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Spain: Damning evidence surfaces of Aznar government collusion in Guantánamo flights
01 December 2008
Damning evidence surfaces of Aznar government collusion in Guantánamo flights
On 30 November 2008, El País published a "very secret" letter dated 10 January 2002 from the foreign affairs ministry's general director for foreign policy with regards to northern America, Miguel Aguirre de Cárcer, to the then foreign affairs minister Josep Piqué and the secretary of State for foreign affairs, Miquel Nadal. The letter informs the minister of an urgent meeting requested by the political-military attaché at the United States embassy in Madrid, and held shortly afterwards, with regards to long-haul flights to transfer "Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantánamo base in Cuba". The US sought authorisation from the Spanish government for the flights to land in airports in Spain in cases of emergency or unforeseen circumstances (as it was claimed that, in principle, the flights would not require stopovers). These stopovers would be for as short a time as possible and it was suggested that reserve aircraft would be stationed in the region for this purpose, and the US would "take charge of the security of the people transported". Moreover, he was informed that similar enquiries were being carried out with various countries along the flight routes envisaged. Aguirre de Cárcer noted that he had suggested the use of airports in military bases, either Rota (Cádiz) or Morón de la Frontera (Seville) for this purpose.
As requested, the Spanish authorities gave their go-ahead in under 24 hours, after high-level contacts between Miquel Nadal, Javier Jiménez-Ugarte, the secretary general for defence policy, and Ramón Gil-Casares, director of the departament for international affairs and security of the PM's cabinet. The president of the Permanent Hispanic-North American Committee, vice admiral Manuel Calvo, suggested that "the most discreet airport is the one in the Morón base and, alternatively, Rota", indicating an interest in maintaining the activities outside of the public's view. In fact, the government also noted that the "legal consequences" needed "weighing up", in view of the "possibility that some of the prisoners transported may be of European nationalities", as was the case of a Briton among the first 23 prisoners to be detained in Guantánamo on 11 January 2002. Aguirre de Cárcer also wrote to Javier Jiménez-Ugarte to detail the line to be adopted if the press asked about the matter, by indicating that landings were not generally envisaged, and stopovers would only take place in case of emergencies, in accordance with international aviation rules. Miguel González, who broke the news in articles in El País newspaper, suggests that the reply was that expected by US authorities, noting that four C-17 aircraft of the USAF were deployed in Morón base as of 6 January 2002.
Once it was certified that the Aznar government granted permission for the flights' passage and stopovers in Spanish jurisdiction en route to Guantánamo, and that it knew their purpose, the controversy entered the political arena, with foreign affairs and co-operation minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos claiming that he was unaware of the secret documents concerning this matter, and that he was not informed of the request and authorisation in the hand-over when the PSOE (socialist party) government took over from the PP (popular party). Moratinos stated that his ministry would co-operate fully with investigations that are underway (see Statewatch vol. 18 no. 1 and Statewatch news digest, vol. 1 no. 2) and open an internal investigation to find any documents on this matter, official documents that had apparently disappeared, which would entail a criminal offence, as they must be duly archived. Parties to the left of the PSOE variously spoke of this demonstrating that Aznar's government was a "lackey" of the US (Izquierda Unida, united left), that there was "co-operation in a crime" (ICV, Catalan green-left party) and that "they were accomplices of an attack against human rights" (ERC, Catalan Republican left). Gaspar Llamazares of Izquierda Unida also argued that this shows that the Spain-US bilateral convention entails violations of international and Spanish law, and that the Zapatero government must answer for the fact that the flights continued after it came into power in 2004, unless it was not informed by the Centro Nacional de Información (CNI, intelligence service), "which I doubt". Leading Partido Popular figures including its leader Mariano Rajoy responded by claiming that more of the flights in question took place under the Zapatero government than during their time in government, without addressing the issue of the granting of authorisation for the flights in question to land, other than to deny knowledge of this.
Further documents posted in its website by El País in subsequent days included:
- Cárcer informing Jiménez-Ugarte that he had discussed the matter with Nadal and Gil-Casares, who "were logically in support of answering affirmatively to the north American authorities today", adding the line that should be presented if journalists enquired about the matter, and that the defence ministry should inform them as to whether a concrete airport should be specified.
- an information note from the Spanish section of the Permanent Hispanic-North American Committee, noting that a) Morón is the most "discreet" airport; b) the legal consequences of the possibility of the aircraft carrying European nationals should be weighed up; c) four C-17 aircraft were in Morón since 6 January that were neither on a mission nor being repaired; d) to be informed if authorisation were to be granted, so as to pass on the information to the military chiefs of staff.
- the foreign affairs ministry's statement denying knowledge of the document's existence, adding that it was not informed by the previous government and that it will co-operate with judicial investigations and hold an internal inquiry into the whereabouts of any existing documents on the matter, as well as reiterating its commitment for the defence of human rights.
Reports by Miguel González, El País, 30.11-3.12.2008
Documents (links to El País website):
Letter from Cárcer to Josep Piqué and Miquel Nadal, 10.1.2002
Page 1: http://www.elpais.com/elpaismedia/ultimahora/media/200811/30/espana/20081130elpepunac_1_Pes_PDF.pdf
Page 2: http://www.elpais.com/elpaismedia/ultimahora/media/200811/30/espana/20081130elpepunac_2_Pes_PDF.pdf
Letter from Cárcer to Javier Jiménez-Ugarte, 11.1.2002
Note from the Spanish section of the Permanent Hispanic-North American Committee, 11.1.2002
Foreign Affairs and Co-operation Ministry press statement, 30.11.2008