Confronting the CIA's International System of Kidnapping and Torture
Last fall a large protest kicked off a national campaign to stop Aero Contractors Ltd., a North Carolina-based company accused of being the leading Central Intelligence Agency front company for the rendition of disappeared, or kidnapped, people. Extraordinary rendition is the policy of sending captives to other countries where they can be tortured or killed, keeping American hands clean. According to Robert Baer, a CIA case officer active in the Middle East until 1997, "If you want a good interrogation, you send them to Jordan. If you want them killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy work" (Guardian/UK "Afghanistan: 'One Huge US Jail,'" online at www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0319-07.htm). Rendition is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Diego Garcia (a British colony in the western Indian Ocean) and elsewhere. US and UK military sources say there are 10,000 "ghost detainees," people kept secretly, probably along with a larger number who are detained less covertly. After September 11th, eight secret prisons were created, according to the Washington Post (WP, November 2, 2005). Increased judicial oversight of the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba prison makes rendition an appealing alternative for the US government. This practice started in the 1970's when South Americans were captured and returned by the CIA to their countries of origin for punishment. The US isn't alone in practicing rendition.
The US indirectly uses torture through rendition (which also involves inhumane treatment or torture during the rendition process). The US also tortures people directly, as a policy, and Aero Contractors is part of this. In Afghanistan there is ample evidence that torture techniques, including those from Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, are being used: shackling, hooding, electrical shocks, whipping, mock executions, sexual humiliation, and starvation (according to the Guardian/UK article). November 18, 2005 ABC News (see also abcnews.go.com/WNT/Investigation/story?id=1322866) reported that the CIA also uses waterboarding, torture in which a wet cloth is used to suffocate a victim or the victim is placed on an inclined board with plastic wrapped over their mouth while water is dumped on them (similar to feudal Europe's method).
The Origins of Aero Contractors
Aero Contractors, Ltd. is an actual company, and allegedly a major part of the rendition network, which includes the Camp Pearl Military Reservation ("The Farm"), in Virginia close to Williamsburg; Florida's Bob Sikes Field (run by CIA associated Tepper Aviation); and Dulles International Airport in Washington. The Company doesn't advertise and allegedly gets all of its business from the CIA, the military, and maybe from other departments. Aero told the Global TransPark, a North Carolina state operated airport, that the Company serves Federal "security agencies." Aero Assistant General Manager Robert W. Blowers told the New York Times (NYT) that "We've been doing business with the government for a long time, and one of the reasons is, we don't talk about it." According to the NYT Aero carried CIA officers who parachuted into Afghanistan in 2001 and it flew a team to Karachi, Pakistan after its American embassy was bombed in 2002. An Aero plane flew from Libya to Guantánamo in 2004 the day before Libyan detainee Omar Deghayes said he was questioned by four Libyan intelligence officers ( NYT, May 31, 2005). Aero told a North Carolina CBS station that it has one classified government contract, involving Ft. Bragg, but leases the alleged planes only for domestic flights. The Company says the activist group Stop Torture Now (STN) is ill-informed, but Aero cannot reveal its work ( www.wral.com/news/5355295/detail.html and www.wral.com/news/4265910/detail.html).
Aero's blue main hangar, at the Johnston County Airport (JNX), in eastern North Carolina, is secluded at the end of Charlie Day Street (named for a mechanic who worked on covert flights to Laos during the Vietnam War). Its business address is 3463 Swift Creek Rd. Smithfield, NC 27577. The Company has operated at the Airport since leasing eight acres in 1979. The NYT (May 31, 2005) alleges that Aero operates at this airport because it does not have a tower from which Aero could be spied upon. Officially Aero provides "aircraft rental with pilot" (NYT, May 31 2005). Aero is able to modify the a plane's equipment, make repairs, and it provides pilots. Reportedly it is the main operator of CIA airplanes. It got the planes in question from five companies that were allegedly CIA fronts. Aero claims that it no longer leases the planes anti-rendition activists referred to, and those companies no longer exist.
