[News] Confronting Rendition to Torture in North Carolina
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 9 12:41:54 EDT 2010
Confronting Rendition to Torture in North Carolina
By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/clarehanrahan>Clare Hanrahan
Friday, July 09, 2010
Despite what our leaders may profess, U.S.
directed torture continues and efforts to obtain
redress for victims and accountability from
perpetrators are met with systematic obstruction.
We know we cannot rely on government, at any
level, to take the initiative for accountability.
But we must not be bystanders.
Six years have passed since the release of the
gruesome photos of torture at Abu Ghraib, and it
is well past the deadline President Obama set for
closing the prison camps at Guantanamo. Yet this
Administration has steadfastly refused to seek
accountability for U.S.-sponsored torturethe
murderous extent of which is still being
revealedand invokes the state secrets
privilege to obstruct prosecution when torture
victims, some released without charge, seek legal redress.
These issues are never easy to confront. They
require us to break through our denial, take in
the horror, and hold it in awareness while we organize for action.
In a 2006 report, The Parliamentary Assembly of
the Council of Europe (PACE) accused the United
States of operating a clandestine spiderweb of
disappearances, secret detentions and unlawful
inter-state transfers, often encompassing
countries notorious for their use of torture.
Hundreds of persons have become entrapped in this
websome merely suspected of sympathizing with a
presumed terrorist organization.
In North Carolina, a tenacious grassroots
coalition of peace and human rights activists,
religious groups, and courageous locals has
organized as NC Stop Torture Now (NC-STN).
According to the group, Officials of the Bush
Administration used North Carolina as a key part
of their secret off-shore torture program. The
torture taxi planes were based in Johnston and
Lenoir counties. Their pilots and crews work for
Aero Contractors, a CIA linked company
headquartered at the Johnston County airport in
Smithfield, a town of less than 12,000 persons
situated in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina about 30 miles east of Raleigh.
NC Stop Torture Now has been campaigning since
2005 at local, state, and federal levels for an
end to the practice of extraordinary rendition to
torture and for an investigation of Aero
Contractors. They act boldly and deftly to
educate the public and state officials. They seek
acknowledgment and accountability for the crimes,
apology and restitution for torture survivors,
and assurance that state and national resources
will never again be used to secretly disappear
people and torture them, whether they are guilty of crimes or not.
The U.N. Convention against Torture, ratified by
the U.S.in 1994, requires in Article III: No
state shall expel, return or extradite a person
to another state where there are substantial
grounds for believing that he would be in danger
of being subjected to torture. Failure to
prosecute violations is considered a breach of
international law. North Carolina law requires
anyone in charge of a state agency, such as the
Global TransPark where Aero maintained a hangar
in Kinston, to report possible criminal
violations to the State Bureau of Investigation.
NC-STN was pivotal in organizing a public
conference, Weaving a Net of Accountability:
Taking on Extraordinary Rendition at the State
and Regional Level, held April 8-9 at Duke
University. Speakers came from Ireland, London,
New York, Washington, Boston, and from throughout North Carolina.
It is clear that our public taxpayer-funded
airports are systematically being used by the CIA
for purposes that may in fact still include
extraordinary rendition, said Christina Cowger,
a conference organizer and facilitator with
NC-STN. Aero Contractors was founded in 1979 in
the wake of the dismantling of Air America, the
CIA airline that participated heavily in the Indo-China wars, she said.
It was actually the St. Louis folks who woke us
up to the fact that we had this CIA operation in
our backyard, Cowger acknowledged. A delegation
from St. Louis including longtime human rights
activist and war-tax resister Bill Ramsey and his
friend, Andrew Wimmer, traveled to North Carolina in November 2005.
The group joined with local members of NC-STN and
served a peoples indictment to Aero Contractors,
charging them with multiple counts of violation
of U.S. and international laws and treaties
banning torture by providing pilots and planes
for the CIAs program of extraordinary rendition.
The citizen action resulted in 14 arrestsnot of
the officials who are complicit in rendition to
torture, but of the activists who came to seek accountability.
Wimmer was working then with the St. Louis-based
Center for Theology and Social Analysis. His
research on extraordinary rendition led to Global
TransPark, a public-private consortium built by
the state of North Carolina with economic development funds.
According to Cowger, UK journalist Stephen Grey
used flight logs from the FAA and Eurocontrol
(the FAAs counterpart in Europe) to piece
together the itineraries of the two main
rendition planes, the Kinston-based N313P and the
smaller Gulfstream, N379P, which was based at the
Johnston County airport. Tail numbers have since
been changed. A Montana-registered Gulfstream IV
aircraft, with tail number N478GS, operated by
Centurian Aviation, was based at the Fayetteville
Airport, and is suspected of facilitating the
extraordinary rendition program, according to
Cowger, as an arm of the Joint Special Operations
Command (JSOC), based at Fort Bragg.
