On his first full day in office, President Obama addressed his senior staff and cabinet secretaries with remarks that included the following:
The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served.Music to ears of civil libertarians everywhere, and it's especially welcome news to five men who are the ACLU's clients in our extraordinary rendition lawsuit. These men were kidnapped by the CIA and transported to countries where they were tortured. Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of the Boeing Company, provided the planes and flight planning services that enabled their rendition. The ACLU sued Jeppesen, charging that the company actively participated in the extraordinary rendition program by providing these services to the CIA to transport these five men.
[…]Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."
As in our previous extraordinary rendition case on behalf of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, the district court in the Jeppesen case allowed the government—then under the Bush administration — to invoke the state secrets privilege, and accepted its claim that hearing the case in open court would jeopardize national security.
Well, the ACLU will return to court next month, and the Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar penned an excellent article about how the upcoming oral arguments in this case will test the Obama administration's commitment to transparency, and opposition to torture. Eviatar writes:
The test of those commitments will come soon in key court cases involving CIA "black sites" and torture that the Bush administration had quashed by claiming they would reveal state secrets and endanger national security. Legal experts say that the Bush Department of Justice used what's known as the "state secrets privilege" — created originally as a narrow evidentiary privilege for sensitive national security information — as a broad shield to protect the government from exposure of its own misconduct.Mark your calendars: Oral arguments in Jeppesen are scheduled for February 9. When Eviatar contacted the Justice Department about whether they would change their position in the case, they declined to comment. So it's wait-and-see time: we're hoping for a complete 180 from the new DOJ, and that our clients will finally see their day in court.