Extraordinary Rendition: Stephen Grey’s ‘Ghost Plane’ is a crime story with a message

The British investigative journalist Stephen Grey has done more than any other single person to expose the illegal American practice of Extraordinary Rendition, under which the CIA has been kidnapping people in other countries whom they suspect of involvement in terrorism and smuggling them (in contravention of the laws of the country concerned and of international law) to third countries where they can be interrogated and if necessary tortured without the constraints imposed by the laws of the United States: see, for example, the postscript to this.  Now Grey has pulled together the results of his investigations over recent years into a fascinating book, Ghost Plane, a spectacularly gripping read and a masterly exposé of one of the greatest scandals of our time.  Ghost Plane is published in the UK, the US and Canada, and in Germany (in German <duh>)

Grey was recently a runner-up for this year's Paul Foot award for investigative journalism.  His citation said, justly:

Stephen Grey, for his work on the CIA's secret rendition policy, which he first investigated for the New Statesman two years ago and followed up with further revelations in the New York Times and Guardian. The judges admired "a long term, painstaking and immaculate piece of journalism that began with flat denials from the Bush administration and ended with a reluctant admission. A most remarkable victory for one outstandingly dogged journalist against a very mean machine."

Publication of Ghost Plane was marked by numerous radio and television interviews with Stephen on both sides of the Atlantic and by enthusiastic reviews.  The interviews included Stephen Greya long discussion with Amy Goodman on the liberal American television and radio programme Democracy Now (on which also see this);  and the book has been chosen for the BBC Newsnight programme's book club, with a long extract on the Newsnight website.   

All this is recognition in spades, and fully warranted by sheer professional achievement. 

I have to declare a double interest here: Stephen is a good friend, and he has over-generously included me among the many acknowledgements that preface the book, although in truth my contribution, to the extent that there was one, was less than minimal.  

Stephen Grey's book and the revelations of official crookedness that it charts demonstrate that the monstrous apparatus of official secrecy to protect indefensible behaviour by governments can still be penetrated by dogged, determined and principled journalism, if the working journalist can rely on the equally courageous support of editors and proprietors (remember Watergate).  Some discreet help and encouragement from officials on the inside are probably also indispensable, and it's heartening to see Grey acknowledging the help he received from some in the CIA itself, to whose other work he pays striking tribute, as well as the support of his various editors and journalist colleagues. 

One saddening postscript:  Ghost Plane reveals that what appears to be the original authority for Extraordinary Rendition was formally granted in a Presidential Decision Directive PDD-39 of 21 June 1995 — by, of all people, President Bill Clinton (Ghost Plane, p. 121).  There could hardly be a clearer demonstration that state powers taken by one administration with the acquiescence of those concerned because of its benign intentions will sooner or later be exploited and abused with relish by a successor administration whose intentions are very far from benign.  When the Blairs, the Reids, the Blunketts and the Straws ask us to trust them to make only principled use of the sweeping powers which they demand and take, parliament, in our names, should always say No;  but almost never does.  We shall live to rue our legislators' negligence. 

Meanwhile, read Ghost Plane, and shiver.


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