Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stopping the Torture Business in Our Hometowns

from this URL: here Council of Europe: Ireland, stop US torture flights

Reposting a condensed version of "An Interview With Christina Cowger of North Carolina Stop Torture" - from Dissident Voice dot org February 1, 2007 (Although this item is several years old - the progress in our states to end torture and torture renditions is as slow as a Soap Opera...Therefore - there's a lot of current relevance here although if you are a journalist you will of course benefit from updates.)

INTERVIEWER: ...As most readers know, this program involves kidnapping, detaining and transporting individuals considered the enemy to prisons around the world where they are then tortured and kept incommunicado for months and years...What follows is the transcript of an email interview with Raleigh, NC resident and long-time peace and justice activist Christina Cowger, who serves as the group's coordinator.

Q: ...How long have you been around?...

Christina Cowger: North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NC STN) began work in the fall of 2005. That was when activists from St. Louis brought the issue of extraordinary rendition to our attention...

Without Aero Contractors and similar CIA front companies, rendition literally wouldn't "get off the ground." Aero uses publicly funded airport facilities in North Carolina as a launching pad to help the CIA kidnap and torture people in various parts of the world. Once we realized this, we couldn't ignore it. NC STN is a grassroots coalition of educators, peace and human rights activists, people of faith, students, and working people. We're not particularly affiliated with any church or other group. Active in our ranks are people from the ACLU, Amnesty International, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Catholic Worker movement, CodePink, the Green Party, the North Carolina Council of Churches, Peace Action, Quaker House, Unitarian Universalist congregations, and various other faith groups.

We started in the Triangle area, and have built (many other)connections...

Q: What compelled your group to take on the issue of torture in Guantanamo and other prisons around the world set up for that purpose?

CC: The story of Khaled El-Masri...To paraphrase journalist Mark Danner, even if it could be shown that torture was effective, it's immoral...Further, CIA-sponsored torture fuels the hatred of people all over the world for the U.S. and its allies, which increases instability and makes everyone less safe. What's wrong with rendition is not just that most of the victims are tortured, although that's bad enough. Rendition means "disappearing" people and detaining them indefinitely, outside the rule of law.

Q: Can you provide the readers with an outline of how you understand the renditions process to work?

CC: Briefly, since 9/11 the rendition program was transformed into a large-scale campaign to detain and interrogate those targeted in the U.S. "war on terror" -- clandestinely and outside U.S. and international law. Stephen Grey's book Ghost Plane provides a meticulously documented account of rendition and its antecedents under Clinton.

A typical rendition begins with an...executive jet taking off from (an) Airport...serviced and piloted by a crew from Aero Contractors (or another contractor with) a long history with the CIA. The plane might stop near Washington, D.C., to take on a CIA "snatch" team. The next stop would be in Europe to refuel, and then on to a city in Europe or the Middle East, where the CIA team kidnaps the suspect directly, or accepts custody...from local police agents. Dressed and masked in black, the CIA team beats, strips, searches, and binds the prisoner, drugs him with an anal suppository, and then flies him with Aero Contractors' help to a foreign jail.

Many of these detainees have been thrown into notorious jails... where conditions are inhumane and torture is brutal....there is no due process, no habeas corpus, no communication with family for months and even years.

Q: To your knowledge, is the United States still involved in renditions and torture?

CC: President Bush claimed in his September 6, 2006, speech that the "black sites" had been emptied, and their inmates rendered to Guantanamo. As Stephen Grey points out, this begs the question of what happened to the hundreds of detainees who entered the rendition system and remain missing.

The Military Commissions Act, passed by a gutless Congress before the 2006 fall elections, gave Bush a significant victory. Under the MCA, if you are declared an enemy combatant, you lose your habeas corpus rights. This is true whether or not you are a U.S. citizen, although it will no doubt be applied mainly to non-citizens. Given this victory, we guess that Bush and the CIA feel emboldened to continue the extraordinary rendition program. Of course, it is difficult to confirm this directly. (this blogger's note - this is continuing as well under Obama.)

Q: What is the role of private business in this process? Who pays them? What role does the CIA play, if any? The reason I ask that is because this all reminds me of the Air America saga in Vietnam and Laos and Southern Air Transport in Nicaragua -- both front corporations for the CIA.

CC: In fact, Aero Contractors was founded by a former chief pilot of Air America, Jim Rhyne, in the late 1970s. According to Stephen Grey in Ghost Plane (p 125-126), Aero pilots have flown "both declared and undeclared missions for the drug war in Colombia, helped supply the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and had taken weapons and food to the UNITA rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, in Angola."

