NC’s Johnston Regional Airport linked to CIA torture program

The public airport, located east of Raleigh, is the headquarters of Aero Contractors Ltd., a private aviation company that has allegedly provided aircraft for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The controversial program involves detaining suspects and transporting them outside of the United States to undergo enhanced interrogation.

Caison gives tours of the airport property to show the location of Aero’s hangar and the increased security around its entrance. She is a founding member of N.C. Stop Torture Now, a grassroots coalition created in 2005 and dedicated to raising awareness for North Carolina’s participation in the extraordinary rendition program.

“We want accountability at the top for torture and we want the practice of extraordinary rendition stopped,” she said.

The program began in the early 1990s and saw an increase in activity after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

In 2014, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a study on the use of enhanced interrogation by the CIA from 2001 to 2009.

Caison said the study makes no mention of the extraordinary rendition or Aero Contractors. The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, released an abridged version of the 6,700-page study detailing the “abuses and countless mistakes” made by operatives in the eight-year period.

The findings show that at least 119 known detainees were kept under harsh living conditions and subject to techniques such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding.

Burr’s office declined to comment.

Deborah Weissman, professor in UNC’s law school, has published several reports with the students in her Human Rights Policy Lab regarding issues with enhanced interrogation. A January 2012 report deals specifically with Aero and North Carolina’s connection to the CIA.

“The findings in the (Senate) report were very clear. The torture didn’t work. It was horrendous,” she said.

“More information was gained through interrogation techniques that do not involve torture.”

Weissman said the United States has signed a number of treaties against torture over the years, including the United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment — which she said the United States vowed to uphold as recently as November 2014.

Christina Cowger, coordinator and founding member of N.C. Stop Torture Now, said the lack of media coverage and public response to the United States’ violation of these treaties, as well as North Carolina’s involvement with the CIA, stems partly from a lack of knowledge about the best solution.

“The natural reaction of many people when they learn disturbing information and realize that we’re involved in something that is this immoral, people turn away,” she said. “It’s hard to learn about the government doing this and continue to think you live in a morally upright, law-abiding society.”

She said the airport’s economic value contributes to the lack of response from local officials regarding Aero’s work — the company is responsible for an estimated 130 jobs in the area. Local and state officials have worked to support Aero Contractors by approving construction permits, leasing space at the public airport and extending credit to Aero to build a hangar in Kinston, N.C., Cowger said.

Weissman believes the solution lies at the local level.

“Everyday people need to get involved,” she said. “It really is incumbent on educating people and getting people to understand what the consequences are.”

Caison said it is important to hold officials at all levels accountable.

“America’s better than kidnapping people,” she said. “We’re supposed to be the moral beacon of the world, and here we’re allowing torture to have occurred and not doing anything about it.”

state@dailytarheel.com

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