Torture Taxi Action Report

by David Taylor

I was hoping to see someone else write a substantive post about yesterday’s action in Smithfield, North Carolina. Here I’ll share my experience/observations in lieu of a report from someone more intimate with the details. I think it’s important that awareness be raised on this issue for several reasons. First and foremost because torture is illegal and inhumane. Secondly because our Governor, to my knowledge, hasn’t taken any real steps to end the complicity of the state of North Carolina and county of Johnston with Aero Contractors by allowing the torture taxis to be based in Kinston and Smithfield apparently without question. Whatever good the CIA and AERO may have done is being overshadowed by a grievous series of events involving renditions and torture.

I got up early Monday to drive to Smithfield where I met with organizers and participants of a planned frontal approach to AERO CONTRACTORS who lease space at the Johnston County Airport. You may not know that 3 employees of AERO CONTRACTORS have been indicted by the government of GERMANY for their participation in the kidnapping and rendition of a German citizen, Khaled El-Masri. He is of Lebanese descent – not Iraqi, Iranian, Pakistani nor Afghani. Heck, he isn’t even Saudi like most of the folks who supposedly perpetrated the 911 attack on the WTC.

His story began on Dec 31, 2003 when he boarded a bus in Ulm, Germany for a holiday in Skopje, Macedonia. When the bus crossed the border, Macedonian officials confiscated his passport. He was detained in a hotel in Macedonia and interrogated for 23 days. On January 23, 2004, a group of CIA agents beat, drugged and bound Mr El-Masri and transported him to a secret CIA facility in Afghanistan on a flight operated by AERO CONTRACTORS. The CIA continued to hold Mr El-Masri incommunicado in inhumane conditions, even though his innocence became apparent within two months of his abduction. Five months after his abduction he was taken to Albania and released on a hill in the middle of the night, without ever having been charged with a crime. To this day he has not received an apology or an explanation for the treatment he suffered. His case is only one of the known. How many are not known remains to been seen.

That’s why nearly 40 people assembled at the front gates of Aero Contractors in an attempt to serve citizens’ warrants on Aero Contractors Limited and 3 of their pilots known only by their aliases: Capt. James Faring, Eric Matthew Fain and Kirk James Bird. The warrant demands that the directors of Aero Contractors direct those employees operating under those aliases to surrender themselves to Mark Rick, Chief Division Counsel for the Charlotte office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI), to learn how best to provide their fullest cooperation with an ongoing FBI investigation into Aero Contractors’ role in the kidnapping, extrajudicial detention and torture of Mr Khaled El-Masri.

Upon the groups’ approach to the main gate Christina Cowger, Coordinator of North Carolina Stop Torture Now, tried to communicate with the office via the intercom setup there at the entrance. There is a camera and a voice box at that site expressly for such purposes. To my knowledge there was no response from Aero Contractors’ office. What did happen is that a deputy sheriff approached the group from INSIDE the facility and began conversation with Ms Cowger and others through the barbwire topped chainlink gate & fence. Requests were made to deliver the citizens’ warrants to the Aero Contractors’ office. The deputy said that he would speak with the Aero office and see what happened. Shortly he returned to inform the group that Aero would not accept anything from the group and would not engage in conversation with the group. He asked that we not affix signs or posters to the gate or fence and said that as long as the group was peacefully assembled we should have a nice day.

About this time a truck arrived hauling lawn care equipment. It pulled over to a secondary gate which is close by the front entrance. Having been there before I knew it was likely that they’d open that gate to let him in. It was announced that people who had expressed interest in gaining access to the facility and possibly being arrested for such entry might wish to go through that gate which was about to open. About half of the group immediately approached the other gate and several folks entered the site when it was opened to allow the truck/trailer to enter. Immediately that area was blocked by several sheriff’s vehicles and deputies. The deputies quickly corralled the activists and held them in custody. Some folks, at this point, were allowed to exit the site. Two young females, one 12 and one 16, were seemingly confused by the approach of a deputy who was outside the compound and went back inside where they were taken into custody. There were zip-strip “cuffs” placed on all but the 12yr old who was loosely handcuffed with metal cuffs. There was little conversation between the outside group and the deputies despite repeated attempts by the protestors. Also during this time two other vehicles arrived, both with blackened windows. I’d have to look at the pictures to determine exactly how many law enforcement officials were involved at this point but it appeared there were more lawmen than activists. One “enforcer”wore a leather jacket with POLIZEI embroidered on the back. POLIZEI is German for POLICE. Curious that he remained back to us most of the time, almost as if flaunting his German connection somehow. I wonder if he was part of the crewinvolved in the abduction of Mr El-Masri?

The intruders were packed into a van and driven away from the scene through another gate to Smithfield and the Johnston County Courthouse/jail. Several of the protestors went there to see about extricating the arrestees from jail. I stayed for a while and conversed with several of the folks whom I hadn’t met previously. The 12yr old female was released while I was still there. Late yesterday evening I got a report that everyone else had been released on their own recognizance after being charged with 2nd degree trespassing. Patrick O’Neill, father of the 12yr old, was also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Today’s N&O ran this article :

There’s also a about 30 seconds on DEMOCRACY NOW about 9 minutes into today’s (10April)program.

One thing I found a bit comical was when I questioned the driver of the black Suburban if he worked for BLACKWATER he gruffly replied as if insulted, “NO! CIA!!” I would have loved for him to have personally heard my remark that “it’s a shame the Blackwater guys get paid so much more than Government employees for doing the same dirty work.” Given the Bushie penchant for privatizing everything it may not be much longer before the CIA is subcontracted to Blackwater too.

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