“Up over my head, nothing but clouds of blood” — Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound”

Here’s a story where it all comes together, where the guiding ethos of the age is exposed: torture turned to private profit, state terror as a business deal.

The Guardian reports on a remarkable case uncovered by the legal rights charity Reprieve: private contractors who flew American Terror War captives to torture hellholes around the world coming to blows in court over a grubby dispute over expenses. The case reveals the inner workings of the infamous “rendition” program, where contractors charged U.S. taxpayers for wine and chocolate as they carried kidnap victims to “black sites” and proxy torturers across America’s global gulag:

The scale of the CIA’s rendition programme has been laid bare in court documents that illustrate in minute detail how the US contracted out the secret transportation of suspects to a network of private American companies.

The manner in which American firms flew terrorism suspects to locations around the world, where they were often tortured, has emerged after one of the companies sued another in a dispute over fees. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the mass of invoices, receipts, contracts and email correspondence – submitted as evidence to a court in upstate New York – provides a unique glimpse into a world in which the “war on terror” became just another charter opportunity for American businesses.

….The New York case concerns Sportsflight, an aircraft broker, and Richmor, an aircraft operator. Sportsflight entered into an arrangement to make a Gulfstream IV executive jet available at $4,900 an hour rather than the market rate of $5,450. A crew was available to fly at 12 hours’ notice. The government wanted “the cheapest aircraft to fulfil a mission”, Sportsflight’s owner, Don Moss, told the court. But it was the early days of the rendition programme, and business was booming: the court heard that Sportsflight told Richmor: “The client says we’re going to be very, very busy.”

Busy indeed. In an accompanying comment, Reprieve’s Clare Algar points out how a single plane, Richmor’s N85VM, ferried dozens of captives — seized and held in secret, without charges, without representation, outside any legal process, even the “laws of war” — to grim fates in the far-flung gulag:

Over the next three years, this plane flew at least 55 missions for the US government, often to Guantánamo Bay, as well as to numerous destinations worldwide.

These destinations include places that have now been associated with the CIA’s secret prison programme: Kabul, where the CIA ran the notorious “Salt Pit” prison; Bangkok, where Abu Zubaydah was first taken and used as a guinea pig for “enhanced interrogation techniques”; Rabat, where prisoners were kept incommunicado and tortured by Moroccan agents who passed information to the US and Britain; and Bucharest, one of the European secret jail sites.

Some of the most chilling aspects of the case concern the “human cargo” the profiteers were shipping for the torture bosses back in Washington. Not only did they willingly transport men who had been tormented, tied up, drugged and humiliated, they referred to the victims by the truly Orwellian term, “invitees.” The Guardian reports:

The court documents make only passing reference to the human cargo being transported. Enough details of the rendition programme generally have now been disclosed to know that men on these flights were usually sedated through anal suppositories before being dressed in nappies and orange boiler suits, then hooded and muffled and trussed up in the back of the aircraft.

…Richmor’s president, Mahlon Richards, told the court that the aircraft carried “government personnel and their invitees”.

“Invitees?” queried the judge, Paul Czajka.

“Invitees,” confirmed Richards. They were being flown across the world because the US government believed them to be “bad guys”, he said. Richmor performed well, Richards added. “We were complimented all the time.”

“By the invitees?” asked the judge.

“Not the invitees, the government.”

No doubt. All those who take part in the vast machinery of torment and state terror have been praised, rewarded and protected by the government, in both the Bush and Obama administrations. Indeed, the Nobel Peace Laureate has exceeded the Crawford Caligula in his zealous efforts to quash any and all attempts at legal redress by actual victims of the gulag.

He has also fought doggedly — and successfully — to prevent even the slightest nod toward even nominal punishment for anyone involved in the patent criminality of the gulag system. And why not? It’s a matter of self-protection. After all, the gulag system has never been dismantled, only tweaked here and there — and shuffled around to new secret sites. (Although it is true that Obama, being the great compassionate humanitarian that he is, seems slightly less interested in kidnapping and indefinite detention than his predecessor. No, he prefers simply assassinating people outright — without charges, without representation, outside any legal process, even the ‘laws of war’ — and often en masse, with drone missiles that take out whole families, whole neighborhoods. That’s the progressive way!)

Algar goes on to make a vital point about the nature of the rendition program:

Air travel is a complicated business: national aviation authorities need to know where in their airspace aircraft are likely to be in order to avoid collisions; trip planners need to keep them informed and liaise with the pilot and operating companies; communications services, hotel rooms and food all need to be paid for.

All these aspects, each with a price tag, are revealed in unprecedented detail. In a word, we can begin to understand the renditions programme as a business, with all that entails.

Gulags, concentration camps, torture centers — indeed, wars of aggression and domination — are not simply the creation of a few leaders at the top. They require the willing participation of multitudes of people, at every level. They are, as Algar says, “a complicated business.” And “business” is the operative word. Money is essential at every stage of the operation: pay, provisions, transport, technology, on and on — at every step, someone is making money, directly or indirectly, from the process.

The pilots and bigwig owners of the air charter companies have long claimed they “didn’t know” the true purpose of the flights they were being paid for. In like fashion, the train drivers and railway executives who were paid to transport Jewish “invitees” to Auschwitz and other centers of enhanced interrogation and indefinite detention claimed they too didn’t know, for sure, what happened to their “cargo” once it was delivered. They had no moral responsibility, it had nothing to do with them; it was just business.

When the profit motive is your ruling motive, your ultimate concern, there is very little you won’t do, in the end, for money. Especially if that activity is “legitimized” by your government, overtly or covertly, and countenanced, actively or passively, by the society around you. This is even more true in a society like modern America, where profit is the organizing principle, the supreme value, overshadowing — and undermining — all others … and where the clear, overwhelming evidence of horrendous atrocities and systematic state crime has been met with overwhelming indifference.

As long as there is money to be made from atrocity and aggression — and as long as this bloodsoaked system retains the tacit approval of a society that puts profit before people — then the bipartisan Terror War, in one form or another, will go on.

What to do in the face of this grim reality? Many things; but as a general rule, I come back to the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, voiced by one of the characters in his novel on the theme of moral complicity with a system given over to pervasive evil:

“It impossible that evil should not come into the world; but take care that it does not enter through you.”

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