North Carolina Torture Report - a Timely Reminder that Investigation of Rendition Flights is Still Needed at Shannon

On September 27th, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) released a ground breaking report on North Carolina's involvement in the CIA torture program. The Commission which was made up of policy experts, academics, and community leaders was doing a job their government refuses to do, which is to investigate North Carolina's involvement in the US torture program and prevent it from happening again.

The report begins as follows:

In the years following 9/11, North Carolina was used as a staging ground to launch flights that picked up suspected terrorists abroad and transported them to CIA "black sites" and third-party countries where they were illegally detained and tortured. Declassified documents and news reports have confirmed that the CIA front company Aero Contractors, which is headquartered in the state, used North Carolina's aviation infrastructure and public airports to launch these "torture taxi" flights in support of the United States' Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program.

The US government 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." According to the report, the CIA held at least 119 detainees in ten CIA prisons in six country locations between 2002 and 2008.

These unlawful renditions were conducted with the authorization, facilitation, and participation of three main actors: the US government, foreign states, and private actors. The government authorized and coordinated the renditions through the use of "rendition teams" that included medical personnel 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,

Two planes in particular that were used by Aero were N379P and N313P. These Gulfstream V turbojets were both recorded at Shannon Airport on numerous occasions. For example, N379P landed there on 22 July 2002 on its return journey to the US after taking Binyam Mohammed to Morocco where he was tortured.

According to testimony provided to the Commission Aero reportedly rendered "at least 49 individuals, and likely more, including to interrogations in foreign custody and/or CIA custody in "black sites." This figure is based on 32 identified circuits that are linked to 69 individual renditions (individuals were sometimes rendered more than once on Aero aircraft).  Aero's two aircraft reportedly "rendered prisoners into the CIA black site network from a number of locations around the world, including Egypt, The Gambia, Morocco, Malawi, Iraq, UAE, Jordan, Djibouti, and Macedonia."

According to testimony, Aero Contractors aircraft were "central to the rendition of so-called 'High-Value Detainees' (HVDs) between CIA 'black sites.' Many HVDs were held in multiple 'black sites,' and were rendered between them on numerous occasions."

In addition, the North Carolina Stop Torture Now group has identified a further 77 flight circuits undertaken by N379P and N313P between September 11, 2001 and June 10, 2005 that resemble rendition circuits (e.g., involve countries that hosted CIA "black sites").

We don't know how many of the Aero rendition flights passed through Shannon Airport, or if they had detainees who were being taken to CIA black sites on board at the time. But we can be sure that some did.

Besides Aero Contractors, the Commission identified Blackwater and Centurion Aviation as two NC-based private corporations with possible connections to the RDI program According to flight logs from the Federal Aviation Administration and Eurocontrol that the NCCIT obtained, Centurion operated two aircraft that visited locations key to the RDI program while that program was in operation. The aircraft had tail numbers N475LC and N478GS.

These were also regular visitors to Shannon. The European Parliament's Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners (TDIP) included them on a list of planes used by the CIA for extraordinary renditions and described their numerous stopovers there.

The NCCIT report concludes that instead of holding Aero accountable, the State of North Carolina and Johnston County have effectively endorsed renditions and human rights abuse. The same is true of the authorities responsible for Shannon Airport. They have obligations to report the transit of rendition flights through the airport for investigation under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Irish government also has responsibilities. A decade on from the last of the reported rendition flights it should now finally conduct a full investigation into what went on at Shannon, and in cases where the conduct breaches national and international law, take action to prosecute those responsible.

We await such an outcome.


The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture report is available at http://nctorturereport.org/. 

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