Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jet named in torture flight report is met by SAS at British airport



Tuesday, Nov 03 2009

Jet named in torture flight report is met by SAS at British airport

By Miles Goslett
Last updated at 10:03 PM on 31st October 2009

A U.S. plane that featured in a European Parliament report into the 'extraordinary rendition' of terror suspects was met by two SAS helicopters in a secret operation at one of Britain's biggest airports.

The Gulfstream jet landed at Birmingham International Airport on Friday, October 2, having flown in from an undisclosed location, and was seen by a member of staff being met minutes later by the Special Forces regiment aircraft.

Records show that the jet is owned by a subsidiary of L-3 Communications, a multi-billion-dollar defence corporation based in New York, whose clients include several American government departments, among them the Department of Homeland Security.


Boeing 757 mentioned in 'extraordinary rendition report' at Birmingham International Airport

Landed: The Boeing 757, passing the terminal building at Birmingham, was the first of the two planes to arrive

The jet was cited in a 2007 European Parliament report into CIA rendition - the process of smuggling terrorist suspects to interrogation centres abroad.

While not claiming that the plane had been used in a rendition, it stated that the plane was involved in an accident at Bucharest airport, having arrived from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and that a passenger on board was found carrying a pistol with ammunition.

The Birmingham airport employee who saw it land said helicopters that he recognised as belonging to the SAS's support flight, 8 Flight Army Air Corps, based at Credenhill, near Hereford, arrived shortly afterwards.

The witness, who did not want to be named, added that he saw another  plane, a Boeing 757 operated by  COMCO, land at the airport on October 1, and that this was also met by two SAS helicopters. He said: 'People were seen transferring between all the aircraft.'

The aircraft's presence at Birmingham airport was also confirmed by Ron Kosys, a member of the Birmingham Aviation Enthusiasts Group, who has posted pictures on the group's website.

The planes were parked in an area mostly used by private aircraft and situated away from the main runways.


Gulfstream jet, named in a report into the alleged transport of terror suspects, at Birmingham airport

On the tarmac: The Gulfstream jet, named in a report into the alleged transport of terror suspects, at Birmingham airport

The disclosure will reignite controversy over the use of British airspace and facilities by US-owned planes linked to rendition flights.

Last year, Foreign Secretary David Miliband was forced to admit that two American extraordinary rendition flights had landed on UK territory in 2002.

Mr Miliband revealed that both flights had refuelled on the British dependent territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

He apologised for the renditions, which contradicted successive statements made by Tony Blair in 2005, 2006 and 2007 saying there was no evidence that rendition flights had stopped on British territory.

The Gulfstream, registration number N478GS, is owned by a company called L-3 Integrated Systems.

The European Parliament report details how, on December 6, 2004, the Gulfstream jet was involved in an accident while flying from Bagram airbase in Afghanistan into Bucharest airport in Romania.

Although seven passengers were believed to have been on board, nobody involved in the Romanian investigation into the crash ever established what happened to them, as they had left the scene before accident investigators arrived.


Army helicopters from an SAS air corps base near Hereford at Birmingham airport

Waiting: Army helicopters from an SAS air corps base near Hereford met both of the planes at Birmingham airport

A Ministry of Defence source confirmed that SAS helicopters did meet the two aircraft at Birmingham airport but said their presence could be explained by an organised meeting to discuss 'routine business between two allies'. He denied it had anything to do with rendition.

One aviation expert told The Mail on Sunday how he had tried to use the online tracking service www.flightaware.co.uk to monitor the flight plans of both planes to find out where they had flown from before landing in Birmingham on October 1, and where they flew to when they left on October 3. He was 'very surprised' to find that he was unable to. He added that this level of secrecy was highly unusual.

Spokesmen for Birmingham airport and National Air Traffic Services said the planes' flight plans were confidential.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: 'We unreservedly condemn any practice of extraordinary rendition to torture. The UK's clear policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose. We will not co-operate in any transfer of an individual where we believe there is a real risk of torture to the individual concerned.'

Shami Chakrabarti, director of pressure group Liberty, said: 'The sighting of a plane previously associated with some of the darkest aspects of the war on terror is a matter of grave concern.

'Ministers should be able to confirm whether or not it was transporting suspects on this occasion. In any event, the case for a wider inquiry into extraordinary rendition has become unanswerable.'



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