutely clear, when you see all the operations and places these planes have been to at crucial moments, these are U.S. government planes operating for the CIA. And I think that’s very important, because at this time there are no—the U.S. government has acknowledged that the rendition program does exist, but it’s actually acknowledged no individual rendition.

That means that people like Khalid el-Masri, you’ve heard from, the German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, taken to Afghanistan to a secret prison there, people like Maher Arar, the Canadian taken from New York to Syria, all these people that are claiming some justice, some explanation or compensation, are being told they can’t get any answers because it’s a state secret. So, by publishing these proofs in the form of these flight logs, I’m showing that it’s very, very clear. It’s not a state secret. It’s not secret information. It’s absolutely clear that it was the CIA that was responsible for the transfer of people under this rendition program and for these specific cases.

And if I may, there’s a second reason, as well, for publishing this information, which is—it touches on what Mr. Tyrie was just saying about drawing a line under things—you know, we can’t draw a line under this whole program until we find out what’s happened to all the hundreds—in fact, thousands—of people that have actually disappeared in this whole program. And that goes beyond what I was talking to you about before, because there have been more than 5,000—in fact, 10,000 prisoners that were processed by the United States in Afghanistan after September 11th. And we don’t know what’s happened to all these people. We know that many, many people have disappeared. We know about 700 were sent to Guantanamo. We know that several hundred were rendered. But the rest of them, you know, we can’t be sure what’s happened to them. And I wanted to publish as much information as possible showing the movement of these planes to see if we can try and pin down the fate of some people that have disappeared. Because I think unless we actually show what we’ve done with people, we can’t really draw a line under this whole issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Grey, you mentioned Aero. What about other companies?

STEPHEN GREY: Well, Aero Contractors is the company that has been the real operators of a lot of these planes. There’s another company down in Florida called Tepper Aviation, which has been, you know, for quite a long time worked with the CIA. They’ve also used cover names as they’ve traveled around. One is called Stevens Express Leasing, and that’s based out of Memphis, Tennessee. Another was Premier Executive Transport of Massachusetts.

And the other thing that’s come up since we spoke last, I think, is it’s been clear that they made use of a perfectly normal, but interesting, subsidiary of Boeing called Jeppesen Data Plan, which is based out in San Jose in California. And they’re involved in planning the movement of private jets around the world, and it’s quite clear from telegrams that I got hold of, which are published also on that website, you can see how they were responsible for organizing the movement of these planes in a particular rendition, the rendition of Khalid el-Masri.

Now, these people—I have no information they knew that they were being involved or that they were actually organizing a rendition when they took instructions from the CIA to do these things. But, clearly, they’re going to be very, very interesting witnesses for these congressional inquiries to look at, because these are private citizens who may have a lot of information about what these planes have been up to.

AMY GOODMAN: And the transport, Stephen Grey, of the interrogators from site to site?

STEPHEN GREY: Yes, well, you can see that in these flight logs. They don’t just show the transfer of prisoners, but you can see every time there’s a key detainee picked up around the world, there’s a plane takes off from Washington straight to that location, or to where we think they’ve taken this prisoner, including flights to—there’s a flight there to Diego Garcia, for example, which is new. And that’s in the Indian Ocean and long denied as a place where they hold prisoners. But you can see every time that someone’s taken, including Saddam Hussein, a plane takes off, taking interrogators.

And there was even a claim by a detainee in Guantanamo that he was questioned by agents of the Libyan secret police in Guantanamo. Again, you might not believe it, but there was a flight from Libya to Guantanamo just at the time when he said that this had happened, so, in other words, suggesting it’s true, that they actually flew interrogators from Libya to take part in interrogations in Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to award-winning journalist Stephen Grey. His new book is Ghost Plane. Andrew Tyrie, what about holding corporations responsible? I know there’s going to be a news conference that will be held in North Carolina by the ACLU that is setting up a petition to Governor Easley calling for an investigation into the Aero Contractors, which is based in North Carolina, also named in the ACLU lawsuit of Khalid el-Masri. What about companies like Boeing and Aero?

ANDREW TYRIE: I think all those who have been involved in this, if they’ve broken the law, we need to investigate that, get to the bottom of it, and if necessary, prosecute. But I think it’s very important that we get to the bottom of those who are actually responsible for authorizing the policy. And that is almost certain to be very senior people in the administration and in, perhaps, collaborating in other countries around the world.

I want to add one other point, that while we have an administration that appears to be in a state of denial about this, it is natural that more and more lurid allegations of terrible things having happened will just escalate. It’s only by an investigation and by getting to the truth that we can start to provide reassurance to people.

The public, quite understandably, say, well, if someone’s out there who means us harm, we’d better do something about it. Yes, and if necessary, we have to change the law to make sure we have the powers to do something about it. But doing things illegally, doing things behind a curtain, that’s no way for a democracy to operate. The truth will out on this. It’s our job as the media and as politicians—and I salute Stephen Grey’s investigative work—to help get to the bottom of this and make sure that we can draw a line on it and move on.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Tyrie, finally, the Italian prosecutors asking a judge to indict 26 CIA agents accused of kidnapping an Egyptian Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003. Are we going to be seeing more prosecutions, possibility of prosecutions, possibly even in Britain?

ANDREW TYRIE: Yes, I think that the next stage in all this is going to be a series of lawsuits of one type or another, and possibly prosecutions, because, almost certainly, laws have been broken, and those laws will now be used to get to the bottom of what’s happened.

It’s also worth pointing out that, although there are some very nasty people in Guantanamo Bay that we’ve got to make sure stay secure there and find legal processes to ensure that, there are also a large number of people there who are innocent and who have had their lives completely wrecked. When they come out, hopefully they haven’t been radicalized by the experience they have had. When they come out, many of them are going to seek justice by one means or another. Many of the people who have been rendered, too, they will bring lawsuits. They will find ways of getting to the bottom of this and providing sunlight. Sunlight will be the best disinfectant for all this. We need more of it. We need Congress, now that we have these investigations taking place and parallel investigations in Europe, to undertake that process of providing more sunlight to all this and create the conditions in which we can restore public confidence in the way the war on terror is being conducted.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Tyrie, I want to thank you for being with us.

ANDREW TYRIE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: A British member of Parliament, Tory MP, chair of the All [Party] Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition. He’s in Washington, D.C., asking questions about the practice. Stephen Grey is on the line with us from Britain, award-winning investigative journalist. His book is called Ghost Plane.

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