CHAPTER 1 : THE U.S. GOVERNMENT’S RENDITION, DETENTION, AND INTERROGATION (RDI) Program
"Post-9/11, the U.S. government (USG) used “extraordinary rendition” to secretly apprehend, detain, and transfer individuals suspected of terrorism to foreign custody for interrogation and/or to CIA custody in CIA-run prisons or “black sites.” From 2002-2008, the CIA held at least 119 detainees in ten CIA prisons in six country locations in the CIA detention and interrogation program.
These unlawful renditions were conducted with the authorization, facilitation, and participation of three main actors: the U.S. Government, foreign states, and private actors. The U.S. Government authorized and coordinated renditions through the use of “Rendition Teams,” which included medical personnel in order to monitor individuals throughout the rendition, complete a preliminary medical examination and cavity search, administer sedatives, and provide necessary medical care. Foreign states detained individuals and provided airport tarmacs where they were prepared for transfer, and/or airports and airspace for rendition flights. The CIA used two separate and parallel systems to transport detainees via private aircraft, the first of which involved the use of planes owned by CIA shell companies and operated by North Carolina-based Aero Contractors, Limited (“Aero”), in particular N379P and N313P.
While some information on the CIA Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program (the RDI program) has been officially acknowledged — it was the subject of a 6,700-page study by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the redacted summary of which was released in December 2014 — much remains unknown.
In particular, because the SSCI study does not address rendition to foreign custody for interrogation, or torture by proxy, there is no official account of those victims who were sent to foreign custody and not subsequently returned to U.S. custody. As the SSCI study is focused at the federal level, it also does not examine in detail the critical roles of states or private companies, such as Aero.
Outside of the United States, the role of North Carolina and private entities in the rendition and torture program — and the illegality of their actions — have been in the public eye and under some degree of legal scrutiny. Prominent inquiries in the Council of Europe and European Parliament, as well as cases before the European Court of Human Rights, have highlighted the illegality of the CIA program and exposed the use of North Carolina-based rendition aircraft. Three cases have been submitted to African and Inter-American bodies involving individuals transported on N379P and N313P. In 2007, a German court issued arrest warrants for North Carolina-based “ghost pilots” in connection with the detention and rendition of Khaled El-Masri, including the four pilots that operated N313P.
Domestically, however, there has been a glaring lack of accountability. Investigations in the United States have been compromised (e.g., via CIA destruction of videotapes of detainee interrogations) and limited in scope. And cases involving individuals connected to Aero-operated flights have not proceeded in U.S. courts due to claims of “state secrets.”
CHAPTER 2 : North Carolina’s Role in Torture :
Hosting Aero Contractors, Ltd.
Private companies were critical to the RDI program. From 2001 until 2004, Aero operated two aircraft owned by a series of CIA shell companies — a Gulfstream V originally numbered N379P and a 737 Boeing Business Jet originally numbered N313P — on behalf of the CIA. Aero used two airports in North Carolina for these purposes: Johnston County Airport (JNX) in Smithfield, N.C. for N379P and Kinston Regional Jetport (located in the Global TransPark, a facility run by the state Global TransPark Authority) for N313P.
Aero Contractors, a private company closely associated with the CIA, operated aircraft for the rendition program that were registered and re-registered to a series of dummy corporations also connected to the CIA. Aero supplied an estimated 40-50 pilots to fly the rendition missions, as well as other personnel for maintenance and administration of the aircraft.
Aero transported 49 individuals to interrogations in foreign custody and/or CIA custody in “black sites.” This includes 34 of the at least 119 individuals known to have been in direct CIA custody, and at least 15 more who were rendered by the CIA to foreign custody. In the period from September 2001 to March 2004, Aero was responsible for over 80% of identified U.S. government renditions.
In particular, the aircraft N379P is linked to 26 rendition circuits between October 2001 and March 2004, while the aircraft N313P was used for six rendition circuits between September 2003 and March 2004.
State officials allowed construction of a hangar purpose-built for the rendition aircraft N313P. Even after Aero’s role in the CIA program had come to light, local and state authorities continued to lease space to the company, provide public airport services and facilities for rendition flights, and provide grants to fortify the company’s perimeter at its airport headquarters. Local and state officials also have, to date, refused to investigate allegations of complicity by Aero Contractors in kidnapping and torture.
CHAPTER 3 : Other North Carolina Connections
to Post-9/11 U.S. Torture
Available evidence suggests that Blackwater employees provided security on CIA secret detainee transport flights during a period when Blackwater was headquartered in North Carolina.
There is an unconfirmed suggestion that Centurion Aviation Services, an aviation company based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, participated in RDI. Since the NCCIT itself is unable to ascertain all the facts, we urge the North Carolina state government to investigate.
Personnel at Fort Bragg, also in Fayetteville, were instrumental in the repurposing of techniques designed to protect American service personnel as techniques of torture.
Units under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), headquartered at Ft. Bragg, participated in activities constituting torture.
CHAPTER 4 : Who Were Those Rendered by Aero Contractors?
