Court case reveals details of secret flights

Thursday - 9/1/2011, 12:17pm EDT

By STEPHEN BRAUN
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The secret airlift of terrorism suspects and American intelligence officials to CIA-operated overseas prisons via luxury jets was mounted by a hidden network of U.S. companies and coordinated by a prominent defense contractor, newly disclosed documents show.

More than 1,700 pages of court files in a business dispute between two aviation companies reveal how integral private contractors were in the government's covert "extraordinary rendition" flights. They shuttled between Washington, foreign capitals, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and, at times, landing points near once-secret, CIA-run overseas prisons.

The companies ranged from DynCorp, a leading government contractor that secretly oversaw the flights, to caterers that unwittingly stocked the planes with fruit platters and bottles of wine, the court files and testimony show.

A New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc., which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp, have been engaged in a four-year legal dispute. Both sides have cited the government's program of forced transport of detainees in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights.

The court files, which include contracts, flight invoices, cell phone logs and correspondence, paint a sweeping portrait of collusion between the government and the private contractors that did its bidding _ some eagerly, some hesitantly. Other companies turned a blind eye to what was going on.

Trial testimony studiously avoided references to the CIA. When lawyers pressed a witness about flying terrorists from Washington or Europe to Guantanamo Bay, Supreme Court Judge Paul Czajka of Columbia County, N.Y., put on the brakes: "Does this have anything to do with the contract? I mean, it's all very interesting, and I would love to hear about it, but does it have anything to do with how much money is owed?"

At another point, the name of a high-level CIA official was mentioned, but the official's intelligence ties were not divulged.

Among the new disclosures:

_DynCorp, which was reorganized and split up between another major contractor and a separate firm now known as DynCorp International, functioned as the primary contractor over the airlift. The company had not been previously linked to the secret flights.

_Airport invoices and other commercial records provide a new paper trail for the movements of some high-value terrorism suspects who vanished into the CIA "black site" prisons, along with government operatives who rushed to the scenes of their capture. The records include flight itineraries closely coordinated with the arrest of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the suspected transport of other captives.

_The private jets were furnished with State Department transit letters providing diplomatic cover for their flights. Former top State Department officials said similar arrangements aided other government-leased flights, but the documents in the court files may not be authentic since there are indications that the official who purportedly signed them was fictitious.

_The private business jets shuttled among as many as 10 landings over a single mission, costing the government as much as $300,000 per flight.

According to invoices between 2002 and 2005, many of the flights carried U.S. officials between Washington Dulles International Airport and the Guantanamo detention compound, where the U.S. was housing a growing population of terror detainees. Other flights landed at a dizzying array of international airports.

Jets were dispatched to Islamabad; Rome; Djibouti; Frankfurt, Germany; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Shannon, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; Tenerife, Spain; Sharm el Sheik, Egypt; and even Tripoli.

Some flights landed at airports near where CIA black sites operated: Kabul, Bangkok and Bucharest. Others touched down at foreign outposts where obliging security services reportedly took in U.S. terror detainees for their own severe brand of persuasion: Cairo; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; and Rabat, Morocco. Billing records show scores of baggage handlers, ramp officials, van and car providers, satellite and flight phone firms, hotels and caterers routinely serviced the flights and crews and earned tens of thousands of dollars.

The court records do not specify who was aboard the planes beyond a count of crew and passengers. But in several cases, the flights dovetail with the arrests and transport of some of the most prominent accused terrorism suspects captured in the months immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Mohammed, the purported mastermind, and Ramzi bin Alshib, his key logistics man; Abd al-Nashiri, who allegedly planned the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole; and Hambali, an Indonesia terror leader tied to the 2002 bombing of a Bali nightclub. The detainees all vanished into the CIA's now-shuttered "black site" prison network and all are now at Guantanamo awaiting military trials.