Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program
By Stephen Grey.
St. Martin’s Press. $25.95.
The flight to hell is upholstered with leather seats. The passengers get headphones, hoods, and shackles. “They put me on this private jet,” remembers one victim, Maher Arar, who was snatched from New York’s JFK Airport on orders from the CIA and flown to Syria for interrogation. “So I started thinking, ‘What’s going on here?'”
Investigative reporter Stephen Grey lays the answer bare in this comprehensive examination of the Bush administration’s secret program of kidnapping and torture known as “extraordinary rendition.” Under the program, which kicked into high gear after 9/11, CIA pilots with false names and new Social Security numbers use jets owned by fake companies to ferry terrorist suspects to the torture chambers of the Muslim world. The operation is so secret that the CIA officers often wear black masks when they board the planes. But as Grey discovered, the rules of commercial aviation are not designed to keep those secrets forever.
By mining airport logs, ownership records, and the astounding reporting of journalists and amateur planespotters around the world, Grey has documented 75 rendition flights, as well as the brutal torture that awaits the prisoners in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Morocco. He describes this shadowy world as fantastic and surreal. Above the clouds, Arar tells Grey, “They allowed me to move freely on the plane. They gave me a very nice dinner.” Once he arrived in Syria, Arar was beaten on his hands and feet with electric cables.