[News] Confronting Rendition to Torture in North Carolina

Anti-Imperialist News 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

Source: WarIsACrime.org
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 CIA’s 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 FAA’s 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 
CIA’s 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 CIA’s 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 wouldn’t 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 it’s 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 Administration’s 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; we’re 
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. “It’s 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 
couldn’t 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 Harper’s 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 Harper’s 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 CIA’s 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.

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