By Yonat Shimron, Raleigh News & Observer
DURHAM — Duke University’s Human Rights Center has teamed up with a local stop torture group and a swath of religious leaders for a two-day conference on the U.S. government’s practice of capturing suspected terrorists and flying them to other countries for interrogation.
“Weaving a Net of Accountability,” a conference on “extraordinary rendition,” will begin at 5:30 tonight and end Saturday with what organizers hope is an action plan for stopping the practice on the state level.
Extraordinary rendition refers to apprehending suspects and transferring them to a country that allows harsh interrogation tactics, sometimes even torture. The tactic, which was approved by former President Bill Clinton and expanded by George W. Bush, has a particular North Carolina connection.
Since 2001, Aero Contractors Ltd., which operates out of the Johnston County airport, has supplied pilots, planes and crew for the suspects’ transfers, which often result in months-long detention.
“The idea is to look at this issue and examine the links and say, ‘This is done in our backyard,’ ” said Robin Kirk, director of the Duke Human Rights Center and a conference organizer. “It’s not a distant problem. It’s done right here.”
In typical cases, U.S. agents have grabbed people fromItaly, Macedonia, Pakistan and England, and flown them on Aero planes to countries in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. At least 24 men are known to have been transported in this way, according to the book “Ghost Plane” by British journalist Stephen Grey.
Allyson Caison of Selma, a mother of two boys, is part of a group of local activists who serve as “plane spotters,” keeping track of plane tail numbers flying in and out of the Johnston County airport.
“I’m outraged this is happening and no one is doing anything about it,” Caison said.
The N.C. Council of Churches is among the sponsors of the conference, which will begin with an interfaith meditation led by Rabbi Raachel Jurovics of Raleigh and will include the participation ofAbdullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke.
“The idea that we would deface the divine figure is repugnant in all our traditions,” said Jurovics. Judaism, Christianity and Islam consider human beings to be made in God’s image.
Scott Horton, contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and a law professor at Columbia University who has studied extraordinary rendition, will deliver the keynote address tonight at 7:30.
On Saturday, a group of activists will work up a plan intended to lay the groundwork for a “commission of inquiry.” The commission would be composed of local and state leaders who would create a public record of the state’s role in extraordinary rendition.