U.S. Acknowledges Secret CIA Flights, EU Says

The U.S. government acknowledged yesterday that the CIA operated "a very high number" of secret flights that stopped in Europe en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba according to members of the European Parliament visiting Washington, DC.

A special commission has been investigating allegations that the CIA kidnapped and flew al-Qaida terror suspects to secret detention centers.

A report preparer for the commission, Claudio Fava, said in Washington yesterday that State Department legal advisor John Bellinger acknowledged that some of the secret flights could have involved renditions.

"Bellinger didn't deny there were a large number of CIA flights," Fava said. "That is a positive development and a sign of increased cooperation," he added.

After the meeting with State Department legal advisor John Bellinger on Thursday, Fava said his investigators were "somewhat uncomfortable with what we've learned," and planned to issue a written report on the trip in Brussels next week.

The European team also had "an extremely useful meeting" with Rep. Ed Markey, D, Mass., who told them he planned to criticize publicly the Bush administration "for the rendition of his constituent, Mr. Arar," Fava said.

Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer born in Syria, was arrested in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, and sent back to Syria, where he claims he was tortured for several months before being released. Bellinger told the commissioners that Arar's expulsion was not a rendition but was a decision taken by a U.S. immigration court.

Members of the European delegation were perplexed when told that Arar was a Canadian citizen, and could not explain why Markey would have called him a "constituent."

Information on the secret flights remains sketchy, Fava said. "There are hundreds of flights for which we have been unable to find the names of the pilot, the crew or the passengers, or even which airport they originated."

The European Parliament commission says it has received "ad hoc information" from Eurocontrol, a private organization that tracks flight information for 36-member states, documenting 1,000 flights of CIA-operated aircraft.

These included a Boeing 737, with registration number N313P, that human rights groups claim was chartered by a CIA front company to carry prisoners from Afghanistan to secret prisons in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan and Eastern Europe.

The Boeing 737 was chartered by Premier Executive Transport Services, a private company in Massachusetts that disappeared once it was identified in European newspaper accounts in 2004.

The aircraft made "several flights from Kabul, stopping in Poland, Romania, and Morocco along the way to Guantanamo," Fava said. "We don't think they were making refueling stops."

Upon their arrival in the U.S. on Tuesday, the commission members said they were primarily investigating allegations that prospective EU members, such as Poland and Romania, were involved in helping the CIA interrogate prisoners in "secret prisons."

The highly-classified CIA program to kidnap and detain al-Qaeda suspects and send them to other countries for interrogation was first revealed by media in Sweden and Britain in May 2004. Most U.S. press accounts claim the story was first broken by Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who first wrote about the secret prisons last November and was awarded a Pulitzer prize for her reporting.

The commission received "flight logs and a list of 26-28 people that the United States admits it is holding" from Human Rights Watch, sources told NewsMax. "No one knows where those 26-28 people are currently being held," the sources said.

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