The NCCIT has compiled a database on the 49 prisoners known to have been transported for the CIA by Aero. The database includes the key facts that could be identified such as nationality, country of capture, Aero-operated rendition aircraft, flight logs, length and places of detention, current status, whether the detainee was ever charged with a crime and/or tried, and whether he or she has received restitution from any country. In addition, the NCCIT has obtained and published narratives on the cases of 37 of the 49 Aero-rendered individuals.
Those harmed by the RDI program were as young as 16 and as old as 56 at the time of their renditions. They came from countries around the world. They were held in CIA black sites, DoD facilities, and foreign proxy nations’ prisons. The one female was pregnant when she was seized, tortured, and rendered. Of the 49 prisoners, 13 remain in detention at Guantánamo, some for as many as 16 years and counting.
At least four of the 49 prisoners have died, one while in detention. Three were killed post-detention, the first in a re-capture operation after his escape, the second in a US drone strike, and the third in the conflict in Yemen. None of them received any acknowledgement or apology from the U.S government for their wrongful capture and torture before they died, nor have their families been acknowledged.
To date, neither the U.S. government nor its private partners have acknowledged to these detainees or their families, nor to any of the RDI victims and survivors, the irregular abduction, detention without charge or trial, and torture to which it subjected them. Nor have the U.S government and private companies such as Aero provided any form of financial compensation or other redress.
CHAPTER 5 : Rendition as Torture
The process of rendition itself was designed as an integral part of the overall CIA RDI program of creating learned helplessness by subjecting the victim to psychological and physical coercion and total lack of control. From the moment a rendition team seized an individual, the system was aimed at creating terror, pain, dread, and uncertainty. The intent of rendition was to set the psychological stage for subsequent interrogation and detention.
Beginning well before flights took off, rendition teams operating in complete silence deprived individuals of all control: hooding them and covering their ears, stripping them naked, beating them, performing forced body cavity searches, shackling with painful ankle and wrist restraints, diapering, forcibly inserting anal suppositories and administering involuntary sedation. Prisoners experienced several of these techniques as sexual assault, and the flights themselves as potentially leading to their deaths. These renditions constituted torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Despite U.S. assertions to the contrary, rendering individuals to foreign custody or CIA black sites violated the U.S.’s international legal obligations. These include the prohibition on torture and the duty of non-refoulement (the requirement not to deliver captives to a country where they are liable to be abused and/or tortured).
CHAPTER 6 : Ongoing Challenges for Survivors
Upon arrival at black sites or foreign proxy prisons, the RDI program of physical and psychological torture unfolded further. In addition to blindfolding, hooding, and physical assault, detainees were held in solitary confinement and in constant darkness, deprived of indication of time or day, subjected to temperature extremes and sleep deprivation, and exposed to painfully loud music. They were stripped naked and shackled for consecutive days, strung from the ceiling by their arms shackled behind the back, and forced into stress positions for prolonged periods. They suffered simulated drowning and other mock executions, prolonged isolation, threats of rape, anal “feeding,” cigarette burns to the body, slashing with a sharp object, and fondling of genitals.
he horrific ensemble of rendition, secret indefinite detention, and torture scarred victims deeply, often permanently. While in detention, several detainees attempted suicide, some multiple times. Survivors of RDI suffer long-lasting, even permanent, psychological effects. These consequences include PTSD; alternating between detachment and paranoia; difficulty interacting with and connecting to people, including family; and a “phobia of hope,” or a terror of thinking about the future.
The 13 Aero-rendered detainees who remain in detention at Guantánamo are now being subjected to indefinite detention and isolation, which aggravates psychological damage done by torture.
The impact of RDI on wives, siblings, parents, and children of victims is painful, and has touched entire communities. Former detainees face enormous challenges rebuilding family relationships and reintegrating into communities, including isolation in countries far from their places of origin, ongoing surveillance, and the suspicion that accompanies disappearance and unacknowledged secret imprisonment.
Former RDI detainees continue to have severe difficulties. Many have struggled to obtain official identification documents, maintain housing, open a bank account, or find employment.
CHAPTER 7 : Costs and Consequences of the CIA’s
Torture and Rendition Program
The U.S. government’s use of torture has undercut national security and hindered its ability to counter terrorism. It produced faulty intelligence that contributed to costly military involvement, harmed counterterrorism partnerships, and energized terrorist recruitment.
Torture and the lack of accountability for it have lowered the United States’ moral standing in the world, which in the past has been used to promote human rights, international cooperation, and the rule of law. As other nations have been held partially accountable, or have in a few cases held themselves accountable, for collaborating with the U.S. on torture and secret detention, the gap between the U.S. and other democratic nations on torture has widened.
Tolerance of official torture has degraded our society morally and spiritually. Most faith and philosophical traditions speak against torture and call for protecting the dignity of every human being. The practice of torture by our government, and the lack of consequences for those responsible, have contributed to undermining the civilized norms of American society.
U.S. torture has damaged the rule of law. It has interfered with efforts to hold perpetrators responsible for the violence committed against the United States on September 11, 2001 and other occasions.
