Thursday, January 6, 2011

North Carolina Stop Torture Now (Includes Rendition & related issues) Newsletter

Justice Department urged to lift veil of secrecy

December 15 – NC Stop Torture Now (NC USA) joined an effort organized by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law to call on Attorney General Holder and the US Department of Justice to launch "a thorough investigation – conducted by all relevant Inspectors General with full access to all relevant witnesses, documents, tapes, photographs, and other material, and culminating in a public report – would serve the interests of justice, and … 'provide greater accountability and reliability in the invocation of the state secrets privilege.'"

The letter reminds the Justice Department of its own policy providing that, "in a case where the state secrets privilege is properly invoked but the complaint raises credible allegations of government wrongdoing, 'the Department [of Justice] will refer those allegations to the Inspector General of the appropriate department or agency.'"

NCSTN joined the ACLU of North Carolina, Amnesty International USA, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First, No More Guantanamos, Physicians for Human Rights and other groups and individuals in signing the letter.

To access this letter and learn more about this Urgent and Crucial work for Peace and Human Rights, GO here

As Britain compensates victims and survivors, the News & Observer notes Aero Contractors' involvement in extraordinary rendition

Accompanying a November 17, report on the British government' s agreement to provide unspecified settlement payments to several former Guantánamo Bay detainees, for that nation's alleged complicity in their torture, the News & Observer included the following item:

"At least five of the British detainees named as receiving compensation are among those thought to have been transported on aircraft operated by Johnston County-based Aero Contractors, Ltd., said Christina Cowger of NC Stop Torture Now.

Her group has worked to publicize reports of the company's involvement in "extraordinary rendition" cases, in which people, typically terrorism suspects, are taken prisoner and flown to prisons in other countries.

Critics of the practice and former detainees say the United States does this so that the detainees can be tortured during interrogation in places where they are out of reach of U.S. law.

Federal officials have said the United States doesn't move prisoners to locations where it's known that they will be tortured.

Aero Contractors is widely reported to be a front company that provides aviation support for the Central Intelligence Agency. Two jets it operates, one based in Smithfield and the other at the Global Trans Park in Kinston, were used to fly these particular prisoners, Cowger said.

Her group plans to send a letter of apology today bearing about 800 signatures of North Carolinians to former detainees."

The British settlement opens the way for an investigation into British complicity in enforced disappearance and torture, earlier promised by Prime Minister David Cameron.

A retired appeals court judge, Sir Peter Gibson, will lead a three-member panel to review actions by the security services in which former detainees have charged that the British agencies knew — or should have known — that the detainees were being mistreated.

Although details of the compensation packages are confidential, estimates put the total disbursement at near several million pounds.

"The alternative to any payments made would have been protracted and extremely expensive litigation in an uncertain legal environment in which the government could not be certain that it would be able to defend departments and the security and intelligence agencies without compromising national security," British Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke told parliament.

The heads of British intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6 issued a joint statement welcoming the settlement, which said it would "allow the agencies to concentrate on protecting national security."


800 North Carolinians Apologize to Victims and Survivors of Torture and Indefinite Detention

November 15 – As a new report on torture accountability is unveiled in Europe, hundreds of North Carolinians sign an open letter to survivors of U.S.-directed torture. The letter pledges to work toward U.S. government acknowledgement and apology for the human rights violations.

Raleigh, NC – Hundreds of North Carolinians are signing their names on a letter to torture survivors and their families, offering acknowledgement and apology in the absence of government action.

In just three weeks in October, North Carolina Stop Torture Now collected signatures from about 800 residents of over 80 communities in North Carolina.

This development comes as a new report by Amnesty International reveals progress in eight European countries toward accountability for crimes in connection with the U.S.-led extraordinary rendition program.

However, according to the report, which is entitled Open Secret, "The near absence of any accountability in the USA for these violations is a scandal that cries out for the US government to take urgent action to remedy."

Open Secret reports on the “state of play” of inquiries into European governments’ complicity with U.S.-directed torture, as well as lawsuits to determine individual criminal responsibility. AI’s analysis is being unveiled this week in Brussels, Warsaw, Geneva, and other European cities.

November 2010 marks the fifth anniversary of the founding of North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN), the anti-torture coalition and rendition watchdog. NCSTN has conducted protests, petition drives, and legislative campaigns seeking investigation of “torture taxis,” the airplanes operated by the CIA affiliate Aero Contractors of Smithfield, NC. To date, most elected officials in county, state, and federal positions have refused to back an investigation.

“As citizens of North Carolina,” the letter to survivors states, “we express our deep regret for the suffering you have endured or are continuing to suffer either at the hands of our government or proxy states.” North Carolinians feel a special responsibility to reach out to torture survivors, the letter continues, because North Carolina’s taxpayer-funded airports have hosted the torture taxis, and the state is home to many who have served in the Armed Forces or in covert operations. These North Carolinians may themselves have suffered from witnessing or participating in human rights abuses.

From its base at the Johnston County Airport and a hangar at the Kinston Global TransPark, Aero Contractors has operated two airplanes in particular (N379P and N313P) on so-called “rendition circuits.” In these circuits, prisoners were handed over to the CIA by European or other foreign governments and then secretly shuttled among foreign jails and secret CIA torture facilities.

Despite exposés in such high-profile publications as the New York Times, and calls from North Carolina state legislators for investigation, Governors Easley and Perdue and State Attorney General Cooper have consistently refused to act.

Most of the 800 signatures on the letter were collected at the Peace Booth, a fixture at the North Carolina State Fair. Among the signatories are residents of more than 80 communities across the state.