(CC mentions a much larger network which includes Premier Executive Transport Services in Dedham, MA; Devon Holding and Leasing; and a variety of other company names.)

...As Grey explains, the point of having these civilian fronts is "to have a 'cutout' -- a trail that would lead an investigator to a brass plate by a lawyer's office entrance, but no farther."

In Portland, Oregon, a retired political science professor named Michael Munk has challenged one of these fronts, Bayard Foreign Marketing. At his urging, the Oregon Bar Association is investigating...

I should mention that, in addition to shell companies, other better-known companies also profit from rendition. For example, Boeing has a subsidiary called Jeppesen International Trip Planning that plans the rendition flights for the CIA. Activists in San Jose, where Jeppesen is headquartered, have been protesting: Act Against Torture and South Bay Mobilization -- tel: (408)998-8504.

Q: What can you tell us about the attempt by some North Carolina state legislators to get that state's Bureau of Investigation to investigate...? What caused these legislators to take an interest in this issue?

CC: In addition to generating media coverage to help expose Aero and rendition, we went to North Carolina's Governor Mike Easley (D) early on. We met with his Chief of Staff and provided extensive background information. One of our main points was that North Carolina taxpayers are in essence hosting a "torture taxi." In addition to its corporate HQ at the Johnston County Airport, Aero is also a tenant at the Global TransPark (GTP) in Kinston, where it houses a Boeing 737 tied to many rendition flights. The GTP is a publicly supported economic development project.

Governor Easley put the matter to an old friend and legal advisor, Andy Vanore, who told us he advised the Governor to do exactly nothing. Mr. Vanore's reasoning was, literally, that President Bush and North Carolina's Republican Senators all said the U.S. does not torture. Sure enough, Governor Easley took Mr. Vanore's advice, and did nothing.

(left out large section here where CC carefully chronicles how other top officials "did nothing" as well.)

(CC continuing) We expect that more leaders of our state's political, religious, and legal communities will become concerned and speak out against North Carolina hosting a "torture taxi."

Q: What is (the contractor's) suspected role? How did people discover this role? What kind of charges can be brought against them should the investigation find anything?

CC: ...to maintain and equip the planes, and supply the pilots and flight crews for the rendition flights. Their role was uncovered by journalists using information from planespotters -- people who hang out near airports with binoculars, writing down planes' tail numbers, and then publish this information on the Web.

(CC here also lists how other information is found out.)

Steven Edelstein, an attorney familiar with the Aero case, has pointed out that, under North Carolina law, an agreement to commit an unlawful act is a conspiracy. If a person who is part of the agreement flies a plane or orders another to fly a plane within the jurisdiction of the State of North Carolina, then that person may be guilty of a conspiracy to commit a felony or a misdemeanor. It is not necessary that the unlawful act (e.g., the kidnapping) take place within the State of North Carolina.

The unlawful crimes are numerous. First-degree kidnapping, felonious restraint, and false imprisonment are a few of the substantive offenses. In addition, there are a myriad of assault violations.

North Carolina law also requires anyone in charge of a state agency, such as the Global TransPark where Aero maintains a hangar in Kinston, to report possible criminal violations to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Q: What do you hope to see as the outcome of this action against Aero?

CC: ... Aero(and other contractors are) only one piece of an extensive torture network that includes many private contractors and perhaps portions of our military apparatus. It's probably not an accident that Aero is located so close to Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. We are in the process of researching other Carolina torture connections, and plan to issue a report this year.

Our task is really to arouse widespread public opposition to extra-legal and abusive treatment of prisoners, including torture. We are just part of a broader national movement to rein in rendition. As a movement, we need to uproot the torture network, and build support for human rights at home and abroad.

Local efforts to expose and shut down the front companies...would be helped by hearings in the U.S. House and Senate... We need to ensure that such hearings occur, that they are extensive and public, and that the private contractor issue is fully aired. We encourage everyone to contact the Judiciary Committee office, phone 202-224-7703) and (concerned legislators.)...

CC: The web addresses for Bay Area anti-Jeppesen activists are given above. To support anti-Bayard efforts in the Portland, Oregon, area, email us at stoptortureflights@riseup.net and we can put you in touch. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is a national organization, and their activists are also working specifically on the CIA front called Premier Executive Transport Services in Dedham, MA (See BORDC dot org)...

CC: North Carolina Stop Torture Now has a website. No matter where you live, you can add your voice to the call for North Carolina authorities to investigate.

Planes which have allegedly been used for Torture Renditions here

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