Click here to read an op-ed by The Rev. Ken Sehested, curator of prayerandpolitiks.org, an online journal at the intersection of spiritual formation and prophetic action.
Click here to learn more about our free Christian study on North Carolina’s role in torture and to download a copy of it for use in your own small group or social justice ministry.
Who we are:
Following the release of Torture Flights: North Carolina’s Role in the CIA Rendition and Torture Program, the North Carolina Council of Churches unveiled NC No Torture to promote the report and its recommendations. These recommendations seek accountability and transparency for our state’s role in torture, and are focused towards citizens and officials at the local, state, and federal level. By generating greater awareness of the report, NC No Torture works to prevent North Carolina from ever again being used as a launching pad for torture. This program is partially funded through the Open Society Foundation.
The work of NC No Torture builds on the long-standing efforts of North Carolina citizens and organizations who have tirelessly sought accountability and transparency. Since 2005, members of North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN) have organized protests, met with local and state officials, and educated others about the activities of Aero Contractors.
In 2017, the non-governmental North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) was established to do the job our government refuses to do: investigate our state’s role in torture. NCCIT, compromised of a blue-ribbon panel of experts, academics, and community leaders, conducted over 18 months of research and held two days of public hearings. At the hearings, Commissioners heard testimony from experts on interrogation, psychology, torture, and international law. On September 27, 2018, NCCIT released their groundbreaking report Torture Flights.
Torture Flights reveals that North Carolina’s role in the CIA’s Rendition and Torture program was far more extensive than previously believed. More specifically, evidence indicates that Aero conducted over 80% of the identified CIA renditions during the program’s first stage, between 2001-2006. The report corroborates findings that the company operated primarily out of Johnston County Airport and the Kinston Global TransPark, locations that are subsidized by taxpayer dollars.
During renditions, individuals were abducted without regard for the rule of law or due process, then transported to CIA “black-sites” or foreign jails where they were interrogated and tortured. Many of those rendered were not involved in any terrorist activity and were later released. In total, North Carolina was complicit in the rendition of 48 men and one woman. The lone woman, Fatima Boudchar, was several months pregnant during her abduction and detention.
In detention, individuals suffered through various torture techniques, including walling (slamming one’s head against the wall), sleep deprivation, temperature extremes, sodomy, rectal feeding, prolonged stress positions, and physical and sexual assault. During the Commission’s public hearings, testimony from an expert in psychology concluded that the renditions themselves constituted a form of torture. One former detainees referred to the rendition flights as a “torture chamber in the sky.”
Once citizens became aware of the activities of Aero, they organized protests at the company’s gates, delivered citizens arrests, and called on elected officials to investigate. In response, North Carolina state officials provided Aero with grants to reinforce their security detail and hangar at the public Johnston County Airport. Public records request also reveal coordination between Aero employees and state officials about protests and marches.
These actions directly implicate our state in violation of state, federal, and international law.
To date, victims of Aero renditions and their families have not received any form of acknowledgement, redress, or reconciliation. By failing to investigate those responsible and refusing redress for victims, it North Carolina and Aero continue to be in violation of numerous legal obligations (see a report from the UNC School of Law detailing the legal obligations to provide redress to victims of Aero renditions).
NC No Torture works to generate awareness of our state’s complicity in torture and seeks accountability for these actions.
Training and Support:
NC No Torture will be offering events across the state in 2019 to highlight the facts of the Report so that those interested in this area of justice can connect with others.
Contact: Brian Wendelgass, Program Coordinator for NC No Torture, email@example.com or 919-828-6501
How to connect:
June 26 Event Outside Governor's Office
On June 25, the Council submitted a letter to Governor’s Cooper’s office urging him to form a task force to investigate Aero Contractors, the North Carolina company responsible for conducting over 80 % of identified CIA Renditions between 2001-2006. The letter also requested that the Governor issue a statement declaring that North Carolina does not support torture. Over 50 judicatory heads and denominational representatives, as well as the Council’s governing board, have signed the letter. A list of action items for the Governor’s consideration was also included.
June 26, the United Nations International in Support of Torture, the Council and North Carolina Stop Torture Now held a vigil outside Governor Cooper’s Raleigh office, calling for him to break the official silence on North Carolina’s role in torture.
About 35 people were in attendance, including speakers from Raleigh Friends Meeting, Movement to End Racism & Islamophobia, Eisenhower Chapter 157 Veterans for Peace, NC Peace Action, UNC School of Law, North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. The event coincided with the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
Torture and Faith: An Invitation to Respond
North Carolina’s efforts to expose our state’s participation in torture was birthed with a faith response. Since 2001, people of faith and social conscience have challenged the U.S. torture program as immoral and without merit. In 2005, people of faith launched the North Carolina movement calling for the investigation of the state’s role in the U.S. post-9/11 rendition, detention, and interrogation program.
At least 49 people – one woman and 48 men – were secretly transported by the NC-based planes piloted by Aero Contractors to prisons where they were held without criminal charge and tortured. The torture methods included waterboarding, beatings, prolonged painful stress positions, threats to their families, sexual humiliation and assault, temperature extremes, and prolonged sleep deprivation.
