December 24th, 2005

Extraordinarily Polite Rendition

by Philip Baruth

I guess it’s what a lot of us fear these days.

I’m walking down the sidewalk, heading over to Church Street for some chicken tikka masala, maybe an order of garlic naan, and suddenly there it is: the screeching of tires, the sudden scuffing of boots behind me, and then the sickly sweet smell of ether under my nose.

Everything fades to black.

And then I wake up with my hands and feet tied tight — tight like you tie down a roast of beef tight — in the back of a Ford Econovan with tinted windows. The van is moving very fast, so fast and so straight that you know it can only be shooting up the Interstate. Eighty miles an hour, say.

Sitting on the seat in front of me are two men wearing black pants, coats, ski masks, gloves. I clear my head, and I manage to mumble, “Who are you?”

The two ninjas say nothing. I can hear a car outside beep its horn indignantly as the van muscles past, into the exit lane.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask, with a little more fight in me now.

At first they’re quiet, and then the one on the left can’t resist, and he whispers, “Wouldn’t you like to know.

It’s about three minutes later when the van slows down, prepares to stop. The ninja on the right takes out a gun, then makes it very clear with a single gesture: If I make the slightest sound, I’m history. So I’m silent. And in that silence, I hear a voice ask the driver what his business is in Canada this evening.

Suddenly all of the pieces fall horribly into place.

When the CIA thinks you have crucial information, and they can’t get it legally in the US, they ship you to a country where the laws are looser and the techniques of extracting information are stricter, places like Egypt and Syria. This is known as extraordinary rendition.

But when they think you have information that’s not exactly crucial, but might be sort of good to have someday, they turn you over to the Canadians.

This lesser-known tactic is called extraordinarily polite rendition.

Once I’ve figured that out, my blood-pressure settles down pretty quickly: I’ve had a few friends go through extraordinarily polite rendition and while it’s not pretty, it’s not fatal.

I can tell by counting the twists and turns that we’re on Rue St. Denis in Montreal when the van jerks to a stop, and the two ninjas heave me out the door. I fall into the arms of two men who are also wearing black, but normal black, the black leather jackets and pants and shirts that every other person wears on the streets of Montreal.

“Watch your step, okay?” says the bigger of the two. “This ice here is tricky.”

The two Canadian intelligence guys take me to a Tim Horton’s, and when I say that I’m not in the mood for coffee and donut bits, they offer to take me someplace else, maybe for a smoked meat sandwich?

I tell them I’m fine.

Finally they come out with it. The CIA is concerned about a call I made a few months back to my friend Joe in Indiana. Apparently I mentioned buying a compact disc by REM titled “Green.” They want to know if the CD has anything to do with environmental organizations, especially extremist groups like the Sierra Club.

“No,” I tell the Canadians. “But it’s really a killer album.”

So then we talk music for awhile, and I’m feeling better so I get some coffee, and then some donut bits, and we talk about what a shame it was they lost their hockey season last year to the NHL strike. I’m having such a good time I almost forget that it’s a long cold way home, and that there’s no guarantee things haven’t gotten worse since I left.

But that’s nothing new, really. It’s always that way, when I head south from Montreal.