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Rendition Circuit: 6-14 March 2004

 

Multiple renditions of Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Fatima Bouchar (Thailand to Libya, via Diego Garcia) and Yumus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali (Iraq to Afghanistan)

 

Between 6-14 March 2004, CIA renditions aircraft N313P completed a global circuit involving stops in several key destinations, including Libya, Thailand, Diego Garcia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Along the way, the aircraft undertook multiple renditions, transferring detainees between several destinations. Specifically, it rendered Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Fatima Bouchar from Thailand to Libya (via a stopover in Diego Garcia), before almost certainly rendering two further detainees Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali from Iraq to Afghanistan.

 

 

Analysis

N313P left its home base of Kinston Regional Airport (KISO) in the evening of 6 March 2004, flying to Washington Dulles International Airport (KIAD). There it stayed overnight, leaving in the morning of 7 March and flying direct to Tripoli International Airport (HLLT). At this point, the aircraft leaves airspace monitored by North American and European air traffic authorities, and so falls out of the view of the FAA and Eurocontrol. However, a memo from the CIA to Libyan intelligence, which forms part of the so-called Tripoli Documents discovered in Libya in September 2011, sets out the onwards flight plan for N313P from Libya, and the objective of the mission: the rendition of the Gaddafi opponent Belhadj and his wife Bouchar from Thailand to Libya. Dated 6 March, and headed Schedule for the Rendition of Abdullah al-Sadiq (the nom-de-guerre of Belhadj), the memo states that the aircraft would leave Tripoli at 13:30 GMT on 7 March, and fly to the Seychelles (FSIA), landing in the evening. It would stay there overnight, with the memo advising the accompanying Libyan agents to ‘have the proper documentation for that location’ in order to be allowed to leave the aircraft. The itinerary then had the aircraft leaving the Seychelles in the afternoon of 8 March, flying direct to Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok (VTBD) and landing at 20:30 GMT.

Belhadj and Bouchar have testified that they were transferred onto an aircraft on 9 March 2004. Bouchar says that, from her detention site in Thailand, she was forced onto a stretcher and had tape wound around her body from her feet to the top of head, with one of her hands pressed tightly against her womb (she was four months pregnant). As the tape was wound around her face, her right eye was taped open and kept that way for the duration of the 17-hour flight, which she describes as agony. On arrival at the airport in Bangkok, the tape was cut from her body but left on her eyes, her clothes were cut off and someone pressed their finger sharply into her belly button, which she describes as excruciating. She was injected in her arm, and re-taped to a stretcher from her feet to her neck. Belhadj says that he was handcuffed and blindfolded for the flight, and that his hands were tied to his legs in such a way that he had to crouch for entire journey, unable to stand up or lie down.

According to the CIA memo, the aircraft was scheduled to depart Thailand just before midnight on 8 March, and to fly to the British Indian Ocean Territory island of Diego Garcia. Here it was due to stop for two hours in the middle of the night, while the aircraft was refuelled. Both Belhadj and Bouchar recall the aircraft stopping midway through the journey, and Belhadj has later testified that, on arriving in Libya, the head of Libyan intelligence Musa Kusa stated that the stopover was on Diego Garcia. Were this to be the case, it would be an important development for investigations into the use of the British island as a key node in the renditions network. The UK Government had initially sought to deny that the island played any role in transporting detainees outside the law. However, this position was altered in February 2008 when Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted that an oversight had led to two detainees being rendered through Diego Garcia in 2002. At that point, however, nothing was mentioned of renditions in 2004, of which this may have been one.

N313P was scheduled to finally touchdown in Mitiga International Airport, Tripoli (HLLM), at 16:30 GMT on 9 March. At this point, the two detainees were taken off the aircraft for detention and torture in Libyan prisons (for six years in the case of Belhadj). The aircraft, meanwhile, departed Tripoli two hours later, and flew to Palma de Mallorca, where it stayed on the ground for 48 hours. According to an investigation by Ian Cobain for The Guardian, the renditions crew ten men and three women checked into the five-star Gran Melia Victoria hotel for two nights of ‘rest and relaxation’. This hotel was used by the renditions crew of the same aircraft just six weeks earlier, after they had rendered Binyam Mohamed from Morocco to Afghanistan and Khaled el-Masri from Macedonia to Afghanistan.

N313P took off from Palma de Mallorca in the afternoon of either 11 or 12 March (there are conflicting dates in the flight plans submitted), and flew to Baghdad, Iraq (ORBI). Here, it almost certainly picked up two Pakistani men Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali who had been captured by British forces in Iraq in February 2004, and transferred to US custody. The detainees were rendered by the Americans to Bagram Airbase, where they remain today. Although the exact date of this rendition is unknown, the UK Government acknowledged in July 2012 that the two men ‘were initially held in US detention in and around Baghdad, and subsequently transferred to a US detention facility in Afghanistan in March 2004’. The flight by N313P from Iraq to Afghanistan on 11/12 March is the only flight between these countries in March 2004, as recorded in The Rendition Project Database. This makes it highly likely that N313P rendered Rahmatullah and Ali to Afghanistan.

N313P left Baghdad late in the evening on either 11 or 12 March, and flew to Kabul, Afghanistan (OAKB), where it landed in the early hours of the next day. With Rahmatullah and Ali unloaded, it then stayed on the tarmac until 13 March, when it returned to Europe, flying to Larnaca, Cyprus (LCLK) where it stayed overnight. In the morning of 14 March, the aircraft departed Cyprus, and flew to Shannon, Ireland (EINN). It then left Shannon in the afternoon, heading back to Washington and then Kinston, arriving just before midnight on 14 March 2004.

 

Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C