Finnish report on suspected CIA extraordinary rendition flight leaves many open questions
US plane suspected of transporting detainees made landing at Helsinki-Vantaa in 2004
By Satu Helin
In the early hours of a morning in March in 2004 a Gulfstream IV model plane with the registration number N510MG landed at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
It soon went on to Tunisia, where it stayed for four days before flying back to Finland.
Who were on board? Why did the plane fly to Tunisia?
So far, nobody has been interested in knowing, although there would be good reason to be interested.
The plane in question is suspected of having been one of the aircraft that the US Central Intelligence Agency has used for illegal transport of prisoners via Europe. The United States flew people arrested in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Europe as part of the “extraordinary rendition” programme connected with the war on terror.
The plane was listed as a suspected CIA aircraft in a written question to the Nordic Council in 2007, for instance.
N510MG has stopped in Finland several times; it is administered by the OM Group – a chemicals company with operations in the city of Kokkola. However, the company has no activities in Tunisia.
According to Polish aviation officials, the airline Universal Weather was responsible for the plane’s flight back from Tunisia to Finland. Investigative journalist Claudio Gatti has named Universal Weather as one of the airlines used by the CIA.
These linkages do not necessarily mean that N510MG was used for prisoner transport.
However, Tunisia is definitely an interesting country as a destination of such a flight.
Tunisia was no beach holiday destination in 2004. The Tunisia of autocratic ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was known for its arbitrary arrests and cruel treatment of prisoners.
If someone over there wanted to interrogate prisoners in a violent manner, it is unlikely that anyone would have interfered. And the CIA has been shown to have wanted just that. The highest leaders of the United States, all the way up to President George W. Bush have publicly acknowledged both the prisoner flight programme and the torture.
According to a report by the human rights organisation Reprieve, the United States transported at least 14 Tunisian prisoners to the Guantánamo prison camp.
According to a report published by the Foreign Ministry on the suspected prisoner flights, “no indications of illegal activities [prisoner flights] were found”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) learned about the flight to Tunisia of N510MG from Helsingin Sanomat.
“It is impossible to start evaluating the origins and destinations of every flight. No conclusions can be drawn on that basis alone.”
What was the foundation of the conclusion drawn by Finland that illegal flights have been flown via Finland?
Tuomioja says that the claim is based on the fact that most of the suspicious flights were private; the CIA used private companies for its rendition flights in order to better keep the flights a secret.
Tuomioja himself has suspected that the CIA has falsified the reasons and the routing data of the planes that it used in order to disguise the rendition flights as civilian planes. Tuomioja served as Foreign Minister from 2000 to 2007 – the entire period of the US extraordinary rendition programme, which operated between 2002 and 2006.
The Foreign Ministry’s report reveals only that it has no idea of the activities of the planes that flew via Finland.
The unusual flights of aircraft N510MG had destinations other than Tunisia. A Foreign Ministry report reveals that the same plane had also been in Morocco and Egypt during its visits to Finland. Both countries have had CIA interrogation centres.
Finland is by no means the worst culprit of the rendition programme. The main one is the United States. In Europe, fingers point at Poland, Romania, and Lithuania, which have allowed the USA to set up interrogation camps on their soil.
Even now, five years after the end of the rendition programme, there has not been enough will in Europe to examine human rights violations that have taken place here.
“The starting point is that these [rendition flights] are being hushed up in Europe”, says Professor Martin Scheinin, who has investigated the flights on behalf of the United Nations.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.10.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Amnesty International: More evidence of possible CIA rendition flights landing in Finland (11.10.2011)
Amnesty International: Finland’s involvement in US-led rendition operations remains unclear (30.9.2011)
Finland disappointed with U.S explanation of suspected CIA flight (9.12.2005)
Suspected CIA prisoner rendition plane “disappeared” in Helsinki in March 2006 (1.11.2011)
Extraordinary rendition by the United States (Wikipedia)
SATU HELIN / Helsingin Sanomat