05-04-2006 By Teresa Küchler EUobserver:
The US has consistently used civilian front companies to conceal secret prisoner transports taking off from European airports, human rights watchdog Amnesty International has said.
In the report "USA – Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and ‘disappearance’" published on Wednesday (5 April), Amnesty claims to have registered over a thousand flights that can be linked to the US intelligence organisation, the CIA.
Most of the flights have taken off from European airports and all of them have been carried out by private airlines which were used more or less permanently as front companies.
Using these privately contracted planes, the CIA has exploited a legal loophole that allows private aircraft to land at foreign airports without having to inform local authorities – unlike government or military planes -, the human rights watchdog states. Amnesty also claims to have records of another 600 flights made by planes used temporarily by the CIA.
Extraordinary renditions – transfer of prisoners from one country to another bypassing due judicial and administrative rules – has been used consistently by the US in the context of the "war on terror" the NGO concludes.
In its report, the human rights watchdog repeats suspicions that the US intelligence ran secret prison camps in Eastern Europe.
According to Amnesty, three Yemeni men abducted and mistreated by the US were probably held in eastern Europe, although the report lacks concrete proof as to where precisley the camps were.
"Their captors went to great lengths to conceal their location from the men, but circumstantial evidence such as climate, prayer schedules, and flight times to and from the site suggest that they may have been held in eastern Europe or central Asia," Anne FitzGerald, a senior adviser with Amnesty, said in a statement.
"Without further information from the US government and European authorities, it’s impossible to verify exactly where," she added.
Amnesty International in its conclusion also criticises so-called "diplomatic assurances" on torture.
States who have rendered suspected terrorists to third countries have said they were given promises from the third country officials not to submit prisoners to torture.
The Amnesty report states that those promises have been broken on various occasions.
"With or without diplomatic assurances, this practise is not about bringing people to justice, it leads to torture and puts lives at risk," the report states.
The 15,000-word report includes testimony from prisoners that have been rendered to other countries, claiming they were beaten with sticks, made to stand for days on end, hung upside-down while the soles of their feet were beaten, or deprived of food or sleep.
"They promptly tore his fingernails out and he started telling things," a former director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre says in the report, describing what happened to one detainee who had been rendered to Egypt.