In 1979 Aero was created by former CIA officer and Air America primary pilot Jim "Peg Leg" Rhyne (he died in 2001). Rhyne lost his leg to anti-aircraft fire in Laos. Air America was the CIA's airline during the Vietnam War and was linked to illegal drug transport. In 1976 Air America was dismantled and replaced by at least 12 companies. The NYT calls Aero "a direct descendant" of Air America (May 31, 2005). Aero's president is Stormin' Norman Richardson, who is primarily involved with the Stormin' Norman chicken-and-ribs business in Kelly, North Carolina. Assistant Manager Blowers is Aero's contact person and appears to be the main operator.
The Company has actual board members who have meetings. Former Navy pilot and American Legion national commander William J. Rodgers of Maine is an example. According to an ex-CIA and Air America employee, "It was very, very easy to find patriotic Americans who were willing to help" by pretending to be in charge of front companies ( NYT, May 31, 2005).
Aero's role after 9/11
According to the recent Guardian/UK article (March 19, 2006), Massachusetts based Premier Executive Transport Services (later renamed Bayard Foreign Marketing, LLC) was a Delaware incorporated CIA front operating at the Johnston County Airport. According to a St. Louis Indymedia article (November 19, 2005), Premier has long been identified as a front. A Gulf Stream V Turbo Executive jet Aero leased from Premier has flown from Johnston County to pick up and render disappeared persons from Gambia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Spain ( WP, November 16, 2005, and NYT, May 31, 2005). It is thought that no CIA prisoners are kept in Johnston County. As of March 2006, the jet had been used at least 75 times, which is known from observations at airports and a senior official in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. According to St. Louis Indymedia the plane's tail has been labeled N44982, N379P, and N8068V at different times. Its serial number is 581.
This plane was first noticed October 23, 2001 when it stopped in Karachi, Pakistan at 2:40am to pick up Yemeni microbiologist Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate for alleged involvement in the attack on the USS Cole.
December 18, 2001 the plane picked up two men at Bromma Airport in Stockholm, Sweden. One was Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian asylum seeker who had been living with his wife and children in Sweden for three years. The other detainee was Mohammed al-Zeri, also an Egyptian. Agiza was able to tell his family that he had been arrested, but no more than that. The two men were shackled and blindfolded for the drive to the airport. There their clothes were cut off and they were handcuffed. They were given sedative suppositories and put in plastic diapers. By 3am they were in Cairo where they were kept alone in underground cells. The Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners in Cairo says "Agiza was repeatedly shocked, hung upside down, whipped with an electrical flex, and hospitalized" after being forced "to lick his cell floor clean," reports the Guardian/UK. As of March 2006 Agiza was still in an Egyptian prison and al-Zeri was in Egypt under house arrest.
January 10, 2002 the jet was in Halim Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia to pick up Egyptian Mohammed Saeed Iqbal Madni, allegedly an accomplice of shoe bomber Richard Reid. The Human Rights Center says he died under interrogation in Cairo. In June 2002 German citizen Mohammed Zahar was taken from Morocco to Syria, and has not been heard from since.
The CIA's archipelago of fronts for rendition
Aero also operated a leased a Boeing Business 737 jet (N4476S, serial number 33010), supposedly given up recently. Nonetheless, Aero still spent $2 million dollars to build a 20,000 square foot hangar at the Kinston Regional Jetport (airport code ISO), which has the 11,500 foot runway needed for the 737 the hangar was built to house, according to the Kinston Free Press and the Goldsboro News Argus newspapers. The 737 was kept in the open at the Global TransPark, next to Kinston Regional, prior to the construction of the hangar. According to the November 19 St. Louis Indymedia article (see www.stlimc.org/newswire/display/947/index.php), the jet is probably the one (serial number 33010, N4476S) formerly owned by Keeler and Tate Management, LLC, an alleged front company based in Nevada. Incidentally, the address and phone number of that company was that of former Senator Paul Laxalt, Reagan "First Friend." The jet was seen in Prague in 2005 and it left from Spain the day after the Madrid train attacks in March 2005. STN member Stephanie Eriksen's says that the Boeing has flown 9 times to Kabul, 13 times to Jordan, 3 times to Kuwait, 7 times to Morocco, 5 times to Pakistan, 11 times to Libya, and 10 times to Baghdad. These and other CIA planes have flown many times from Dulles International Airport in Washington DC to several Middle Eastern locations, for example after the capture of Saddam Hussein and the capture or assassination of al-Qaeda officials ( NYT, May 31, 2005).