In 2017, the nongovernmental N.C. Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) heard testimony from military, legal, and governmental experts, as well as first-hand accounts from those who had been transported, or extraordinarily rendered, interrogated, and tortured. The Commission received records from local and state governments regarding elected officials’ handling of requests for investigation of Aero Contractors. The September, 2018 report details the findings. (www.nctorturereport.org)
The facts speak for themselves in the NCCIT report. We call upon NC Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein to immediately open a governmental inquiry to respond according to the rule of law. We encourage you to join with us to seek a governmental inquiry.
Join the list-serve for “NC No Torture” by request: firstname.lastname@example.org
Torture and Faith: Take Action!
You and your faith community can act in several ways:
- Download and adapt this sample resolution for use by your peace and justice committee or organization.
- Look for gatherings of people of faith and conscience who support the opening of a state inquiry into these contracts. Attend a candlelight vigil.
- Add your individual and/or congregational endorsement of the Report and petition to end torture practices.
- Invite a speaker to talk to your community, including church, temple, mosque, or social concerns committee, regardless of your location. (Speakers have addressed groups in Asheville, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, etc.)
- Reach out to other people of faith, friends, neighbors, to enable a groundswell of support to persuade Johnston County Commissioners and the Governor, Attorney General, and the NC legislature to open hearings.
- Help fund the efforts to encourage the Johnston County Commissioners and the N.C. government to open hearings.
Information on H.B. 740
On April 30, Representative Verla Insko (D-NC) held a press conference at the North Carolina General Assembly to introduce House Bill 740, which seeks to end North Carolina’s involvement in torture. The bill addresses North Carolina’s role in the CIA’s Rendition and Torture program, where the state utilized public infrastructure to facilitate the CIA’s “torture chambers in the sky.” Rep. Insko was joined by representatives from the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture and the North Carolina Council of Churches. Click the link below to view the full press conference, as speakers discussed the pivotal role of North Carolina, the process of rendition and illegality, and the need for state accountability when the federal government abdicates responsibility.
Click here to view the full press conference or click below to watch just a section from a specific speaker:
- Rep. Verla Insko– Introduction of House Bill 740
- Catherine Read– Major findings from the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture
- Jim Coleman– Legal provisions for the Governor and Attorney General to investigate torture
- Patty McGaffagan– Residential perspective of Johnston County’s torture operation
- Deborah Weismann– How HB740 aligns the state with its federal and international obligations
News Articles for More Information
Faith Organization's Statements on Torture
Alliance of Baptists
A Statement Against Torture
Church of the Brethren
Presbyterian Church USA
Resolution Against Torture; Human Rights in a Time of Terrorism
Quaker Initiative to End Torture
Quit Torture Now
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Torture is a Moral Issue
A statement by national denominational and faith group leaders
Prayer of Confession
Through the release of this report, we renew our commitment to justice, mercy, and redress for those who continue to suffer and to the friends and family who surround them. We accept responsibility for what has occurred through our citizenship and our tax dollars. We gather in the hope that we might be forgiven. We gather to admit our part in those practices that offend our faith and our conscience.
Creator of the Universe, you have given life to each of us. You have also given each of us the freedom to misuse our lives and abuse the lives of others. We acknowledge that people were harmed using our state’s resources. We accept responsibility as taxpayers in whose names so many human lives have been damaged.
We regret that we want to look away from the facts of the torture cases. We regret that we have not been able to accomplish the goal of a full accounting and disclosure by our state government. We regret that we have not been able to reach out to every person harmed by these events. Enable us to seek redress for those harmed that they may begin to heal.
Grant us strength and courage to devote ourselves to justice, mercy, and redress. Enable us to join together to take responsibility for the torture in which we, our state, our nation, and the international community were involved so that human beings will no longer suffer in these inhumane ways.
Empower us to invite others to unite their voices with ours so that our governor and attorney general will call for an investigation. Give us a clear vision for peace and justice in our time and the ability to accomplish it on behalf of all who have been tortured or are at risk of torture.
Grant us grace to join hands and hearts to be one in your Spirit of love and mercy. Amen.
Executive Summary of the Report from the NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture
In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government ushered in a large-scale program of secret detention and torture that relied significantly on the State of North Carolina. Six days after the attacks, President George W. Bush signed a covert memorandum that authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to seize, detain, and interrogate suspected terrorists around the world. This report investigates the North Carolina’s role in that illegal program.
The program made use of Department of Defense facilities, a network of ten CIA-controlled secret prisons or black sites in six countries, and the facilities of foreign governments. In what was called the Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program (RDI) program, the CIA abducted and directly imprisoned at least 119 individuals before the practice was officially ended and repudiated by Executive Order in 2009. Given that detainees were also handed over to foreign governments, as well as the secrecy surrounding the program, the number of affected individuals is likely far higher.
