The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia, U.S. on August 14, 2008.

© 2008 Reuters

There’s been no justice for victims of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s rendition, torture, and secret detention program created after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. But a unique citizen-led initiative in North Carolina is refusing to let the issue die. This week, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, a nongovernmental group, will hold public hearings to examine the State of North Carolina’s role in the notorious CIA rendition program.

One focus of the hearings will be Aero Contractors, a North Carolina-based aviation company that operated two planes known to have ferried a number of men in CIA custody to secret “black sites” and to the custody of other governments, where they were then tortured. Several media reports also allege that Aero Contractors was a CIA front company that used fictitious names, addresses, and documents to carry out its operations. 

Fueled by the failure of North Carolina officials to investigate the state’s role, state residents formed the commission of inquiry – a panel of policy experts, academics, and community leaders. It will hear testimony later this week from CIA rendition victims and their family members, doctors, and lawyers, as well as representatives of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch’s testimony will focus on our 2012 report, “Delivered Into Enemy Hands,” about the US transfer back to Libya of at least nine opponents of then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who had been living abroad. Aero Contractors planes were used in at least three of these rendition flights. One of them carried Saleh Hadiyah Abu Abdullah Di’iki, who had been taken into custody by the CIA in Mauritania, and eventually transferred to a CIA black site in Afghanistan before being sent back to Libya. He later described being held for months by the CIA in a rat-infested cell where he was painfully shackled, forced to remain nude, and held in stress positions.

The US government has done nothing to hold accountable those responsible for the CIA program that involved the brutal torture of scores of men at secret sites around the world. This failure remains a blight on the US record. But the North Carolina commission shows that concerned citizens can still make their voices heard, demand accountability, and perhaps serve as a model for others.