Torture and Abuse in Egypt: The North Carolina Connection

January 29, 2011

N227SV plane used in rendition flights.
N227SV plane used in rendition flights.

News that after five days of protests Omar Suleiman has been named vice president of Egypt is a reminder that the abuses that drove the people into the streets there had too much assistance from America, including right here in my home of North Carolina.

According to journalist Stephen Grey, Suleiman was the Egyptian conduit for the US extraordinary rendition flights closely linked to torture.  Many of those flights took off from an airport in Johnston County, NC, less than an hour from my home in Durham.  Grey’s book Ghost Plane starts with the journey of one such Johnston County flight that led to the rendition and torture of two Egyptian men, one of who was later released without ever being charged with a crime.

Grey writes that Suleiman approved these flights, part of a system of torture that Amnesty International calls systematic.  “Egypt then came in for much criticism,” Grey writes.  “Its record both on human rights and on repressing democracy was lambasted annually by both Congress and the State Department.  But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman … did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do themselves.”

I was also reminded of the Johnston County flights when I received reports this week from people in Cairo of the tear gas canisters being used against them.  Made in the USA, the canisters said.

When you are watching the footage of the Egyptian people in the street, showing their frustration of 30 years of tyranny and abuse, it’s safe and appropriate to feel solidarity with them.  But it’s not enough.  To support the people in Cairo trying to change those abuses, we in the US and in North Carolina must end our own policies and acts that have sustained them.