N.C. activists call for full accountability at CIA, Aero Contractors, Johnston County Airport | Citizen | Indy Week
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N.C. activists call for full accountability at CIA, Aero Contractors, Johnston County Airport 

click to enlarge Christina Cowger leads an N.C. Stop Torture Now demonstration at Johnston County Airport in January, 2013. The picture in her left hand is of Abou el-Kassim Britel, an innocent victim of CIA torture.

Photo by Bob Geary

Christina Cowger leads an N.C. Stop Torture Now demonstration at Johnston County Airport in January, 2013. The picture in her left hand is of Abou el-Kassim Britel, an innocent victim of CIA torture.

The first thing that must be said about the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA and torture is that our government did torture prisoners, including some innocent people. Waterboarding is torture. Shackling men to ceilings, locking them in coffins, forcing them to stand in darkness for days at a time while piped-in noise makes sleep impossible, all are torture. Forcing fluids into a man's rectum for no other reason than to hurt him is torture. Threatening his family is torture.

These are not just "enhanced interrogation techniques," as the CIA euphemistically says. They are sadistic, medieval and every American should be ashamed by what was done in our name.

The second thing we can say, though, is that we're proud of the small band of activists who formed N.C. Stop Torture Now in 2005, and who have since pursued the truth of what our government did with unflagging determination despite the near-total disregard of elected state and federal officials.

After the report was issued, I spoke with Christina Cowger, an agricultural scientist at N.C. State University and the group's spokesperson. She is pleased that it came out, but far from satisfied—or finished.

"We've cracked the door open," Cowger said. "Now we have to push for a full accounting and for those responsible to be in prison."

The Senate report shocked the Washington media and politicians in both parties who've long believed, Cowger said, that the CIA didn't do anything wrong, or else didn't do much "and it was for our own good."

Now they're confronted with the knowledge that 119 prisoners were tortured, 26 of them innocent victims, and little or no information was learned about terrorist activities that ordinary interrogation methods wouldn't have uncovered.

But the truth is much worse even than that. We know this because a network of groups—spread across Europe and this country, including Stop Torture Now —reported previously on the cases covered by the Senate report and many others that the report omits.

The N.C. group, for example, came together in response to a The New York Times report that Aero Contractors, based at Johnston County Airport in Smithfield, was a CIA front performing rendition flights—rendition meaning a suspect would be grabbed in one country and "rendered" to a prison in another country, often to torture a confession out of them.

The group has documented 34 cases of renditions involving Aero. Of that total, 17 are in the report, leaving 17 that are not.

The omitted cases include Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen of Moroccan heritage who made the mistake of being in Pakistan in 2002, just after the 9/11 attacks. Pakistani security forces arrested him, beat him, then turned him over to the CIA, which flew him—in an Aero jet—to Morocco, where he was tortured and forced to confess to a bombing he didn't commit. It took nine years for his wife to prove to the Italian government, a European Parliament investigation and finally to the King of Morocco that her husband had done nothing wrong. The king pardoned him in 2011.

Britel has talked with the N.C. activists by Skype. He wants the governments that imprisoned him to apologize. The Senate report, he said, was a huge disappointment.

You may be wondering how a citizens group in North Carolina knows that Aero flew Britel to his fate. The answer is that international activist network, which shares information from detainees and their lawyers and matches their stories to flight logs kept by airports around the world.

Yes, even CIA jets must log in by time and airplane tail number—and spotters in Europe recorded which tail numbers were Aero's from 2002–08 when the renditions occurred.

When I spoke with Cowger at her house in Raleigh, Britel's picture—enlarged on posterboard—was sitting in the corner of her living room. It's one of several she keeps of men flown by Aero to be tortured, who were later shown to be innocent.

I asked her if she had any idea at that first Stop Torture Now meeting, that she'd still be fighting for justice for torture victims a decade later.

"I had no idea," she said. "But this is the kind of knowledge that, once you have it, you can't un-have it."

With Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate next month, North Carolina's Richard Burr will be the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's announced that he will hold no hearings on the torture report. He views it as a smear of former President Bush.

What can I say to convey my contempt for Burr's position?

Last week's report was a heavily redacted 500-page summary of the full intelligence committee findings, which run to 6,700 pages. We are entitled to know the full story. More than that, we are obligated to consider what it says about our country and whether we intend to turn away from torture or return to it should we be attacked again.

That Burr has no interest in this is shocking.

Cowger, optimistic, says the summary report changed the debate from whether something bad was done by our government to what to make of it. On the other hand, she adds, too many are asking now whether torture works, not whether it is so barbaric that we must never resort to it.

She likes an answer someone posted on Twitter. "The question of whether torture is effective belongs in the same waste bin of history with 'Does genocide help with overpopulation?' and 'Is slavery profitable?'"

N.C. Stop Torture Now was honored with a Citizen Award by the INDY in 2007. The group meets monthly in Raleigh. Information is on www.ncstoptorturenow.org.

This article appeared in print with the headline "N.C. Stop torture now still seeking the truth "


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