Torture Flights: The Inside Story

By Neil Mackay writing in the Sunday Herald

THEY could be walking the streets of Sweden, Italy, Albania, Indonesia or Pakistan. They are kidnapped in broad daylight, hooded, drugged, shackled and placed on a jet operated by the CIA. When they wake they find themselves in a country such as Morocco, Egypt or Uzbekistan ‘ where torture is the currency of the interrogation room. The CIA hand the captive to the local secret police, and the prisoner disappears off the face of the Earth. If they are lucky, they will emerge a few years later in a cage in Guantanamo Bay, broken by beatings, rape and electrocution … if they are unlucky, they are never seen again.

America’s “extraordinary rendition” programme targets suspected Islamic terrorists, captures and delivers them to US-friendly nations which are quite happy to use torture to get the information the US wants for the war on terror.

The programme is reviled by human rights groups around the world, but the UK is a keen supporter. Since 9/11, the CIA’s 33-strong fleet of planes, which is used to fly its human cargo of alleged terrorist captives around the globe, has stopped off for refuelling and other logistical support at UK airports on no less than 210 occasions.

Nearly 20 British airports have been used, with Prestwick and Glasgow the favoured destinations. Prestwick has received 75 CIA rendition flights and Glasgow 74. Other airports used include Luton, Heathrow, Gatwick and Belfast.

Other countries aren’t as co-operative. Italy has issued arrest warrants for 19 CIA agents who kidnapped a muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 and took him to Egypt, and Sweden is outraged at kidnappings in its jurisdiction.

The UN is investigating how renditions, and other tactics in the war on terror, breach international human rights legislation. President George Bush says renditions are entirely legal and that rendered suspects are not tortured, despite the fact that his own State Department says Uzbekistan, Egypt and Morocco are among countries that routinely abuse human rights and use torture.