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Given that there is no (public) photographic evidence of detainees being loaded onto particular aircraft, and noone involved in the program has gone on record to confirm the details of particular renditions, identifying 'rendition circuits' within the Rendition Flights Database requires that we take account of a range of circumstantial evidence which - when viewed as a whole - means that the circuit cannot realistically be interpreted as anything other than a detainee transfer operation.

First and foremost, for a circuit in the Database to be tagged as a 'rendition circuit', it must include a flight between two countries on the same day as a known detainee transfer between those countries. Indeed, matching known or suspected transfer dates with known flight movements remians the best way of identifying new renditions. However, other evidence can be used to corroborate this initial match:

  • Known information about the aircraft involved: namely, whether the aircraft has been linked to other renditions, or otherwise was owned by a known CIA 'shell company' or by a private company known to be linked to the program.
  • Dates involved: often, a rendition circuit would leave the US several hours after the capture of the terror suspect, who was then known to be transferred 2-3 days later. This suggests that the capture of the suspect precipitated the circuit as a whole.
  • Timings and routes involved: many rendition circuits have a similar 'fingerprint'. Aircraft would fly from their home base, usually on or near the east coast of the US, to Washington Dulles International Airport. There they would stop for around an hour, likely while the rendition team were brought onboard. Then they would fly towards the pick-up airport, often stopping en route to refuel, and occasionally stopping overnight. The rendition flight itself, however, was usually focused and direct. The aircraft would stop at the pick-up and drop-off airports for a short time - often under an hour - unless it was on a US-controlled airbase (such as in Afghanistan). It would generally be at night, and the transfer would be a direct flight where possible, stopping only for refuelling where absolutely necessary (such as the renditions from Southeast Asia to North Africa which stopped on the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia). Circuits rarely involved one aircraft 'shuttling' between airports, picking up detainees on the way (although the September 2003 rendition of numerous 'High-Value Detainees' between prisons is an exception to this). Detainees were never taken out of the aircraft while stopped en route, and only left on the aircraft for extended periods of time where events did not go to plan (such as the June 2004 aborted rendition of Laid Saidi from Afghanistan to Tunisia). After all renditions had been completed, the aircraft would then often stop overnight at one or other of the 'rest and relaxation' points, such as the Azores or the Turks and Caicos islands. They would then generally return to Washington, and then to their home base.
  • Airports used: certain airports provided home bases for rendition aircraft, common refuelling points, or 'rest and relaxation' points. Their inclusion in the overall route further points towards it being a rendition circuit. Furthermore, as very small airfields in the middle of nowhere (but close to a known secret prison), certain airports would be highly unlikely to be on the itinerary of aircraft not involved in rendition and secret detention.
  • Characteristics of flight plans: where flight plans have been made public, they can reveal certain key information, including the pilot's name and the 'originator address' for the plan. This can evidence the involvement of particular 'trip planning' companies which are known to have links to the program.
  • Use of 'dummy flight plans': in order to disguise flights into and out of airports servicing secret prisons - in particular those in Europe - trip planning companies often filed 'dummy flight plans'. These gave false information to air traffic authorities, mainly by failing to list the true destination of the flight (and instead giving an alternative airport which was never flown to). The 'dummy' nature of these plans can sometimes be identified by cross-checking with 'on-the-ground' data of actual aircraft movements, such as airport landing logs. Given what is known about how certain rendition flights were disguised, identification of additional 'dummy' flight plans is highly suggestive of further rendition flights.
  • Invoices: in some cases, invoicing documentation between companies known to have been involved in the program has been made public by investigators, and can be linked to particular circuits.
  • Hotel records: in some cases, records from 'rest and relaxation' stopovers after rendition operations can provide further evidence of the circuit's purpose.
Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C