Allegedly the Boeing and the Gulf Stream had been given up by November 2005 (WP). Reportedly they were leased for about a year in 2002 or 2003 and given up in March 2004, to be replaced by turboprop airplanes. Aero allegedly has or had about 20 planes, possibly obtained from some 27 CIA owned planes (including the Boston Red Sox's executive jet, which is heavily involved in rendition), and another 26 or so Cessnas - small turboprop airplanes. In 2005 the NYT said Aero owned at least 26 aircraft, 10 bought since the beginning of the "War on Terror" in 2001 (May 31 article).
The NYT says the CIA uses seven fronts that apparently have no management or staff, and exist only to own aircraft. Other planes are chartered from apparently real companies that are CIA connected, such as Aero, Pegasus Technologies, and Tepper Aviation in Florida. Most of the fronts are permitted to land at military bases and at least eleven of these shady aircraft have landed at Camp Peary, the home of a CIA training facility, the Farm. Most CIA traffic goes to and from Johnston County. Allegedly many of the CIA's planes are based in the coastal plain of North Carolina and Virginia. Alleged front companies Aviation Specialties, Inc, Stevens Express Leasing, Inc, Devon Holding and Leasing, Inc, and CIA contractor Aviation Worldwide Services/Presidential Aviation frequently fly to Johnston County. For more information see chapelhill.indymedia.org/news/2005/11/17197.php. Aero leased aircraft from Premier, Stevens Express Leasing, Inc., Devon Holding and Leasing, and Keeler & Tate Management, LLC. Stephanie Eriksen points out that CIA fronts can be tracked by looking an records of companies allowed to land on military bases (see http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/ENGAMR510512006 ). Planes can be tracked by seeing what company buys them before their identification numbers are changed.
The CIA has apparently been sloppy with some of its apparently non-existent executives. For example the NYT found that Premier officer Philip P. Quincannon is also an executive of Crowell Aviation Technologies, which shares the same Massachusetts address as Premier, and Stevens Express Leasing, based in Tennessee. Quincannon's only records are PO boxes in Washington and Dunn Loring, Virginia, and a social security number incongruously created in Washington in the mid-90's, though he was supposedly born in 1949 (May 31, 2005).
You too can spy on the CIA
It is possible to observe these planes and listen to their communications with traffic controllers. It is legal to listen in with a regular receiver, but not to report the contents of the conversations. The Johnston County Airport radio frequency is 122.8 MHz and the Raleigh controllers are on 125.8 and 125.3 MHz. Aircraft at the Kinston Jetport might use the 120.6, 122.95, 121.9, 120.6, 127.33, 127.3, 122.15, 135.5, and 272.75 MHz channels (St. Louis Indymedia). Most airport frequencies are listed at www.airnav.com). The N serial numbers on CIA planes are changed often to confuse observers. A former CIA pilot told the NYT that "Sometimes a plane would go in the hangar with one tail number and come out in the middle of the night with another (May 31, 2005). Still, these companies apparently can't be kept very secret. 1970's CIA general counsel Lawrence R. Houston said that in the airlines "everybody knows what everybody is doing, and something new coming along is immediately the focus of a thousand eyes and prying questions. I don't think you can do a real cover operation" (NYT, May 31, 2005).
