Portugal: Over 700 prisoners flown to Guantánamo through Portuguese airspace
Reprieve, a UK rights organisation acting on behalf of rendition victims, published a report on 28 January 2008, in which it uses flight logs obtained by Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes in 2006 in the framework of the European parliament's TDIP commission (see Statewatch news online, October and December 2006), to confirm that over 728 prisoners were flown to Guantánamo through Portuguese airspace, and hence through Portuguese jurisdiction, in at least 28 flights. By cross-checking this data with the "in-process" records released by the US Department of Defence concerning Guantánamo detainees, who were weighed and measured on entry, with their date and time of entry recorded, Reprieve was able to conclude that 728 out of 774 prisoners weighed in were flown through Portuguese airspace, with at least 6 rendition aircraft having flown directly from Lajes airbase in the Azores to Guantánamo.
The report names these 728 rendition victims, lists the flights in which they were flown to the detention centre, two of which stopped in airports and airbases in Spain (Moron de la Frontera and Rota) and Portugal (Santa Maria and Lajes, both in the Azores), with a large majority of the flights setting off from Turkey. The report also lists the passengers who were on board of flights.
Brief descriptions of the plight experienced by a few those flown to Guantánamo are included in the report, including testimonies ranging from the conditions in which they were flown to their treatment in Guantánamo and during intermediate stages in the process, in Kandahar, Bagram airbase and other sites. For example, Sudanese Al Jazeera journalist Sami Muhideen Al-Haj (case a. in the report), seized in Afghanistan in December 2001 and flown from Kandahar to Guantánamo (via Turkey and Portuguese airspace), described the conditions in which he was flown:
"The conditions of the flight were horrific. Our hands and legs were shackled, we had ear muffs on our ears, we had a mask on our face and we had goggles on our eyes, and the goggles were covered with paint so we couldn't see anything through them and we had mittens. I lost consciousness a few times because of the lack of oxygen. And the flight took 28 hours".
Reprieve, The "Journey of Death" - Over 700 prisoners illegally rendered to Guantanamo with the help of Portugal, 28.1.2008 (pdf, pp. 35).
Previous Statewatch coverage:
Judicial investigation into CIA flights begins (Feb. 2007)
Authorities accused of not co-operating with EP commission as details surface of more Guantanamo flights (Dec. 2006)
Evidence of illegal CIA flights surfacing
Renditions continue: Algerian prisoner abducted and deported
Portuguese government admits knowledge of CIA flights
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