The U.S. government’s insistence on attempting to hide its torture program from public scrutiny has prevented survivors from seeking redress for the wrongs committed against them. International law obligations have been flouted, and judicial independence weakened.
Surprisingly little effort has been made to understand the extent to which Americans’ unusually high level of acceptance of official torture may be based on racism against Muslims. Rectifying the abuses of RDI and efforts to counteract the dehumanization that occurred must include an official acknowledgment that it was aimed at Muslims.
North Carolina has been damaged by its facilitation of the U.S. torture program, including by making its citizens unwitting enablers of torture through the misuse of public airports.
CHAPTER 8 : North Carolina Public Opposition to
the RDI Program, and Officials’ Responses
North Carolina has witnessed continuous citizen activism against torture since 2005. Its aim has been to persuade local, state, and federal officials to investigate North Carolina’s involvement in the RDI program, in particular the role played by Aero, and to prevent further state participation in torture. In addition to North Carolina Stop Torture Now, others with key roles have included organizations and individuals from the faith, peace, civil liberties, academic, and legal communities.
Thousands of North Carolinians have advocated for action on the state’s role in torture to a range of authorities including local, state, and federal government officials, as well as to the United Nations and foreign governments. Citizen advocates have written letters and petitions to government officials; delivered a “people’s indictment” to executives of Aero and others; held vigils, marches, rallies and other visibility actions; conducted meetings with elected officials including governors, attorneys general, U.S. Congress members, and state legislators; organized educational conferences; published op-eds and letters in local and national media outlets; and obtained media coverage. This committed advocacy reached an international audience and contributed to the creation of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT), whose public hearings in 2017 were attended by over 200 people.
Official responses to North Carolina citizen advocacy have included public silence and non-responses, dismissals by state officials on grounds of lack of jurisdiction, and the monitoring and arrest of citizen advocates rather than investigation of Aero. Groups of citizens have twice been arrested for misdemeanor trespass after peaceful protesting at Aero headquarters. State, Johnston County, and Raleigh law enforcement officials have collaborated to monitor protestors.
State officials’ refusal to reject torture has left North Carolina’s public discourse and policy to local elected leaders sympathetic to the RDI program. The Johnston County Commissioners have publicly and repeatedly endorsed Aero and even torture. Those Commissioners and the Johnston County Airport Authority have repeatedly refused to adopt policies prohibiting torture-related missions from their airport.
State legislators have provided the only positive response to citizens, and it is now over a decade old. In 2006, 12 state legislators asked the SBI Director to investigate Aero Contractors and, following the SBI’s claim of a lack of jurisdiction, 22 state legislators wrote to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, refuting this claim and restating the call for investigation. In the 2007-08 session, legislators also introduced the related bills HB 1682, “NC No Place for Torture Act” and HB 2417, “Crimes of Torture and Enforced Disappearance,” but they were unsuccessful.
Official silence on the state’s involvement in torture continues: in response to public records requests sent by the NCCIT to a total of seven governmental entities, four have provided no records. These are the Governor’s office, the Johnston County Commissioners, Johnston County Sheriff Bizzell, and Johnston District Attorney Susan Doyle. Records delivered by the NC Department of Justice, the Global TransPark Authority, and the Johnston County Airport Authority reveal a consistent pattern of non-response to citizens’ requests for action.
CHAPTER 9 : North Carolina’s Obligations under Domestic and International Law,
The post-9/11 rendition, detention, and interrogation program violated the United States’ international law and treaty obligations. These obligations include the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as incommunicado detention. They also include the prohibition on transfer or refoulement of individuals to situations where they may be in danger of torture (e.g., rendition to foreign custody). Moreover, the obligations include the duty to impose accountability for rendition, secret detention, and torture, and the right to an effective remedy.
Legally, no war, no state of exception, and no imperative reason of national security can justify torture. Likewise, they cannot justify cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDTP), nor transfer to torture, enforced disappearance, or the failure to prevent, investigate, and punish these actions.
The U.S. government is liable for the actions of private individuals or entities acting under its instruction or control, including private companies such as Aero that appear to act effectively as an arm of the government.
The acts of Aero and its employees, agents and collaborators in North Carolina appear to have been taken in furtherance of an unlawful conspiracy to violate the Convention Against Torture and the federal Torture Law by systematically implementing the RDI program. In addition, offenses that were subject to the special aircraft jurisdiction of the U.S. took place during flights operated by these North Carolina co-conspirators.
The state of North Carolina has the jurisdiction to prosecute North Carolinian actors who conspired to carry out kidnappings and renditions through the RDI program.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation would have jurisdiction to investigate Aero’s role in RDI abuses if called upon to do so by law enforcement officers of the state and approved by the Governor.
Despite the clarity of the illegality, no law enforcement authority has accepted responsibility for investigating and prosecuting the crimes that originated on North Carolina’s soil. This failure to pursue justice is an important part of the persistent lack of accountability for the CIA RDI program.
the Basis for Federal and State Investigation, and the Need for Accountability