The forecast called for heavy snow on the route home, so the three pilots who had just flown a covert CIA-sponsored "extraordinary rendition" flight were forced to stay an extra night at the Gran Melia Victoria, a luxury hotel overlooking the marina on the island of Majorca.At the time, I'm sure the men were doing what they thought was right. But it is illegal to kidnap someone and send them to another country to be tortured under either U.S. or Italian law, even if they are a terrorist. These men will never see the inside of a jail cell, but compared to what Masri went through, it's hard to feel much sympathy if they have to spend a couple of months dodging the press and are foreclosed from taking vacations in Europe.
Up in Room 552, the pilot who called himself Capt. James Fairing picked up the phone at 2:28 in the afternoon and dialed his tree-shaded home in a subdivision carved out of pine forests here in Clayton, about 15 miles southeast of Raleigh. He also called his employer, a North Carolina-based air charter service that long has worked for the CIA.
Fairing's copilot, who registered as Eric Matthew Fain, reached for the phone in his room and called a woman back home with whom he owns a 22-foot speedboat and who also flies missions for the CIA. The third pilot from the stranded flight carried a U.S. passport issued to Kirk James Bird. The passport photo shows a balding, middle-age man with a broad smile.
The names they used were all aliases, but The Times confirmed their real identities from government databases and visited their homes this month after a German court in January ordered the arrest of the three "ghost pilots" and 10 other alleged members of the CIA's special renditions unit on charges of kidnapping and causing serious bodily harm to Khaled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, three years ago.
In real life, the chief pilot is 52, drives a Toyota Previa minivan and keeps a collection of model trains in a glass display case near a large bubbling aquarium in his living room. Federal aviation records show he is rated to fly seven kinds of aircraft as long as he wears his glasses.
His wife, reached by phone at her office, said her husband had done no wrong. "He's just a pilot," she said.
His copilot, who used the alias Fain, is a bearded man of 35 who lives with his father and two dogs in a separate subdivision. He called home during a subsequent mission from the Royal Plaza Hotel on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza, according to records collected by Spanish investigators from the Guardia Civil.
The third pilot, who used the alias Bird, is 46, drives a Ford Explorer and has a 17-foot aluminum fishing boat. Certified as a flight instructor, he keeps plastic models of his favorite planes mounted by the fireplace in his living room in a house that backs onto a private golf course here. His wife declined to comment.
On the flight back to Washington, after the snow had cleared, the rendition team celebrated by ordering 17 shrimp cocktails and three bottles of fine Spanish wine, according to catering invoices obtained by the prosecutors.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The L.A. Times reveals more to us about the pilots who transported Khaled Masri to Afghanistan to be tortured, and who were recently indicted by an Italian court along with 10 other men or women employed by the CIA in the "extraordinary rendition" (via War & Piece):