If a “top secret” document leaked to the Spanish newspaper El País is genuine then it appears that the US sought permission from the Spanish Foreign Ministry in 2002 for rendition flights.
The Spanish government has always denied that “secret stopover” flights by CIA planes transporting terror suspects to the US military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, landed on the nation’s soil.
Now it appears that in early 2002 a request was communicated to Spain’s then foreign minister, Josep Pique, hours before a CIA flight landed at Moron airbase in Sevilla. It is further claimed that the government of José María Aznar recommended that “discreet” airports could be used for the stopover of rendition flights.
Aznar was a strong ally of the US in the war of terror. It was during his term of office that the secret flights allegedly started. The former prime minister is on the record as having denied any knowledge of the stopovers.
Spain’s current foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, stated on Sunday that the socialist government of which he is a key member, which came to power in March 2004, had not been informed that these authorisations having been given. He insisted: “We have nothing to hide,” and ordered an internal investigation stressing that Spain had a strong commitment to human rights.
The inference therefore seems to be that the CIA flights took place during Aznar’s watch and not Zapatero’s. However the president of the Partido Popular, Mariano Rajoy, insists that during the Aznar reign he was not involved in any discussions on the flights to Guantánamo. Furthermore he added that two of these flights took place in the Aznar era but nine under Zapatero.
Rajoy also stated that the minister of defence has stated that these flights were: “legal and based on treaties between the USA and Spain”. So did Aznar and Zapatero know about the flights or where they sent via US bases in Spain such as Moron or Rota without the Spanish government’s knowledge? Also, why has US President George Bush been cold-shouldering Zapatero when it would appear the socialist premier’s administration allowed these controversial flights – or did they?
Certainly the Council of Europe now appears vindicated. It published a report in June 2006 that named Spain as one of 14 European countries allegedly in collusion with the CIA to transport terrorist suspects on secret flights to third party countries for interrogation but these claims were hotly denied by Madrid.
A report approved by a European Parliament committee in 2007 said more than 1,000 covert CIA flights had crossed European airspace or stopped at European airports in the four years after the 9/11 attacks. It now remains to be seen how many of those were in or via Spain – and who knew about them.