GHOST PLANE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE CIA TORTURE PROGRAM by Stephen Grey (St. Martin's), 372 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
When the world trade center crumbled in 2001, so did America's commitment to the Geneva Convention and its pledge not to use torture against its enemies.
Following that horrible fall day six years ago, CIA planes began delivering suspected al Qaeda operatives to countries that use torture as an everyday investigative tool.
The story of how the United States began ferrying prisoners to totalitarian regimes, including Syria, which it says has ties to international terrorism itself, is brilliantly told in Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane.
While "extraordinary renditions" began under the Clinton administration, it was after the Bush White House announced it was taking the gloves off in its covert war against al Qaeda that the real horror show began.
One of the unfortunate players caught up in this secret international operation was Canadian Maher Arar, who was sent back to Syria, despite his pleas that he faced torture there, after Canadian and American intelligence concluded he was tied to al Qaeda.
Grey points out that Canada, while decrying torture, was not shy about becoming a consumer of information obtained by it. Arar's case was key in giving the world a peek into this darkest corner of the CIA's shadowy war on terror. Grey also tells the stories of other Muslims who were sent into the meat grinder of the rendition machine. Recently, Germany and Italy indicted a slew of CIA operatives for their roles in abducting suspects from their countries.
One fascinating chapter tells how Grey managed to figure out that the CIA had established a fleet of "ghost planes" that were hopscotching the world on torture runs. In a world of personal computers and accessible databases, even covert operations are not entirely invisible.
Investigative journalism at its best.