Have a Nice Flight


On the Boeing 737 Business Jet, Khaled el-Masri said, “all the people were in black clothes and black masks. They put earplugs in my ears and a sack over my head.” After putting chains on his legs, they led him onto the plane. “They threw me on the floor and injected me with something. I blacked out.”

—From Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program, Stephen Grey (St. Martin’s Press)

Last month, a judge in Milan, Italy, began a hearing on kidnapping charges against 26 Americans, most of them CIA agents, that could lead to the first trial anywhere on the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions.” Scores of flights to torture chambers have been documented—along with flight logs from European and American official aviation sources—by human rights organizations and in Stephen Grey’s extensively sourced book Ghost Plane.

The CIA agents in Italy left behind bountiful evidence of their violations of Italian and international laws. But the U.S. will not extradite them to Italy for doing their duty under special orders from the president on September 17, 2001, orders that gave the agency unprecedented latitude to engage in “clandestine intelligence activity” in the war on terrorism.

This Bush “notification memorandum” is “Top Secret.” Vermont senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is striving mightily to get Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to provide him with this further proof of how the administration has been operating—as Dick Cheney advised right after 9-11—”on the dark side.”

In any case, the CIA kidnappers under scrutiny in Italy, along with rampantly lawless agents elsewhere, cannot be tried in the U.S. as long as the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is in effect. The president got the Republican-controlled Congress, in that legislation, to give CIA lawbreakers a retroactive get-out-of-jail-free card for their work on “the dark side.”

Meanwhile, although the CIA “renditions” are no longer secret—and Ghost Plane writer Grey has recently been talking about them to members of Congress—little has been revealed about the private American airline companies that have been supplying the CIA with the planes to transport the shackled, blindfolded, drugged passengers for interrogation in foreign torture chambers.

But now The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer—in her most recent meticulously documented report on the execution of this administration’s violations of our own War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions—has revealed the complicity of the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing, in some of these CIA kidnappings.

Her investigation, “The CIA’s Travel Agent,” appeared in the October 30 New Yorker; but oblivious to her disclosures, Boeing has been receiving a celebratory press: “Boeing Takes Lead in Aircraft Orders: Company Tops Airbus for the First Time Since 2000” (Washington Post, January 17) and “Why Boeing’s Flying High” (George Will’s widely syndicated column, in the January 18 New York Post).

Mayer found out that Boeing has a subsidiary—Jeppesen International Trip Planning, based in San Jose, California—that proclaims it “offers everything needed for efficient, hassle-free, international flight operations . . . from Aachen to Zhengzhou.”

A number of American charter airlines—front companies for the CIA—are involved in “renditions,” but, Mayer notes, the Boeing subsidiary handles “many of the logistical and navigational details—including flight plans, clearance to fly over other countries, hotel reservations, and ground-crew arrangements.”

Consider the kidnapped Khaled el-Masri’s account of the CIA flight attendants in black clothes and black masks who took him in a Boeing 737 Business Jet to Afghanistan to be tortured. The flight plans for el-Masri’s unforgettable trip were prepared, Mayer reports, by the superbly reliable Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen International Trip Planning.

She quotes a former Jeppesen employee about what Jeppesen’s managing director, Bob Overby, said at an internal corporate meeting: “We do all of the extraordinary renditions flights—you know, the torture flights. Let’s face it, some of those flights end up that way . . . It certainly pays well.”

Overby didn’t return any of Mayer’s phone calls. When I tried to reach Overby in San Jose, I couldn’t even get put through to his office. And Boeing headquarters in Chicago told me it was unaware of that subsidiary. (This was after Mayer’s article appeared.)

With ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, Khaled el-Masri is trying to sue the CIA—and Boeing may, in time, be included as a defendant. Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis III would not even start a trial because the government invoked the “state secrets” privilege. But as Wizner said (The New York Times, November 29), the trial would only confirm “what the entire world entirely knows” from reports in the world press. (The case is on appeal.)

As I noted in a previous column, Judge Ellis did moisten his decision dismissing the case in the lower court with crocodile tears, saying el-Masri might have suffered a great injustice, but the judge’s hands were tied by the Justice Department’s “state secrets” maneuver.

Not incidentally, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—in her previous post as National Security Adviser—had ordered Khalid el-Masri released in May 2004. Sorry, she said, he had been mistakenly identified as being connected to terrorism. (She did not say who misfingered him.)

Khaled el-Masri, who hasn’t been able to get a job since his release, is suing for damages, but primarily, he says, he’d like an apology. He is as likely to get one from the CIA or Commander in Chief Bush as he is from the world’s largest aerospace company.

When the CIA is Boeing’s client, does Jeppesen supply the black masks too? On January 31, German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents involved in the rendition of el-Masri. Involved in the kidnapping, said the prosecutors, was a Boeing plane.