RALEIGH – Seventy-five North Carolina-based groups and thousands of North Carolina residents are calling on state, federal, and Johnston County officials as well as Global TransPark Authority Board members to investigate the actions of Aero Contractors, a contract air carrier that has been identified as a participant in the CIA-sponsored “extraordinary rendition” program and which uses the facilities of state-funded Global TransPark as well as the Johnston County airport in Smithfield. Working for the CIA, Aero Contractors has flown persons kidnapped in various countries to secret locations in other countries, where they were held incommunicado and tortured.
“The strong grassroots support for this campaign should serve as a wakeup call for state officials,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation who coordinates the Muslim/Middle Eastern Community Outreach Project. “ North Carolinians are not willing to play host to a company that operates torture flights.”
The groups will hold a press conference on Wednesday, March 21 st, at 2:00 p.m., in the Press Room of the Legislative Building. Visuals on North Carolina’s involvement in the CIA torture program will be displayed in the Bicentennial Plaza. Speakers at the press conference will include: Representative Paul Luebke, State Representative from Durham; Representative Earl Jones, State Representative from Guilford County; Barbara Zelter, North Carolina Council of Churches; Rabbi John Friedman, Judea Reform Congregation, Durham; Father Steven Patti O.F.M., Immaculate Conception Parish, Durham; Christina Cowger, Coordinator of NC Stop Torture Now; and Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU-NC Legal Foundation.
At the press conference, representatives of seventy-five organizations and congregations across the state will present their call to state officials to investigate Aero Contractors’ role in kidnap and torture. Signatures of thousands of individuals with the same plea will also be presented.
“In addition to violating international, federal, and state law, torture is morally repugnant,” said Christina Cowger, the Coordinator of North Carolina Stop Torture Now. “If Aero Contractors were suspected of trafficking in drugs or child pornography, we are certain that our leaders would take swift action to investigate and remove such a company from public facilities.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has brought a lawsuit against Aero Contractors and other U.S.-based aviation corporations as well as former CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA officials on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, a victim of “extraordinary rendition,” a CIA program involving the transfer of individuals to detention and interrogation in countries where -- in the CIA’s view -- federal and international legal safeguards do not apply. Kidnapped individuals are detained and interrogated either by U.S. personnel at U.S.-run detention facilities outside U.S. sovereign territory or, alternatively, are handed over to the custody of foreign agents for interrogation. In both instances, interrogation methods are employed that do not comport with federal and internationally recognized standards. Judge T.S. Ellis III dismissed the case after the government intervened, arguing that allowing the case to proceed would jeopardize state secrets. An appeal was then filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond on Mr. El-Masri’s behalf, arguing that based on the official acknowledgment of the “extraordinary rendition” program and the information already available on his case, allowing Mr. El-Masri to get his day in court will not impinge upon national security. On March 2, 2007, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Mr. El-Masri’s lawsuit. An appeal to the United States Supreme Court on Mr. El Masri’s behalf is being considered.
Germany has issued arrest warrants for at least three Johnston County employees of Aero Contractors involved in the 2004 abduction and rendition of Khaled El-Masri.
A grassroots campaign has been underway in North Carolina since November 2005 to persuade state and Johnston County officials to investigate Aero Contractors’ participation in CIA-sponsored renditions. To date, Governor Easley, the Global TransPark Authority Board, and the Johnston County Board of Commissioners have declined to initiate an investigation, despite repeated warnings that criminal activities are taking place at publicly-funded airports. In October 2006, twelve members of the North Carolina House of Representatives called on Robin Pendergraft, director of the SBI, to investigate Aero Contractors. Ms. Pendergraft similarly declined, citing her belief in her lack of jurisdiction as the reason. In January 2007, twenty-two legislators directed the call for an investigation to Attorney General Roy Cooper.