Victims Of CIA "Torture Flights" Deserve Their Day In Court
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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SAN JOSE, CA - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan for its role in the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program on the grounds that the government misused the "state secrets" privilege to have the case thrown out. Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was dismissed in February after the government intervened, inappropriately invoking the privilege to avoid legal scrutiny of an unlawful program.
"The government once again abused the state secrets privilege to avoid judicial scrutiny of an illegal program," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU. "It's time for the courts to exercise some much needed oversight, stop bending to White House pressure, and hold government officials and unscrupulous contractors accountable for breaking the law. The victims of extraordinary rendition deserve their day in court."
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of five men who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The lawsuit charges that Jeppesen knowingly aided the program by providing flight planning and logistical support services for aircraft and crews used by the CIA.
Judge James Ware of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the lawsuit after the government sought to intervene, contending that litigation of the case would reveal "state secrets" and harm national security. However, the ACLU's lawsuit cited abundant evidence that was already in the public domain, including a sworn affidavit by a former Jeppesen employee and flight records confirming Jeppesen's involvement. The ACLU today appealed Judge Ware's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
"The so-called state secrets in this case are no secret at all," said Steven Watt, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The evidence needed to move forward with this lawsuit is already available to the public, and it seems the only place it is not being examined is where it most cries out for review - in a court of law."
It has been 50 years since the United States Supreme Court last reviewed the use of the "state secrets" privilege. The privilege has historically been used to exclude discrete pieces of evidence from trials, but in recent years the government has asserted the privilege with increasing regularity in order to block entire lawsuits and justify withholding information from the public about rendition, illegal wiretapping, torture, and other breaches of U.S. and international law.
In October 2007 the Supreme Court refused to review the "state secrets" privilege in a lawsuit brought by ACLU client Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German citizen who was kidnapped while on vacation with his family and subjected to detention, interrogation and torture at a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan and released without ever being charged with a crime.
Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of rendition victims Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel, Ahmed Agiza, Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah and Bisher Al-Rawi.
In addition to Wizner and Watt, attorneys in the lawsuit are Steven 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 of the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law represents Bashmilah, and Clive Stafford-Smith and Zachary Katznelson represent Mohamed.
The ACLU's brief is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/35861lgl20080630.html
Other documents related to the lawsuit, including press releases, legal documents and background information, are at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/rendition.html