Taking on the Global "Torture Taxi" Hub in North Carolina
Friday, November 18, 2005, around 6am more than 60 people gathered for the first protests of the anti-rendition campaign. There were three protests that day, two around the Johnston County Airport and one at the Johnston County Courthouse. One group performed street theatre all morning on Business Highway 70 about half a mile from the Airport. Another group went up to Aero's huge blue hangar and put up a sign reading "Aero Contractors: CIA Torture Taxis" over Aero's sign. They wanted to lower its US flag to half staff, but it was locked in place. Some protesters wore orange prison jump suits with black hoods. Chapel Hill activist Peggy Misch says "Burma-Shave type" sequential signs were placed along Business 70 to condemn torture. "This Way To CIA Torture Flights" was another sign. Protesters came from Selma (in Johnston County), Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Charlotte, Fayetteville, and from St. Louis, Chicago, and elsewhere. The Aero protests were covered briefly in the Raleigh News & Observer (N&O) and on ABC's local news.
Fourteen people were arrested for trespassing at the hangar. Johnston Co. Sheriff's Deputies arrived in force just after the protest began, having been notified of the protest in advance. Josh McIntyre tried to deliver a nine-page citizen's indictment for international and US law, Geneva Convention, and UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment violations. He was met at the door by a "jittery" man in a uniform brandishing a taser stun gun (Independent Weekly, November 23, 2005, online at www.indyweek.com/durham/2005-11-23/first.html). The man refused to take the indictment, so it was left on Aero's doorstep. Before being arrested around 6:30am, the protestors sat in a circle and prayed. The activists also read from social justice texts, mainly religion based, including a quote from Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement: "Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system." People outside of the property sang "We Shall Overcome."
Those arrested included eight from the Triangle (Raleigh and west), five from St. Louis, and one from Chicago and are aged 17 to 66. Kathleen Kelly (founder of Voices in the Wilderness) of Chicago, Marty King, Mark Chmiel, Bill Ramsey, Andrew Wimmer, and Diane Lee of Missouri, and Scott Langley, Gerald Surh, Josh McIntyre, Dante Strobino, and Stephanie Eriksen of Raleigh, Deborah Biesack of Fuquay-Varina, and Patrick and Bernadette O'Neill of Garner were the defendants. The bail was set at $500 dollars for local defendants and $1000 dollars for those from outside the State, which Patrick O'Neill calls "absurdly high bonds for second-degree trespass, a very minor charge" (November 23 rd Independent). Local ACLU lawyer Michael J. Reece, working free of charge, got the bails halved and the Aero 14 were freed by 5pm that day.
On November 18th citizen's indictments of Aero were also presented to the Johnston County Commissioners. Chairwoman Cookie Pope said the Commissioners would examine the issue but would probably leave it alone. She told the N&O that "When you talk about the CIA, I leave that to the CIA" and "I don't try to tell anyone how to run their business." Sheriff Steve Bizzell and County Manager Rick Hester met with the group, the Sheriff escorting the activists inside the Courthouse. The Sheriff acknowledged that it was a peaceful demonstration - "But I would not sit idly by and let any group intimidate our citizens or trespass on our businesses." About 50 people took part in that demonstration.
Some are supportive of Aero because it employs 100 people and pays the airport about $300,000 dollars a year in rent and fuel fees (filling about a third of the airport's budget, though CBS says Aero has an independent fuel source). Airport manager Ray Blackmon, who was in the military for 27 years and Airport manager for 16 months by the time, said "They're [Aero] good tenants, I hope they're here for a long, long time" ( N&O, November 19, 2005). Citizen's indictments were also delivered to the Airport Authority and Aero's Board of Directors. These downtown activists also stayed in solidarity until the arrested "Aero 14" were released.
According to the N&O (November 19, 2005), locals the reporters spoke to were sympathetic to the CIA. Reporters spoke to a woman cook, age 50, at a Citgo station near the first vigil, who said "I just think they should keep the media out of the war and let the boys do what they need to do and come home" and a 58 year old man in camouflage who said "I don't think the CIA is doing anything worse than al-Qaida is doing, cutting off heads and putting it on television, walking into hotels with bombs strapped to them." Aero Assistant General Manager Robert Blowers, on staff since 1994, dismissed the allegations: "It's an old story, and it's been beat to death" ( N&O). Surveys conducted this spring by activists found that Johnston County residents are opposed to rendition and torture.
