Extraordinary rendition in North Carolina's backyard

For years now, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been known to use small private airplane companies to transport terrorism suspects illegally. The practice, known as extraordinary rendition, tasks civilian planes with transporting suspected terrorists captured in foreign lands to third-party countries for interrogation and detention. A recent report charges a private airline in North Carolina with carrying out these illegal missions, and activists are calling on state officials to hold this company accountable.

Extraordinary rendition is prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, which was ratified by Congress in 1992. The method intentionally circumvents due process and countries receiving suspects often engage in torture. Extraordinary rendition in the US began under President Clinton, but, rather unsurprisingly, the program's use has exploded since September 11, 2001.

Aero Contactors Ltd., located in Smithfield, North Carolina, has been suspected of carrying out these illegal, inhumane tasks for many years. An article back in 2005 demonstrates the company's role in these missions:

[University of Munich Law Professor] Nolte examined the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who American officials have confirmed was pulled from a bus on the Serbia-Macedonia border on Dec. 31, 2003, and held for three weeks. Then he was drugged and beaten, by his account, before being flown to Afghanistan.

The episode illustrates the circumstantial nature of the evidence on C.I.A. flights, which often coincide with the arrest and transporting of Al Qaeda suspects. No public record states how Mr. Masri was taken to Afghanistan. But flight data shows a Boeing Business Jet operated by Aero Contractors and owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, one of the C.I.A.-linked shell companies, flew from Skopje, Macedonia, to Baghdad and on to Kabul on Jan. 24, 2004, the day after Mr. Masri's passport was marked with a Macedonian exit stamp.

Mr. Masri was later released by order of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser at the time, after his arrest was shown to be a case of mistaken identity.

The report conducted by the University of North Carolina School of Law proves that Aero has been involved intimately with extraordinary rendition and that the state has been complicit in allowing the company to carry out these illegal missions.

Professors from UNC Law and activists with North Carolina Stop Torture Now delivered the report to Governor Bev Perdue and NC Attorney General Roy Cooper with the expectation that the state will prosecute Aero for its crimes. Cooper had repeatedly refused to investigate Aero's involvement with extraordinary rendition, but the latest report further substantiates longstanding claims.

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