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By Cécile Chambraud in Madrid, With correspondants in Berlin, London, Rome and Stockholm
November 18, 2005
Original Article (French)
Investigations or requests for investigations in Europe are on the rise, into the subject of whether governments authorized the American CIA to land planes on their territories to transfer prisoners suspected of terrorist links, on their way to detention centers in friendly countries, to be secretly interrogated and, according to several witnesses, tortured. Several European Governments have been asked by opposition parties or their allies to disclose whether or not they knew about the flights.
In Spain on Wednesday [Nov. 16], a source revealed that two planes had landed at least four times in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, on flights from the United States to Morroco between March 2004 and May 2005. This information comes on top of reports that CIA planes landed over ten times at Palma de Majorca (the Baleares islands) between January 22, 2004 and January 17, 2005. In both cases, the flights continued way after conservative José Maria Aznar, an ally of George W. Bush in the war in Iraq, was defeated by socialist José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Zapatero pulled his troops out of Iraq as soon as he became Prime Minister in March 2004.
Zapatero’s government can't seem to give a straight answer. After some of this information was published in the local press in May, the governor of the autonomous region of the Canary Islands questioned the government, but received no response. The communist pro-environment coalition “Izquierda Unida,” which has been asking for explanations on air traffic above the Baleares since the spring, wants to summon before Congress Interior Secretary José Antonio Alonso, Defence Secretary José Bono and Director Spain's secret service, Alberto Saiz. The Baleares District Attorney was dispatched to tell the press that he has not sought to bury the case after the Civil Guardia investigation [Federal police].
In Sweden, Prime Minister Goran Persson confirmed on Wednesday that a CIA plane had “apparently” landed in Sweden at least three times between 2002 and 2005. The Swedish press agency TT revealed that CIA planes had gone through Stockholm, Orebro and Malmo.
In Norway, the American ambassador has been summoned by the government to answer questions about the same kind of activities. A Gulfstream III used by the CIA landed in Oslo on July 20 before continuing his flight to Paris.
Icelandic media reported that CIA planes landed in Iceland, central located between the United States and Europe, 67 times since 2001. The Baltic agency BNS has asserted that CIA planes, a Boeing and a Gulfstream 5, that could have been transporting terrorist suspects, had crossed into Lithuanian air space “dozens of times between 2001 and 2003, but never landed in Lithuania.”
The route taken by the Boeing  is said to have been from Kabul to Poland or from Frankfort to Moscow. The Gulfstream 5, nicknamed the “Guantanamo Express” according to BNS, was travelling from Central Asia to either Frankfort or Glasgow. An Estonian newspaper claims that the same Boeing, numbered N313P, landed in Tallinn on January 11, 2003. Still, Estonia, as well as Latvia and Lithuania have denied the presence of “a CIA prison” on their territories.
In Germany, an investigation has been opened up regarding the abduction of former imam Abu Omar from Italy. On February 17, 2003, he was processed at the American military base in Ramstein, in southwest Germany, before being transferred to Egypt. The Court of Zweibruecken, situated close to Ramstein, has begun an investigation against "X" ... targeting American CIA agents who, on that day, are charged with transporting the former imam to the military base. Omar is then said to have been placed aboard a Gulfstream leaving for Cairo. On Friday, the Court of Milan sought the extradition of 22 CIA agents suspected of having taken part, in 2003, in the kidnapping of Abu Omar, who was under investigation for terrorist activities in Italy.
Moreover, on Wednesday, a Munich court has indicated that it is investigating the transfer to Afghanistan of a German citizen of Lebanese origin. Kahled Al-Masri is said to have been arrested with the help of American investigators on December 31, 2003, neat the border between Serbia and Macedonia. After several months of detention, he was released in Europe at the same location.
In Great Britain, a Guardian investigation published in September stated that CIA planes had used British bases to refuel. The newspaper counted at least 210 landings since 9/11. The U.K. Foreign Office claimed it was unaware of the flights, yet an anonymous staff member of the British Defence Secretary acknowledged that “the planes use our airports. We close our eyes. We don’t ask questions.”
On August 2, the Guardian published the testimony of Benyam Mohammed, a 26-year-old Londoner who claims he spent two and a half years imprisoned in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan before being locked up at Guantanamo. In the Temera Prison near Rabat, he declares that he was regularly tortured. In Pakistan, he claims that he was interrogated by MI6 agents (British secret service). “The United Kingdom condemns torture and has never allowed any agency to use it,” the Foreign Office has responded after previous allegations. The Guardian's record of CIA flights matches Mohammed's Morocco detention dates.
In Portugal, the weekly paper Focus reported that a Gulfstream and a Boeing, previously used by the CIA, had been photographed at the Porto International Airport as well as in Tires, near Lisbon. Romania denies the existence of “CIA prisons” on its territory. “No Romanian institution will confirm that scenario,” President Traian Basecu told Le Monde.
The Mihail-Kogalniceanu military base near the Black Sea, named by group Human Rights Watch as a possible detention center site, has in a rare move, been opened to journalists. According to Commander Dan Buciumanu, there isn’t the slightest trace of a Guantanamo in Romania. He confirmed this by saying: “Nothing here gets done without my authorization, and I promise you that I would know about something like that.”