Thousands of North Carolinians Join ACLU in Call for Investigation of Aero Contractors’ Involvement in Kidnap and Torture

March 21, 2007 12:00 am

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RALEIGH, NC – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina today joined 75 organizations and thousands of North Carolina residents to call on federal and local officials to investigate the actions of Aero Contractors, a Johnston County-based contract air carrier that transported foreign nationals kidnapped by the CIA to be tortured in secret overseas prisons.

In a letter sent to government leaders today, the groups said that “it is unconscionable that North Carolina taxpayers are asked to continue to host a company that operates torture flights.” Aero Contractors uses the facilities of state-funded Global TransPark as well as the Johnston County airport in Smithfield.

“The strong grassroots support for this campaign should serve as a wake-up call for state officials,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, an ACLU of North Carolina attorney and coordinator of the ACLU’s Muslim/Middle Eastern Community Outreach Project. “North Carolinians are not willing to play host to a company that operates torture flights.”

At a press conference today, representatives of the 75 organizations and congregations across the state called on government officials and members of the Global TransPark Authority Board to investigate Aero Contractors’ role in the CIA’s abduction practice, known as the “extraordinary rendition” program. The groups presented signatures of thousands of individuals with the same plea.

“In addition to violating international, federal and state law, torture is morally repugnant,” said Christina Cowger, coordinator of North Carolina Stop Torture Now. “If Aero Contractors were suspected of trafficking in drugs or child pornography, we are certain that our leaders would take swift action to investigate and remove such a company from public facilities.”

The national ACLU filed a lawsuit against Aero Contractors and other U.S.-based aviation corporations as well as former CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA officials on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German man who was kidnapped and detained by the CIA in 2004. The CIA held El-Masri incommunicado in the notorious “Salt Pit” prison in Afghanistan long after officials realized he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Five months after his abduction, El-Masri was deposited at night, without explanation, on a hill in Albania. A federal district court dismissed the case after the government intervened, arguing that allowing the case to proceed would jeopardize state secrets. An appeal was then filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, stating that allowing El-Masri to have his day in court would not harm national security because details of his rendition have already been made public. The appeals court upheld the dismissal of El-Masri’s lawsuit on March 2, 2007. The ACLU and El-Masri are considering an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

While no U.S. official has yet been held accountable for violating El-Masri’s rights to due process and fair treatment, the government of Germany has issued arrest warrants for at least three Johnston County employees of Aero Contractors involved in El-Masri’s abduction.

A grassroots campaign has been underway in North Carolina since November 2005 to persuade state and Johnston County officials to investigate Aero Contractors’ participation in CIA-sponsored renditions. To date, Governor Michael Easley, the Global TransPark Authority Board, and the Johnston County Board of Commissioners have declined to initiate an investigation, despite repeated warnings that criminal activities are taking place at publicly funded airports. In October 2006, 12 members of the North Carolina House of Representatives called on the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to investigate Aero Contractors. SBI Director Robin Pendergraft declined, citing her belief in her lack of jurisdiction as the reason. In January 2007, 22 legislators directed the call for an investigation to Attorney General Roy Cooper.

The letter sent today to state officials and the Global TransPark Authority Board is at:

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