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At least 10 U.S. aviation companies were issued classified contracts in 2001 and 2002 by the obscure Navy Engineering Logistics Office for the ''occasional airlift of USN (Navy) cargo worldwide,'' according to Defense Department documents the AP obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Two of the companies -- Richmor Aviation Inc. and Premier Executive Transport Services Inc. -- chartered luxury Gulfstreams that flew terror suspects captured in Europe to Egypt, according to U.S. and European media reports. Once there, the men told family members, they were tortured. Authorities in Italy and Sweden have expressed outrage over flights they say were illegal and orchestrated by the U.S. government.
''A lot of us have been focusing on the role of the CIA but also suspecting that certain parts of the armed forces are involved,'' said Margaret Satterthwaite, a New York University School of Law researcher who has investigated renditions.
The Navy contracts involve more planes than previously reported -- other news outlets totaled 26 planes; the AP identified 33 planes.
Italian judges have issued arrest warrants for 19 purported CIA operatives who allegedly snatched a Muslim cleric from Milan in 2003 and flew him to Cairo, according to FAA records cited by the Chicago Tribune, aboard Richmor's Gulfstream IV. The jet belongs to a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox, who told The Boston Globe that the team's logo was covered when the CIA leased the plane. Another case involves two men taken from Sweden to Egypt in 2001 aboard Premier's Gulfstream V.
Neither the CIA nor a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon would comment for this story. Officials at the Navy Engineering Logistics Office, or NELO, in Arlington, Va., didn't respond to messages requesting comment.
The permits list planes operated by the companies and a contract number issued by NELO. The numbers provide some details about the contracts, including when they were issued, but do not say when they expire. In the documents the AP reviewed, contracts were issued in 2001 and 2002 and were cited on landing permits issued in 2004. The NELO contract numbers also appear on permits issued in 2003 and 2004 that allowed seven of the companies to buy fuel at military bases worldwide.
The permits list 31 planes under NELO contract other than the two Gulfstreams. They include a small Cessna; three huge Lockheed Hercules cargo planes; a Gulfstream 1159a; a Lear Jet 35A; a DC-3; two Boeing 737s; and a 53-passenger DeHavilland DH-8 photographed by plane spotters in Afghanistan.