The action was organized by the Center for Theology and Social Analysis, Stop Torture Now (formed in St. Louis, but now also organized in NC, website: www.stoptorturenow.org), CodePink, Voices in the Wilderness, the Durham and Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committees (BORDCs), the NC Council of Churches (NCCC), and others. It was originally suggested by St. Louis activists at the annual Southern Life Community Retreat, a meeting of religious social activists in North Carolina.
The protest was planned to be the day before the annual protest of the School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation) at Ft. Benning, Georgia. WHISC trains Latin American soldiers and many of its graduates have committed human rights violations and crimes against civilians in their home countries (see www.soawatch.org for more information).
The Trial of the Aero 14
January 5th the Aero 14 were tried before Judge Robert Ethridge, a black Republican who reportedly rarely acquits. The defendants appealed to necessity - the concept of breaking the law to prevent a greater crime. Josh McIntyre said "I entered the property for the sole purpose of preventing a larger and more serious crime. We were all there to expose to the greater community a violation of international and national law." Bernadette O'Neill (age 17) said "As a Christian, my faith requires that I take a moral stand when I see injustice happening. We had to risk arrest in order to expose the crimes of our government and the shameful role that a Johnston County business is playing in this criminal activity." Stephanie Eriksen said "You have to stand up to voice what the victims of torture are denied. After all, they are often denied due process. I am obligated to speak up for them; it is my duty as a citizen. It would be dishonest and unjust for me not to do so."
UNC Law School professor emeritus and president of the ACLU in the 60's Daniel Pollitt and civil rights activist, theologian, and the late Baptist Rev. W. W. Finlator testified as experts. Pollitt has argued a necessity defense before the Supreme Court and lower courts many times. Eriksen says "The prosecutor was prepared but no match to our two witnesses." The Judge did not see the applicability to this case of opposition to the segregationist Jim Crow laws. He said the defendants could have merely written letters in opposition. Scott Langley, a Catholic Worker who protested at Guantánamo with his wife before the trial, questioned Detective Brandon Harris at the trial:
"In general, as an officer of the law, would you pursue investigations if allegations of a crime were made?"
"Is there and investigation underway of Aero Contractors based on our allegations?"
"Are you aware torture is a crime and is illegal under our constitution and international law?"
The defense argued in part from the Bible, Rev. Finlator arguing that it "has a bias in favor of justice," but the Judge then cited Scripture in sentencing. Ethridge said that he believed in the Bible and Jesus, but that the Bible says to obey the law and does not "excuse criminal activity" (November 25 Independent). Eriksen said Ethridge seemed to consider finding them innocent but instead repeated his points and found the fourteen guilty under State law. He said it was not a crime of necessity. Eriksen reports that the Judge said "I am not going to tell you what this means, you are going to have to ask, I am going to continue your judgment and assess your court cost."
All were sentenced to suspended sentences, 10 days probation and fined $50 dollars and $110 dollars for court costs, but their appeal vacates their sentences. Patrick O'Neill has more than 5 prior convictions (level three, more than four prior arrests), so he also received a 20-day prison term, a fine, and a year on probation. Eriksen was sentenced to a 10 day jail sentence and one year probation (level two, more than one prior arrest). O'Neill and Eriksen risked incarcerating if the 14 had lost their appeal. A new jury trial, possibly before the Superior Court, was scheduled for July 31st, but it has been cancelled, so the protestors will not be punished. The State might not have wanted to pay for it or give the defendants further publicity.
Eriksen calls the action "a truly rewarding and enlightening experience" and is hopeful that Aero can be stopped. She says police were all "cordial and respectful" and "They were fascinated with our charges. They were so different from anything they had seen, a far cry from the drunks and murderers that they are used to. The prosecutor dragged this out more than it needed to be."
