Articles Tagués ‘President Clinton’

Sunday, December 23, 2007


 Activists link jets to secret missions

 By Kevin Maurer, Staff writer

The silver Gulfstream jet was barely visible as it descended out of the clouds over Fayetteville.
Chuck Fager stood under a tree in the gravel parking lot near the runway, trying to stay cool in the sweltering August heat. When he saw the dart-shaped plane with its swept wings, he raced to the fence. Clutching a small point-and-shoot digital camera, he started to snap pictures of the plane and its tail number — N475LC — as it taxied to the Centurion Aviation Services terminal at Fayetteville Regional Airport.
The plane was returning from Crestview, Fla., near Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field, home of Air Force special operations forces, according to flight records.
Fager is director of Fayetteville’s Quaker House and an anti-war activist. He is also part of a network of plane-spotters who are trying to shed light on a covert program known as extraordinary rendition.
Extraordinary rendition is a CIA practice of capturing and transporting suspected terrorists for interrogation in countries that have lax rules on questioning suspects.
The program reportedly began under President Clinton, but under the Bush administration the flights are alleged to have increased dramatically.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the practice is permissible, according to The Associated Press.

NC Stop Torture

Now and other anti-war groups have joined forces to track planes by tail numbers and build extensive online databases of flight plans and owners. Fager was at Fayetteville Regional Airport shooting pictures of the Centurion jet because the network believes the company is supporting the CIA rendition program.
« We believe that Centurion is part of what we call the torture-industrial complex, » Fager said.
     But company officials say Fayetteville-based Centurion Aviation Services is just a private flight service that supports L3 Communications, the sixth-largest defense contractor in the world, which has operations in Fayetteville.
     « Centurion has been falsely implicated on several occasions regarding rendition or associated flights, » P.J. Wachtler, president of the company, said in an e-mail. « It appears to me that the basis for the misinformation in these articles stems directly from plane-spotter and conspiracy blog sites. It’s these types of sites and open speculation that put my crews and aircraft directly at risk. »
     A message posted on an Arabic Web forum called on Muslims to destroy all American Gulfstream and Learjets, according to an April 2006 Transportation Security Administration warning provided by Wachtler.
     Centurion came to the attention of Fager and other plane-spotters this summer when the company was linked in the news and in parliamentary reports in Europe to rendition flights.
     NC Stop Torture Now has focused most of its attention on Aero Contractors, a private company in Johnston County also linked in media reports to the rendition program.
     Germany indicted 13 Americans earlier this year, including pilots for Aero, in the 2004 kidnapping, detention and transport of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent.
     El-Masri alleges that a CIA black snatch team picked him up, and he was beaten, stripped naked and drugged.
     The snatch team flew him to Afghanistan, where he was held for months before finally being released. El-Masri sued the CIA, but the case was dismissed.
     « It is un-American, » Fager said of the rendition program. « You don’t treat children of God this way. Americans don’t treat people this way. »
     While Aero Contractors has received significant attention for alleged ties to rendition, Centurion has stayed mostly out of the public eye.
     A source familiar with special operations aviation says that’s not surprising because Centurion has no connection to any rendition flights.
     « Anybody that would try and claim otherwise is smoking crack, » said the source.
     The source said the company is a taxi service. Its two Gulfstream IV jets — the model of the plane spotted by Fager — cost close to $40 million each and are a favorite of executives because of their comfortable cabin and long range. The jet’s maximum range is about 5,000 nautical miles.
     Trevor Paglen, author of « Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights, » thinks that Centurion is likely the Joint Special Operations Command’s private airline. The command oversees the secretive counterterrorist forces of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
     Ken McGraw, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command at Tampa, Fla., said the aircraft do not belong to U.S. Special Operations Command or its components.
     « Centurion will have to provide the information about who their customers are, » he said.
     Paglen points out that Centurion is authorized to land at military bases to refuel.
     Wachtler said in an e-mail that L-3 Communications owns the jets. As a defense contractor, the company needs access to military bases.
     « As such, Centurion applied for and received its civil landing permit by the (Defense Department) to land at military bases. This is not an unusual process for aviation companies, » he said.
     Centurion has 22 employees, Wachtler said, and has been operating since 2002.

