ghost planes and enforced disappearances
by Christopher Bollyn
17 Jan 2005
Articles in the mainstream media about a mystery jet used to
transport individuals to third countries for torture and interrogation
have ignored the important legal questions about such "extraordinary
There has been a flurry of articles recently in the U.S. press about an
executive jet used by "American intelligence agencies" to transport
abducted "terrorist suspects" for interrogation to third countries that
use torture. The mainstream media, however, largely omits the essential
details about "extraordinary rendition," a practice begun during the
Clinton administration, and ignores the legal questions it raises.
The Sunday Times (UK) wrote about the mystery jet, a Gulfstream 5, on
Nov. 14, saying it had obtained the logs of some 300 flights showing
"the movements of the Gulfstream 5 leased by agents from the U.S.
defense department and the CIA."
According to the Times, the logs indicate that the U.S. has used the
plane to transport abducted "prisoners" to "countries with poor human
rights records" where they have been turned over to the authorities for
"torture by proxy."
During the past two years, the plane, which "always" departs from
Washington, D.C., "has flown to 49 destinations outside America,
including the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and other U.S.
military bases." Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, and
Uzbekistan are among the foreign destinations of the "torture jet,"
which has the registration number N379P.
The Gulfstream made at least seven trips to Uzbekistan, a dictatorship
allied with the U.S. in the "war on terror," where the Times wrote, the
"secret police are notorious for their interrogation methods, including
the alleged boiling of prisoners."
"I have come across many cases of rape in front of family members who
they wish to extract information from," Craig Murray, the former
British ambassador to Uzbekistan, said recently on Swedish television.
"I have post mortem photos of a corpse," Murray said. "These show that
the person was boiled to death."
Murray said U.S. agents have sent "terrorist suspects" from Afghanistan
to Uzbekistan to be interrogated by torture. Murray was recently
removed from his post after he sent a memo to Foreign Minister Jack
Straw, in which he reported that the CIA station chief in Tashkent had
"readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence."
The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune all recently
reported on the torture jet, but have focused on the phony companies
with whom the plane is registered rather than on the serious crimes it
has been used to commit.
Much of the information about the "torture flights" has come
Swedish journalist, Fredrik Laurin, who has produced four television
programs about the kidnapping and "enforced disappearance" of two
Egyptians from Sweden in December 2001.
The four-part "Kalla Fakta" (Cold Facts) program about the "enforced
disappearance" of the two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza, 39, and Muhammad Al
Zery, 33, began on Swedish television on May 17, 2004 and can be viewed
on-line. The most important details of the abductions, however, are not
found in the U.S. press.
In the afternoon of December 18, 2001, Ahmed Agiza was picked up by
police on his way home from Swedish lessons in the western town of
Karlstad. His wife and 5 children awaited him at home.
Meanwhile in Stockholm, Swedish security police, S─PO, arrested Al Zery
at his job. The two Egyptians were then driven to Bromma airport in
Paul Forell, a policeman with 25 years experience, was at the police
station at Bromma airport that night. Forell told Laurin what he
"First came the security police (S─PO) …after five or ten minutes two
Americans arrived, in civilian suits, and we stood there for a while
talking," he said. The Americans, he said, were about 35 years old,
gave their first names and said they were from the U.S. Embassy.
"Well, then came this group with the arrested men into the station, and
everything went very fast," Forell said. "The arrested men, wearing
their own clothes, were shackled hand and foot."
Asked who brought the men into the station, Forell said: "The
Americans. The Swedish policemen stayed behind in the outer, public
premises," he said. "There were three to four men to each of the
arrested." The Americans were "dressed in jeans and shirts, and wearing
Forell, a bystander, was the only uniformed policeman. "There was
hardly room for me in my own station," he said.
Laurin described what happened next: The arrested men were placed in
the station's changing-room and while shackled hand and foot, their
clothes were cut off in pieces. When the men were naked, "suppositories
of an unknown kind were inserted into their rectums."
Dressed in diapers and dark overalls, blindfolded and hooded, the men
were then brought back to the cars, Laurin reported.
The Gulfstream 5 with the registration N379P, "flying for the U.S.
Dept. of Defense," waited on the tarmac several hundred yards away.
"One of the prisoners was placed lying on the floor with his hands and
feet cuffed together behind his back. The other was strapped fast in
the cabin, with his hands over his head."
