Back to News & Commentary

Jeralyn Merritt: The Unfriendly Skies of Ghost Air

Share This Page
May 22, 2008

By Jeralyn Merritt,

“All Aboard,” says the CIA.

Welcome to the unfriendly skies of Ghost Air. No need for you to drive to the airport. The CIA will happily pluck you off the street — or like Maher Arar, nab you as returning from a family vacation and changing planes at JFK — or like Khalid al-Masri, pull you off a bus while on your holiday trip.

Torture and America

The CIA will put you on a specially equipped Gulfstream V or Boeing 737, where you will be blindfolded, shackled and flown to a foreign country. Your final destination? A secret prison where you will be interrogated, abused and tortured.

Your family won’t know you have been abducted. The Red Cross won’t know you are at this secret prison, so you won’t be visited. In short, you have entered the Twilight Zone.

If you are lucky, like Khalid a-Masri, a German salesman and victim of misidentification, when they finally realize they made a mistake and decide to release you, you may be dumped on a deserted road and left to your own devices to find your way back home.

If you are unlucky, like Manadel al-Jamadi, you will be dead. Or, you will just disappear. In 2004, Human Rights Watch issued this revealing report on the ghost detainees and another on secret overseas prisons.

The horrifying accounts of the prisoners who are released, like those of men who were held in jails in Jordan and that of Benyan Mohammed, should be read by all.

Beginning as a ‘ghost detainee’ picked up in Pakistan, Mohammed spent two and one half years in prisons in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco and Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon declassified his lawyer’s 28 page diary of notes taken in interviews with Mohammed describing the torture inflicted on him, in which he describes being beaten and having his genitals sliced with scalpels.

In its 2006 report, Human Rights Watch found:

New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights.

The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to the ACLU which has been at the forefront of the battle against secret renditions, filing lawsuits, obtaining documents and raising public awareness.

President Bush says the United States does not torture. But through the practice of “secret rendition” the C.I.A. sends people to countries like Syria, Jordan and Egypt where they are detained in secret prisons and interrogated by those who do torture. In other words, we outsource torture.

Whether our CIA agents participate directly in the abuse or not, they are complicit. They are facilitators of and co-conspirators to torture. They, and we as a nation, are just as responsible for the torture as those who inflict it.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page