“I don’t want to live in a country that acts this way”
February 10, 2012
Smithfield, N.C. — The small airport that houses what some here call Smithfield’s “dirty secret” lies just beyond the town’s outskirts, where tobacco warehouses and car dealerships give way to pine forests and then, abruptly, an imposing 10-foot-high fence.
Inside, in a metal hangar with its own security, is the headquarters of Aero Contractors Ltd., a private aviation company whose ties to the CIA have long inspired local speculation and gossip. Newspaper investigations and books have linked the firm’s planes to secret abductions, waterboardings and more, usually eliciting the same mute response from the occupant of Hangar No. 3.
These days, Aero’s jets are seldom seen in public, and the controversy over the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program — in which captured terrorist suspects were secretly transported to another country for interrogation — has vanished from the headlines in most of the country.
But not so here, where Aero’s operations have spawned a dogged opposition movement in its otherwise conservative, fiercely patriotic back yard. The protests continue to gather steam after six years, despite counter-demonstrations and occasional threats, and amid uncertainty over whether Aero is still involved in what critics alleged was a “torture taxi” business.