…but they appear to have arrived and departed in the UK more frequently than a no-frills airline.
The UK Guardian says it has seen the flight logs of 26 planes used by the CIA. “Only one visit is recorded to the Szymany airbase in north-east Poland, which has been identified as the alleged site of a secret CIA jail” says the paper.
But CIA planes have been whizzing all over the skies of Europe in the last few years and appear to have the sort of widespread coverage of airports that many airlines would kill for.
Suspicious Boeing 737s touched down 96 times in Germany and 80 times in the UK.
The New York Times claims that 26 planes known to be operated by CIA front companies have made 307 flights in Europe since September 2001.
Now this must, I hope, come as a bit of a shock to Britain’s Interior Minister, Jack Straw, who, only last Tuesday, asked the United States for formal clarification of the issue. So we have to presume that Jack didn’t have a clue about the 80 flights touching down right under his nose.
I bet he will be having an interesting conversation with Condoleeza Rice – his American counterpart – when she comes to Europe for talks next week, if his ignorance is genuine (and we should always presume the ignorance of New Labour politicians).
Suddenly the case against Poland being the host to ‘gulags’ starts to look a little pathetic. I hope Human Rights Watch has got better proof than this. Otherwise it is going to look very silly indeed.
And it always was a slightly ridiculous argument (see US Auschwitz), begun by the Washington Post and elaborated by Human Rights Watch, the NGO which named Poland and Romania as being the torture camp capitals of eastern Europe after the Post had agreed with the US government not to reveal which countries the camps were in (those brave, independent journalists!).
The director of Szymany airfield, Jan Pashtorchziak, told the Russian Izvestia daily that there is simply no room to house a torture camp in that part of northeast Poland.
"Two kilometers long runway and a small building - that is all we have here. The airport was closed in May, 2004 when Poland entered the EU for it does not meet the European requirements. At that time 40 people worked here, and now – only 10. We are going through repairs. No suspicious American planes landed here. I do not know what could cause the suspicions of HRW. Maybe the fact that the airport is located in the forest?"
And since there is only evidence that a single plane landed at the airport in September 2003 then it must mean that either the prisoners are still there huddled in their little building, have been secretly transported across borders to another location, or they never existed in the first place.
Outgoing Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, sais on Thursday: "There are no such [CIA sponsored] prisons on Poland's territory, there are no such prisoners on Poland's territory," Kwasniewski said. "If there had been any planes landing, the proper authorities have to comment on this. No president is informed about every airplane that lands. I can assure you that there are no such prisons or prisoners held in Poland. And there were none in the past."
And now the director of HRW, Tom Malinowski, seemed to back off, slightly, from its original claims. He told RFE/RL: "We have specific evidence which is circumstantial; we've never said that we have proof that there are facilities in these countries or that there are facilities. It's the flight logs of the aircraft that were known to be carrying Al-Qaeda prisoners; in particular, flights that began in Kabul, ended in Guantanamo, and made several stopovers in Poland and Romania -- which really can't be explained by the need to refuel or anything else."
But when the original report came out a few weeks ago, HRW had said that they were ’90 percent certain’ that there are, or were the so-called ‘black sites’ prisons in Poland and in eastern Europe.
The truth appears to be that the CIA have been landing planes all over Europe, and particularly in western Europe – not in the east, as was originally claimed.
Everybody is waiting for the US to confirm or deny that they are imprisoning and torturing terror suspects in European locations.