Tuesday, May 31, 2005

NYT: "C.I.A. Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights" (Scott Shane, Stephen Grey, Margot Williams)

When the Central Intelligence Agency wants to grab a suspected member of Al Qaeda overseas and deliver him to interrogators in another country, an Aero Contractors plane often does the job. If agency experts need to fly overseas in a hurry after the capture of a prized prisoner, a plane will depart Johnston County and stop at Dulles Airport outside Washington to pick up the C.I.A. team on the way.
Aero Contractors' planes dropped C.I.A. paramilitary officers into Afghanistan in 2001; carried an American team to Karachi, Pakistan, right after the United States Consulate there was bombed in 2002; and flew from Libya to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the day before an American-held prisoner said he was questioned by Libyan intelligence agents last year, according to flight data and other records.
While posing as a private charter outfit - "aircraft rental with pilot" is the listing in Dun and Bradstreet - Aero Contractors is in fact a major domestic hub of the Central Intelligence Agency's secret air service. The company was founded in 1979 by a legendary C.I.A. officer and chief pilot for Air America, the agency's Vietnam-era air company, and it appears to be controlled by the agency, according to former employees.
Behind a surprisingly thin cover of rural hideaways, front companies and shell corporations that share officers who appear to exist only on paper, the C.I.A. has rapidly expanded its air operations since 2001 as it has pursued and questioned terrorism suspects around the world.

An analysis of thousands of flight records, aircraft registrations and corporate documents, as well as interviews with former C.I.A. officers and pilots, show that the agency owns at least 26 planes, 10 of them purchased since 2001. The agency has concealed its ownership behind a web of seven shell corporations that appear to have no employees and no function apart from owning the aircraft.

The above is from "C.I.A. Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights" in this morning's New York Times. It is credited to " This article was reported by Scott Shane, Stephen Grey and Margot Williams and written by Mr. Shane."

Lloyd e-mails to note Steven Greenhouse's "A Summer of Discontent for Labor Focuses on Its Leader's Fitness for His Job:"

At 71, after nearly half a century in the union movement and after a decade leading the nation's main labor federation, John J. Sweeney is facing his toughest time ever.
The percentage of American workers belonging to unions continues to fall, President Bush is seeking to weaken collective bargaining rights for 700,000 federal workers, and many unionized companies are cutting back once-unassailable benefits, like health insurance and pensions.
But for Mr. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the biggest battle may be a nasty internal struggle - the federation's largest union, the Service Employees International Union, is threatening to secede if, as many expect, Mr. Sweeney wins a new four-year term this summer. And several other major unions have hinted that they, too, might leave the A.F.L.-C.I.O., a federation of 57 unions and 13 million workers.

Kayla notes that this morning's report on the two men arrested in Friday morning raids available today "offers far more perspective than yesterday's article." (Note editorial at the bottom of yesterday's entry.) From William K. Rashbaum and Benjamin Weiser's "Scheme by 2 to Train Terrorists Is Outlined in U.S. Court Papers:"

The two men, of course, have not been convicted of anything, and they are set to appear in court for the first time today - Mr. Shah in New York, and Dr. Sabir in Florida. Some who have known them over the years say they cannot fathom that they were seriously involved in an effort to harm the United States. And for its part, the government, which around the country has seen some of its high-profile arrests of alleged terror conspirators diminished over time, has made no claims the men were on the verge of any violent act.

That's the section Kayla highlighted. Like Kayla, I'll praise them for highlighting that and for the headline (and reporting in the article) being very clear that this is only one side of the story.

From "World Briefings," Eli notes this:

Defense Minister Bill Graham said he was frustrated by the assertions of United States officials, including the former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, that someone in Canada had "given them the go-ahead" to deport Maher Arar, the Syrian-born Canadian detained in New York in 2002 and sent to Syria for 10 months, where, he said, he was tortured. Mr. Graham, who was then the foreign affairs minister, told a federal inquiry into what role Canadian officials played in Mr. Arar's deportation that he could not verify the American claims with Canadian police and security officials, although he added that he had some uncertainty about the quality of the briefings he was getting. Mr. Graham also testified that he did not know Mr. Arar's whereabouts in the months after he was deported by the United States.
Colin Campbell (NYT)

Here's Canada's CBC with a little more, "Graham 'frustrated' by lack of Arar information:"

Defence Minister Bill Graham said Monday he had no reason to believe Maher Arar was being tortured in Syria based on what he knew at the time.
Graham, who was foreign affairs minister when Arar was deported to Syria, testified at the inquiry looking into what role Canadian officials played in Arar's ordeal.

[. . .]
He also says that his American counterpart, former secretary of state Colin Powell, never wavered in insisting that Canadians were behind Arar's deportation to Syria.
"He said 'Bill, my story is exactly the same, you're not getting the straight goods from your guys. My story is there were people involved in this decision in Canada,'" said Graham.
Commission counsel Paul Cavalluzzo seized on that comment.

[. . .]
Graham also differed from his former director of consular affairs, Gar Pardy, who testified last week that it was widely assumed that Arar was being tortured.

From The Toronto Star, we'll note "Knew nothing of Arar torture, Graham says:"

Senior Bush administration officials also told Graham they had valid reasons for deporting Arar to Syria.
Arar was held for over a year on suspicion of terrorist activity before finally turning him loose in the fall of 2003.
Alarm bells were beginning to go off at the Foreign Affairs Department under Graham. Gar Pardy, then chief of consular services, has testified that diplomatic reports early in Arar's captivity aroused suspicions that he was being tortured or abused.
But Graham said he had no recollection of that information making its way up the chain of command to him.
He said he knew Arar was imprisoned in less than ideal conditions and was "not being treated the way we would treat people" in Canada.
But Graham said the bottom line of his briefings was that there was no actual torture.

[. . .]
Documents previously censored for security reasons, but made public Monday, confirm that CSIS discussed the Arar case with Syrian intelligence officials on a visit to Damascus shortly after he was imprisoned there.
But details of the discussion remain shrouded in mystery.
Previous evidence indicates the Syrians may have concluded, as result of the talks, that the Canadian government didn't want Arar returned to this country. CSIS has denied ever making such a suggestion.
Lorne Waldman, one of Arar's lawyers, welcomed the release of the documents but said they raise troubling new questions.
"It's very important for the Canadian public to know what was the nature of the discussions between the CSIS officials and Syrian intelligence," said Waldman.

There's nothing in the main section on Michael Smith's "RAF bombing raids tried to goad Saddam into war" from London's The Sunday Times. For anyone who missed the article or The Third Estate Sunday Review's editorial, from Smith's article, here are the opening three paragraphs:

THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.
The attacks were intensified from May, six months before the United Nations resolution that Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, argued gave the coalition the legal basis for war. By the end of August the raids had become a full air offensive.
The details follow the leak to The Sunday Times of minutes of a key meeting in July 2002 at which Blair and his war cabinet discussed how to make “regime change” in Iraq legal.

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