New Documents Offer Details on CIA Program That Critics Charge Abetted Torture

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Gulfsteam IV jets like this allegedly flew terror suspects around the globe (Photo: Arpingstone / Wikimedia Commons)

The latest in the alleged role the U.S. played in enhanced interrogation — or torture, if you prefer — from a former ace TIME correspondent:

By Adam Zagorin

Last June the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to consider a case brought by former U.S. war-on-terror prisoners seeking damages from a Boeing subsidiary that had allegedly flown them to torture sites around the world as part of the CIA’s rendition program.

The court’s action involving Jeppesen Data Plan, an executive jet leasing company, let stand a lower-court ruling in favor of U.S. government claims that the case involved so many “state secrets” that it could not be heard. The decision effectively killed the lawsuit.

But now Battleland has learned of some 1,500 pages of new documents that provide extensive additional information on CIA renditions, and especially on the role of Richmor Aviation, an upstate New York private jet leasing company with aircraft also allegedly used in the program.

Lawyers familiar with the documents say their dissemination could increase the likelihood of further litigation in the U.S. and Europe against those associated with the CIA program, either directly or as sub-contractors. But it will not be an easy task. “If we can connect a client to a particular flight and to a particular location,” said one attorney familiar with the rendition program, “this could spur further legal action, either in the US or in Europe.”

Authorities in various European countries are currently examining possible human rights violations by senior U.S. officials, but no such probe appears to be underway inside the United States. “Courts in the U.S. seem open to resolving financial disputes involving accessories to torture, but closed to the victims of that abuse because of state secrets,” says Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union involved in the now-dismissed Jeppesen case.

The new material, from a New York court record but not widely disseminated or discussed, includes court transcripts and billing records filed as evidence in a commercial dispute between Richmor and an aircraft broker that began in 2007. The material focuses mostly on flights in 2003.

Richmor Aviation is owned by Phillip Morse, also an owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team. News stories surrounding Richmor’s role in rendition surfaced several years ago, but the newly exposed documents flesh out the tale. DynCorp International, a U.S. defense contractor, was apparently a middleman between the CIA and Richmor. The material includes items of likely national security and privacy concerns, including a record of phone calls made from a rendition plane to CIA headquarters, to the phones of a senior Agency official involved in the program, and to DynCorp.

The documents were made available by Reprieve, a UK- based legal non-profit that has represented prisoners at Guantanamo.

According to Reprieve:

— A complicated billing chain helped obscure the CIA’s role in the more than 55 flights featured in the documents, flights that traveled among Washington and Guantanamo Bay, Kabul, Bangkok, Dubai, Islamabad, Cairo, Baghdad, Djibouti, Rabat, Frankfurt, the Ramstein military base in Germany, Rome, Tenerife, the Azores and Bucharest.

— The plane, a Gulfstream jet with tail number N85VM, frequently passed through British and Irish airports, including Shannon, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London Luton.

— Documents show references in court to “invitees” of the U.S., a term meant to indicate prisoners being transported to secret prisons.

— Rendition flights were covered by a “letter of convenience” from the State Department that facilitated their passage through the territory of foreign nations.