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Full Extent of CIA's Use of Scottish Airports for 'Torture Flights' Unknown

© AFP 2023 / Saul LoebA man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seal in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008.
A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seal in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. - Sputnik International
Scottish Nationalist Party MSP Kevin Stewart has demanded Police Scotland to continue their battle to obtain the full set of documents relating to the US Central Intelligence Agency's use of Scottish airports for 'extraordinary rendition' flights, used to transfer prisoners, interrogators and other US officials between 'black sites'.

The plea came after it was confirmed authorities had submitted a report to prosecutors on the alleged use of airports in Wick, Inverness, Aberdeen and elsewhere for controversial ‘extraordinary rendition' flights during the ‘War on Terror', despite not being provided a full copy of the US Senate Intelligence Committee's December 2014 report on the CIA's ‘Detention and Interrogation Program'.

Police Scotland's Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit has been investigating the use of Scottish airports in "torture flights" since June 2013, and requested the complete report, which runs to over 6,000 pages — they were merely provided with the executive summary released to the public, a mere 525 pages in length, with much sensitive and damning information removed.

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Washington's refusal to disclose the complete document means detectives have been forced to file their findings with the Crown Office drawn purely from "information made available to them" — prosecutors will now decide whether any action can be taken, based on a potentially incomplete and misleading picture.

"It is galling authorities in the United States seem to be unwilling to release documents that have been requested by Police Scotland. We have a right to know whether Aberdeen Airport and other Scottish airfields were illegally used by aircraft carrying out extraordinary rendition. I hope Police Scotland continue to pursue the release of these documents and that they will continue to investigate these serious matters," Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central, said.

Nonetheless, such obfuscation was perhaps to be expected given testimony provided by Police Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone to parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee in January 2017 reveals on at least one occasion Scottish authorities were prevented from inspecting a CIA plane to determine whether it illegally held detainees.

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Livingstone recalled — at an unspecified time — he received a call from a colleague named ‘Bob', informing him Scottish Border Force officials aware a US aircraft had arrived at Prestwick airport, having departed a country in North Africa.

"Border Force, acutely aware of potential allegations in the past around extraordinary rendition, wished to meet that aircraft and board the plane. The chief immigration officer was seeking some guidance in terms of what can we or can we not do, and that guidance also involved them having a conversation with the Americans…that guidance was we can have the individuals on the aircraft come off and meet you on the tarmac, however, you cannot come on board the aircraft. So we were then presented with Bob in the distance watching Border Force engaging with the Americans on the tarmac, taking them on their word that there was no one left on board their aircraft," he said.

Burden of Proof

Whether Scottish authorities ever lay their hands on the full report or not, Scotland's role in the US' long-running torture program isn't a matter of debate. The Rendition Project, an ongoing initiative run by British academics Ruth Blakeley and Sam Raphael which analyses the illegal detention, transfer and torture of terror suspects, has identified "conclusive" proof at least five CIA planes linked to rendition flights landed at both Inverness and Wick, with a further three at Aberdeen International Airport. It also identified "suspicious flights" linked to other Scottish airports — in all 13 planes linked to the CIA operation had touched down in Scotland in the years following the 9/11 attacks.

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Moreover, a report on Scottish involvement in 'extraordinary rendition' published by human rights organisation Reprieve in 2009 revealed CIA planes made stopovers in Jordan and Egypt at least 64 times having refuelled at Scottish airports, with flights regularly criss-crossing between Prestwick and the Jordanian destinations of Aqaba and Amman, the location of Jordan's General Intelligence Department's detention compound, "widely acknowledged to be a torture centre". CIA planes were also found to have flown regularly between Scottish airports and the Egyptian rendition destinations of Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh.

The report also presented clear evidence of "systematic deception and cover-up", including the filing of false flight plans by private companies in league with the CIA and national aviation authorities host states. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — dubbed "the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks" by the controversial 9/11 Commission Report — Scottish aviation personnel were seemingly deliberately misled by Polish aviation authorities and a company employed by the CIA with an office in Crawley, England. False flight plans indicated the plane flew to Glasgow from Prague, when in fact it had just dropped off Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at an airport servicing a secret prison in Poland.

"These rendition missions simply could not have taken place had these planes not been granted refuelling rights in cooperating territories such as Scotland. This raises serious issues of criminal complicity in these acts by those who knew, or should have known, the significance of these notorious jets refuelling on Scottish soil. Transfers to torture deprive the individual of their most basic human rights and subject them to the cruellest abuse. Many victims of rendition have simply disappeared…Scotland's role in the global renditions network amounts to collusion in forcible transfer to torture. Serious questions must be asked as to how this was allowed to happen in Scotland's name, and steps taken to ensure that it never happens again," Reprieve concluded.

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