Obama Administration Seeks To Keep Torture Victims From Having Day In Court

June 12, 2009

Justice Department Asks Court For Rehearing In Extraordinary Rendition Lawsuit Against Boeing Subsidiary

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NEW YORK – The Justice Department today argued that the victims of the "extraordinary rendition" program should not have their day in court, asking a federal appeals court to block a landmark case the court had earlier ruled could go forward. In April, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan Inc., for its role in the Bush administration's unlawful "extraordinary rendition" program could proceed, but today the government asked the appeals court's full panel of judges to rehear that decision.

"The Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration's shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. "The CIA's rendition and torture program is not a 'state secret;' it's an international scandal. If the Obama administration has its way, no torture victim will ever have his day in court, and future administrations will be free to pursue torture policies without any fear of liability."

In April, the appeals court reversed a lower court dismissal of the lawsuit, brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped, forcibly disappeared and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The Bush administration had intervened, improperly asserting the "state secrets" privilege to have the case thrown out. The appeals court ruled, as the ACLU has argued, that the government must invoke the "state secrets" privilege with respect to specific evidence, not to dismiss the entire suit.

"The extraordinary rendition program is well known throughout the world. The only place it hasn't been discussed is where it most cries out for examination – in a U.S. court of law," said Steven Watt, a staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "Attempts to keep this case from moving forward fly in the face of Obama's promise to reaffirm our commitment to domestic and international human rights law and restore an America we can be proud of. Victims of extraordinary rendition deserve their day in court."

In recent years, the government has asserted the "state secrets" claim with increasing regularity in an attempt to throw out lawsuits and justify withholding information from the public not only about the rendition program, but also about illegal wiretapping, torture and other breaches of U.S. and international law.
 
Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of Al-Rawi, Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel, Ahmed Agiza and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah.

In addition to Wizner and Watt, attorneys in the lawsuit are Steven R. Shapiro and Jameel Jaffer of the national ACLU, Ann Brick of the ACLU of Northern California, Paul Hoffman of the law firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP and Hope Metcalf of the Yale Law School Lowenstein Clinic. In addition, Margaret L. Satterthwaite and Amna Akbar of the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law and Clive Stafford-Smith and Zachary Katznelson represent plaintiffs in this case.

More information about the case is available online at: www.aclu.org/jeppesen

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