New evidence culled from a court case involving CIA contractors has revealed flight paths through Djibouti that appear to indicate the country’s role as a hub of the CIA’s rendition network in Africa, according to documents released by the U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve and New York University’s Global Justice Clinic.
The documents could support the case of Mohammad al-Asad, a former CIA detainee who is suing the government of Djibouti for its alleged role in hosting CIA “black sites” — specifically the one where he says he was detained and tortured for two weeks between December 2003 and January 2004. A Senate investigation into the agency’s “detention and interrogation program” had previously confirmed that several individuals had in fact been detained in Djibouti, according to two officials who read the still-classified report and spoke to Al Jazeera.
Investigators behind the document release combed through contracts, invoices and letters put into evidence for a court case — which involved CIA contractors and was separate from the Djibouti allegations — and pieced together a series of rendition circuits, or flight paths, between 2003 and 2004. They include legs through Djibouti — even though the Horn of Africa did not appear to be a convenient stopover between the United States and Afghanistan, the circuits' endpoints.
“Djibouti was not on the way, it was a destination,” said Margaret Satterthwaite, al-Asad's attorney and a professor at the Global Justice Clinic. “That’s kind of a telltale sign of a rendition circuit.”
The evidence also implicated private companies — including Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), DynCorp Systems and Solutions (which was purchased by CSC in 2003 and later divested), Richmor Aviation and First Flight — in the Africa rendition program for the first time.
“These documents provide further evidence of how U.S. corporations played a crucial role in the CIA’s torture network, rendering people to torture around the world far from public scrutiny and even further from the rule of law,” said Kevin Lo, corporate social responsibility advocate at Reprieve.
A spokesman for Computer Sciences Corp. said his company did not comment on "speculation about its clients or their activities" but added in an email to Al Jazeera: "CSC has had the privilege for over fifty years of supporting governments and private sector organizations worldwide, and has done so within the law."
Richmor Aviation and First Flight did not respond to Al Jazeera's requests for comment in time for publication.
Al-Asad’s case is currently under consideration by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, al-Asad, who is now 54 years old, said he was taken from his home in Tanzania to Djibouti, where he was detained for two weeks. He was then rendered to Afghanistan, where he says he was tortured at various points over the course of more than a year at several CIA black site prisons.
Djibouti has vehemently denied “knowing” participation in any U.S. rendition or torture programs in the country. Its ambassador to the U.S., Roble Olhaye, called al-Asad a "liar."
"Everything about his case relies on hearsay and conjecture. There were no flights that came to Djibouti on that day he said he was brought to my country from Tanzania," Olhaye said. "That was checked by our lawyers."
Human rights researchers say that after the 9/11 attacks, dozens of suspects captured by the U.S. were secretly detained, interrogated and tortured in Djibouti. Although President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 banning the CIA’s use of black-site prisons, the order states that it does “not apply to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.”
And while Djibouti says it is not aware the CIA had ever operated a black-site prison on its soil, Olhaye pointed out: "If something was done in the context of the American base there, how would we know?"
Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, which hosts the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa, is a known hub for U.S. drone operations against Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Al-Shabab in Somalia.
Satterthwaite said the choice of Djibouti for a black site is logical not only because the country has been a strategic partner in the U.S. "war on terror" for more than a decade, but also because the country has a long history of silencing human rights advocates and journalists. "It's not hard to keep things secret there," she said.
Jason Leopold contributed reporting.