The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] transferred several high-profile prisoners to Guantanamo Bay to await trial in 2003, only to transfer them back into the CIA's network of secret prisons [JURIST news archives] so they would not be entitled to lawyers and access to US courts, the Associated Press reported [text] Friday. Among the suspects reportedly on the September 2003 flight were prominent al Qaeda [CFR backgrounder] members Ramzi Binalshibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who aided in the planning of the 9/11 attacks, and Abd al-Nashiri, who planned the 2000 USS Cole bombing [JURIST news archives]. A commercial jetliner operated by one of the CIA's several airline front companies removed al-Hawsawi from the "Salt Pit" in Kabul, Afghanistan, transferred alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [JURIST news archive] to "Britelite" in Bucharest, Romania, and picked up the others at a facility in Rabat, Morocco, before landing in Guantanamo Bay. The prisoners were transferred to await trial by a military tribunal, but US officials subsequently became concerned that the Supreme Court's impending ruling in Rasul v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] would require the government to grant access to lawyers and US courts to foreign-born terror suspects. In March 2004, the CIA transferred the prisoners back into various overseas prisons, allowing the agency to interrogate them without legal protections for two more years until then-president George W. Bush ordered the prisoners back to Guantanamo under pressure from media scrutiny of the extraordinary rendition program [JURIST news archive].
Also Friday, Warsaw-based human rights group Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) [advocacy website, in Polish] released documents [text, PDF; part 2, text, PDF] from the Polish Border Guard Office [official website, in Polish] detailing arrival, departure and passenger information for several flights by CIA front companies into and out of cities in Poland. HFHR reports [press release, PDF] that it secured records for seven flights in total spanning a period from December 2002 to September 2003, when the AP says the five-stop flight to Guantanamo Bay took place:
[B]etween 5 December 2002 and 22 September 2003 seven planes which are commonly associated with CIA front companies landed at Szymany airport. Five of them came to Poland with passengers, but at the time of departure only crew was present on board. The last plane noted flew to Szymany empty, and left Poland with five people on boardThat entry, dated September 22, 2003, shows a flight arriving with no passengers in Szymany, reportedly site of the CIA prison where Mohammad had been held, according to the AP. It then departed with five passengers for Romania, home of "Britelite," the prison to which the AP reports Mohammad was transferred around that time.
The US has come under fire for its use of CIA-operated secret detention facilities. In December, a Lithuanian parliamentary committee confirmed that the CIA had established two secret prisons for al Qaeda suspects, prompting a dispute that led to the resignation [JURIST reports] of the country's foreign minister. On his third day in office last year, US President Barack Obama ordered the closure [JURIST report] of all CIA secret prisons. The European Parliament voted [JURIST report] in February 2007 to approve a report that condemned member states for cooperating with the CIA in operating secret prisons. In January 2007, the UK admitted knowledge of the CIA prison network, and then-president George W. Bush publicly acknowledged [JURIST reports] in September 2006 that these types of facilities existed. In June 2006, the Council of Europe released [JURIST report] a report [text, PDF] that 14 European countries collaborated with the CIA by taking an active or passive role in a "global spider's web" of secret prisons and rendition flights. The existence of CIA prisons in Europe was first reported in November 2005.