In normal times, the request would be superfluous. International aviation law and a separate bilateral agreement between Spain and the United States both require all airports in the two countries to permit emergency landings. But the flights the Spanish note refers to were far from normal. The year was 2002 and the U.S. Air Force was transferring Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners from Afghanistan to a U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay. Washington wanted to know if Spain could help.
It could. On Nov. 30, Spain’s El Pais newspaper published a document, marked “top secret,” that proves that high-ranking officials within the former government of Jose Maria Aznar, including the foreign minister Josep Pique, not only had knowledge of, but gave permission to the United States to use military bases in Spain for layovers during the long flight from Afghanistan to Cuba. (See pictures from inside Guantanamo.)
“The arrests of the people on board those flights were made without lawyers, without a judge’s authorization,” says Esteban Beltran, president of the Spanish branch of Amnesty International, which has conducted its own investigation into the secret flights. “Which means that the Spanish government colluded with illegal detentions.” … – time