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The Daily Tar Heel

NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture to hold public hearings

Correction: The two aircraft N379P and N313P that are confirmed to have transported prisoners for the CIA have not been stationed in North Carolina since 2006. That year, the planes were both re-registered and sold off to other owners, presumably for purposes unrelated to the extraordinary rendition program. A former version of this article said Weissman said crews would leave from Johnston County airport and take people into custody abroad without formal charges, pilots would actually fly from the Johnston County Airport or the Kinston Global TransPark, very often to Dulles Airport, where they would pick up the rendition, and then onward to the location where the detainee would be tortured by the rendition team, not by the pilots. The article has been changed to reflect the correction. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error. 

The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture will hold a public hearing Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 to explore North Carolina’s role in supporting the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, according to a press release by the commission. 

Commissioners will hear testimony on the CIA’s program which, through the company Aero Contractors Ltd., used North Carolina airports as staging grounds for extraordinary renditions in which flights detained suspected terrorists abroad and transported them to CIA “black sites” and third-party countries, where they were illegally detained and tortured, according to the NCCIT website.

According to the press release, more than 40 cases involving North Carolina-based jets and pilots have been documented. Many of these cases appear in the 2014 declassified summary of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. 

Christina Cowger, a member of the commission's board of directors, said the 12-year history behind the non-partisan commission began due to the lack of response North Carolinians received when pressuring officials about the state’s involvement.

“There’s been a long-term effort of reaching out to North Carolinians to educate them about the fact that our state has been used to support a torture program and that public resources have hosted this aviation program,” Cowger said. 

Deborah Weissman is a UNC law professor who has worked with UNC School of Law students for the past seven to eight years studying extraordinary renditions conducted in the state.

She said the commission aims to disseminate information, create transparency and a historical record and accumulate a set of recommendations to help with restoration and repair. 

“I think the most common request by way of reparations from victims is for a formal and appropriate political apology,” Weissman said.

She said the rendition flights violate North Carolina statutes prohibiting conspiracy to kidnap.

“Conspiracy happened here, and on every level — international treaties, customary international law, federal statutes and state laws that say you can’t do this,” she said. “There are just too many statutes that prohibit torture. Customary international law says you cannot torture, and there’s no excuse. There’s no ticking time bomb, there’s no nothing. You cannot torture, and we did.” 

Weissman said pilots would leave from Johnston County Airport or the Kinston Global TransPark go to Dulles Airport, where they would pick up the extraordinary rendition team, and then to the location where the detainee would be put into custody abroad without formal charges. Detainees would have no opportunity to contact attorneys or family before being transported to detention centers for interrogation by torture. 

Weissman said detainees were stripped, physically abused, gagged and blindfolded.

“The men, most if not all, had some sort of suppository inserted in their anus, and so without knowing what’s happening, they experience it as a form of rape,” she said. “Then they are pretty much tied to the bottom of a cargo plane for the duration of the flight, and so they have no idea what’s happening; they’re not told.”

The two Aero planes that conducted these flights are still housed in North Carolina, one at a hangar at Johnston County Airport and the other at the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston. 

“There’s all sorts of ways in which our public tax dollars support the planes in Johnston County, and the Global Transpark is actually a North Carolina state-created industrial transportation park,” Weissman said. “The connection between the state and their facilitation of these flights is very, very clear.” 

Witnesses at the public hearing include experts such as Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas, active U.S. Air Force and counsel to two Guantanamo detainees, Juan Mendez, former United Nations special rapporteur on torture and Mohamedou al-Slahi, a former Guantanamo detainee and author.

“We know from the Nuremberg Principles that when these sorts of grave human rights violations occur, it is incumbent on individuals, not just government entities and organizations," Weissman said. "It’s individuals who have to say, ‘We cannot let this happen and we have to repair and restore when it does happen.’”

Following the hearings, the commission plans to release a final report of its findings, including recommendations to state and federal officials, next summer. The public hearing will take place at the Raleigh Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 30 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 1. The hearings are open to the public, and attendees are encouraged to RSVP on the NCCIT website


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