Tuesday, January 9, 2007

CIA Planes and the Secrets They Tell

A new book on the skullduggery of the CIA, Ghost Plane by Stephen Grey, is getting considerable attention in some national circles. We've only read about Grey's book, but the reports we've seen are an unhappy reminder of the way the Bush Administration has used the war on terror to pervert U.S. standards of justice and to allow others to torture suspects on our behalf.

Grey, a British investigative journalist, compiled a list of 307 secret U.S. (read: CIA) flights since Sept. 11, 2001, made for the purpose "extraordinary rendition," the term used when American officials (read: CIA) arrest a suspected terrorist, take the suspect to another country (but not the U.S.) to be held in secret, and questioned, mistreated or tortured by the others—no questions asked.

The "secret prisons" part of the story was reported in the U.S. press in late 2005, embarrassing the Bush Administration and raising eyebrows among America's European allies.

In Ghost Plane, Grey tells the rest of the story. He tells, for instance, about a Canadian citizen, one Maher Arar, a software engineer, father of two and native of Syria. Arar was arrested in New York in October 2002 as he was returning from a vacation with his wife's family in Tunisia. He was secretly flow to Syria on a CIA plane (at a cost of perhaps $120,000), where he was imprisoned, humiliated, beaten, threatened, and tortured.

The U.S. didn't torture him, but we made it possible for the Syrians to do so. We just looked the other way.

But Arar was not a terrorist. As evidence of that, Grey cites a three-volume, 1,600-page Canadian report on Arar's case, an investigation that found no evidence of any terrorist activities on Arar's part. His identification as a terrorist was based on faulty assumptions and errors, not facts.

Although Arar was finally freed in 2005, the details of his treatment by the Syrians are as astounding as they are inhumane. They include beatings with electric cables, being burned with cigarettes, confinement in a tiny cell for more than 10 months, being threatened with immersion in a barrel of excretment, and more. Everything about his captivity, Grey writes, "was designed to break the soul."

Grey believes Arar's story is "emblematic of how an innocent man could be caught up and crushed by the manipulation of intelligence."

The U.S. should, of course, arrest, imprison and try those who would do us harm. We have real enemies in the world and we should stop them. But the Bush Administration's claim that the U.S. doesn't torture rings hollow when the record shows that we aid and abet those who will do it for us.

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