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Raleigh, NC 27605
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• Who We Are

Nationally Noted Theologian, Dean of Duke Chapel, and Local Human Rights Advocate Speak on Torture Accountability

About 50 people gathered at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Tuesday, June 24, to hear noted theologian Dr. David P. Gushee offered a talk on "Coming to Terms with Torture: Truth, Accountability, and Reconciliation."

Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and the Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University and previewed themes from his talk during an interview on the WUNC 91.5 FM program The State of Things. Gushee's position on the need for the U.S. to apologize to victims and survivors of the post-9/11 torture program was also featured in a story published June 26 by the News & Observer and also carrried by the Stars & Stripes, a news publication targeting an U.S. military audience.

During his talk, Gushee summarized some of the key findings of a bipartisan, blue-ribbon Task Force on Detainee Treatment convened by the Constitution Project on which he served.

It troubles Gushee, he said, that the issue of U.S. torture has "fallen off the national radar."

He emphasized his belief that it is "unworthy of a great democracy like the United States not to tell the truth about such issues."

To " ... acknowledge such shortcomings strengthens rather than weakens the United States," Gushee said.

Gushee particularly emphasized his belief that it is time for truth, accountability and renunciation.

As Gushee told the News & Observer: "Individuals right now can ask the White House to get the Intelligence Committee report released as soon as possible ... "

The Constitution Project's Task Force on Detainee treatment issued a 600-page report in April 2013, which called upon Americans of all political ideologies to recognize that the U.S. has engaged in systematic torture, that its use was ordered by our highest elected officials, and that as Gushee noted, this "half-hidden liturgy of torture ... and ritualized destruction of minds and bodies ... " produced no actionable intelligence.

And, Gushee said, even if the goal was to gather intelligence, " ... good intentions do not relieve our leaders of the obligation to respect the rule of law."

In anticipation of the United Nations' International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, North Carolina Stop Torture Now Coordinator Christina Cowger spoke primarily about our group's campaign to urge the highest officials in 4 nations to apologize and offer meaningful restitution to one victim of the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture.

Cowger also echoed Gushee's concern for the most prompt and fullest release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on detainee treatment, which reliable sources say will contain extensive and damning details of the U.S. torture program and considerable detail on North Carolina's support of the extraordinary rendtion program.

The Rev. Luke Powery, Dean of the Duke Chapel, opened with a powerful, acapella performance of a spiritual song that raised a few voices from the audience and moved others to sway gently. Afterwards, he offered reflections on the links between the post-9/11 torture program and the long history of the torture of slaves in the United States. Powery concluded by emphasizing the immorality of disregarding the sanctity and value of human life and particularly the human body, drawing powerful imagery from the story of Jesus' crucifixion.

The event was hosted by Pullen Memorial Baptist Church and co-sponsored by the North Carolina Council of Churches, The Constitution Project, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, and NC Stop Torture Now.


Two Dozen Activists Renew Call on President Obama to Close Guantánamo!

Nearly two dozen activitsts and allies of North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN) gathered for a Global Day of Action to Close Guantánamo and End U.S. Torture on May 23, 2014 at the Terry Sanford Federal Building, 310 New Bern Ave., in Raleigh.

The vigil, covered by ABC-11 television and the Raleigh News & Observer, marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama's most recent promise to close the prison camp at Guantánamo. His pledge came in response to the mass hunger strike by men protesting their indefinite detention and to the renewed, global condemnation of the prison.

Recently, District of Columbia Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler suspended her order that the military to stop force-feeding a hunger-striking detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, noting that " ... because of the Pentagon’s 'intransigence,' or refusal to compromise, 'Mr. Dhiab may well suffer unnecessary pain from certain enteral feeding practices and forcible cell extractions. However, the Court simply cannot let Mr. Dhiab die."

In an earlier order, Judge Kessler directed the military not to destroy videotapes showing previous force-feeding of the detainee, Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a Syrian held at Guantánamo for 11 years nine months.

Cori Crider, a defense attorney for a Syrian detainee, noted that:

President Obama “ ... could put my ... client on a plane today if he had the will to do it."

