Monday, October 16, 2006


Torture Taxi is a nonfiction book that pits a cadre of misguided evil people in power against everyday American heroes. It's the story of a tragic reality that reads like a novelized Hollywood script.

The book is called "torture taxi" because that's the unofficial name given to the business jets that fly suspects in the War on Terror to countries like Egypt and Morocco to be tortured by the CIA. The torture taxis are low-tech, as far as military equipment goes, able to elude detection around the world through the camouflage provided by tangled registration papers filled out by phony companies. The planes are the CIA transports of the never-voted-upon Bush Administration program of extraordinary rendition and they were tracked and identified by a group of curious air traffic controllers, so-called "plane spotters," one of whom in the book is seen searching the sky over the Nevada desert with a pair of binoculars and wearing a T-shirt that says "Democracy is not a spectator sport."

"Extraordinary rendition" is a Wonder Bread sandwich of a phrase, lacking any hint of flavor. By design it meant almost nothing to anyone before it became the widely known sinister euphemism it is today. According to authors Trevor Paglen and A.C. Thompson, this is what "extraordinary rendition" meant to falsely accused Binyam Mohammed in 2002, the year the torture taxis took to flight:

"Pakistani police brought him to a military airport in Islamabad. Waiting for him was a group of black-clad, masked Americans. The men stripped Mohammed naked, took photos, inserted something into his anus, and dressed him in a track suit, then blindfolded him, placed earphones on him, shackled him, and put him on a plane. He would be transported to Morocco, Afghanistan, and Guatanamo Bay."

That was four years ago. Mohammed was beaten severely, threatened with death and disfigurement, his back and penis slashed repeatedly with a scalpel. He's still a captive at Guantanamo, awaiting trial, one of the hundreds of residents of Bushland legal limbo.

For Tom Cruise as the Mission Impossible guy, for Harrison Ford in every movie, for Sydney Bristow and Jack Bauer, all of them, all of the movie and TV heroes and spies, the question is always: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, and which of the two am I?

I suppose it was inevitable that we wrote ouselves as an entire country into this dominant version of the cliched Hollywood movie script. So how's this movie gonna end?


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