On June 10, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft accounced that the United States had captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to explode a "dirty bomb" on American soil. That alleged terrorist was Jose Padilla, a former street gangster from Chicago. Two years later, in 2004, the attorney general's office announced that after statements from "Al Qaeda operatives," it could now tell the American public "the full story" of Padilla's plot. But what Ashcroft never talked about was how the information was obtained—and how much of it was given to individuals acting on behalf of the U.S. government by a man named Binyam Mohamed. When the full story emerged, it was clear that Mohamed's confession was achieved through some of the worst torture a human being ever had to endure. Arrested at Karachi Airport on April 10, 2002, before Padilla's arrest, Mohamed was put on a luxury executive jet and flown to a notorious interrogation center in Morroco.
Since 1997, hundreds of people, many of whom have no proven ties to terrorist organizations, have been removed from foreign airports on suspicions based at times on the flimsiest of evidence. They have been escorted away from boarding gates, grabbed while they changed planes, or approached on street corners. Those accused disappeared into a secret world of endless interrogations and torture—all transported courtesy of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Using his access to the thousands of CIA flight records and interviews from dozens of sources from the most senior levels of the National Security Council and the CIA, Stephen Grey tells the true story of what became a CIA torture program known by the euphemism "extraordinary rendition"—and the airplanes that make the program run.