Monday, October 15, 2018

North Carolina's role in torture....

Late last month the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture issued a report on the role of that state in our rendition and torture of men suspected of being involved in terrorist activities (italics emphasizing that these men were only suspects).

Just Security has outlined the notable findings which I am copying below. The full report can be viewed here.

Key findings
  • Private companies played a significant role in post-9/11 CIA rendition and torture: An essential finding of the NCCIT report is that N.C.-based Aero Contractors, Ltd. “played an absolutely central role in the CIA’s torture program,” by operating two aircraft — N379P and N313P — which conducted over 80 percent of the U.S. government’s renditions between September 2001 and March 2004. The report puts the total number of individuals transported by Aero at 49, with 34 of those among the at least 119 individuals in CIA direct custody, and at least 15 more that the CIA rendered to foreign custody or U.S. military detention. Comprising citizens of 16 countries, these individuals included a 16-year-old student and a pregnant woman, Fatima Boudchar.
  • State-level support of post-9/11 rendition and torture was critical: As the NCCIT report details, the role of state-level collaborators in U.S. post-9/11 rendition and torture is often overlooked. North Carolina’s role is particularly concerning because not only are local and state officials and infrastructure implicated—authorities provided public airports for rendition flights, built a hangar for rendition aircraft, hosted Aero’s headquarters at Johnston County Airport and “made several grants to the county airport, at least one of which was specifically used to fortify the perimeter of only Aero’s corner of the facility”—but they have also refused to investigate these connections at every turn. 
  • Rendition to foreign governments was integral to the CIA program yet not nearly enough is known about its scope and its victims: The NCCIT report emphasizes that while there has been an official inquiry into what happened in CIA “black sites” and who was in them—this was the 6,700-page study by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the redacted summary of which was released in December 2014—this only scratches the surface of U.S. post-9/11 policies. Gaps persist because that inquiry focused on the federal level and failed to examine the role of states or private companies, and also ignored U.S. rendition to foreign custody for interrogation or detention.
  • Rendition was in and of itself a form of torture: From the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (e.g., waterboarding) to the humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the official and public account of post-9/11 practices to date focuses on what happened to individuals once in detention. However, the NCCIT report adds a previously overlooked dimension, by detailing both the physical and psychological harm suffered during the process of transportation to CIA “black sites” and/or foreign prisons. In emphasizing that “[p]reparation for ‘rendition’ involved physical and sometimes sexual assault, drugging, and sensory deprivation. Rendition flights were experiences of prolonged pain, dread, and terror,” the NCCIT report widens the debate to additionally focus on what happened in the “torture chamber in the sky.”
  • New details on the harms experienced by victims, including their families and communities: Individuals disappeared to CIA “black sites” or foreign custody on flights originating in North Carolina have yet to have their day in U.S. courts, including when Aero Contractors has been a named defendant. The NCCIT report corrects this erasure of victims’ experience, emphasizing: (1) a range of impacts on victims, including “survivors’ legal, economic, physical and psychological health, family, and social needs;” (2) that these impacts are continuing harms, including a “phobia of hope,” or “a terror of thinking about the future;” (3) that these harms are also felt by family and communities (questions such as “how will we live?” asked by Khadija Anna Pighizzini, wife of survivor Abou Elkassim Britel, powerfully echo this); and (4) that these harms are aggravated by the lack of recognition, apology, and other remedies.
  • The full extent of the U.S. accountability lag: The NCCIT report throws into even sharper relief how the U.S. government—at the federal as well as state level—has fallen far short in redressing wrongs. Outside of the United States, high-profile inquiries in the Council of  Europe and European Parliament have exposed the role that North Carolina-based aircraft played in rendition. The European Court of Human Rights has decided five landmark cases—including two in May of this year—and three more cases have been submitted to African and Inter-American bodies involving individuals on aircraft N379P and N313P. Additionally, in May 2018, the U.K. government reached “a full and final settlement” with, and apologized for the role it played in, the rendition and detention of Aero-rendition victims Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Boudchar. Domestically, however, no federal official or agency has been held to account. And at the state level, according to the NCCIT report “[o]fficial responses to North Carolina citizen advocacy have included public silence and non-responses, dismissals by state officials on grounds of lack of jurisdiction, and the monitoring and arrest of citizen advocates rather than investigation of Aero.”
  • Why a citizen-led process was needed and what it offers: As the first non-governmental and state-level inquiry on the topic of post-9/11 rendition and torture, the NCCIT is clearly novel. Born out of bipartisan anti-torture citizen advocacy—including by North Carolina Stop Torture Now, the North Carolina Council of Churches and many others—the NCCIT demonstrates the potential for truth and accountability to be attained by citizen activism when traditional doors are shut by non-cooperating governments. Testimony provided by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, including his remark—“thank you wholeheartedly, the people of North Carolina, thank you very much for standing to people who cannot stand up for themselves”—shows that victims may also get some closure and value from these non-official inquiries.