In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government ushered in a large-scale program of secret detention and torture that relied significantly on the State of North Carolina. Six days after the attacks, President George W. Bush signed a covert memorandum that authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to seize, detain, and interrogate suspected terrorists around the world.
The North CarolinaCommission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT), a citizen-driven truth commission formed to investigate the role that North Carolina and its public resources played in supporting the U.S. torture program, has released their final report following an 18-month process led by its 10 commissioners.
“Torture Flights: North Carolina’s role in the CIA rendition and torture program,” which can be found at www.nctorturereport.org, details new findings about the role of Aero Contractors, which operated rendition flights out of a small rural airport in Johnston County and the state-run Kinston Global TransPark after 9/11. One of the Commission’s findings is that during the first, developmental phase of the CIA’s global “black site” or secret prison system, from September 2001 to March 2004, Aero flew 49 individuals to torture, or over 80% of all identified CIA renditions.
The Commission also finds that the violent nature of renditions themselves, which have never been investigated by a U.S. government entity, amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and was an integral part of the CIA’s interrogation and detention regime. The Senate Intelligence Committee “Torture Report,” partially released in 2014, focuses primarily on the detention and interrogation portions of the program. Torture Flights examines how renditions – the seizure and transportation experiences themselves – were deliberately designed as the first cruel steps toward dehumanizing prisoners with psychological and physical violence.
Torture Flights includes a comprehensive prisoner database, providing flight logs for the 48 men and one woman whose rendition flights originated in North Carolina, and what is known of their fates. While a handful of victims have received restitution from other nations, none has gotten an acknowledgement, apology, or redress from the U.S.
Backed up by documents obtained through public records requests, the report shows neglect by North Carolina and Johnston County officials of their duty to investigate credible information on crimes committed using their airports. The Commission finds that the state of North Carolina has both the right and the obligation to use the ample instruments among existing state laws, in particular those against conspiracy to kidnap, to conduct an investigation. In collaboration with law enforcement, Governor Cooper can and should deploy the State Bureau of Investigation.
A foreword to the report is authored by Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the Navy and Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
At public hearings in fall 2017, testimony was collected from torture survivors, current and former military and CIA interrogators, Guantanamo counsel, prominent legal and religious scholars, a state legislator, and airport neighbors affected by the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program. That testimony, along with private expert briefings, public records requests, and newly declassified government documents, helped shape the report.
“The Commission’s work is as inspiring as it is essential,” said Curt Goering, executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture. “The report drives home that what we don’t know about the CIA torture program still far outstrips what we do, and that a glaring lack of accountability persists for the program’s perpetrators. Perhaps most importantly, the report sends the clear message to government officials that North Carolina’s citizens will not stand for continued efforts to sweep this dark chapter under the rug.”
The Commission offers a series of important recommendations—at the federal, state and local levels—designed to increase transparency and accountability, provide redress and reparations to victims, and prevent the future use of torture.
After 18 months of investigation and research, including two days of public hearings last year, the Commission’s report reveals:
- The role of Aero Contractors, based at the public Johnston County Airport in Smithfield, was larger than previously understood – during the first, developmental phase of the CIA’s global “black site” or secret prison system, from September 2001 to March 2004, Aero flew over 80% of all identified CIA renditions.
- Rendition was a central part of the RDI program, the goal of which was to “dehumanize” the individual before interrogation and the violent violent nature of renditions themselves, which have never been investigated by a U.S. government entity, amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
- Neglect by North Carolina and Johnston County officials in their duty to investigate credible information on crimes committed using their airports, effectively acting as sponsors of illegal and immoral activity.
- The use of torture has immense costs for our country down to the local level, for national security, intelligence gathering, undermines the rule of law and erodes our ability to be moral leaders.
- The endurance of citizen activism despite government inaction: Citizens have been on a long journey from alarm at a NYT expose that highlighted their rural airport’s role in the supply chain leading to torture, to dozens of protests and pleas for government accountability, to assembling a highly-respected panel of commissioners to do the job their own elected officials refused to do and investigate what happened and how it can be prevented in the future.