ACLU Opposes Government’s Attempt to Throw Out Rendition Case Under Guise of "State Secrets"

December 14, 2007 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed legal papers opposing the CIA’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. for its participation in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. The ACLU charged that the U.S. government is improperly invoking the “state secrets” privilege to avoid judicial scrutiny of this unlawful policy.

“Once again, the CIA is seeking to cut off judicial inquiry in order to avoid accountability for its illegal torture policies,” said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Legal Department. “The government’s motion, which purports to protect the nation from disclosure of information that the entire world already knows, is a cynical attempt to cover up an illegal and immoral program under the guise of national security.”

Today’s filing comes in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of the rendition program who were kidnapped and secretly transferred by the CIA to U.S.-run overseas prisons or foreign intelligence agencies where they were interrogated and tortured. According to the lawsuit, Jeppesen knowingly provided flight planning and essential logistical support to aircraft and crew used by the CIA for the clandestine rendition flights. After the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. government intervened to seek its dismissal, contending that further litigation of the case would be harmful to national security. However, the information needed to pursue this lawsuit, including details about the rendition program, is already in the public domain.

Jeppesen’s involvement in the program is also a matter of public record. It has been confirmed by extensive documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony, including the sworn declaration of former Jeppesen employee Sean Belcher, which was submitted in support of today’s ACLU filing. Belcher reports that Bob Overby, a senior Jeppesen official, announced at a company meeting for new employees that Jeppesen did “all the extraordinary rendition flights,” which he then described as “torture flights.” According to Belcher, Overby added, “Let’s face it, some of these flights end up this way,” and spoke about how profitable these flights were.

“Five men have been brutally abused with the help of a U.S. corporation, and they deserve their day in court,” said Steven Watt, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “Jeppesen must not be given a free pass for its profitable participation in a torture program.”

It has been 50 years since the United States Supreme Court last reviewed the use of the “state secrets” privilege. In recent years, the government has asserted this 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. The Supreme Court recently refused to review the “state secrets” privilege in a lawsuit brought by Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen also represented by the ACLU, who was kidnapped and rendered to detention, interrogation, and torture in a CIA “black site” prison in Afghanistan.

The Jeppesen lawsuit was brought on behalf of five rendition victims: Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel, Ahmed Agiza, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, and Bisher Al-Rawi.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In addition to Wizner and Watt, attorneys on the Jeppesen lawsuit are national ACLU Legal Director Steven Shapiro, Jameel Jaffer of the national ACLU, Ann Brick of the ACLU of Northern California, Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, and Hope Metcalf of the Yale Law School Lowenstein Clinic. In addition, Margaret L. Satterthwaite of the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law represents Bashmilah, and Clive Stafford-Smith and Zachary Katznelson represent Mohamed.

A copy of the ACLU’s brief can be found online at:

A copy of the declaration of Sean Belcher can be found online at:

More information on the ACLU’s lawsuit against Jeppesen, the rendition victims it represents, and other work in its fight against rendition can be found online at:

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