Protesting Aero at the State Owned Global TransPark
The day after the trial many of the same people and others (about 30) protested at the Aero hangar in the Global TransPark, part of the Kinston Regional Jetport. The hangar was roped off with yellow crime scene tape and the sheriff's deputies were asked to investigate. Activists examined the area, leafleted, and tried to deliver an indictment to the Airport's director. The director was in his office alone, but supposedly in a meeting. No one was arrested, since the Sheriffs Department was given notice beforehand and Aero allowed the protest. There were sharpshooters on the Airport roof and in the parking lot. Eriksen was interviewed for the 6pm news on the local NBC station. The Global TransPark is a State owned airport that was built to facilitate economic development, but has not lived up to expectations. Indictments were also presented to the Governor's office ( Independent, January 25, 2006).
The NC Stop Torture Now group met April 5th for about 45 minutes with (Democratic) Governor Mike Easley's Chief of Staff, Franklin Freeman. They were reportedly stonewalled, though it was a "polite" meeting, according to Joan Walsh, of the Durham BORDC. The Executive Director of the NCCC, George Reed; Walsh; Johnston County activist Allyson Caison; Bill Towe and Christina Cowger, of Peace Action; and lawyers Steve Edelstein and Vanessa Lucas, of the firm Edelstein & Payne were at the meeting for the anti-torture group. This meeting was arranged after many calls from STN members and with the help of State House member Paul Luebke. STN asked that the State Bureau of Investigation examine the allegations against Aero Contractors and that Aero's lease be cancelled if the allegations were proven. Freeman said Aero has a lease for at least twenty years, which the State might not be able to cancel, and that Aero owns its hangar. The group suggested that the contract might be voided if Aero is acting illegally or immorally. Freeman again tried to divert the issue to the Federal government, saying that Congress could stop funding the project. He was asked to place Aero on the GTP Board's agenda, but said it might not be possible since Gov. Easley is only formally on the Board and does not participate. The person in charge seems to be Vice-Director Eugene Conti. Freeman did not comment on STN's assertion that this could be bad for the Governor's poll numbers. The following Friday, April 7th, there was a protest by about 15 people from 4-6pm at the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh.
May 1st five members of the Durham and Orange BORDCs met with Rep. David Price (Democrat) regarding Aero. Price is the only representative from North Carolina to have co-sponsored Rep. Edward Mackey's February 2005 House Resolution 952, outlawing rendition "to countries where torture or otherwise inhuman treatment of persons occurs." Last year six NC representatives voted against torture: Democratic Reps Butterfield, Etheridge, McIntyre, Miller, Price, Watt, and Walter Jones, a Republican. This is despite Etheridge's role in the fall of 2005 in getting the Federal government to provide $650,000 dollars to help pay the $9 million dollar cost of expanding the Johnston County Airport. STN is also speaking to State legislators.
May 2 there was a daytime Global TransPark Board of Directors meeting, which about 23 activists attended. Protesters carried signs such as "Stop Torture. Investigate Aero" and "Stop CIA Torture Flights." A press conference was held outside. Cowger said that "Our tax dollars are being used to support an infrastructure that is providing for activities that are not supported by most of the American people." Marine Iraq War vet Jacek Teller said that the majority of soldiers want to act legally, can handle alleged terrorists lawfully, and that the soldiers are endangered by US support for torture. Demonstrators were allowed into the meeting, where they unfurled a sign, which had to be put away. They then revealed t-shirts against Aero worn under business clothes ( www.wral.com/news/9148674/detail.html?taf=ral). After being refused early in the meeting, three people were allowed to make a very short presentation to the Board before being stopped. No one answered the demand that the Board end Aero's lease if it is found to be acting illegally. Vice Director Conti stated to the Kinston Free Press diplomatically that: "We are not investigators but we do appreciate the concern and comments of these citizens." During the Clinton Administration Conti was a Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary and he was director of Erskine Bowles' Senate campaign in 2000. Reportedly some Board members looked uncomfortable being confronted with these allegations. GTP Authority Director and former Kinston City Council member told the paper that: "I didn't like the way they disrupted our meeting. They didn't come before us with any facts" ( Kinston Free Press, May 3, 2006). STN urges people to contact Governor Easley and the Board members (see below or www.stoptorturenow.org for information; the Governor's information is listed after the State workers article in this issue). At a later meeting, TransPark Executive Director Darlene Waddell argued that those protesting Aero would reduce employment in eastern North Carolina.