Since Obama’s speech, only 12 men have been released. 154 remain, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime. 76 were cleared for release by the U.S. government years ago. 56 men are from Yemen, the largest national group at Guantánamo, but they remain subject to what amounts to a moratorium on their release based on their nationality. No one from Yemen has been freed since the May speech.

“Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?”

–President Barack Obama, May 2013

It is unknown how many prisoners continue to hunger-strike, but reports indicate as many as 46 may be refusing food, and many are being subjected to forced feeding—a practice condemned by international human rights organizations, medical associations, and members of the U.S. Congress. New lawsuits in U.S. courts lay bare the extreme cruelty of the forced feeding at Guantánamo. To quell the public outcry against the prison, the U.S. military in December 2013 stopped reporting the numbers of hunger strikers. More recently, it has classified their protest, in Orwellian fashion, as “long term non-religious fasting.”

Sadly, as we pass the anniversary of yet another broken promise, this is what the United States remains—a country that continues to indefinitely detain and brutalize the men at Guantánamo. Grassroots activists, human rights organizations, and advocates for the detained men call on people throughout the United States and the world to hold President Obama accountable to his promise.

Together, we must continue to say: “Not another broken promise. Not another day in Guantánamo!”

The action was coordinated by Witness Against Torture in collaboration with Amnesty International, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Veterans for Peace, World Can’t Wait, and the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition.


Report and Declarations Delivered to Top State and County Law Enforcement Officials

Photo of protester holding a sign reading "Crime Scene" in front of Johnston County AirportJANUARY 19, 2012, SMITHFIELD, NC – 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-WTVD, reported on the Web site of the CBS afiliate, WRAL-TV, and the News & Observer, 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.

In the days following the event, coverage also appeared in the Smithfield Herald and on NewsRadio680 WTF (where Christina Cowger was interviewed at ca. minute 38 on a show hosted by Rick and Donna Martinez.

800 North Carolinians Apologize to Victims and Survivors of Torture and Indefinite Detention

As a report on torture accountability was unveiled in Europe, an open letter to survivors of U.S.-directed torture signed by nearly 800 North Carolinians was being delivered.

In just three weeks during October 2010, North Carolina Stop Torture Now and volunteers at the the Peace Booth collected signatures from residents representing more than 80 communities across North Carolina.

Each individual pledged to work toward a day when the U.S. government will "acknowledge the crimest committed ... take responsibility, and offer an apology ..." to the victims and survivors.

November 2010 marked the fifth anniversary of the founding of North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN), the anti-torture coalition and rendition watchdog.  NCSTN has organized protests, petition drives, and legislative campaigns seeking investigation of “torture taxis,” the airplanes operated by the CIA affiliate Aero Contractors of Smithfield, NC. An overview of our activities and efforts is available here. To date, most elected officials in county, state, and federal positions have refused to back an investigation.

As citizens of North Carolina,” the letter to survivors states, “we express our deep regret for the suffering you have endured or are continuing to suffer either at the hands of our government or proxy states.” North Carolinians feel a special responsibility to reach out to torture survivors, the letter continues, because North Carolina’s taxpayer-funded airports have hosted the torture taxis, and the state is home to many who have served in the armed forces or in covert operations. These North Carolinians may themselves have suffered from witnessing or participating in human rights abuses.

From its base at the Johnston County Airport and a hangar at the Kinston Global TransPark, Aero Contractors has operated two airplanes in particular (N379P and N313P) on so-called “rendition circuits.” In these circuits, prisoners were handed over to the CIA by European or other foreign governments, Afhgan warlords, or Pakistani bounty hunters, and then secretly shuttled among foreign jails and secret CIA torture facilities.

Despite exposés in such high-profile publications as The New York Times, and calls from North Carolina state legislators for investigation, former Governor Easley, Governor Perdue and state Attorney General Roy Cooper have consistently refused to act.

The letter to survivors was sent to some of the dozens of detainees who have been released after secret detention and torture without charges or apology.

Among the former detainees listed below who received the letter all—except Maher Arar—were rendered on North Carolina-based planes. You can read more about each man by following the link associated with his name:

Maher Arar, Abou El-Kassim Britel, Mohamed Bashmilah, Khaled el-Masri, Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi.

