Monday, July 12, 2010

"Who stands to account for these crimes? " By PATRICK O'NEILL

A recent conference, titled, "Weaving a Net of Accountability: Taking on Extraordinary Rendition at the State and Regional Level," included much discussion about the role Johnston County, NC plays in what can only be termed a national disgrace.

Aero Contractors, based at the publicly-owned Johnston County Airport, has provided jets, flight crews -- and perhaps more -- for the CIA's extraordinary rendition program. Under the program, people have been kidnapped and tortured as part of the US Government's war on terror. Johnston County residents employed at Aero have been accomplices in criminal activities that led to the indictment in Italy of three Aero pilots.

Distinguished human rights lawyers and political activists from throughout the US and Europe were at Duke University's John Hope Franklin Center April 8-10 to strategise on ways to hold the perpetrators of rendition and torture accountable.

Co-sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center and NC Stop Torture Now, conference leaders chose North Carolina for the gathering specifically because of our state's shameful legacy of complicity in the extraordinary rendition program. Aero employees, who may sit next to you in church or stand behind you in the grocery store line, have been identified and charged with aiding and abetting serious crimes, including torture.

While torture is always a crime, evidence has come to light that many of those rendered and tortured were in fact innocent of any wrongdoing. Some of these victims were held in solitary confinement for months and years, denied due process and abused. Some have died as a result of being tortured.

Conference participants lamented the refusal of federal courts, Congress, the NC General Assembly, other state officials, the Johnston County Commission and the Johnston County Airport Authority to honestly acknowledge and atone for our nation's role in the extraordinary rendition program.

So deeply is Aero and Johnston County implicated in these crimes that Aero's flights from the Johnston County Airport have been dubbed the "Guantanamo Express" by victims and opponents of extraordinary rendition.

Gavin Simpson, the Council of Europe's lead investigator on extraordinary rendition, led a panel discussion titled, "North Carolina's Role in the 'Global Spider Web' of Extraordinary Rendition to Torture."

Simpson said his investigation uncovered "chilling details" of a rendition program that included bilateral agreements between the US and most European states. Aero personnel operated aircraft on "rendition circuits," Simpson said. Aero personnel were part of "systematic cover-up" and Aero pilots disguised flight plans to help the CIA avoid detection.

After leaving the Johnston County Airport, Aero jets would stop in Washington DC to pick up eight-to-12 member "rendition crews" of CIA operatives. Detainees, picked up around the globe, were usually stripped, beaten, placed in a hood and adult diaper, shackled and handcuffed and given a sedative rectally, all in the presence of Aero crews, Simpson said.

Panelist Christina Cowger of NC Stop Torture Now, asked the question many conference participants would like answered: "What else was Aero Contractors doing for the CIA other than flying the aircraft and providing the crew?"

Since the election of Barack Obama little has changed in what is publicly stated about the rendition policy, Simpson said, and most importantly, the Obama administration has failed to implement what he called a "never again" policy on torture.

Under the current non-policy of denial, victims of wrongful kidnapping, imprisonment and torture have received no apologies, no reparations and no acknowledgement of their mistreatment.

"Who stands to account for these crimes," Simpson asked.

This is a question Johnston County citizens should be asking officials, and demanding answers.

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