It should be harder and harder for North Carolina’s top elected leaders to sustain their nine-year posture of willful blindness to our state’s place in the global infrastructure of torture.
It was in May 2005 that the New York Times broke the story. Headquartered at the Johnston County Airport, the CIA’s affiliate Aero Contractors was ferrying detainees to and among overseas sites where they were secretly held and tortured. Aero had also built a hangar at the Global TransPark, a state economic development project at the Kinston airport, because one of the most important “torture taxis” required a runway longer than the one in Smithfield.
Since then, reporters have usually treated Aero Contractors as if it were an ordinary private business. But the CIA has apparently been the only client, and indeed a 2007 landmark article by the News & Observer clarified that Aero was founded as a successor to the CIA’s Air America of Indochina fame.
To put it plainly: Aero Contractors is your tax dollars at work. It is the North Carolina arm of the CIA. It is hosted at public airports, which are funded by state and federal grants and overseen by elected state and county officials.
International conspiracies to carry out secret global programs require a vast infrastructure. Some resources are physical, some technical, and some governmental. A wide array of nations, local governments and contractors has aided in torture.
Some services to the CIA’s rendition program have been furnished by businesses with more diverse portfolios. For example, Jeppesen DataPlan, which planned the kidnap and torture missions for the CIA, is a travel-planning subsidiary of Boeing. Blackwater, characterized by a former top CIA officer in a 2009 New York Times article as having become “an extension of the agency” and involved in detainee transport, had other clients besides the CIA. Centurion Aviation, headquartered in Fayetteville, works for the Pentagon. Evidence for Centurion’s involvement in rendition was exposed by the Chicago Tribune in 2006 after a Centurion jet en route from Afghanistan crashed near the CIA black site in Romania.
The U.S. government must be held responsible for torture. Along the way, it is fair to hold Poland responsible for secretly hosting the CIA black site at Szymany. It is fair to hold the U.K. responsible for collaborating with the CIA to secretly haul Libyan dissidents back to Libya for torture by Moammar Gadhafi’s agents. So why should the State of North Carolina be an exception? It too is responsible for torture by knowingly hosting an aviation infrastructure that was integral to those conspiracies.
Tar Heel elected officials have been well-warned. Starting in 2006, we approached the state’s leading law enforcers with the New York Times revelations. We met with a top aide to Gov. Mike Easley. The N.C. Council of Churches wrote to the Board of the Global TransPark Authority, requesting an investigation, and we spoke at the board’s meeting in 2006.
We sat down with staff members of U.S. Rep. Brad Miller and Sen. Elizabeth Dole. We provided documentation to U.S. Rep. Bobby Etheridge, whose district included the Johnston County Airport, and to his successor, Rep. Renee Ellmers.
We met with top advisers to Attorney General Roy Cooper in 2007 and to Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2009. We delivered more documentation to their senior staff in 2012.
Over five years starting in 2007, we gave countless presentations to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and once went before their appointed Airport Authority board. In vain, we sought a meeting with Johnston County Prosecutor Susan Doyle.
This is a list to make one’s eyes glaze over. But all of these efforts produced the same response: nothing. A blind eye; willful blindness. Here and there, a defense of Aero Contractors as “good neighbors.”
Praise goes to the few elected North Carolina officials who displayed courage on this issue, especially state legislators who sponsored a bill on torture. U.S. Reps. David Price and Mel Watt also asked questions.
The Senate torture report has torn the veil from America’s eyes. The CIA’s rendition and detention program was so massive that it required hundreds of personnel, dozens of aircraft, 54 foreign governments and … the State of North Carolina.
At least 17 of the 119 detainees named in the Senate torture report were transported to their torture chambers by Aero Contractors – along with at least 14 more not named in the report. North Carolina owes them acknowledgment, apologies and restitution.
North Carolina’s media must start asking hard questions of our governor, our attorney general and relevant county commissioners. A little journalistic sunshine could help with that willful blindness.
Allyson Caison of Selma and Josh McIntyre of Raleigh are with N.C. Stop Torture Now.