Michele Chwastiak from the University of New Mexico, United States has just published an analysis exposing the aviation companies complicit in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
Aspects of CIA abduction and cruelty were revealed by mundane accounts which accidentally came to light, when two of the subcontractors for the CIA’s privatized rendition fights went to court over a contract dispute.
An analysis of these financial records is published in the academic journal, ‘Critical Perspectives on Accounting’.
Michele Chwastiak’s investigation is entitled ‘Commodifying state crime: Accounting and ”extraordinary rendition”’. It starts during the Vietnam War, where the CIA used an airline, ‘Air America’, which it owned, for secret missions.
However, by the modern era, supposedly covert operations, like ”extraordinary rendition,” had been essentially privatized.
The CIA had started outsourcing the flights to private companies, hiring DynCorp, for the privatized rendition flights. DynCorp subcontracted with Sportsflight, an airline broker, who in turn hired aircraft from Richmor Aviation, a privately owned luxury jet charter service.
But in 2009, Richmor Aviation sued Sportsflight in civil court over a billing dispute. It is the paper trail generated by the case, which reveals how business became complicit with the CIA scandal now dominating headlines around the world.
1,700 pages of court files, including contracts and flight invoices, were released into the public domain. Michele Chwastiak points out that, while the US government routinely invokes the ”state secrets privilege” to dismiss court cases filed on behalf of the victims of ”extraordinary rendition,” the state did not intervene in Richmor Aviation, Inc. v. Sportsflight Air, Inc.
Apparently, Michele Chwastiak notes, the public release of invoices, containing details of rendition flights, was viewed as so tedious that they could not be a threat to national security.
On December 31, 2003 Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, embarking on a holiday to Macedonia, was detained by law enforcement officials at the border, who confiscated his passport and held him incommunicado for 23 days in a hotel. On January 23, 2004 he was rendered by the CIA to Afghanistan.
The CIA stripped, hooded, shackled and sodomized El-Masri with a suppository while in Macedonia, subjecting him to abuses including total sensory deprivation, solitary confinement, forced feeding, physical assault, sleep deprivation and inadequate food and water in Afghanistan.
Officials eventually realized they had abducted an innocent man, yet, his unlawful detention and inhumane treatment continued for two more months. On May 27, 2004 El-Masri was released from the ”Salt Pit”, and flown to Albania and then home to Germany.
While Aero Contractors performed the rendition flight from Macedonia to Afghanistan, Richmor Aviation completed the reverse rendition, flying El-Masri from Kabul to a military airbase in Albania.
In May, 2006 the US government succeeded in having a court case dismissed which was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, against the aviation corporations that supplied the aircraft and personnel used in the unlawful transfer. Allowing the case to proceed would apparently jeopardize state secrets.
Another American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit implicated Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, contracted by the CIA to arrange logistics required for a rendition flight: landing clearances, flight plans, crews, hotel rooms, and catering. The ACLU filed this lawsuit on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition.
Once imprisoned they were subjected to torture such as scalpel cuts to the penis, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and beatings. The ACLU argued that Jeppesen, in providing services to the CIA, knew that the Plaintiffs would be subjected to forced disappearances, detention and torture.
They used as evidence an article written by Jane Mayer in which a former employee of Jeppesen claimed that Bob Overby, a managing director, stated at a meeting, ”We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights–you know, the torture flights. Let’s face it, some of these flights end up that way”.
In addition, the ACLU provided evidence that Jeppesen submitted ”dummy flights” to various aviation authorities in Europe to conceal the flight paths of the rendition planes.
Abu Omar, an Egyptian national with refugee status in Italy, was abducted by the CIA in Milan. Richmor Aviation completed the final stage of the rendition to Cairo, where he was taken to the Torah prison compound and tortured. Placed in a cell with no light or windows, he was subjected to extreme changes in temperature, hung upside down and given electrical shocks, including to his genitals.
After four years in prison, in February 2007 an Egyptian court ruled his imprisonment unfounded and he was released.
Given that Richmor Aviation transported Abu Omar to Cairo, according to the Italian courts that convicted in absentia 23 US citizens, almost all CIA operatives, for kidnapping Abu Omar, Richmor abetted kidnapping.
Richmor initially entered into a six month contract with Sportsflight that guaranteed payment for 250 flight hours, whether or not the hours were used. When Richmor billed Sportsflight for $1119,650 for the unused hours, Sportsflight refused to pay, and this led to a court case.
Nowhere in the court documents do representatives of the aviation companies express remorse for aiding kidnapping and torture.
Indifference to the plight of the detainees was exemplified in an exchange that occurred in court. When Mahlon Richards of Richmor was asked, ”Who or what was Richmor transporting in the Gulfsteam IV aircraft?” he responded, ”We were transporting government personnel and their invitees”.
But former CIA operatives have testified that prisoners being transferred by plane to secret locations are hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, blindfolded, shackled by hands and feet, not allowed to use the toilet, and on some occasions are required to lay flat on the floor with hands cuffed behind their backs.
These were the government’s ”invitees” Richards referred to.
In December, 2012 the European Court of Human Rights found that El-Masri’s abduction and detention did amount to an ”enforced disappearance,” and that the CIA’s treatment during the rendition constituted ”torture,” both violating the European Convention on Human Rights. The court awarded El-Masri EUR 60,000 for damages.
Michele Chwastiak concludes firms such as DynCorp, Sportsflight, Richmor and Jeppesen not only aided and abetted state crime, but also profited from it.
Abu Omar’s abduction and rendition to Egypt for torture converted into a bill totalling $138,389.70 for a flight that went from Washington to Ramstien, Ramstein to Cairo, Cairo to Shannon, Shannon to Washington.
Michele Chwastiak quotes the impact of all this on Abu Omar, who now lives in Alexandria, is jobless and taken care of by his family.
In an interview with Amnesty International, as reported by Michele Chwastiak, he stated: ‘I can’t walk alone in the street. I expect to be kidnapped again, to face fabricated charges or even to be killed… My prison experience has changed my life … I am always afraid, and suffer from health problems, tension … I do not want to see or receive visitors. All night long, I suffer nightmares, and all day long I remember torture so I shake…’ .
Shortly after taking office, President Obama ruled out prosecutions against those involved in the ”extraordinary rendition” program, stating it is a ”time for reflection, not retribution” and ”we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards”.
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