The point is really a simple one, said Robin
Kirk, director of the Human Rights Center at Duke
University, in introducing Gavin Simpson, lead
investigator with the Council of Europe and
conference presenter. We are trying to do
something about human rights abuse, extraordinary
rendition, and the torture that came along with
it that has its feet in our state
to get around
the impunity that seems to be reigning right now
with regard to human rights issues.
The Council of Europe serves its 46 member states
as the guardian for human rights, democracy, and
respect for the rule of law in Europe, using as
its reference point the European Convention on Human Rights.
Aero Contractors was the aviation hub of the
CIAs rendition program, which flew dozens of
people to horrific jails around the globe, using
civilian aircraft, according to NC Stop
Torture Now. The group has compiled a partial
list of twenty-four detainees secretly
transported by Aero Contractors for torture by or
for the CIA, citing as a primary source the book Ghost Plane by Stephen Grey.
The pickup methodology for the CIAs torture
rendition flights was alarmingly systematized,
said Simpson, who has followed the gruesome trail
of so-called extraordinary rendition throughout
Europe. It involved stripping the suspect naked,
often roughly beating him around the midriff and
the ribs in the process. Men clad in ninja suits,
black balaclavas, tight fitting black
coatsunidentifiable from one another and without
speaking a single wordwould then put this person
through a process of shackling, handcuffing
Simpson said that the captors would administer
sedatives, often via the rectum, and blindfold,
earmuff, goggle, and hood the captives. They
would place the prisoners in adult diapers, and
then put them in jumpsuits or other rudimentary
clothing. Finally they were bundled onto a
rendition aircraft, shackled to the ground or a
gurney, sometimes given further sedatives so that
they wouldnt experience the flight, and then
flown to a fate and a destination unknown.
Aero Contractors personnel on the aircraft were
the ones who actually operated the rendition
circuits. Without their personal participation,
none of this would have been possible. They were
the pilots in command. They were the support
crew. They were the persons who held the controls
of the aircraft and navigated them to landings at
the black sites air [fields] with detainees bound
and shackled in the back. Aero personnel were
part of the systematic cover-up. For example, the
pilots in command knowingly deviated from
registered flight plans, willfully therefore
violating the regulations of international
aviation law and assuring that their operations
could not be traced contemporaneously and have
been mighty hard to track retrospectively, Simpson said.
Aero Contractors employed about 80 persons toward
the start of the Bush war on terror. Now its up
to about 130 employees. We are under no illusion
that people like these are the authors of the
policy. They are the foot soldiers, Cowger
asserted. These people live and work in Johnston
County in comfortable middle class houses.
In May 2010, the Attorney General of Spain
requested that a Spanish judge issue arrest
warrants for 13 U.S. citizens who helped kidnap
and disappear German citizen Khaled el-Masri as
part of the Bush Administrations program of
extraordinary rendition. At least three of the
U.S. citizens are pilots employed by Aero Contractors.
Allyson Caison, a Johnston County-based real
estate broker, has been involved in NC-STN since
its inception. When in 2005 we got a notice that
the folks from St. Louis were coming and were
going to tell us what the CIA was doing, the
former PTA president told the assembly, I went
to the meeting to see what was going on. Caison
says she was shocked to find that the people
involved with Aero Contractors were the pillars
of our community...very well-enmeshed in society.
So in speaking out against them, we are not
speaking out against some abstract person; were
speaking out against our neighbors.
Confronting these issues is not easy. It takes
courage. It takes persistence. It takes fortitude.
But we must not be bystanders.
Chuck Fager, director of Quaker House, in
Fayetteville, NC, is active with NC-STN in their
persistent lobbying efforts before the Johnston
County Board of Commissioners.They are all
Republicans and the ones up for re-election are
running unopposed, he said at the Duke
conference. After 14 months or so, we are
establishing a relationship with these
month after month after month we go
back. Building these types of connections is very important.
Fager and I later talked about how difficult it
is to face up to the issue of U.S. directed
torture. All the dots connected in my back
yard, he said. Its like waking up one morning
and realizing you live next to SS headquarters.
Recalling the June 2006 Quaker conference on
torture held in Greensboro, NC, he admitted that
listening was very hard. It made me shake. I
couldnt sleep very well. I moved to a different
my ability to keep it [torture] far away
has been eroded. The levels of denial are really deep.
Robin Kirk, in her opening remarks at the
conference said, We have to do this work where
we live. We have to do this
to show our neighbors
and colleagues and school teachers and grocery
clerks and businessmen and soldiers, why human
rights matter. Kirk spent years working in Peru
and Colombia documenting human rights abuses, and
authored several reports for Human Rights Watch.