STN has begun a "listening project," in which Johnston County residents are asked what they think about rendition, torture, and the alleged local connection. The main purpose is to learn residents' attitudes in order to lobby the County government. The first survey was April 17th and STN members interviewed 103 people, 10 of whom wanted further information. Another 33 people were approached but refused to comment. Another survey was May 20. Fewer people were questioned, but the results were similar. In both cases, about 2/3rds of the people surveyed, once they understood the questions, were against rendition and torture and felt that the County should not allow Aero to lease space if the charges are true.
Recently the State Democratic Party passed, without needing debate, a resolution against US torture, which mentioned Aero Contractors. Previously anti-torture resolutions were passed by several Democratic bodies in the State, including the Demoratic Party branches in Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties.
About 15-20 STN activists, mostly from the Triangle and Johnston County, have been demonstrating against Aero every second Saturday of the month since December. The site is high-profile, at the wedge where US Highway 70 and Business 70 split, about four miles south of Clayton. The vigil attracts a lot of attention and many drivers honk in support. On one rainy Saturday this spring a woman stopped and gave the vigilers an umbrella. She thanked them for drawing attention to the issue and said that she had relatives in the military. There were about 15 people at the February vigil, 22 in March, and 13 in April because many regulars were out of town.
European investigation of, and complicity in, US rendition
Spain, Germany, and Italy are examining whether their airports are used in torture rendition. Sweden, Norway, and the European Parliament began investigating allegations of torture after public pressure ( WP, November 16, 2005; on the European Parliament investigation see www.statewatch.org/rendition/rendition.html ).
Germany is investigating the case of citizen Khaled el-Masri, who was allegedly disappeared while vacationing in Macedonia and tortured for five months in Afghanistan. el-Masri was taken from a bus at the Serbia-Macedonia border December 31, 2003 and held for 23 days before being drugged and beaten for a flight to Afghanistan. The day before his passport was given a Macedonian exit stamp Aero's Boeing Business Jet landed in the Macedonian capital of Skopje, before flying on to Baghdad and Kabul. It was parked a kilometer form the airport terminal and Macedonian security personnel were not allowed onboard the plane, which was considered US territory. At the time the jet was numbered N313P, but later it was sold to Keeler and Tate Management and is now numbered N44765. el-Masri was let go in the mountains of Albania, on the order of then national security Adviser Condolezza Rize because he was not the person wanted by the US. This was after he started a hunger strike and was force-fed nasally, and after being told by his captors that they knew he was innocent but that only high officials could order his release. George Tenet, then CIA Director, was aware of his detention. Reportedly the German government, if not others, knew what was going on and did nothing (Reuters article online at www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1205-09.htm)
Italy tried twenty-two alleged CIA agents for the February 2003 kidnapping and torture in Egypt of fundamentalist Muslim cleric Abu Omar (Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr), of Milan. Germany is investigating this same case because the cleric was brought to German's Ramstein Air Base for transport to Egypt. It was seen as unlikely that the CIA would be forthcoming, so convictions were unlikely. Prosecutor Ebehard Bayer told the Post that "If it is true that these are CIA people, I can hardly imagine that the CIA would allow its people to be extradited" (WP, November 16, 2005). The Berlusconi government most likely knew about the kidnapping, and later excused it, although it hurt an Italian investigation (Los Angeles Times, online at www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1230-06.htm).
