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Tracking the ‘Torture Taxi’

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Posted on Sep 19, 2006
Torture Taxi
Courtesy MHP Books

The cover of the just-released book “Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA?s Rendition Flights”

By Onnesha Roychoudhuri

(Page 3)

Roychoudhuri: Who are these people?

Paglen: When A.C. interviewed people who had been held at the military air base Bagram, prisoners told him that there were Iraqis, Yemenis, an international cast of characters at this DOD prison. So what the hell are they doing there? These are not high-profile renditions like el-Masri or Khaled Sheikh Mohammed. So who are these guys? How did they get there? Is this part of the rendition program, or has the practice of transferring prisoners to these different places around the world become a standard practice?

Roychoudhuri: In the book, you make clear that the rendition program has been around for years. What has changed?

Paglen: The program was established over multiple administrations, Democrat and Republican. For example, Aero Contractors was set up under the Carter administration. The counter-terrorist unit in the CIA was set up under the Reagan administration, but the rendition program was set up under Clinton. It?s an accumulation of the capacity of this infrastructure. After 9/11, the CIA went about setting up this entire infrastructure. Materially, they started getting airplanes and secret prisons together. They also started putting together a corporate structure, meaning shell companies. All of this was already in place, but not solidified. All the controls seemed to be taken off of it. They?re not planning each operation so meticulously, they?re not getting presidential authorization for each operation.

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We?re hearing about it now because it grew so big, clearly expanding beyond what the intention of the program was at first. There is no question that some of these guys they?re picking up did nothing and are the wrong people. One of the differences between the pre- and post-9/11 is that the CIA becomes squarely in charge of the program. Before, the CIA was working with the FBI.

Thompson: The pre-9/11 program was geared more towards adjudicating people domestically who were suspected of crimes against American citizens. That was obviously not quite as controversial as running this huge program that?s snatching people and taking them to secret dungeons around the world.

Roychoudhuri: Clearly, other countries have to be at least partially aware of the program in order for the U.S. program to operate. Did you get a sense of the level of collaboration?

Paglen: We know that immediately after 9/11 the CIA set up a program to collaborate with 80 foreign countries to varying degrees. The CIA also started funding other intelligence services in order to use them as proxies. We also know that some of these collaborations were kept off the record; supposedly there is no paper trail.

Roychoudhuri: Has that off-the-record quality caused glitches in the program?

Paglen: What happened in October of 2001 is that one of these airplanes landed in Pakistan. The Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) picked up a guy named Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2004/10/jamil_qasim_sae.html). The plane landed on the tarmac; they had this guy in chains. That guy was handed over to the Americans and put into this Gulfstream. They were going to fly him out of there, but the air traffic controllers require a landing fee and they refused to pay. The ISI then went to the airport officials and told them to waive the landing fee, so the plane took off. But it created a stir, and drew attention to the aircraft. A Pakistani journalist heard about this and published it, including the tail number of the plane in the newspaper. American journalists then got their hands on this tail number, and this is one of the very early keys that began to unlock parts of this story.

Roychoudhuri: As journalists have begun tracking plane numbers, the CIA has attempted to reshuffle. They change the number on the plane, or they change the phone line of the shell companies. How much do you think public scrutiny can achieve?

Thompson: A ton. If people want the CIA to be reined in and if they feel we shouldn?t go around the world summarily detaining and torturing people, they can truly pressure their government to make that happen. They did it in the ‘70s through Frank Church, the Idaho senator, and the Church Committee. They severely curbed the transgressions and the misdeeds of the CIA. The thing is, by and large Americans don?t care about this. Europeans, who play a much smaller role in this, are absolutely outraged about it; their governments are outraged about it. The day Americans decide that they don?t think torture is something we should do, than maybe we?ll see some pressure to change these things.

Roychoudhuri: You quote 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick in the book: ?In criminal justice, you either prosecute suspects or let them go. But if you?ve treated them in ways that won?t allow you to prosecute them, you?re in this no man?s land. What do you do with those people?? Based on the fact that it?s so difficult to bring these people back out of this extralegal system, do you have any sense of where the rendition program is going?

Paglen: This is the crucial question that we are facing right now. Bush transferred a handful of guys to Guantanamo (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5321606.stm) and acknowledged they were kept in these secret prisons. Congress has to come up with a framework to prosecute these guys. It?s common knowledge that most of the guys at Guantanamo are nobodies. Many were turned in by bounty hunters. But the guys that Bush transferred to Guantanamo Bay are guys that everybody agrees are bad guys. The sticking point is that they have tortured them for years and the evidence against them is totally tainted by rendition and torture. These are guys that people definitely want to see put on trial. By moving them to Guantanamo Bay, Bush is basically challenging Congress and saying, ?If you want to put Khaled Sheikh Mohammed on trial, you?re going to have to retroactively authorize torture, rendition, and the black site program.?

