AP Exclusive: CIA flight carried secret from Gitmo

Aug 6th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Featured

By late summer 2003, the CIA believed the men had revealed their best secrets. The agency needed somewhere to hold them, but no longer needed to conduct prolonged interrogations.

The U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay seemed a good fit. Bush had selected the first six people to face military tribunals there, and a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that detainees could not use U.S. courts to challenge their imprisonment.

And the CIA had just constructed a new facility, which would become known as Strawberry Fields, separate from the main prison at Guantanamo Bay.

The agency’s overseas prison network, meanwhile, was in flux. A jail in Thailand known as Cat’s Eye closed in December 2002, and in the fall of 2003 the CIA was preparing to shutter its facility in Poland and open a new one in Romania. Human rights investigators and journalists were asking questions. The CIA needed to reshuffle its prisoners.

The prisoner transfer flight, outlined in documents and interviews, visited five CIA prisons in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, Morocco and Guantanamo Bay. The flight plan was so poorly thought out, some in the CIA derisively compared it to a five-card straight revealing the program to outsiders: Five stops, five secret facilities, all documented.

The flight logs were compiled by European authorities investigating the CIA program.

The flight started in Kabul, where the CIA picked up al-Hawsawi at the secret prison known as the Salt Pit. The Boeing 737 then flew to Szymany, Poland, where a CIA team picked up professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and took him to Bucharest, Romania, to the new prison, code-named Britelite.

Next it was on to Rabat, Morocco, where the Moroccans ran an interrogation facility used by the CIA.

At 8:10 p.m. on Sept. 23, 2003, the Boeing 737 took off from a runway in Rabat. On board were al-Hawsawi, al-Nashiri, Zubaydah and Binalshibh. At 1 a.m. the following day, the plane touched down at Guantanamo.

The existence of a CIA prison at Guantanamo was reported in 2004, but it has always been unclear who was there. Unlike the overseas black sites, there was no waterboarding or other harsh interrogation tactics at Strawberry Fields, officials said. It was a holding facility, a place for some of the key figures in the 9/11 attacks to await trial.

Not long after they arrived, things began unraveling. In November, over the administration’s objections, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether Guantanamo Bay detainees could sue in U.S. courts.

The administration had worried for several years that this might happen. In 2001, Justice Department lawyers Patrick Philbin and John Yoo wrote a memo saying courts were unlikely to grant detainees such rights. But if it happened, they warned, prisoners could argue that the U.S. had mistreated them and that the military tribunal system was unlawful.

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