March 7, 2005 ? It is supposed to be top secret, but ABC News found plenty of people who said they knew the true purpose of the airplane hangars at the end of a private two-lane road in rural North Carolina.
“That’s the CIA hangar,” said one airport maintenance worker, pointing out one of the two operating bases in North Carolina for the executive jets used by the CIA to move dozens of suspected terrorists over the last few years to countries well known for using brutality and torture.
The two jets, one a Gulfstream V and the other a Boeing 737, have been spotted at airports around the world, and flight logs shown to ABC News show trips to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Uzbekistan.
The CIA would not officially comment on its operation, known as “extraordinary rendition.” The program began under an executive order signed by President George H.W. Bush in December 1992. Former senior government officials say the program initially involved only a select few terror suspects, but was vastly expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“This needs to be done very quietly and out of the public’s eye,” said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent who is now an ABC News consultant. “It’s an integral part of the war on terrorism.”
Information Through Torture
A former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, says the CIA brought many prisoners to the Central Asian nation for interrogation, knowing full well that the Uzbeks would use torture during interrogation.
He said he knew of one case where an Uzbek prisoner was boiled to death.
“The Uzbeks very regularly used very brutal torture,” Murray said. “A lot of beating, breaking of limbs, smashing of limbs, smashing of teeth, pulling away skin with pliers, pulling out fingernails and toenails.”
Murray said his deputy confronted the CIA station chief in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, about whether information was obtained under torture.
“And he replied, it probably was obtained under torture, but the CIA does not see that as a problem,” Murray said.
The CIA denies any such meeting took place in Tashkent.
‘Snag’em and Drag’em’
The rendition program has been denounced in Sweden after two suspected terrorists in Stockholm were turned over to the United States, sent to Egypt on a CIA plane and allegedly tortured.
In Italy, a federal magistrate is investigating whether the Aviano Air Base, a facility in northeastern Italy used by U.S. forces, was used in a CIA scheme to grab terror suspect Hassan Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, off the streets of Milan and ship him off to Egypt.
Such operations are a well-known technique, according to Cloonan, and are known in intelligence circles as “snag ’em and drag ’em.”
Capt. Eric Elliot, the base’s chief of public affairs, told ABC News that U.S. officials have been asked about information regarding the disappearance of Abu Omar and that they “have agreed to assist in the investigation.”
Another Abu Ghraib?
A German citizen, Khaled el Masri, says he was taken on a CIA plane and sent to Afghanistan where he says he was stripped, beaten and abused.
He was interrogated by American agents for months, el Masri said, and at one point was told “you are here in a land where there are no laws. No one knows about you or where you are.”
El Masri was released by the United States after four months without being charged with any crime.
And others have come forward with their stories as well. Maher Arar, a Canadian, was sent to Syria in 2003 where he says he was tortured for 10 months. Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, claims he was transferred by U.S. agents from Pakistan to Egypt in 2001, where he says he was tortured for six months before being taken to Guantanamo Bay.
Some officials have already begun to decry the consequences of the rendition program.
“Like Abu Ghraib, it took a while for the outrage to build,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “The more the American people find out we are allowing other countries to torture in our name, there is going to be an outcry across this country.”