The letter to survivors will be sent to some of the dozens of detainees who have been released after secret detention and torture without charges or apology. Names will be added to the letter as additional signatures are gathered. Among the former detainees who will be sent the letter, all except Maher Arar rendered on North Carolina-based planes, are:

Maher Arar

Abou El-Kassim Britel

Mohamed Bashmilah

Khaled el-Masri

Binyam Mohamed

Bisher al-Rawi


New Outreach Efforts Launched at Festifall

CHAPEL HILL, NC – On October 3, NC Stop Torture Now joined the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee to launch a new outreach campaign.

Borrowing a campaign concept from Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights and text for our stationery from Amnesty International – USA, we encouraged visitors to a booth at the town's annual arts festival, Festifall, to write a letter of support to one of about 174 detainees still captive at Guantánamo Bay.

The effort was one of two actions debuted at the fair and continues this weekend under the leadership of our most artistically visionary volunteer, Roger Ehrlich, at the Shakori Hills grassroots festival

Separately, visitors were encouraged to add their signature to a letter to victims and survivors of torture, rendition and indefinite detention, which was featured at the Peace Booth at the North Carolina State Fair along with this background sheet.

Peggy Misch, a volunteer with both NC Stop Torture Now and the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee, reported that more than 100 signatures on the letter to victims and survivors were gathered and that a about a dozen individuals took time to write individual detainees.

We recently learned from the family of Abou El-Kassim Britel how important it is to prisoners to know that they are not forgotten and that people are still striving to achieve accountability for enforced disappearance, extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention.

Visit our action page to learn how to support these efforts -- GO


News & Observer: 'State secrets' that mask torture

Steven Edelstein and Christina Cowger, published: September 24, 2010

A U.S. appeals court recently sent a message. In a nutshell, it is that our nation of laws must deny torture survivors their day in court in order to keep the story of their torture secret.

In part, this was a message to the five plaintiffs in the Mohamed v. Jeppesen case. These are Muslim men - by descent Ethiopian, Iraqi, Moroccan, Yemeni and Egyptian. They had the bad luck to be swept up in the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition" program, which by now is far from a secret.

Each of them disappeared - their families knew nothing of their whereabouts. Each of them spent months or years in a foul jail and underwent torture at the hands of the CIA or foreign security agents.

And, it appears, each of them was secretly transported by Aero Contractors, the North Carolina aviation company that flew many of the CIA's terror suspects to their torture chambers. While Aero's name doesn't appear in this lawsuit's paper trail, painstaking research by the Council of Europe proves the Smithfield contractor's role in the Mohamed v. Jeppesen renditions.

Take one plaintiff's story. Kassim Britel is an Italian citizen of Moroccan descent. In Pakistan on business in 2002, he was seized by local authorities and severely tortured for two months. Then he was handed over to the CIA, which flew him in a Smithfield-based Gulfstream, tail number N379P, to Morocco . There, he was subjected to total isolation, severe beatings that permanently damaged one eye and one ear, and threats of rape and castration.

Three of the other plaintiffs - Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi and Mohamed Bashmilah - are now free, having never faced charges. Britel and the fifth plaintiff, Ahmed Agiza, still languish in Moroccan and Egyptian prisons, respectively. Legal observers say their trials didn't meet universally recognized standards for fairness. Often, the CIA-directed torture of "rendered" men sought to force confessions to crimes they hadn't committed.

In 2007, the five men sued Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan, "trip planner" for the CIA's rendition missions. Although not a defendant, the Bush administration intervened, claiming "state secrets" would be compromised by hearing the case.

Sadly, President Barack Obama's Justice Department has taken the same stance - survivors of U.S.-directed disappearance and torture have no right to redress in U.S. courts. On Sept. 8, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, closing the courtroom doors to these five men and thus likely to other rendition survivors as well. Two similar lawsuits by other torture survivors had already died at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court without ever being heard. There, too, the state secrets privilege was invoked - even though most of the facts had been publicized all over the world.

The U.S. government has never acknowledged what it did to anyone "rendered" for torture. It has never apologized, never offered a dime of restitution. And now our highest courts have ruled out a judicial remedy.

The 9th Circuit didn't send a message just to torture survivors. It sent one also to the American people: Your leaders cannot be held accountable when they break the law. A lawsuit against a private party that might reveal criminal conduct by U.S. officials can go nowhere.

The 9th Circuit also sent a message to the world's Muslims: The U.S. does not have to take responsibility when it abuses Muslim men. The need to protect U.S. politicians trumps the need to respect those men's rights. The U.S. can scold other nations for abusing human rights, but it will not acknowledge its own violations.

In sending its messages, the appeals court ignored the fact that the conduct of the U.S. government most likely was illegal under international law and certainly violated the spirit of our federal statute against torture.

In fact, that's the message our judges and the executive branch have sent to the entire international community. The U.S. will ignore the Convention Against Torture, which it signed and under which there is no excuse when governments resort to kidnapping or torture.

Will Congress act? In 2009, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and 26 co-sponsors introduced HR 984 to rein in "state secrets" abuse. The state secrets privilege was intended to protect limited pieces of evidence - not to shut down trials and prevent embarrassment to those in high places. Judges can consider alleged state secrets in secret, allowing trials to continue.

Ironically, the actions that our highest courts are shielding from scrutiny have actually made us less safe, according to many experts. And now, when the U.S. badly needs friends in the Islamic world, our messages further alienate Muslims worldwide.

Threats to burn the Quran have received much publicity. But it's the failure to hold ourselves accountable for mistreating human beings who are Muslim that will ultimately echo the loudest.


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