Torture program scarred many people

(Reprinted from The Clayton News-Star)

Over the past decade, we North Carolinians have experienced war, counterterror and trauma in many forms. Our sons and daughters have fought on the frontlines in Afghanistan and Iraq, and often returned home bearing painful burdens.

Other North Carolinians have taken part in sensitive national security operations, including Special Forces deployments and “extraordinary rendition” flights. And many of us feel outraged at the now-disavowed policies of secret detention and torture.

In Johnston County, interactions over torture have often been adversarial – understandable when so much is at stake. But at the recent conference, it became apparent to us that while North Carolina has played a critical role in the implementation of torture, perhaps there is more to unite us than to divide us.

... a European investigation uncovered chilling details of a secret program based on bilateral agreements between the United States and most European nations.

After leaving their base at the Johnston County Airport or the Kinston JetPort, Aero Contractors jets would stop in Washington, D.C., to pick up CIA “snatch teams.” Around the globe, detainees were handed over to those teams in secret to be stripped, beaten, hooded, diapered, shackled, handcuffed and rectally sedated – all in the presence of Aero crews.

Aero Contractors personnel operated aircraft on “rendition circuits,” in which prisoners were secretly shuttled among pickup points, foreign jails and secret CIA secret torture facilities. Joining in a systematic coverup, Aero pilots disguised flight plans to help the CIA avoid detection.

Binyam Mohamed, a United Kingdom resident transported to Morocco by Aero Contractors for the CIA, was reportedly held in secret for 18 months and subjected to brutal beatings and slicing of the genitals and torso. He was “rendered” again by Aero Contractors pilots to the “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan, held for many months in complete darkness and kept awake for days at a time by continuous loud sounds.

After years at Guantanamo, Binyam was released without charges – and without acknowledgment or apology from our government.

Some “rendered” detainees disappeared and may have died as a result of torture. Others remain at Guantanamo indefinitely, without a trial. Those eventually released without charges have never received an apology, restitution or any support in trying to make new lives.

Although this history is appalling, the employees of Aero Contractors were not the authors of the “extraordinary rendition” program. They were the pilots, the mechanics and the crew, some of whom themselves may be affected by their involvement with torture.

It is the officials who planned, authorized and justified such unlawful conduct in our names – in contradiction to our proud history of protecting civil and human rights – who should be held accountable.

To do that, we need transparency at all levels.

There must be both justice and healing for all those scarred by extraordinary rendition, and we hope that employees at Aero Contractors can join us on this path.

We at N.C. Stop Torture Now have played our part in adversarial relations with the employees of Aero. While extraordinary rendition has caused serious damage to those who were kidnapped and tortured, as a state and a nation we are all harmed. The United States’ walk on the “dark side” of torture and secret detention has robbed us all of our most precious birthrights: the rule of law and our basic value of respect for human life.

Across our differences, what unites us is our desire to be proud of our communities and our country. We all want safety and peace for our children. We all value human life and are ready to stand up for democracy.

Together, we can acknowledge what went wrong and bring it to the light of day. We can seek out those who were harmed, learn what they need, offer apologies and begin to make amends.

–Christina Cowger, Coordinator, NC Stop Torture Now


Who We Are ...

North Carolina Stop Torture Now is a grassroots coalition of individuals representing themselves and—through their involvement and witness to neighbors—a diversity of faith, human rights, peace, veteran, and student groups across the state.

We aim to stop torture everywhere, and have worked since 2005 to expose and end North Carolina's central role in the ongoing U.S. torture program.

Our special focus has been on the "torture taxis" of Aero Contractors, Ltd. of Smithfield. Both are nominally private companies linked to the operation of aircraft in clandestine support of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Extraordinary rendition is a phrase that disguises the kidnap, detention and torture of individuals alleged to be enemies of the United States, including those guilty of nothing other than being misidentified.

Aero Contractors' headquarters is located at the Johnston County Airport near Smithfield, NC, and you can view a partial list of detainees who were disappeared and subsequently tortured at the Aero Flew Them page, or directly on this PDF document.

We are particularly concerned that state and local government officials and individual citizens recognize their own complicity in the extraordinary rendition program and take steps to provide restorative justice to victims and survivors, to air a full account of human rights violations, and to demand top-down accountability for the authors and perpetrators of these crimes.


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Updated 29 June 2014, JMcI