Planespotting


Over at truthdig.com, ex-MJ intern Onnesha Roychoudhuri has a fascinating interview with the authors of Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights, a new book about extraordinary rendition. It gathers a lot of information from amateur planespotters and supplements it with some on-the-ground reporting from the authors, Trevor Paglen and A.C. Thompson. One of the most telling points they make is that as they dug into the support structure of the rendition program, they “realized our neighbors were helping the CIA set up these structures. These are family lawyers in suburban Massachusetts and Reno, Nevada. People in our communities are doing dirty work for the CIA. This is not just people being snatched up from one faraway country and taken to a country that’s even farther away.”

It’s all too easy to be outraged by the secret torture programs. It is more uncomfortable still to acknowledge that for many people—some of whose daily jobs may depend on the rendition program—it is not outrageous. One of the airplane charter companies used by the CIA was Aero Contractors, based in Smithfield, N.C., a place Thompson discussed in the interview.

What you start to figure out by spending time in Smithfield is that a lot of people know about the company and have at least an inkling of what goes on at the airport. Most don’t want to talk about it and don’t take a critical view of it. Folks we met there framed the debate within this religious discourse. The activists that we talked to were god-fearing devout Christians who felt like this was not what they signed up for as religious people, that it violates the religious tenets they adhere to. Interestingly, folks on the other side of the debate seem to be coming from a similar place, but just coming to a different conclusion. The subject of whether or not torture was permitted by the Bible was discussed in church there—and many congregants believed it was.

Thompson’s coauthor, Trevor Paglen, is an artist and geographer at U.C.-Berkeley. Check out his site for a look at some very cool art/activism projects, some of which you can participate in. Perhaps you’d like to join a surveillance trip of your own—to Area 51.

Also, look for a review of another rendition book, Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program, by Stephen Grey, in the November/December 2006 Mother Jones.

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