Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado on Thursday rejected information contained in confidential US Embassy cables that the CIA was given permission to use his country's airspace to secretly repatriate Al Qaeda prisoners from the Guantánamo prison camp in Cuba.
"There was never any formal request for any type of operation," Amado told a Portuguese radio station.
The minister was reacting to a new batch of cables released by WikiLeaks in which the US ambassador in Lisbon, Alfred Hoffman, told Washington said that Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister José Sócrates, as well as Amado, had given the US government approval to use the Lajes Air Base in the Azores for the clandestine flights.
"Amado said there could be tremendous negative fallout if this was not done right"
"Socrates agreed to allow the repatriation of enemy combatants out of Guantanamo through Lajes Air Base on a case-by-case basis," Hoffman wrote to President Bush on September 7, 2007. "This was a difficult decision, given the sustained criticism by Portuguese media and leftist elements of his own party over the government's handling of the CIA rendition flights controversy. Sócrates' agreement has never been made public."
Reacting on Thursday, Amado explained that under a bilateral treaty his government is permitted to help the United States in any circumstances, as long as there are guarantees that Washington will follow Portuguese laws. But in this case, he said there was no formal petition by the US government.
Various cables from the US Embassy from 2006 and 2009 detail the pressure the US government was putting on Portugal and Lisbon's cautious approach in dealing with the issue.
The CIA rendition flights scandal caused an uproar in Portugal after it was learned that some of the suspects were taken to secret prisons in Poland and Romania.
During a prior meeting with the ambassador the year before the 2007 cable apparently confirms Portuguese acquiescence, Amado had pledged to discuss the issue with the Portuguese prime minister. "The Minister said that he would push hard with the Prime Minister to allow Lajes to be used as a transit point in repatriating Guantanamo detainees," Hoffman wrote August 9, 2006.
"Amado said that he needed to check with the Prime Minister who would be difficult to convince, but that he would push hard for Portuguese cooperation so long as there was total transparency. Details would need to be worked out; there would need to be a clear political approach. He underscored that there could be tremendous negative fallout if this was not done right."