Picking Up Carolina’s Torture Trash
Today was a good day to think about torture. And a good day to do something about it. Like picking up the trash.
Why today? Well, actually any day is a good day for to do something about it, and especially in the USA, where the public keeps getting quick glimpses of the rotted, stinking remains of the American torture program of the previous decade. And reminders of its potential for renewal.
Mostly it’s just snatches of horror, that flash by on their way to being shoved under the rug of impunity, and stuffed down the memory hole of forgetting & “Looking Forward.”
This past week there were several such awful glimpses, from a dump of newly-released stomach-churning CIA documents. But we won’t, you know, dwell on them.
Here in North Carolina, tho, a stubborn handful of us have refused to forget. For almost eleven years, we’ve done all sorts of protests aimed at tearing holes, even tiny ones, in the fabric of forgetting. We’ve tried conferences, rallies, marches, petitions, reports, you name it.
And almost four years ago, we added a new tactic: picking up the trash.
But not just any trash. We (aka North Carolina Stop Torture Now) successfully applied to the NC Adopt-A-Highway program, to pick up trash in front of the spot that most directly & continuously connects NC with the past (& future?) US torture program. That would be the public airport in Johnston County.
(Johnston County is in the eastern part of the state, about 20 miles from Raleigh, the Capitol. If you’ve ever driven I-95 through NC, you’ve passed through the county & near the airport.)
So on a Saturday morning every quarter, a motley crew of us shows up outside this airport. We don safety vests, open up big trash bags that are orange or blue (for recyclables), and get started. June 18 was one of those Saturdays.
In return, the state has posted signs with the group’s name along the road, which we suspect are not pleasing to the biggest employer on the route, a “company” named Aero Contractors. The air quotes are because we’re confident that Aero is a front for the CIA, and has been a principal cog in the torture machinery. (There’s plenty of evidence for this, which is summarized at our website.)
We put up makeshift signs too. And our cleanup takes us right past the long driveway into the Aero complex.
This driveway, actually a public street, used to be wide open. We drove and marched up it numerous times, and more than once got photos of planes that were verified as being transports for torture victims.
Can’t do that anymore. Big new gates have gone up, and closed it off. Now you need special passcodes to get past. From Washington, the president has told us that torture is over, kaput. But then why has the Aero Contractors complex grown much larger in the years since, and added multiple layers of security?
This on top of a clear policy of (so far) total impunity for torturers, and those who told them to torture. (And BTW, torture was illegal, a federal felony criminal offense, the whole time. Still is.)
We’re under no illusions that our periodic picking up of old bottles, cans, weathered sales flyers, fast food wrappers, the odd condom & other debris does much to undermine this impunity, or prevent the return of torture. That may be the worst thing about impunity: how do you stop torture from returning if there’s no penalty for doing it? How do you end impunity if it comes from the top?
But the cleanups do have one redeeming feature: they help us remember that our main task right now is not to forget, and to prod a sleeping public about their dangerous stupor. Someday they may wake up. It’s happened before: we’re both heartened and warned by reports this spring about a former Argentine dictator being jailed for torture & murder of his own citizens. And the arrest of a former Chilean for the torture & murder of singer Victor Jara. We’re heartened because accountability happened; warned because it took forty-plus years.
Those abuses happened decades ago; but impunity finally crumbled. There was a lot of trash to be picked up before that happened.