North Carolina is bound to act on torture


By Deborah Weissman


It took more than a decade after the inauguration of the “War on Terror” for the United States to acknowledge egregious human rights violations through its torture and extraordinary rendition program.  Notwithstanding the admission, the failure of elected officials to hold individuals complicit in these programs accountable might suggest that the United States and the world have moved on. 

In fact, new developments have reset the starting point for obtaining accountability and reparations for torture.  In late 2014, the United States appeared before the UN Committee Against Torture, pledged unequivocally to uphold the Convention Against Torture, and agreed that no exceptions that could be claimed.  Indeed, torture is prohibited by the terms of the treaty; international law requires that accountability and reparations must be provided when the prohibition is violated.  Are we not to take the words of the government, given solemnly and unequivocally, as true?  These developments require us to press for the long-awaited accountability for the wrongdoings perpetrated by the torture program.


The landscape of accountability has shifted through the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee “Torture Report,” which corroborated what anti-torture advocates had claimed since the “War on Terror” began.  Despite its redactions, with the declassification of the factual account of the torture program, the government can no longer stand on its claim of state secrets in an attempt to deny torture victims the right to a remedy for the harms they have suffered.

There have also been important developments on a global level as human rights institutions continue to pursue transparency and remedy.  Decisions by international and foreign courts, especially in the UK and Australia—nations with which we share fundamental legal principles—have affirmed the obligations of nations to investigate torture and to hold accountable those responsible for such acts.  The European Court of Human Rights has issued decisions condemning torture and extraordinary rendition and proclaiming the rights of victims to obtain remedy and reparations.   These cases demonstrate that justice for victims of torture and extraordinary rendition is possible through adjudication, and negate the proposition that such adjudication endangers national security. 

The issue of torture and extraordinary rendition will persist until settled through compliance with the law.  That brings us to the responsibilities of North Carolina and its political subdivisions.  North Carolina has served as a hub for extraordinary rendition.  A report endorsed by international human rights experts revealed the ways in which North Carolina, its political subdivisions, and Aero Contractors, a corporation based in Johnston County, NC and housed at the Johnston County Airport, were directly and indirectly responsible for carrying out kidnapping and torture.  International law obliges North Carolina to investigate, hold those responsible for torture accountable for their acts, and provide reparation to the victims. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Convention Against Torture—the latter two treaties signed and ratified by the United States—prohibit extraordinary rendition and torture by any state, group, or person. 

Human rights treaties were written with the expectation that they would be implemented regionally and locally. They provide a set of standards to which local governments must adhere in administering their own laws and policies.  States and local governments are indispensable for the implementation of human rights treaties.  Where the United States has a formal obligation to comply with international law, the United States Constitution's Supremacy Clause states that “all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

North Carolina has not been prevented from acting because of the federal government’s refusal to act.   Officials have suggested that North Carolina can take no action in matters of foreign affairs.  However, extraordinary rendition and torture are unlawful acts that should not be confused with foreign policy within the purview of the federal government.  It is time for the state of North Carolina to comply with its human rights obligations.


Deborah Weissman is the Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law at University of North Carolina. There she was the Director of Clinical Programs at UNC School of Law from January 2001 through July 2010. Weissman serves as an Executive Committee member for The Consortium in Latin American Studies, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, and as a member of the Advisory Board with The Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina. In 2013, she received the Frank Porter Graham Award from the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union for outstanding civil rights work. With her students, Weissman published a report The North Carolina Connection to Extraordinary Rendition in 2012. She is also a member of the NCCIT Advisory Board.


Faith actions and opposing torture: acting out our faith


By Wes Hare, for the Church of Reconciliation and the New Hope Presbytery Peacemaking Committee


For years, many organizations in North Carolina have struggled with CIA detainees being transported by the U.S. government using aircraft and pilots based in Johnston County, NC.  People of faith in local churches and related action groups have established a new local initiative to bring this practice to light and seek justice.  Let’s celebrate and support this with our energy and resources.

First, a reminder of our nation’s continued denial of its torture legacy.  In a detailed report released Dec. 1, 2015, Human Rights Watch identifies a legal basis for prosecution of government officials.  In “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” HRW calls on the U.S. Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct criminal investigations of those responsible for post-9/11 torture. The report also calls for the release of the full Senate Torture Report, most of which remains classified.

Among those HRW calls on to be criminally investigated for their roles in authorizing torture are leading figures of the George W. Bush administration, including former CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice — and Bush himself.

While chances for such an investigation are currently remote, there is a glimmer of hope:  the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT) and other groups won a big victory when President Obama signed into law a bill to permanently ban CIA torture.  The FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires CIA interrogations to follow humane standards spelled out in the Army Field Manual, and requires International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees.  It also creates a procedure for updating the Field Manual with our best understanding of effective, humane interrogation techniques that do not involve the use or threat of force. 

This permanent ban on CIA torture is an important moral step forward for the nation.  Crucially, it was bi-partisan.  A Republican Congress joined with a Democratic President to end CIA torture forever.  People like yourself, from many different faiths, led the way by calling, with one united voice, for an end to torture. 

Now onward to North Carolina.  Specifically, the rendition flights, many of which took off from Johnston County Airport, are of unique concern to us because the airport is within the bounds of our neighborhoods.  What is our leaders’ response to the Senate Torture Report?  Governor Pat McCrory, other NC political government leaders, and North Carolina’s U.S. Senators have refused to act for greater transparency or accountability.

Enter the new local approach.  The NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) is a non-governmental initiative to create the transparency for North Carolina’s role in CIA torture that our state and local governments have refused to recognize and support.  NCCIT is drawing on local churches for action and financial support. 

One such local response comes from the Church of Reconciliation or “the Rec,” a local Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill.  The Session of the Rec has approved $3,000 as requested and prepared with Rec support, and led by Janie Lee Freeman and the Rec’s Justice and Peace Committee.  Janie has been the moving force behind years-long flying of the Rec’s anti-torture banner.  This NCRAT banner has delivered our Church’s position, and now the New Hope Presbytery Peacemaking Committee has sent NCCIT $3,000 in financial support at the Rec’s request.  

NCCIT has presented this challenge to all of us.  Now it is up to us to rally a broader range of local faith-based resources to NCCIT so all of us can exert more pressure and get commitments from North Carolina’s leadership to bring this out into the public.

It seems clear, but won’t be without a struggle….

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation . . . want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. [. . .]  Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.  The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
          -   Frederick Douglass, August 3, 1857

"All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
          - President Barack Obama, January 12, 2011


Wes Hare is a member of the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC,  and Moderator of the New Hope Presbytery Peacemaking Committee in Raleigh, NC. He is also the Co-Chair of the “Rec’s” Justice & Peace Committee. Hare is retired, but works as a crossing guard at Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill . He also walks & harvests abandoned Golf Balls and donates them to the area ALS Jim “Catfish” Hunter Chapter's annual “Catfish Classic Golf Tournament."