Omar was abducted off the street by unknown men according to an eyewitness. He was then interrogated at an Italian air force base in Aviano before being flown to Egypt where he was tortured.
He was flown to Egypt on a Gulfstream model 4 jet, which is also used by the Boston Red Sox's manager. The jet is owned by Albany, New York based Assembly Point Aviation and possibly based in Johnston County, NC (according to Stephanie Eriksen). Its serial number is 1172 and it has been identified as N85VM and N227SV. It has also flown to Germany, Afghanistan, Ireland, Morocco, Dubai, Jordan, Japan, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, and 51 times to Guantánamo Bay (see Knight-Ridder Tribune Newspapers article online at www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0320-04.htm).
After public pressure, Spain is trying to find out why CIA planes landed more than twelve times in the Canary Islands and Majorca. A previous finding that no prisoners were involved in the Majorcan flights is being re-examined. Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso said that "If it is confirmed that this is true, we would be facing very serious acts that would break the rules concerning the treatment of people in any democratic system. They would be very serious and intolerable acts" (Washington Post, November 16, 2005).
Human Rights Watch says that countries such as Austria, Canada, Germany, Georgia, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK also attempt to send suspects to countries where they could be tortured.
Denmark (also Ireland) protested use of their airspace by the CIA. In March 2004 a CIA plane stopped for 23 hours at Copenhagen's airport for an unknown reason, leading the Foreign Ministry to ask that the CIA not use Danish airspace for secret renditions or "purposes that are not compatible with international conventions" ( WP, November 16, 2005).
Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty reported to the Council of Europe January 22, 2006 that his investigation found that six CIA aircraft made 800 rendition trips (see Amnesty International counts almost 1000 rendition flights plus another 600 using planes that are officially acknowledged as having been used by the CIA at some point ( www.oneworld.net, April 7, 2006). The CIA told the Post (November 16, 2006) that rendition only occurs in friendly countries and with the permission of the host country's intelligence officials.).
The Bush Administration and torture
It is illegal to torture and rendered detainees often disappear permanently (see also the Alliance! article on Guantánamo, at www.allianceml.com/paper/july2005/alliance.htm). Some people have apparently died while being tortured with American involvement. Rendered detainees are not able to contest their arrests in court and their whereabouts are unknown to the public. It has been proven that many of these detainees are innocent of involvement in terrorism. American use of torture and rendition make the new revelation of the use of the CIA's secret prison network an important issue. It has already been revealed that the US operates several Guantánamo sized prisons for detainees, for example in Haripur and Kohat in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.
Only low ranking US soldiers have been tried and punished for torture, while forms of torture and inhumane practices are official policy. Army Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr. was let off lightly after torturing Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush to death. In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that since late 2001 more than 600 soldiers and civilians have been accused of involvement in the mistreatment or torture of more than 460 prisoners. HRW says that apparently only about half of the charges have been fully investigated. Only 40 have been sentenced to prison, and all but 10 to less than a year, which HRW calls light punishment for at least some of the crimes. Only three officers have been convicted for prisoner abuse. Of about 20 civilians, including CIA agents, reported to the Department of Justice, only a contractor has been indicted ( www.commondreams.org/news2006/0426-03.htm).
The McCain "Torture Ban" does not ban all torture and actually encourages it in some ways. Even so, Bush in signing it claimed that he is not bound by Congress on this issue, under the "unitary executive" theory (see the above tomdispatch.com article). Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has also opined that the Constitution does not apply to US personnel operating outside of the country, so treaties and laws are moot.
The Aero vigils at the split of US 70 and Business 70 are held at 2pm the second Saturday of every month. There are carpools at 1pm from Brightleaf Square in Durham, following the weekly anti-war vigil, and from Falconbridge in Chapel Hill. .
NC Stop Torture Now meets in Raleigh every two to four weeks, usually on a Sunday afternoon.
For STN phone contacts about the above events and contact information for the GTP Board email southplumb at gmail dot com.