Friday, December 16, 2005

Shadowland: Plane Spotting

Having posted several items on this blog about the growing controversy around supposed CIA “torture flights,” this week I decided to write a full length column about them:

Dec. 14, 2005 - When I finally got him on his cell phone, Javier Rodríguez had his Canon trained on Tenerife airport in the Canary Islands, and he was zooming in with a 500mm lens. Rodríguez normally works at a bank, but his passion is hunting aircraft, taking pictures, checking tail numbers, posting his findings on the Web. The hobby of plane spotting is sort of like jet-fueled bird-watching; you look for variety, color, rarity. You click off a few shots; you share them with friends. Apart from an occasional scare when a pilot confuses a long lens with a rocket launcher and radios the tower, this is a pretty innocuous obsession. Or so it was until the beginning of this year, when reports in NEWSWEEK and other publications caught up with “Air CIA.”

Ever since, plane spotters have played a key role keeping the issue of so-called “torture flights”—and images of the aircraft themselves—in front of the public eye. Last week, they and their pictures were more in demand than ever as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured Europe and found herself dogged at every stop by questions about the aircraft—Boeings and Gulfstreams—using European airports and transiting European airspace.

After countless refusals to talk about the planes and their destinations because, er, they were secret, and repeated denials that the United States practices torture, as narrowly defined by the Bush administration, Rice did quell some of the criticism from NATO allies. After all, many European governments seem to have known what was going on in their air space, or at least knew enough not to want to know. Yet this issue won’t go away. The plane spotters took it out of the hands of government, in fact. They put vital evidence on the Web, unwittingly at first, that human-rights organizations and parliamentarians have used to launch lawsuits and demand explanations….

Also see:

Bourne Again?, 5 July 2005
The real-life spy adventure uncovered in Italy's "kidnapped imam" case raises more troubling questions about how the Bush administration came to invade Iraq, and what's happened to the war on terror.

The Road to Rendition, 16 June 2005
Did U.S. agents help to abduct an imam off an Italian street? An upcoming Milan case could embarrass both Bush and Berlusconi.

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