Cablegate: Spain: Alleged Detainee Flights Issue Blows Up In

DE RUEHMD #1280/01 3391342
R 041342Z DEC 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 001280



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/03/2018

REF: A. 07 MADRID 173
B. MADRID 1021

MADRID 00001280 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Arnold A. Chacon for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A hot issue in the Spanish press since
2005, the detainee transfer flights that allegedly transited
Spain from 2002 until 2006 have once again hit the headlines.
The most recent flurry of reporting began November 30 when
El Pais, Spain's leading newspaper, printed several stories
based on internal GOS documents purporting to relate U.S.
requests in 2002 for permission to use Spanish airports
should an emergency arise on flights transporting terrorism
detainees to Guantanamo. Although GOS officials past and
present continue to deny knowledge of any illegality, this
long-running saga could have implications for our Agreement
on Defense Cooperation (ADC). END SUMMARY.

The Story that Will Not Die

2. (SBU) The Guantanamo detainee flight story has long since
become a press staple in Spain. The story appears on front
pages (starting in El Pais) and disappears every two or three
months. An investigation is underway in a Spanish court,
brought by an NGO which claims illegally detained persons
were transported via Spain. The press reporting almost
invariably mixes so-called "CIA flights" and U.S. military
flights via Rota and Moron (of which there are thousands
annually) indiscriminantly. It also draws heavily on claims
by various NGOs interested in Guantanamo and presents their
allegations as fact (e.g., lists of aircraft tail numbers
from planes alleged to have passed through Spain carrying
detainees). The progress of the case appears desultory and
that translates into a periodic rash of stories each time the
judge receives new information, say from air traffic control
authorities or the Spanish MOD. Naturally, no allowance is
made in the press for the fact that Guantanamo, aside from
being home to the detention facility, is also a U.S. military
base visited by routine logistical flights.


3. (SBU) The current iteration of the story is the most
virulent so far. It began November 30 when El Pais reported
a document recounting a 2002 meeting between the then-Spanish
MFA Director General for North America and the Embassy's
Political-Military Counselor (NFI) in which the U.S. asked to
use Spain as an emergency landing destination for flights
moving detainees from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. The
newspaper also described a second document from the same MFA
official, addressed to the MOD Secretary General for Defense
Policy, expressing the MFA's willingness to grant the U.S.
request and suggesting use of a "discreet" military airport
such as Moron. In a related article December 3, El Pais
published a February 2007 letter from the Spanish President
of the joint Permanent Committee which manages implementation
of the ADC, asking the U.S. section to confirm that the U.S.
was in compliance with Article 25.2 of the ADC with respect
to U.S. military flights to and from Guantanamo (that article
exempts from blanket flight clearances any plane carrying
persons or cargo that would be controversial for Spain). The
newspaper also published the U.S. section response, which was
in the affirmative. (Note: In March 2007, the MOD decided
that all flights to and from Guantanamo would require
individual clearances; that is the procedure in use today).

Know Nothings

4. (SBU) Trying to get ahead of the story, FM Moratinos
announced December 1 the formation of an independent
investigative team including the Chiefs of Staff to the FM,
the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the
Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs as well as the
FM's parliamentary advisor. On December 2, Moratinos
confirmed press reports the investigative team has not been
able to locate the original of the 2002 document described in
paragraph 1 (although El Pais has printed a facsimile). This
has only added to the government's embarrassment.

5. (C) President Zapatero and his cabinet have let it be

MADRID 00001280 002.2 OF 003

known that they had no knowledge of any arrangements the
previous administration (that of Jose Maria Aznar) might have
made with the U.S. This tactic could be effective but is
blunted by allegations the flights continued into 2006, well
into Zapatero's first term. Given the Socialists'
consistent, outspoken anti-Guantanamo line, it would be a
political disaster if they were shown to have winked at
detainee flights. It would be only somewhat less damaging if
they were perceived to be so incompetent they did not notice
the flights. Moratinos has denied any knowledge. Two former
Zapatero MODs, current President of Congress Jose Bono and
current senior Socialist Party congressional spokesman Jose
Antonio Alonso, have said they knew of no illegal U.S.
activity in Spain. The opposition Popular Party (PP -- the
party Aznar led) has accused the Zapatero administration of
leaking documents in an effort to discredit them and to
distract public attention from Zapatero's alleged mishandling
of the ailing Spanish economy. The PP has also pointed out
that of two of the alleged flights occurred under Aznar and
nine came under Zapatero's presidency. PP leader Mariano
Rajoy has told the press he knew nothing about the flights,
although he was First Vice President in Aznar's government at
the time of the alleged agreement. A unsubstantiated rumor
claims the leaker is the head of Spain's National
Intelligence Center who is allegedly trying to pressure his
former mentor Bono into supporting a renewal of his term as
director. We put little credence in such rumors, but they
give a sense of how heated this has become. Adding to
Zapatero's discomfort, the small but noisy far-left party
(United Left) is in full cry over the story.


