[Ppnews] Rendition case in S.F. to test Obama policies

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 9 12:15:27 EST 2009

Rendition case in S.F. to test Obama policies

<mailto:begelko at sfchronicle.com>Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, February 9, 2009

(02-08) 17:05 PST -- The public is likely to get its first close look 
at the Obama administration's policies on torture, secrecy and 
prisoners' rights in a San Francisco courtroom today, when federal 
judges press a government lawyer for a position on the practice known 
as extraordinary rendition.

Five men - one now imprisoned in Egypt, one in Morocco, one at 
Guantanamo Bay and two who have been released without charges - are 
asking the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a lawsuit 
that accuses a San Jose flight-planning company of helping the CIA 
transport them to overseas dungeons for interrogation and torture.

The suit against Jeppesen Dataplan, a Boeing Co. subsidiary, has 
never gone to trial. The Bush administration intervened and persuaded 
U.S. District Judge James Ware to dismiss the case in February 2008 
on the grounds that allowing it to proceed could expose state secrets 
and harm national security.

The Justice Department has urged the appeals court to uphold Ware's 
ruling, saying that if the case goes to court, it could disclose 
ultra-sensitive information - the CIA's alleged relationship with a 
private company, its methods of holding and interrogating suspected 
terrorists, and the alleged cooperation of foreign governments. The 
department filed a supporting brief containing classified information 
under seal.

Obama's course unclear

But those arguments were made when George W. Bush was president. The 
American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs suing 
Jeppesen, is looking for President Obama to reverse course.

"The administration should unequivocally reject the Bush 
administration's abuse of the state secrets privilege and permit this 
case to go forward," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. "Victims of 
extraordinary rendition deserve their day in court."

Extraordinary rendition refers to the practice of abducting suspected 
criminals and terrorists without any extradition or legal 
proceedings, and taking them to foreign countries or CIA prisons for 
detention and interrogation.

The Bush administration, which used the practice extensively, 
maintained it never took a prisoner to a foreign country without 
first obtaining assurances that no torture would be used.

But there is considerable evidence that some prisoners were treated 
harshly, including the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian seized by U.S. 
agents at a New York airport in 2002 and flown in shackles to his 
native Syria - a nation with a record of torturing prisoners.

Arar, who is not involved in the case before the Ninth Circuit, was 
returned 10 months later to Canada. That nation eventually paid him 
$10 million, finding he had been picked up by mistake and tortured. 
The United States still bars him from entering this country.

Plaintiffs allege torture

The five plaintiffs in the Jeppesen case also allege that they have 
been tortured in captivity. One of them, Binyam Mohamed, a British 
resident now held at Guantanamo, was the subject of an international 
uproar last week when Britain's high court said it could not release 
details of his treatment at Guantanamo because Washington had 
threatened to stop cooperating with London on intelligence.

The State Department sent a message of thanks to the British 
government after the ruling, but it's not clear whether the message 
reflected the Obama administration's position.

Jeppesen provides a variety of flight-planning services. A Council of 
Europe report in 2007 identified the company as the CIA's aviation 
services provider. A court declaration by a former Jeppesen employee 
quoted a company director as telling staffers in August 2006 that the 
company handled torture flights.

The suit accuses Jeppesen of arranging at least 70 flights for the 
CIA since 2001, including those of the five plaintiffs.

No secret

In opposing the government's bid for dismissal, the ACLU argued that 
the rendition program is not a secret, noting that Bush and other top 
officials openly defended the program.

The Justice Department, now led by Obama-appointed Attorney General 
Eric Holder, has not withdrawn its predecessor's written arguments in 
the case or asked for a postponement to reconsider its position. 
Department spokesman Charles Miller said he had no information on 
what stance the department would take at today's hearing.

A possible clue came in Thursday's Senate Intelligence Committee 
testimony by Leon Panetta, the former California congressman 
nominated by Obama to head the CIA. He said the president would 
prohibit "that kind of extraordinary rendition when we send someone 
for the purpose of torture or actions by another country that violate 
our human values."

But Panetta endorsed rendition to send someone to another country to 
face prosecution.

On the other hand, Wizner said Obama's executive order to close 
secret CIA prisons should curb some of the past abuses.

He said he was also heartened by the president's endorsement of 
international laws against torture - in contrast with the Bush 
administration's narrower definitions - and Obama's promise of an 
open government.

"This is a case," the ACLU lawyer said, "where I would be surprised 
if the Obama administration were to support arguments that the Bush 
administration made."

E-mail Bob Egelko at <mailto:begelko at sfchronicle.com>begelko at sfchronicle.com.


This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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