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US 'rendition flight' aircraft flew to Shannon airport

The Clare airport was one of a number of international locations used by the secret flights, court documents show.

Shannon Airport
Shannon Airport
Image: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

SHANNON AIRPORT WAS among the locations used by a hidden network of US companies which organised the so-called ‘rendition flights’ – the covert airlift that transported terrorism suspects and their American minders to secret sites worldwide.

The revelation comes in newly disclosed documents in a New York business dispute between two aviation companies.

The court files of more than 1,700 pages shed new light on the US government’s reliance on private contractors for flights between Washington, foreign capitals, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and, at times, landing points near once-secret, CIA-run overseas prisons. The companies included DynCorp, a leading government contractor that secretly oversaw a fleet of luxury jets, and caterers that unwittingly stocked the planes with fruit platters and bottles of wine, according to the court files and testimony.

The business dispute stems from an obscure four-year fight between a New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc, which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp. Both sides cited the government’s program of forced transport of detainees, or “extraordinary rendition,” in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 (€600,000) awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights.

Trial testimony studiously avoided references to the Central Intelligence Agency. However, among the new disclosures were these:

  • Airport invoices and other commercial records provide a new paper trail for the movements of some high-value terrorism suspects who vanished into the CIA “black site” prisons, along with government operatives who rushed to the scenes of their capture. The records include flight itineraries closely coordinated with the arrest of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the suspected transport of other captives.
  • The private jets were furnished with State Department transit letters providing diplomatic cover for their flights. Former top State Department officials said similar arrangements aided other government-leased flights, but the documents in the court files may not be authentic since there are indications that the official who purportedly signed them was fictitious.

According to invoices between 2002 and 2005, many of the flights carried US officials between Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia and the Guantanamo Bay detention compound, where the US was housing a growing population of terror detainees. As well as Shannon, flights landed at a dizzying array of international airports: Islamabad; Rome; Djibouti; Frankfurt, Germany; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Glasgow, Scotland; Tenerife, Spain; Sharm el Sheik, Egypt; and even Tripoli.

Some flights landed at airports near where CIA black sites operated — Kabul, Bangkok and Bucharest. Others touched down at foreign outposts where obliging security services reportedly took in U.S. terror detainees for their own severe brand of persuasion — Cairo; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; and Rabat, Morocco. Billing records show scores of baggage handlers, ramp officials, van and car providers, satellite and flight phone firms, hotels and caterers routinely serviced the flights and crews and earned tens of thousands of dollars.

The court records do not specify who was aboard the planes beyond a count of crew and passengers. But in several cases, the flights dovetail with the arrests and transport of some of the most prominent accused terrorism suspects captured in the months immediately following 9/11: Mohammed, the purported mastermind, and Ramzi bin Alshib, his key logistics man; Abd al-Nashiri, who allegedly planned the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole; and Hambali, an Indonesia terror leader tied to the 2002 bombing of a Bali nightclub. The detainees all vanished into the CIA’s now-shuttered “black site” prison network and all are now at Guantanamo awaiting military trials.

Read more: Ahern suspected US carried prisoners through Shannon>

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Associated Press

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