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Portugal: Renditions: Authorities accused of not cooperating with EP committee as details surface of more Guántanamo flights
01 December 2006
Socialist MEP Ana María Gomes, who is active in the European Parliament inquiry (TDIP) into the use of European countries in CIA rendition flights, submitted a new list that includes details of 94 suspected rendition flights travelling to or arriving from Guantánamo, whose transit through Portuguese airspace was authorised by Portuguese authorities, between 11 January 2002 and 24 June 2006.
The list was drawn up by NAV (Navegaçao Aérea de Portugal), the public company responsible for air traffic control in Portugal, and includes information about 17 stopovers in the airport of Santa Maria and the US Air Force airbase of Lajes (both in the Azores), only three of which were included in the Eurocontrol lists that were previously available to the inquiry. Gomes argues that the Portuguese authorities (both the current and previous governments) failed to provide this information to the commission, in spite of repeated requests submitted to the ministry of foreign affairs and the defence ministry since March 2006. These included a questionnaire requesting records concerning any civilian or military flights arriving from or leaving for Guantánamo that may have been authorised by Portugal, a demand that was reiterated during the visit by a delegation of the EP commission to Portugal 6-7 December 2006.
Moreover, two former ministers, Mr. Figuereido Lopes and Mr. Paulo Portas, who occupied the posts of interior minister and defence minister respectively at the time when 80% of the flights that are under suspicion took place, refused an invitation to appear before the delegation.
The responses provided to these queries by Portuguese authorities included misleading replies to direct questions asked by committee members. Gomes provides an example from 26 June 2006, when she asked:
"Are the Portuguese authorities aware of any requests for this kind of flights [State or military flights] whose origin or destination was Guantánamo?"
and was told by the national defence ministry that :
"… it does not appear from our records that any flight is referred to as having Guantánamo as its origin or subsequent destination".
After obtaining the NAV flight records, Gomes wrote to the minister of state and foreign affairs, Luís Amado, on 11 December 2006, to inform him of these stopovers and to request an urgent response to confirm or deny this information, taking into account the fact that the deadline for the commission's report was imminent, without drawing any reply.
Thus assuming the information to be accurate, Gomes details some noteworthy elements drawn from scrutiny of the list:
a) most of the flights are classified as "military" (marked as M for countries involved in Eurocontrol and X for other countries);
b) most of the flights involved US aircraft, both civilian and military, although they also include British, French and, in one instance, Saudi aircraft;
c) most of the flights connected Guantánamo with airports in countries that are suspected of hosting secret prisons involved in the rendition circuit in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa;
d) one of the listed flights involved the transfer of Algerians (the "Bosnian Six") from Incirlik (Turkey) to Guantánamo on 20 January 2006.
In her letter to Amado, Gomes notes that 17 of the flights stopped in either Santa Maria or Lajes airports (the list is included as an annex) and that some of them are listed as either "military" (11) or "state" (1) flights, meaning that they required permission from either the national defence or state and foreign affairs ministries. Nine of the flights headed to Guantánamo, whereas the remaining eight came from there. In three instances, further details are provided, including:
i) a commercial flight run by Richmor Aviation carried Abdurrahman Khadr to Tuzla (Bosnia) from Guantánamo on 7 November 2003 after a stopover in Santa Maria ( for further details, see Statewatch news online, October 2006 http://www.