US court allows rendition lawsuit against CIA contractor
The government says state secrets are at risk, but the 9th Circuit is allowing the case to proceed against a Boeing subsidiary that reportedly flew suspects to secret prisons.
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A federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that five men who say they were detained and tortured as part of the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition" program can proceed with a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary they say was involved in their ill-treatment.
The ruling was a setback to efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations, which both supported throwing out the lawsuit on the grounds that it risked revealing state secrets.The case is shaping up to be a landmark, as it is the first lawsuit filed by former detainees in the rendition program against a private company allegedly implicated in torture and illegal detention.
That firm is Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, of San Jose, Calif., which the San Francisco Chronicle reports was identified as the CIA's "aviation services provider" in a 2007 Council of Europe report.
The controversial program centered on the practice of detaining suspected terrorists without warrants or legal proceedings and taking them to secret CIA-run prisons, or foreign countries such as Egypt or Syria, for often violent interrogations. The Chronicle reports that the Bush administration always argued it did not transfer suspects to foreign countries unless it had received assurances that torture would not be used.
The Bush administration strongly opposed lawsuits brought by former detainees, saying they reveal state secrets such as interrogation methods or government involvement with subcontractors. In February, the Obama administration supported that view, reported ABC News.
The court said the nation's laws apply to all its programs, including those that involve state secrets.
"According to the government's theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law," Judge Michael Hawkins said in the 3-0 ruling.
Allowing the government to shield its conduct from court review simply because classified information is involved "would ... perversely encourage the president to classify politically embarrassing information simply to place it beyond the reach of judicial process," Hawkins said.