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Jan-21-2012 01:50printcomments

Time to Shed Light on North Carolina's Link to Disappearances, Torture and Indefinite Detention

Working to Achieve Accountability is a Citizen's Obligation

Protesters vigil in front of the Johnston County Courthouse 23 January 2011:
Protesters vigil in front of the Johnston County Courthouse 23 January 2011: "Torture Accountability Starts at the Top"

(SMITHFIELD, N.C.) - On January 15, the News & Observer published a reminder of Norh Carolina's involvement in kidnapping, disappearance and torture.

An opinion piece by Deborah Weissman, Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and Robin Kirk, a writer who teaches human rights at Duke University, announced important findings revealed in a report by students in the University of North Carolina School of Law Immigration/Human Rights Policy clinic.

Specifically, the report shows that "different levels of North Carolina government cooperated with Aero Contractors in abetting human rights abuses."

Days earlier, on January 11, nearly 50 North Carolinians including representatives of North Carolina Stop Torture Now, Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, Occupy Raleigh, Catholic Worker communities joined a crowd estimated at between 800 and 1,000 who gathered at the White House to call for closure of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

North Carolina Stop Torture Now delivered a University of North Carolina School of Law report Wednesday to representatives of Governor Perdue, Attorney General Roy Cooper, District Attorney Susan Doyle and Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell.

As reported by ABC11-WTVD, the report documents evidence of state and local government complicity in the kidnapping, disappearance, secret detention and torture of dozens—if not hundreds— of men identified as terrorists and including many later cleared of any wrongdoing.

According to numerous and credible reports in national and international media and from legal experts with the United Nations and the Council of Europe, the Central Intelligence Agency relies on Smithfield-based Aero Contractors Ltd. to provide planes and pilots to transport prisoners overseas for secret interrogation using torture techniques.

At a press conference in front of the terminal at the Johnston County Airport shown at the top of the news on ABC11 and also reported by CBS afiliate, WRAL-TV, UNC law professor Deborah Weissman told the nearly fifty people gathered: "We would like the state to enact a public policy that recognizes that there is no place for extraordinary rendition in the state or in any of its political subdivisions."

"We would like the state to take all actions to cease facilitating, in any way, shape or form, companies that are complicit in extraordinary rendition and torture," Weissman said.

The press conference followed a morning vigil at the NC Dept. of Administration in advance of a two-hour meeting among representatives of the governor and attorney general and Steven Watt, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's human rights program, and counsel for two men whose description of their torture was included in the report; Professor Weissman and her students; Christina Cowger, of NC Stop Torure Now; and David LaMotte, representing the NC Council of Churches.

More than fifty people were on hand for the press conference, including close to 10 Johnston County residents.

Representatives of District Attorney Doyle and Aero Contractors declined to comment on the report.

Organizational and Individual Endorsements Sought
on Call for North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture

Working to Achieve Accountability is a Citizen's Obligation

The next steps in seeking accountability for our state's role in extraordinary rendition have begun and your support is needed. Four members of North Carolina Stop Torture Now represent the group on the Organizing Committee for a North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture.

Details are here.

In a July 27, 2011 editorial titled: Honoring those who stood against torture the Los Angeles Times notes that:

"Even if President Obama doesn't do so formally, we can recognize those who bucked authority to expose and oppose U.S. abuses.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have called on President Obama to honor military personnel and civilians who opposed the use of torture in the war on terror. We would support such a gesture by the president, though we consider it unlikely given how often he has said that he wants to "look forward, not backward" regarding abuses committed during the George W. Bush administration.

Fortunately, it doesn't take the president to shed light on the identities of government employees who balked at or questioned the Bush policies. The ACLU itself has played a valuable role in publicizing the actions of people like Joseph Darby, an Army reservist and whistle-blower who turned over Abu Ghraib abuse photos to Army investigators, and former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, who led an effort inside the Department of Defense to oppose Justice Department legal opinions condoning coercive interrogation methods.


It would be helpful if Obama seized the opportunity to underline his condemnation of torture by honoring those who resisted it. But that isn't necessary to preserve the memory of what went terribly wrong in the war on terror — and to resolve that it doesn't happen again."

Please get in touch if your organization recognizes the need for formal examination of North Carolina's role in extraordinary rendition and is ready to commit the time and energy of identified individuals to:

Present, explain and advocate on behalf of the call to other organizations; and

To receive, discuss and respond to the Commission's report; or

To help build a seed fund to support the staff essential to launch and sustain the work of the commission.

The task of building a broad coalition of organizations and opinion-leaders from around the state and among a diverstiy of political viewpoints, communities of faith, ethnic identity, and socio-economic strata will require sustained effort.

We are convinced, though, that working to achieve accountability is essential.<

Our safety, our national ideals, and the integrity of the men and women who risk their lives to defend them depend on it.

Letter from the Wife of a Survivor

About two dozen supporters of torture accountability, including at least 7 Johnston County residents, gathered to watch as the Johnston County Board of Commissioners listened and responded to a letter from the wife of Abou El-Kassim Britel, who was transported to more than 8 years of torture.

Allyson Caison explained that reading the letter from Khadija Anna L. Pighizzini, was an act of faith for her. Specifically, she noted that her faith calls her to speak out on behalf of "the least of these among you."

Anna wrote plainly: "Aero Contractors, which transported my husband to secret detention and torture on behalf of the CIA, has its headquarters in North Carolina."

The letter continues: "The evil that we experienced has scarred us deeply. We are tired, and incredulous that human beings can suffer so much while others remain totally indifferent."

Board Chairman Allen Mims noted that Anna's story was moving and that the board extends their condolences.

But, Mims noted, "It seems like you're barking up the wrong tree ... We just don't have the authority ..." to do something the U.S. Congress has not.

Chuck Fager, who has visited with the Board of Commissioners nearly every month since February 2009, suggested: "Maybe you would be moved to respond to this lady? She is not asking for money. She is not asking for any one to go to jail."

You can watch a video of the presentation to the Board, courtesy of Quaker House.

Learn more about Kassim's struggle for justice on the Justice for Kassim Web site, which Anna created and maintains.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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