If Congress does authorize the president?s version of the bill, they?re not only retroactively authorizing torture, they?re creating a legal framework for the future. That would create a system where disappearing and torturing people would become a part of the law.



Onnesha Roychoudhuri is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. A former assistant editor of AlterNet.org, she has written for AlterNet, MotherJones.com, Women?s e-News, and PopMatters.


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By Sarah Merlin, January 5, 2007 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’d like to echo the sentiments of those posting kudos for the authors of this book - it ought to be required reading for every high school in the land. What a meticulous piece of work. Thanks, Paglen and Thompson! This is what an informed citizenry is really all about!

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By Frank Sagevsal, January 3, 2007 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Perhaps this is a bit rash, but I think we should impeach President Bush, before he finishes destroying this country, rather than afterwards. I have lived thru 10 presidents and I must say this c*cksucker is the worst I’ve ever seen. I’ve never really worried about the ability of this nation to perserve until this man bollicked the works.

We’re bankrupt, our currency is worthless and the fool wants to start a war with Iran. We really must draw a line somewhere. I’m gonna have to say torture is wrong, even when you outsource it. I’m gonna have to say Alberto Gonzalez, George W.Bush and Donald Rumsfeld should all be prosecuted for war crimes - the short list I’m sure there are many others involved in this mad scheme and they should be brought to justice as well. An International Tribunal might be a good idea.

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By Lisen, November 14, 2006 at 4:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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By Mike Munk, November 13, 2006 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Does Torture still have a Portland address?

                            By Michael Munk

Several years ago, in the midst of a flap over the local ownership of one of the aircraft used in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists, David Sarasohn complained on these pages that “Torture, it seems, has a Portland address.”

That address, suite 755 in the historic Pittock Block, is still the office of Bayard Foreign Marketing, LLC, according to the person who answers the company’s phone.  From 2004, when Bayard bought a Gulfstream jet from another CIA front in Massachusetts, until 2006 when the plane was transferred once again to new owners in Miami, the Portland company ‘s plane was the one used most often for those CIA renditions. Its address is also that of attorney Scott D. Caplan, the company’s agent, against whom I have filed a professional misconduct complaint with the Oregon State Bar.

I contend that Mr. Caplan has not been truthful about whether his client, “Leonard Thomas Bayard”—the company’s only officer—is a real person. While intensive national and local investigations found that “Bayard” does not exist, Mr. Caplan told a reporter for this newspaper who “pressed” that he “is positive Bayard does exist.” With that single exception, he has stayed mum, refusing even to say whether he has ever met his client.

My formal complaint is limited to questioning whether Mr. Caplan has been truthful under the Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, but I have a more much important concern. I believe the Bar should investigate the conduct of members who create a public perception that they are acting as enablers of kidnapping and torture—even when such conduct may be as an agent of the US government.

Mr. Caplan has created just such an perception. In addition to Mr. Sarasohn’s concern for his client’s impact on Portland’s reputation, the company’s role in the CIA’s renditions was denounced on the House floor by Rep. Earl Blumenauer. In comments endorsed by Rep. David Wu, Blumenauer declared that he is “horrified “by a program that sends people “to be tortured.” His horror was magnified, he said, because “a shadowy - perhaps illegal - dummy front company, Bayard Foreign Marketing LLC in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, was used to transport these people.”

The Portland case demonstrates that because attorneys are the only public faces of the “torture taxi” program they are the only persons who can be held accountable. And more important than their non-existent clients, they are probably contractually barred from revealing who they actually work for. Reasonable persons, however, may conclude their real client is the Central Intelligence Agency or, more probably, one of the dependant entities it has established to maintain secrecy and deniability.

I am aware of the difficulties faced by anyone making, investigating or adjudicating a complaint that the federal government may argue involves state secrets and claim the facts are privileged by national security. But I believe that Oregonians have a deep investment in the integrity and reputation of the Oregon bar. That is why I asked it to investigate whether the professional activities of its member Scott Caplan have contributed to an ugly stain on—not only the Bar’s—but also our nation’s honor.

                                -30-

Michael Munk is a retired political scientist. His “Portland Red Guide” is scheduled for Spring publication by PSU’s Ooligan Press

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By D. Carter, November 4, 2006 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Do you idiots,that support this rendition plan,not relize that one day it might be desenting americans taken to these torture centers.This is not at all what america is about.This is what you see from rogue communist countries.If our incompent idiot president decided he was going to be a dictator this same program would be used against americans that hit the streets in protest.Once this is allowed to become american policy it would be almost impossible to reverse.How can any true american support this administration.These insane neo-cons have taken over the future of our children and declared perpetual war and poverty on all americans.Do you really think anybody down here on bloger level would fit into their plans.Wake up!