     Flight routes

     He would not comment on the company’s normal missions or frequent flight routes.
     « We are obliged to protect the privacy of our clients with regards to the nature of their business, » he said.
     One of Centurion’s Gulfstream IVs — tail number N478GS — has landed at Guantanamo Bay at least four times and was seen in Cyprus, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, according to Eurocontrol — the European counterpart to the FAA.
     Fager said the planes leaving Fayetteville usually fly to Bangor, Maine, then on to Shannon Airport in Ireland and then disappear before coming back the same way.
     The flight in August originated in Crestview, Fla., which is home to Tepper Aviation Inc., Fager said.
      According to, ( ) Tepper had a long association with the CIA in the 1980s and 1990s, including flying weapons into Angola to arm rebels.
      SourceWatch is a directory of people and organizations created by the Center for Media and Democracy.
      Wachtler said Centurion has also never dealt with Tepper Aviation, an assertion confirmed by Tepper Aviation officials. Wachtler said the plane in August was carrying five L-3 Communication passengers to a meeting in Destin, Fla.
      « We had to land at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla. since the Destin runway is too short to land our G-IV, » he said.
      According to airport officials, the runway at Destin/Fort Walton Beach Airport is long enough to accommodate a G-IV. But Wachtler said in an e-mail Friday that Centurion’s Operations Manual limits G-IV operations to runways that are at least 6,000 feet long. Destin is just under 5,000 feet long.
      Fager knows that most of the Centurion flights he and other plane-spotters have documented have not been returning from rendition missions. But he said he believes they have established that the company is connected.
     Fager said he wants a new version of the Church Committee — a Senate panel that dug into CIA activities in the 1970s. Only Congress, he said, can really shine a light on rendition and who is involved.
     « We’re not going to stop it immediately, » Fager said. « It is a long march. But we are moving toward a time when somebody with a lot more clout says let’s take a look at this. »


Published on Monday
December 31, 2007

 Centurion clarification

 By Chuck Fager


     I’m grateful to the Observer and reporter Kevin Maurer for opening a window onto Centurion Aviation services (« Activists link jets to secret missions, » Dec. 23), and the secret world it inhabits, which adjoins everyday life in Fayetteville like a parallel universe.
     However, one clarification is in order. The article’s subheading states that I charged Centurion was « involved in extraordinary rendition, » or kidnapping-torture flights.
     Centurion officials vehemently denied making any rendition flights. They were backed up by an unnamed source « familiar with special forces aviation, » who insisted that « anybody that would claim otherwise is smoking crack. »
     The subheading is less than precise, however, and the denials miss their mark. My actual statement in the article, cited accurately, was this:
     « We believe that Centurion is part of what we call the Torture Industrial complex. »
     What’s that?
     The Torture Industrial Complex includes a wide range of facilities and activities — it is by no means limited only to kidnap-torture « rendition » flights.
     Here are a few other parts that we know of:

     — A far-flung network of secret prisons and other « black sites, » with interrogators, guards and support staff. The Associated Press reported in 2006 that these secret sites hold as many as 14,000 prisoners in a « legal vacuum. »
     — Detailed planning and logistics programs for the sites. The ACLU has filed suit against a California travel planning company, Jeppeson Dataplan, for its part in setting up torture-related flight plans.
     — Dozens of dummy front companies scattered across the U.S. (Two at least in North Carolina; and Centurion’s planes were owned by a third.)
     — Training for « interrogators » who administer the torture, which this newspaper reported last June had « migrated » from Fort Bragg to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and likely other places in the secret network.
     — Psychiatrists and doctors to design, refine, monitor — and cover up among their colleagues — the « enhanced interrogation » torture techniques. Their active roles, including personnel from Fort Bragg, have been confirmed by the Army in an Inspector General’s report released last summer.
     — Lawyers and flacks to pretend that torture is legal and moral, or to argue that in any case the U.S. does not torture because if the U.S. does it, it can’t be torture. Kudos to the Observer’s editorial writers for not falling for this doublespeak.
     — Compliant media outlets (not including this paper), to ignore this expanding reality.
     — And not least, given the government-military context, there must be layers of clandestine bureaucracy as well.Thus, there are many ways for a secret outfit like Centurion to be related to the Torture Industrial Complex besides making actual kidnap-rendition flights. So the company’s denials may be technically true, but are beside the point.
      Strictly by accident, we have an instructive local example:
      Centurion’s Gulfstream N478GS flew from Bagram, Afghanistan, to Bucharest, Romania, in late 2004. We know about this flight because N478GS crash-landed at Bucharest, and crash reports were uncovered and reported by the Chicago Tribune. (For that article, click here.)
      Investigators have established the presence of secret U.S. prisons at both ends of this route. So it is not a stretch to « connect these dots » with the Torture Industrial Complex.
      Planespotters recently verified that Centurion’s N478GS is flying again, based in Fayetteville.
      Moreover, Centurion flight logs obtained by NC Stop Torture Now document that many of their flights land at one airport in England or Ireland, then drop from sight for several days, only to reappear at a different airport for a return flight to Fayetteville.
      What other secret Centurion missions are hidden in these blacked-out periods?
      That’s a good question, worth exploring further. Certainly Centurion is very busy these days. In fact, as reported in this newspaper last June, it is even expanding, planning a new hangar that will more than double the size of its Fayetteville airport facility.
      The company was already one of the largest corporate taxpayers in Fayetteville. In 2005 it ranked just below Wal-Mart, the city’s largest civilian employer, in tax payments.
     We hope reporting and investigations of the Torture Industrial Complex will continue, in these pages and elsewhere.

      And, by the way, I don’t smoke crack.

      Never have.

Chuck Fager is Director of Quaker House in Fayetteville, and is active with North Carolina Stop Torture Now.