Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program
Thursday, October 19th, 2006http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/10/19/1347246
British journalist Stephen Grey helped expose the Bush administration’s secret CIA rendition flights. He joins us to talk about his new book, “Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program.” [includes rush transcript - partial]
Joining me now in our New York studio is the British journalist who has helped expose the Bush administration’s secret CIA rendition flights. Stephen Grey has just published a new book called “Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program.” The book covers the case of Maher Arar as well as dozens of other men who have been disappeared by the CIA and U.S. military.
- Stephen Grey. An award-winning investigative journalist who has contributed to The New York Times, Newsweek, The Atlantic Monthly and many other publications. He first exposed the secret rendition program back in 2004. His new book is “Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program.”
AMY GOODMAN: Joining us right now in our firehouse studio is the British journalist who helped expose the Bush administration's secret CIA rendition flights. Stephen Grey has just published a new book. It’s called Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. The book covers the case of Maher Arar, as well as dozens of other men who have been disappeared by the CIA and U.S. military. Welcome to Democracy Now!
STEPHEN GREY: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you first learn about these renditions?
STEPHEN GREY: Well, funnily enough, I was first told about renditions by a man who became the head of the CIA, Porter Goss. He was then a congressman and head of the House Intelligence Committee. And he told me -- I asked him whether they would find a way of capturing bin Laden, and he said, “Oh, this is called rendition. Do you know about this?” And I said, “No, I have not heard of it.” He said, “It’s a way of bringing people to a kind of justice.” And that really set me on the trail to uncover this whole network of prisoner detention in secret.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, where did you go from there?
STEPHEN GREY: Well, when the Guantanamo Bay camp was opened up in Cuba, and we saw all those images of those prisoners there, I asked about this, and some people who are close to the CIA told me, “Look, this is the press release. This is what the they want you to see. This is where they’re taking the cameras. But you should know there’s a much wider system of detention, of camps around the world where people are being taken.” And that really inspired me to try and get behind that and find out where they all were and what was happening to them.
And in fact, quite soon afterwards -- well, a few months -- actually a year later, when Maher Arar was first released, he was one of the first victims of the rendition program to come out. And he described so compellingly what happened to him and how he was taken in this Gulfstream jet, this executive jet, which seemed bizarre, flown across the Atlantic from America to Syria, and described the terrible torture that he faced. That also quite inspired me to sort of find out what happened to everyone else. And, as you know, that use of these plans proved to be quite a clue as to how we could unlock this whole scandal.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you actually were able to pinpoint the plane that Maher Arar was put on when he was sent to Syria?
STEPHEN GREY: That’s right. I mean, I was able to find that actually the movements of these private jets, probably through some errors by the agency and others involved, were quite easy to track around the world. So I found out not only his plane, but a total of about 20 different planes used by the CIA and allied agencies to move people around the world. I got thousands of flight plans of these planes. What was important was you had people like Maher Arar and others coming out and making these statements of rendition: “I was sent to Egypt, Morocco, Syria.” And you wondered, you know, should you believe these people? They’re accused of being terrorists, etc. You wanted to find out some way of verifying their statement. And the importance of these planes was, they allowed us to confirm precisely that exactly what they said had happened was true.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us, what was the company that owned the plane? What was the plane? How did it work?
STEPHEN GREY: Well, one of the main companies that is being used for these renditions is called Aero Contractors. It’s a company based in North Carolina
AMY GOODMAN: That’s A-E-R-O?
STEPHEN GREY: That's right, yeah. And this is a company that is at the center of the CIA’s aviation network. I was initially wondering whether it was just a normal private company that perhaps had a contract with the CIA. As we dug into it more deeply, we discovered it actually was the CIA, and I eventually found some pilots who used to work there, who described how they got their job working for Aero Contractors by being interviewed by the CIA.
There was an advertisement. There were adverts from the CIA saying, you know, we need all these kind of people, including pilots. And they replied to those jobs. They got vetted by the CIA. They got put on what they called “the box,” the polygraph, in a hotel not far from the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Finally, they were taken to Langley and provided with a series of cover identities, false aviation licenses, false credit cards, false driving licenses by the CIA. Funny enough, actually, one of them involved said that he was given a form to sign when he joined the CIA, saying, “I will never claim I’m from the CIA. I’ll never say I’m a CIA employee.” He signed the form, but the CIA kept all the copies. But he knew who he was working for, and they all spent many years working with the CIA around the world. It’s definitively a CIA operation.
AMY GOODMAN: And where did they fly Maher Arar out of from the New York area?
STEPHEN GREY: Yeah, he was flown out of the local airport here in New Jersey, Teterboro, picked up there. There was an FBI involvement in that particular operation, because it came out of New York, the U.S. airspace. So it wasn't a sort of typical rendition. My understanding is the CIA took over. He was flown from Teterboro to Dulles Airport, where a new team took over. And then he was flown from there to -- via Athens -- sorry, via Rome in Italy, and then the plane then landed in Jordan. At that point, I think, the CIA took over.
He was then taken -- he was beaten in Jordan, and then he was driven over the border into Syria to this place. You’ve mentioned the Palestine Branch. It’s one of the worst interrogation centers in the world. And what I found that what I’ve -- in this book, in researching this book, that when he got there, he wasn't the only person that had been sent there by the United States. Up to seven other prisoners were sitting in these same cells about the size of graves, three-foot wide, six-foot wide. And up to seven other prisoners there at the time had all been sent there by the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Are they still there?
STEPHEN GREY: Well, some them are. I mean, the whole story of this rendition program is that there are only a few people who have emerged to tell their stories, and so many others have disappeared completely. We don’t know where they are. There’s no accountability as to what’s happened to them.
There was one man connected with the Hamburg cell, probably a suspected terrorist who was sent there in December 2001. He’s quite a big man. He couldn’t even fit in the cell. And he’s been held there for over a year in this tiny solitary cell, beaten and beaten constantly and never brought to trial. So, although people say that he’s a man who’s been involved in the 9/11 attacks, he was deliberately sent to a place where he couldn’t be brought to trial, where we couldn’t hear the evidence against him. So we don't know the truth about these allegations.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Stephen Grey, an award-winning investigative reporter who’s contributed to the New York Times, Newsweek, the Atlantic Monthly, many other publications, first exposed the rendition program back in 2004. His book is called Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. We’ll be back with him in a minute.