Back to News & Commentary

No Beverage Service

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Share This Page
June 4, 2007

Huge news last week. And see ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero on HuffPo talking about the torture flights.The ACLU, for the first time, has brought suit against a private company, retained by the CIA to provide travel arrangements and flight services for the transfer of detainees to foreign countries for interrogation (read: torture, a tactic also known as “extraordinary rendition”). The company, Jeppesen, is a subsidiary of Boeing Co., which hasn’t been named in the suit.The ACLU filed the action on behalf of three detainees (one in Gitmo, one in Egypt and one in Morocco) who were “rendered” to foreign countries at the behest of the CIA with Jeppesen providing logistics. Once turned over, they were tortured. All remain in custody.You gotta love the company’s spin:

The ACLU filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., enabled the clandestine transportation of three terrorism suspects to secret overseas locations where they were tortured and subjected to other ”forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.””We don’t know the purpose of the trip for which we do a flight plan,” said Mike Pound, a spokesman for Englewood, Colo.-based Jeppesen.”We don’t need to know specific details. It’s the customer’s business, and we do the business that we are contracted for,” he said. ”It’s not our practice to ever inquire about the purpose of a trip.” The company had no immediate comment on specifics of the lawsuit.

Ah, willful blindness. Here’s what a former executive told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that another executive said at a board meeting: “We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights — you know the torture flights. Let’s face it, some of these flights end up that way.”Irrespective of what they knew and when they knew it, there’s a weightier issue with the Jeppesen suit, one that is sure to come out as the case progresses. Consider this: the CIA has access to its own planes. Moreover, it can borrow aircraft from the military, as it does often when conducting covert operations. Why, then, did it outsource the torture flights and logistical support for those flights (provided by Jeppesen)?By my lights, you’ve probably got two things going on. First, it provides an added level of compartmentalization (that is, “need to know”-style internal classification). You can keep the circle of initiates who know about the flights far tighter than if you had to go through the CIA or military bureaucracy. Second, some of the more conservative lawyers in the administration (your David Addingtons, say) might be arguing that, just like Blackwater in Iraq, the use of private contractors insulates the government from some liability were it to be sued for the renditions.Incidentally, the whole thing is a little reminiscent of the “Enterprise” during Iran-Contra, which also involved the co-option of private commercial firms to do the government’s bidding, all in an attempt to keep something ultra-secret and above the law. Bad news then. Bad news now.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page