The two arrested Egyptians, about eight Americans, and two Swedish
police from S─PO took off at 9:49 p.m., Kalla Fakta reported. "When the
plane landed in Cairo at 3 a.m., the men were turned over to Egyptian
"Disguised agents from an elite American military unit,
directly to the White House, are allowed to take command on Swedish
soil, contrary to Swedish law. In a secret and brutal operation, two
Egyptians who have asylum in Sweden are kidnapped and brought to Egypt
to be tortured," Kalla Fakta reported. "They are suspected of
terrorism, but no evidence is presented."
After two and a half years of torture in an Egyptian prison, Al Zery
was declared innocent and released. Agiza, in an Egyptian military
trial, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
American journalist Seymour Hersh, in an interview with Kalla Fakta,
seems to identify with the perpetrators of the illegal abductions with
his constant use of the pronoun "we".
"We talk about the most sensitive operation in the world," Hersh said.
"With ability to go into a country with false documents, get into any
country in the world, get to the house of somebody that we're looking
for, knock on their door, drag them out, put them on an airplane and
fly them away to various facilities…where we can do interrogation, or
our allies can do interrogation for us."
"What happened in Sweden was going to happen and did happen around the
world. People were taken, without due recourse for any legal worries,
period. And it can happen because we wanted it to happen," Hersh said.
The Gulfstream 5 has completed at least 72 such operations in more than
30 countries, Kalla Fakta reported. And it always follows the same
pattern. "After take off from its home base in Smithfield, North
Carolina, it makes a short stop at Dulles International Airport, close
to CIA headquarters and the Pentagon.
"It flies exclusively to countries that are allied with the U.S. in the
fight against terror: Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Uzbekistan, and
Pakistan," Kalla Fakta reported, "countries where prisoners are kept
and interrogated, far beyond the reach of American and international
U.S. enforced disappearances from Sweden are nothing new, according to
Swedish journalist Sven AnÚr. More than 10 years ago, on Sept. 28,
1994, nine Estonian survivors from the Estonia ferry disaster
"disappeared" in a similar manner.
The day after the sinking, 9 crew members were removed from the lists
of 146 reported survivors as a Gulfstream 4 (Reg. N971L), and a Boeing
727-200 (Reg. VR-CLM), left Stockholm's Arlanda airport carrying 4 and
5 unregistered passengers each. AnÚr has the documents from the
airport's archive that show that the fees for the two airplanes were
paid by the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm.
Among those who disappeared after having been on the survivor lists
from Estonia were one of captains, Avo Piht, and the ship's chief
engineer, Lembit Leiger. Piht and Leiger would be key witnesses as to
the ship's seaworthiness, its cargo, and causes of its mysterious
sinking, which took 852 lives.
"Enforced disappearance" and torture are "crimes against humanity,"
according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,
which the Bush administration opposes.
Enforced disappearance, according to the 1998 statute, "means the
arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the
authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political
organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of
freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those
persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the
law for a prolonged period of time."
While inquiries at the Departments of State, Defense, and Justice about
the legality of "extraordinary renditions" went unanswered, a March 19,
2004 memo from Jack L. Goldsmith, Assistant Attorney General, clearly
reveals the Bush administration's intent to defy international law.
Goldsmith's memo, written to Alberto R. Gonzales, then counsel to the
President, and the top lawyers at the Dept. of State, Defense, CIA, and
National Security Council, states that the U.S. does not have to abide
by Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention.
Article 49, however, is very clear: "Individual or mass forcible
transfers, as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied
territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any
other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their
Like a Talmudist negating Mosaic Law, after 13 pages of tortuous
arguments, Goldsmith writes: "We conclude that it is permissible to
relocate 'protected persons' who have not been accused of an offense
from Iraq to another country, for a brief but not indefinite period,
for purposes of interrogation."
Legal experts say that Goldsmith's "torture memo" led to the widespread
abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Goldsmith, who is considered a "war criminal" by some international
lawyers for his authorization of war crimes in the "torture memo,"
recently accepted a teaching position at Harvard Law School (HLS).
Francis A. Boyle, magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and
professor of international law at the University of Illinois, is
working to have Goldsmith and the deans who hired him at HLS replaced.
Boyle said that allowing a "war criminal" like Goldsmith to teach law
is "an abandonment and betrayal of 80 years of progressive legal
studies at Harvard."