6. (SBU) The prosecutor handling the related court case
indicated last year that there was no plan to request
information from the USG (ref a). However, the latest round
of stories has included speculation that the court might seek
testimony from Aznar and members of his administration as
well as from U.S. Embassy officials. We have received no
official notification of any such requests, and consider it


7. (C) Beyond the fact that it sells newspapers, there are a
variety of reasons for this story,s longevity. Although
anti-Americanism in Spain is more theoretical than practical
(the Spanish people fundamentally like the U.S. and want
strong relations, and the Spanish government is anxious to
establish closer ties with the incoming U.S. Administration),
there remains an important segment in the media that is
old-school European left. More importantly, the
left-of-center press here enjoys bashing Aznar and his party,
especially for their support for the war in Iraq.
Additionally, although itself left-of-center, El Pais has its
differences with Zapatero and may not mind inflicting pain on
him as well as Aznar. Neither is El Pais very fond of

8. (C) Whatever the motive, the continual media muddling of
so-called "CIA flights" and U.S. military flights is
unhelpful. The ADC provides us the extremely valuable use of
two military bases in southern Spain midway between the
continental U.S. and the theaters of operation in Afghanistan
and Iraq. To the extent our ADC -- which generally receives
little public attention in Spain -- is hauled onto the front
pages in connection with the detention facility at
Guantanamo, we run the risk of seeing political support for
the ADC and our mil-mil relationship undermined. By
unfortunate coincidence, the ADC was already in the press in
recent weeks thanks to MOD Chacon,s repeated references to
her hope that the U.S. would elevate it to the level of a
treaty (septel).

9. (C) In general, we have taken the approach that the less
said by us to the press on the overflight topic, the better.
The MFA North America Desk has told us in the past that they
strongly prefer the Embassy not say anything, fearing it
might stir the pot. In any case, our ability to beat down
this story is constrained by the fact that we do not
ourselves know, factually, what might have transpired five or
six years ago as the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq began

MADRID 00001280 003.2 OF 003

yielding large numbers of potentially dangerous terrorist
detainees and unlawful combatants. Naturally, we are not
going to answer questions on the activities of intelligence
agencies, so in any conversation about these issues we run
the risk of appearing less than transparent and thus seeming
to confirm the media,s worst insinuations. When we do speak
publicly on the issue, our mantra is that we have not
violated Spanish law and have complied fully with the ADC.
Needless to say, we decline to comment on any leaked internal
GOS documents. We also try at every opportunity to make the
larger point about the war on terror and the very difficult
choices that are faced when the U.S. captures suspected
terrorists on foreign battlefields. Frankly, this is a
losing argument with a Spanish public that -- although
attuned to the dangers of terrorism -- largely rejects the
muscular U.S. approach to fighting it overseas.

10. (C) Thus far, the MOD and MFA have done a reasonably good
job in their public affairs efforts of making clear that they
do not believe we have violated the ADC. The MOD issued a
December 2 statement saying it knew of no U.S. military
flights that were either illegal or in violation of our
bilateral agreements (this echoes what MOD officials have
told us privately -- e.g. ref b). However, we have no
illusions. Politicians are not going to throw themselves on
a grenade to protect a predecessor government they despise.
More than anything, these stories are directed at Aznar and
his party, and the damage to U.S. interests is in some
measure collateral.

11. (C) Our guess is that the story will continue to rear its
head every month or two for the foreseeable future. It is
irresistible copy for Spanish editors, and Aznar is the
left,s favorite bogeyman. The court case, winding its way
slowly through the system, also provides periodic
opportunities to revive it. Also, the release in the U.S. at
some point in the future of information relating Guantanamo
and Spain would certainly generate renewed press interest
here. Baring a categorical statement from the USG that no
detainees passed through Spain -- and we understand that
might be undesirable from a policy standpoint even if
factually correct -- nothing but time is going to make this
go away.

© Scoop Media

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