Court case lifts lid on secret post 9/11 flights
By STEPHEN BRAUN, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - A hidden network of U.S. companies, coordinated by a prominent defense contractor, played a key role in the covert airlift that transported terrorism suspects and their American minders, according to newly disclosed documents in a New York business dispute between two aviation companies.
The court files of more than 1,700 pages shed new light on the U.S. government's reliance on private contractors for flights between Washington, foreign capitals, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and, at times, landing points near once-secret, CIA-run overseas prisons. The companies included DynCorp, a leading government contractor that secretly oversaw a fleet of luxury jets, and caterers that unwittingly stocked the planes with fruit platters and bottles of wine for the transoceanic routes, according to the court files and testimony.
The business dispute stems from an obscure four-year fight between a New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc., which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp. Both sides cited the government's program of forced transport of detainees, or "extraordinary rendition," in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights.
The court files - they include contracts, flight invoices, cell phone logs and correspondence - paint a sweeping portrait of collusion between the government and the private contractors that did its bidding - some eagerly, some hesitantly. Others turned a blind eye.
Trial testimony studiously avoided references to the Central Intelligence Agency. When lawyers pressed a witness about flying terrorists from Washington or Europe to Guantanamo Bay, Columbia County, N.Y., Supreme Court Judge Paul Czajka put on the brakes: "Does this have anything to do with the contract? I mean, it's all very interesting, and I would love to hear about it, but does it have anything to do with how much money is owed?" At another point, the name of a high-level CIA official was mentioned, but the official's intelligence ties were not divulged.
Among the new disclosures: Associated Press.