In his keynote address, Scott Horton, a
contributing editor with Harpers Magazine,
detailed some of the findings of his
investigation of the sudden and violent deaths of
three prisoners at Camp Deltathe
extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantanamo
Naval Base. In a March 2010 Harpers Magazine
report, Horton wrote of evidence that suggests
the current administration failed to investigate
seriouslyand may even have continueda cover-up
of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantanamo in 2006.
When the last prisoner is departed from that
area of the American enclave on the island of
Cuba, the book on Guantanamo is going to be far
from closed, Horton told the Duke assembly that
drew about 120 people throughout the weekend.
Most of the legacy of Guantanamo remains in
place, untouched, and there is as yet no real
basis to assume there will be any kind of
accountability, he said. Ideas linked to
Guantanamo are being woven into the fabric of our
national security state. These transformations
are going on in the policy background in
Washington with surprisingly little attention.
And the horrid revelations continue.
Stephen Soldz, a co-founder of the Coalition for
an Ethical Psychology, which has made
international news with its campaign to challenge
the participation of leaders in the American
Psychological Association in interrogation and
torture, provided the Duke conference with
insight into the psychology of denial and
accountability. Soldz is president-elect of
Psychologists for Social Responsibility and
coauthor of a report just released by Physicians
for Human Rights. The report, Experiments in
Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and
Experimentation in the Enhanced Interrogation
Program, he contends, confirms previous
suspicions and provides the first strong evidence
that the CIA was indeed engaged in illegal and
unethical research on detainees in its custody.
Steve Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU
Human Rights Program, spoke of the ongoing legal
challenges to the CIAs extraordinary rendition
program. Noting the significant legal
impediments to obtaining judicial remedy, he
said It is all but certain that a fully-fledged
trial of a lawsuit brought by rendition survivors
is many, many years away. With a nod to NC-STN
activist Peggy Misch, Watt told the Duke
conference NC Stop Torture Now is one of the
most innovative and creative grassroots groups
working on torture in this country.
Just prior to the Duke conference, Dr. Edward
Horgan, a former Irish Defence Forces officer and
co-founder of Shannon Watch, had his 10-year visa
revoked by the U.S. State Department. After much
pressure in the Irish press and from U.S. allies,
including Veterans for Peace, at the last minute
Dr. Horgan, who is also the International
Secretary of the Irish Peace and Neutrality
Alliance, was allowed travel to the U.S.
Ireland has been a neutral state since its
inception, Horgan told the assembly. Over one
million U.S. troops have passed through Shannon
since 2002. Three plane loads a day, at least,
each bringing about 200 troopsso 500 or 600
armed troops pass through Shannon airport every
day of the week, every day of the year, in gross
violation of international law on neutrality.
Clearly torture is a serious crime. But it is
connected with the two wars [Afghanistan and
Iraq], Horgan continued. By torturing somebody
you are removing some of their human rights,
albeit very seriously and very grossly. By
killing somebody you are removing all of their
human rights. You are removing their very
existence. Killing or causing the deaths,
directly or indirectly, of one million people,
and killing 200,000 children, or causing their
deaths, [in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan] is
absolutely a gross crime against humanity, regardless of who does it.
Kidnap, rendition and torture of U.S. enemies is
now being replaced with extra-judicial killings
and assassinations of U.S. enemies. Collateral
damage, including the killing of thousands of
innocent foreign civilians, is now acceptable to
the U.S., Horgan said. Obama has ordered a
dramatic increase in the U.S. drone attacks.
These extrajudicial killings are being passed
off as being part of the war on terror, a
necessary evil. But killing someone,
extra-judicially or otherwise, but unjustifiably,
is even a more serious crime than torture.
I can speak all you want about all the bad
things that have happened to myself and others,
Bisher al-Rawi told the assembly, speaking on
live video from his home in London. Al-Rawi was
imprisoned, interrogated, and tortured at two
separate CIA facilities in Afghanistan, then
transferred, via Aero Contractors, to Guantanamo
in 2003 and released without charges in 2007.
Whether beatings, the pains, or the shivering
cold, or people screaming because nobody is
giving them the medication, or people screaming
because they are being beaten up, whatever, I can
go on with all of that. But I think, on top of
that, we should look to the future, we should
look at how we can actually do something positive
to build these lives, these lives that have been
I take this very close to my heart and
I have decided this is really my work in life for
the time being, until the time when we no longer
have to speak about these things.
I hope that will happen before too long.
But we must not be bystanders.
Clare Hanrahan is a contributing editor to War
Crimes Times, an associate member of Veterans For
Peace Chapter 099, member of the National War Tax
Resistance Coordinating Committee, and an organizer with WRL Asheville.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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