This flight was spotted landing at a UK airport – proof that ‘rendition ‘ flights are still taking place
The picture that proves ‘torture flights’ are STILL landing in the UK
By GLEN OWEN
The row over CIA ‘torture flights’ using British airports has deepened following fresh evidence that a plane repeatedly linked to the controversial programme landed in the UK just days ago.
The plane was logged arriving at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk last weekend, and watching aviation experts said the aircraft, piloted by crew clad in desert fatigues, was immediately surrounded on the runway by armed American security forces.
Its registration number, clearly visible on the fuselage, identifies it as a plane which the European Parliament says has been involved in ‘ghost flights’ to smuggle terrorist suspects to shadowy interrogation centres abroad. Records show the plane is owned by Blackwater USA, a CIA contractor described as ‘the most secretive and powerful mercenary army on the planet’. An eyewitness, who previously worked as an RAF electronic warfare expert, said that as the plane – a CASA-212 Aviocar – taxied to a stop on the runway it was met by a US military Humvee.
The vehicle contained four US security policemen armed with M16 assault rifles, who accompanied the camouflaged crew to the airport terminal.
The man, who did not want to be identified, added: “I thought it was curious that they would give a civilian plane an armed guard.”
Another spotter, who took the picture of it landing, recorded it touching down at 4.36pm on Saturday.
The disclosure follows damning findings by the Council of Europe human rights organisation, which accused Tony Blair on Friday of colluding in a CIA operation to run secret prisons in Poland and Romania by allowing the agency to use UK airports.
The study was contradicted on the same day by a report from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which concluded that there was no evidence to support the claims.
But the director of the human rights group Liberty revealed that ACPO had admitted it restricted its inquiry to a review of media reports on the issue.
She accused them of rushing out their ‘cursory’ findings as part of a politically-motivated ‘spin’ operation.
The US plane’s arrival was also logged by Touchdown News, a group of enthusiasts who record the movements of military aircraft at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath.
The group said the plane used its civilian call sign when talking to air traffic control and took off again early on the morning of Sunday June 3, flying east.
A report last November by a European Parliament committee placed the plane – registration number N964BW – on a list of ‘companies and aircraft used by the CIA for extraordinary rendition flights’. The plane was previously registered with the Bolivian army, and has been pictured on the ground in the Afghan capital Kabul within the past year.
The American Federal Aviation Authority lists the plane as being operated by two companies, Aviation World Wide Services and a sister company, Presidential Airways.
The European Parliament report describes these as shell companies operating as subsidiaries of Blackwater USA, ‘an important contractor for the CIA and the US military’ which bases the planes in Malta.
Research by a further group, The American Centre for Media and Democracy, claims that flight-tracking internet technology shows the plane landed at least twice in the first six months of 2006 at Camp Peary, the US naval reservation in Virginia known as The Farm and widely alleged to be a CIA training facility.
Tracking technology shows that the plane was en route from Canada to Greenland two days before it was sighted at Mildenhall: the internet software does not extend beyond American airspace, but the expert explained that its route would be consistent with a refuelling stop in the Arctic – it only has a range of about 2,000 miles – followed by a further refuel in East Anglia, before heading to Malta.
From there it could ‘leapfrog’ from US bases in the the former Soviet states bordering Afghanistan on to Kabul.
A recent book on Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill, an American author, described the company as the world’s “most secretive and powerful mercenary firm”, carrying out quasi-military operations on behalf of the US government in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the US.
It was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former elite Navy Seal and fundamentalist Christian millionaire who bankrolls far-Right causes.
This newspaper first cast doubt on the Government’s claim to have no knowledge of the CIA’s activities 18 months ago when we published pictures of three planes at Scottish airports which had been linked by human rights activists to rendition.
Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater mercenary firm
Flight records showed the planes had been given landing rights by the MoD, despite there being no record of passenger lists or details of the purpose of the flights.
The Council of Europe dossier, compiled by Swiss senator Dick Marty, said the US had used Britain’s help to establish a “global spider’s web” of jails and airports to pursue a war on terror without rules.
It claimed the secret centres had been set up so it could use interrogation techniques amounting to torture which are illegal in the US.
These include “waterboarding” – the dunking of blindfolded suspects so they believe they are drowning – solitary confinement, shackling in confined cells and exposure of naked captives to extremes of heat, cold and noise.
Separately, the Washington Post newspaper has reported that mercenaries working for Blackwater were at the centre of an infamous firefight in Iraq in April 2004 when guarding the US headquarters in Najaf – despite never having applied to operate as a private security company in the country, The report said that in the battle, footage of which circulated on the internet, the troops had opened fire on Shia Iraqi civilians protesting outside, unleashing rounds so rapidly they had to pause every 15 minutes to allow their gun barrels to cool down.
In his book, Scahill claims that the Blackwater employees in the country are using ‘experimental ammunition’ made of ‘blended metal, which shatter on impact to create untreatable wounds’. Shami Chakrabati, the director of Liberty, alleges that 210 CIA flights carrying terrorist suspects for possible torture have entered Britain since 2001.
She called for a full investigation, claiming the ACPO probe was unsatisfactory.
“ACPO have admitted to me in a private letter that their investigation amounted to little more than a cursory review of reports on the issue – which they issued, 18 months after I requested it, to coincide with the Council of Europe’s report,” she said.
“Maybe now The Mail on Sunday has produced this photographic evidence they will conduct a proper inquiry.”
An ACPO spokeswoman said: “These planes could be empty – there is no evidence that prisoners were on board.”
She denied Liberty’s claim that their inquiry had been limited and driven by spin.
“There has been a full examination to see if there was any evidence to suggest criminal activity, and there wasn’t,” she said.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We have been through the records, and there is no evidence of detainees being rendered through the UK since 1997.”
No one at RAF Mildenhall was available for comment.