[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
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.
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
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
"This is a case," the ACLU lawyer said, "where I would be surprised
if the Obama administration were to support arguments that the Bush
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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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