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By Ridgeway, November 4, 2006 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Secure the vote! A public verifiable election results system is needed.

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By Ali Rasheed, October 27, 2006 at 10:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Impeach Clinton for a blowjob but let crooked-ass Bush and his administration do whatever they want?

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By Rodney Matthews, October 24, 2006 at 6:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The shame and embarrassment brought to this country by the Bush adminstration’s torture policy is enough to make me wonder how rational thinking Americans could have allowed this to happen to our country. The world now view our leaders as George Goulag Bush, Dick Pol Pot Cheney, Condolezza atilla the hun Rice, Alberto Ayalolla Gonzales, and Donald Ede Amin Rumsfeld. All this From a man who signed more death warrants during his reign as Governor of Texas than any other Governor in our nation. The most surprising thing of all is that the Republician Congress gave Bush the power to define torture. May God help us All. Please vote November 7 while we still have that right. Who knows what the Decider may do nexy?

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By Dave, October 24, 2006 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why does everyone think this is only a Bush administration thing?  Our country has been running secret/black ops programs, sanctioned killings and so on for at least the past 80 years!  I agree, Bush is not my favorite to put up as the leader of our nation, but get your heads out of the sand, the government has been doing what its doing for a long time, long before any of the modern presidents!  “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

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By Jack Norris, October 24, 2006 at 7:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And do you think all these things just started with Bush? How naive you people are. Let’s all sit around, drink the magic Koolaid and give these terorists more rights! It’s only fair, right? You libs never cease to amaze me!

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By Hal, October 23, 2006 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It breaks my heart.  What has become of my country?  What has happened to our system of government that we are not aware of these atrocities and they are not debated?  Why are these guys still in office?  Why do none of the candidates for Congress officially state a position on this issue on their website?

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By Chris M, October 23, 2006 at 8:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amazing…I wish I could support this whole thing. I have thought about it at length and came to the realization that I probably would be more supportive under a different president…An entirly different administration for that matter.The dark shadow that hangs over the possibility of a rigged election and the “pal” that these guys have given the U.S in the worlds eyes is going to take years to fix.That being said, these are really bad dudes that they are for the most part getting to..we hope.Just be on guard for the neighbor who suddenly pulls a “No show”...Then it is time to freak out!

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By The Neighbor, October 22, 2006 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kidnapping, Torture and Murder. Mr.Bush’s legacy.

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By George Arndt, October 20, 2006 at 11:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t this the kind of thing the Soviet Union Did? And, most of the people supporting this once fought against communism!

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By jaxbrie, October 15, 2006 at 6:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The US borrows nothing from repressive regimes. Remember who still trains a great many of them. Remember the “School of the Americas”?

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By EoS, October 6, 2006 at 9:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The real issue now is how to get the bulk of the American people to see whats happening on their behalf. The pernicious belief that only seriously quilty people are getting picked up clearly hampers are ability to see this as the evil it is.

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By felcity, October 6, 2006 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hitler, Pinochet, Saddam…tortured to make their enemies afraid to oppose them. One can assume that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld do not mind being included in that illustrious group, but what of other Americans, the aiders and abetters, does it bother them? 

That said, in adopting this depraved form of PR, are we frightening other people in other countries to dare not oppose us, or are we putting in concrete that we are a nation to be opposed at all costs.

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By Guitarsandmore, October 1, 2006 at 11:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Every corrupt, evil, dictatorship has its band of ruthless thugs to handle the dirty work behind the scenes.

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By Wayne Harris, September 29, 2006 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The day Americans decide that they don’t think torture is something we should do, than maybe we’ll see some pressure to change these things.”

A.C. Thompson has distilled, with depressing accuracy, the crux of the torture issue. The America I thought I knew no longer exists. Perhaps it never did.

These reporters should win a Pulitzer Prize.

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By Dan Noel, September 27, 2006 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great piece! As Amnesty International has stated, the Bush administration has borrowed pages from the playbook of repressive regime in its silly drive to disappear and torture people for no apparent reason other than to give us the illusion that they are serious in their “war against terror.”

This piece is striking in that it indicates how easy it is to turn ordinary people into disappearers and torturers.

It also illustrates the countless idiocies that the federal government has put into this rendition and torture program. They can’t even do that right…

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By Mrs. Robinson, September 20, 2006 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a great piece. I liked it so much I blogged it over at Orcinus—where one of my eagle-eyed commenters brought a small error to my attention. To wit: A.C. Thompson writes for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which is a much better paper than the SF Weekly.

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