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Court documents from a billing dispute in New York have shed light on the murky world of secret CIA rendition flights
Documents give 'unprecedented insight' into how US authorities outsourced renditions to illegal back sites.
By Michael Mathes - WASHINGTON
that transported terror suspects around the world following the 9/11 attacks.
A huge trove of documents filed in a New York appeals court detail dozens of rendition flights -- to locations including Bucharest, Baku, Cairo, Djibouti, Islamabad and Tripoli -- organized by Sportsflight, a one-man aircraft business on Long Island that procured the charter flights for the US government.
According to the documents, copies of which were obtained by AFP on Thursday from a London-based rights group, Sportsflight secured a plane from Richmor Aviation, which is now suing Sportsflight for breach of contract.
When Sportsflight began procuring the flights in 2002 shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the flights' purposes "were undisclosed at the time."
But "it was ultimately learned that the flights would be going to and from Guantanamo Bay and would be used for assorted rendition missions," according to the court filing.
Secret CIA flights were conducted in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks to transfer "war on terror" suspects to third countries for interrogation. Many of the suspects later said they were tortured.
The business dispute, in which the two companies are fighting over more than $1.1 million sought by Richmor for unused but contracted flight hours, has helped lift the veil of secrecy on the rendition program.
The 1,775 pages of court documents include the invoices and itineraries of numerous CIA flights. They are extraordinary in their detail of flights that hopscotched around the world transporting "suspected terrorists."
Reprieve, the group that brought the case to media attention this week, said the documents reveal a complicated billing system that US authorities used to obscure the nature of the flights and ultimately "avoid embarrassment."
"These documents give us an unprecedented insight into how the government outsourced renditions, right down to the complicated paper trail the CIA used to cover their tracks," said Cori Crider, legal director for Reprieve.
The group advocates for prisoners' rights and focuses on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba, where the United States has held high-profile terror suspects since 2001.
It said all rendition flights were covered by a "letter of convenience" from the State Department which provided the operations with a form of diplomatic cover.
Richmor billed at a rate of $4,900 an hour for the use of the planes.
DynCorp, a government contractor which arranged for the charter flights, said in one document dated January 31, 2003 that funding for the rendition operations had reached $3.4 million over a 10-month period, including $413,000 for costs such as catering, flight attendants, landing and handling fees, and per diem allowances for flight crew.
The tally for just a part of the overall operation suggests the Central Intelligence Agency spent tens of millions of dollars to use private planes to transport suspects for interrogation.
The spy agency would not confirm any of the details.
"The CIA does not, as a rule, comment on pending litigation, especially that to which we are not a party," agency spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told AFP.
The State Department also declined to comment.
The court documents said Sportsflight had agreed to make the Gulfstream IV executive jet available to fly at 12 hours' notice.
"The client says we're going to be very, very busy," Sportsflight told Richmor, according to the filing. "We're going to fly more than 50 hours a month."
The same documents quote Richmor President Mahlon Richards as saying "we were transporting government personnel and their invitees."
In one rendition trip in August 2003, a Gulfstream IV aircraft carrying six passengers -- whose names were "blocked" or left blank in the documents -- took off from Dulles International Airport near Washington and flew to Bangkok.
Before returning four days later, it touched down in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Ireland, and appears to have coincided with the capture of Riduan Isamuddin, a suspected terrorist from Indonesia known as Hambali.
The entire journey cost $301,113.92, a Richmor invoice showed.
Hambali, the alleged planner of the 2002 terror attacks in Bali, was captured in Thailand and would spend the next three years being flown between secret prisons until his transfer to Guantanamo, where he is currently held.
The Gulfstream IV was identified publicly in 2005 after it was used in the capture and rendition of a cleric in Milan who was flown to his native Egypt, where he says he was tortured.