For three years, the activist group N.C. Stop Torture Now has blanketed the Johnston County Airport with vigils, reports that CIA rendition flights may originate there and warnings about a half-dozen planes implicated in "torture flights" that are operated by a private carrier based there.
The group wants the county-owned airport to investigate. Start paying attention, members say. Adopt a policy against abetting torture. Call in the sheriff or the State Bureau of Investigation to help.
Airport Authority Chairman John Bullock's latest response,: Investigate what?
"We have no facts," Bullock told Stop Torture Now members who attended the authority's Nov. 17 meeting in Smithfield. Aero Contractors, the private carrier, he added, "is a good tenant, good client; they've been here for years."
At the authority's meeting a month ago, Stop Torture Now members distributed a thick packet of information, including accounts from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, about the CIA's secret renditions and the role private air carriers, including Aero Contractors, play. According to the reports, terrorism suspects captured in countries where torture is outlawed are "rendered" to other countries—Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan—where torture is practiced.
One case, involving a German citizen mistakenly arrested in Macedonia and tortured in Afghanistan, resulted in the indictment of three Aero pilots on charges of kidnapping by a German grand jury.
In another, the Swedish government agreed to pay $450,000 to an Egyptian citizen seeking asylum who was rendered back to Egypt, allegedly by Aero pilots, and imprisoned and tortured.
"Did you find [the information] compelling?" Allyson Caison, a county resident, asked Bullock.
"I found it interesting," Bullock said, smiling uncomfortably. "I'm not in favor of torture."
Ironically, the 30-minute meeting Monday was dominated by Airport Director Ray Blackmon's revelation that folks are driving too fast around the hangars, where airplanes have the right-of-way. Lest the county be sued for negligence if there's an accident, the authority voted to reduce the speed limit from 20 mph to 10.
"I was happy to hear Ray mention his concern about negligence and liability," Caison told authority members. She urged them to think hard, however, about the liability of allowing a company to use the airport in the commission of kidnappings and torture.
"Winds of change blew through this country on Nov. 4," she said. "There may soon be congressional and international investigations of the rendition program. Johnston County needs to get on the right side of history before these investigations shine the spotlight on us. At that point, it will be too late to claim we didn't know what was going on here."
Bullock said he asked the county attorney for advice but hasn't gotten any yet.
N.C. Stop Torture Now received an "Indy Citizen Award" for its work in 2007. Read the story.