Within weeks of the RDI program’s authorization, Aero Contractors, Ltd., based in Smithfield, NC, began operating the first of two aircraft for extraordinary, or violent and secret, renditions. Between September 2001 and March 2004, Aero-operated aircraft – a Gulfstream V turbojet and Boeing 737 Business Jet – were used in over 80% of identified RDI renditions. Over the full length of the program, Aero Contractors transported 34 of the known 119 CIA prisoners, plus at least 15 sent by the CIA to foreign custody, on an identified 69 rendition circuits. These flights, using North Carolina’s public infrastructure and flown by its citizens, implicate North Carolina directly in abduction, disappearance, and torture.
Since 2005, North Carolina anti-torture activists from across the political spectrum have protested these actions. Motivated by diverse ethical and religious beliefs as well as a firm commitment to the rule of law, activists from North Carolina Stop Torture Now have joined with the North Carolina Council of Churches and many other allies. Citizens have pressured public officials at all levels of government to investigate and be accountable for the state’s role in the CIA’s illegal and immoral program.
Citizen-led activism culminated in 2015 in the creation of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT), a non-governmental organization dedicated to transparency and accountability regarding the state’s participation in U.S. torture. The NCCIT launched officially in 2017 with a blue-ribbon panel of Commissioners who have expertise in domestic and international law, military operations, human rights, interfaith religious dialogue, psychology, and public health.
The Commission initiated a large-scale investigation into North Carolina’s involvement in torture and rendition. Torture Flights: North Carolina’s role in the CIA rendition and torture program details the results of that investigation. The report draws on original research and expert testimony provided at public hearings as well as the extensive data compiled by The Rendition Project, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the Human Rights Policy Lab of the University of North Carolina School of Law, among other sources.
Torture Flights: North Carolina’s role in the CIA rendition and torture program provides the most comprehensive research to date on North Carolina’s role in the rendition phase of the RDI program. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “Torture Report,” whose redacted Executive Summary was released in 2014 while the full report remains classified, focused on the detention and interrogation of detainees who were held in CIA custody. Torture Flights builds on this work and addresses extraordinary rendition as an integral component of violent interrogation, regardless of the individual’s destination. In addition, the report demonstrates that the program depended upon North Carolina’s private citizens and public infrastructure.
As this report details, Aero Contractors transported at least 49 individuals, who were forcibly seized without any due process, in a manner that itself amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Preparation for “rendition” involved physical and sometimes sexual assault, drugging, and sensory deprivation. Rendition flights themselves were experiences of prolonged pain, dread, and terror. The whereabout of the individuals linked to Aero, who were citizens of 16 countries and included a 16-year-old student and a pregnant woman, was not disclosed, even to their families. They were “disappeared,” causing agony to them and their loved ones. Even today, the fates of eight of those rendered remains unknown.
Many of the prisoners were taken to CIA “black sites,” where they experienced beatings, prolonged stress positions, temperature extremes, long-term isolation, various water tortures, mock execution, and sexual abuse. In violation of international law, the CIA transported some prisoners to foreign custody where they were subject to torture and abuse by others. Kidnapping, abduction, and secret detention occurred without respect for victims’ guilt or innocence and absent any legal process for victims to contest their abductions.
Survivors of the RDI program and their families continue to suffer from these experiences. Torture and prolonged detention have left lasting physical and psychological damage. This in turn harms relationships and livelihoods, which then amplifies the psychological damage. To resume meaningful and secure lives, survivors need medical, psychological and social support, guaranteed legal status, and economic opportunity.
This report also carefully considers the moral and legal responsibility of North Carolina for its involvement in CIA sponsored activities. The federal government has international law obligations under both the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to provide both accountability and redress for torture. It did neither and therefore failed to meet its international obligations. Given the abdication of the federal government in this regard, North Carolina can and should fill the gap. Its role as home to Aero makes it particularly well-suited to fill this role. State and federal laws against conspiracy and corruption are among those instruments that apply to Aero’s activities.
As this report documents, Aero Contractors’ central role in the CIA rendition and torture program is beyond dispute. But instead of holding Aero Contractors accountable, until now the State of North Carolina and Johnston County have effectively supported its activities. This support has taken the form of hosting the company’s headquarters at the Johnston County Airport and providing it with various airport and other county services. Since Aero’s participation in criminal abduction and assault was publicly revealed, the State of North Carolina has made several grants to the county airport, at least one of which was specifically used to fortify the perimeter of only Aero Contractors’ corner of the facility.
Torture Flights: North Carolina’s role in the CIA rendition and torture program concludes with specific recommendations directed at federal and state officials as well as toward North Carolina citizens, whose engagement has kept the spotlight on Aero’s activities and whose continued attention is needed to ensure accountability and prevent this kind of torture and abuse from ever taking place again. The recommendations seek, among other objectives, to increase transparency about the program and accountability for the illegal actions; provide acknowledgment, redress and reparations to its victims; and prevent the future use of torture. As the report notes, additional research also is needed on the involvement of other North Carolina private corporations and public airports in extraordinary renditions in order to complete the record of the RDI program. At the broadest level, the goal is to ensure that neither the federal government not state of North Carolina ever engage in or support torture again.
This program partially funded by the Open Society Foundations.