The dark legacy of the torture taxis

True Crime

MYSTERY WIRE — The tragic events of 9/11, twenty years ago this week, changed the world in dramatic ways.

In 2007 investigative journalist George Knapp produced a series of reports on American intelligence agencies resorting to tactics that our country had previously condemned – including kidnapping and torturing people suspected of having links to terrorists.

Many of those people flew on board what became known as torture or terror taxis.

The Patriot Act took the handcuffs off intelligence agencies and authorized massive surveillance operations aimed at American citizens and the creation of huge data centers that vacuumed up and ingested billions of phone calls and emails.

American agents and their surrogates also utilized so-called black sites where suspected terrorists were stashed then tortured for information. an entire fleet of supposedly private aircraft transported people and equipment to and from the secret sites.

The aircraft were called rendition planes but were also known as torture taxis and many people saw the planes coming and going from American airports.

In 2007 Trevor Paglen was a doctoral candidate at U.C. Berkeley and the author of the book about the so-called torture taxis, or what the CIA calls rendition planes.

“It’s indisputable at this point that the United States has been kidnapping people around the world, disappearing them, holding them incommunicado, torturing them. It’s beyond dispute,” Paglen said in a 2007 interview.

Over the years government lawyers argued that torture was perfectly legal. The planes that made it all possible were registered to shell companies that were fronts for intelligence agencies.

Prior to 9/11,  the CIA used rendition planes to snatch terror suspects and bring them to the U.S. for trial. After 9/11, in the words of one CIA official, the gloves came off. This meant there were no trials and no extraditions.

Using an ever-changing array of fictitious companies, the CIA created a fleet of rendition planes that were used to transport suspected terrorists to secret prisons, operating in some of the world’s most brutal regimes. 

Many people argued America needed to be tough on terrorists, but this led to the wrong people being detained and often tortured.

Khaled al Masri, a German citizen, was kidnapped off the street and flown to a secret prison near Kabul in Afghanistan. He was tortured for 5 months before being released after his tormentors realized they had the wrong guy.

al Masri filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government as well as against a Reno Nevada company called Keeler and Tate.

Keeler and Tate was the listed owner of the plane used to transport al Masri.  The plane was so well known to aviation watchers that it had the nickname, The Guantanamo Express.

Keeler and Tate was a company in name only. Its listed owner did not exist. Before the plane was transferred to this company, it was owned by other phony companies linked to the CIA.

The same is true for a Gulfstream jet spotted at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. It used to be owned by Braxton Management but was sold to a Montana LLC.

Its registration was changed, but the same plane was a regular fixture on the rendition route, repeatedly visiting places known to house secret prisons.

It was also a Las Vegas regular, often jumping from McCarran to Nellis Air Force Base and back, sometimes staying only a few minutes.

Another plane, a Beechcraft, was seen at another Las Vegas area airport in North Las Vegas. It was owned by Aviation Specialties, another shell company widely known as a CIA front.

“The question is not who they are,” Paglen said. “We already know a lot of these are bad guys. The question is, who are we? Are we going to become like them? We’re saying yes, this is who we are. We want to torture people, disappear people, and this will become a normal part of what the U.S. government does, and that is very frightening.”


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