Clive Stafford Smith, 'Bad Men: Guantanamo Bay And The Secret Prisons' and Trevor Paglen and AC Thompson, 'Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights'

IssueOctober 2007
Review by Andrea Needham

A US State Department lawyer once explained the goal of kidnapping, “extraordinary rendition” and imprisonment of “terrorist suspects”: to “find the legal equivalent of outer space”. That this goal has been largely achieved is illustrated by Clive Stafford-Smith, in a first-hand account of his legal visits to Guantanamo Bay. He describes the torture suffered by his clients, the conditions they endure, and the risible legal process offered to them.

This book, whilst deadly serious and a great resource for activists, has unexpected moments of wry humour: the soldier stationed outside McDonald's Guantanamo who salutes as a superior strides in for a McMuffin: “Honour Bound, Sir!”, to which the officer replies, “To Defend Freedom, soldier!”. Stafford-Smith at first assumes they're joking, then realises it's for real. That the US military can claim to be defending freedom, whilst holding hundreds of prisoners - most of them innocent of any connection with terrorism - in a legal vacuum, is just one of the many disturbing features of life on planet Guantanamo.

Torture Taxi takes as its subject “extraordinary rendition”. The main focus is on the use of private airlines as CIA front companies, and the authors follow planes all over the world as they try to piece together this nasty business. Particularly disturbing is the chapter on “dark prisons”, where the pitch blackness and 24 hour a day blasting music, seems likely to make anyone admit to anything.

Whilst this book offers a useful insight into rendition flights (and, in passing, the UK's role in the programme), I found it had just too much detail: it would probably appeal to planespotters with an interest in this area, but for the activist reader, it might have been more useful as a booklet. That said, both of these books provide vital - and horrifying - information about the US's latest dirty war: read them now.

Topics: Human rights
See more of: Review