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The people of North Carolina want to talk about their state being used for torture. Do the Democratic candidates?

If we're going to talk about the state of the country, we need to talk about this

Christina Cowger
North Carolina
,Azadeh Shahshahani
Wednesday 26 June 2019 23:59 BST

Will any of the Democratic candidates use the debates tonight and tomorrow to announce plans for countering Islamophobia, white supremacy, and impunity for torture? We hope so — because in the US at the moment, accountability is sorely needed.

In North Carolina, community members are currently seeking official recognition of their state’s role in CIA renditions to torture — precisely because they know that only accountability will prevent further enforced disappearances and torture targeting members of marginalized communities, including Muslims. A groundbreaking citizen-led inquiry panel has determined that the CIA used North Carolina to conduct at least 69 rendition missions. At least 49 Muslim men and women were abducted and ferried to CIA black sites or foreign proxy prisons using North Carolina-based planes.

“I still get nightmares,” Fatima Boudchar said about her ordeal of CIA abduction, torture and rendition from Thailand to Libya in 2004. She was five months pregnant at the time, and while the UK has apologized for its supporting role in her abuse, the US has not.

Sadly, neither Republican nor Democratic governors of North Carolina have been willing to publicly condemn the use of systematic government torture. Nor have they refused to assist it with public infrastructure. Today, the day when torture victims and survivors are recognized around the world, people of conscience and faith are holding a vigil outside the Raleigh office of Governor Roy Cooper. They are calling on the governor to acknowledge his state’s role in the torture program and ensure it is not repeated.

The US torture program is repugnant not only for the lives it has ruined, but also for what it says about our society. As the North Carolina report says, “Senior US officials who have defended the CIA torture program are also associated with anti-Muslim organizations and individuals, and demonization of Muslims has become increasingly common in American political discourse.”

Dehumanizing Muslims leads to their targeting without widespread public condemnation. The Muslim ban was introduced because it has allowed Trump and his ilk to stoke the fires of Islamophobia and white supremacy among supporters.

Trump made clear his intent to halt the entry of Muslims into the US during his presidential campaign. Even after he became president, he continued on this Islamophobic rampage by retweeting racist (not to mention misleading) videos from a British hate group.

His Muslim ban, as upheld by the Supreme Court last year on this day, indefinitely limits entry into the US from five majority-Muslim countries. The ban has kept family members from the affected countries indefinitely apart, including husbands and wives.

“You have to wait. How long? No one knows. Why? No one knows. Give me a time? A year? Five years? Ten years?” said Ashkan Ghafari, a 30-year-old Iranian man, who has been waiting for more than a year to reunite with his US-based wife.

Meanwhile, the waivers that were supposed to allow people from the banned countries facing hardship to travel to the US if they met certain conditions have proven to be a joke. Only six per cent of people affected by the ban are getting waivers, according to data from Reuters.

Chuck Schumer breaks down talking about Trump's 'Muslim ban'

A Yemeni mother, Shaima Swileh, was even kept from seeing her dying two-year-old son, Abdullah Hassan, after her waiver was denied. It was only after a public backlash after the story went viral that she was granted a waiver and allowed to see her son just before he died.

We hope the Democratic presidential candidates will raise these vital concerns. The Muslim ban and other reprehensible anti-Muslim policies must be repealed. The full Senate torture report should be released, and the US must acknowledge and provide redress to those who have suffered torture.

Above all, both federal and local officials who have helped implement Islamophobic policies such as the Muslim ban and the torture program must be held accountable.

Dr. Christina Cowger is the Coordinator of NC Stop Torture Now and board member of the NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture; she tweets @ChristinaNCSTN.

Azadeh Shahshahani is Legal & Advocacy Director at Project South and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild; she tweets @ashahshahani.

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