- By PAUL ELIAS | Associated Press Writer
- 5:34 PM CDT, April 28, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that a subsidiary of Chicago-based Boeing Co. can be sued for allegedly flying terrorism suspects to secret prisons around the world to be tortured as part of the CIA‘s “extraordinary rendition” program.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that a lower court judge wrongly tossed out the lawsuit after the government asserted the case was a “state secret” that would harm national security if allowed to go forward.
The trial court judge dismissed the case before the prisoners could present evidence allegedly showing that the company’s participation in the program was illegal. The Bush administration and then the Obama administration argued that the lawsuit should be thrown out before the government turns over any evidence because the nature of the legal action is itself a classified matter.
The federal government inserted itself into the lawsuit on the company’s side because it said feared top-secret information would be disclosed.
The appeals court, however, said the five prisoners suing San Jose-based Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. can try to prove their case without using top-secret information that legitimately needs protection from disclosure.
“Only if privileged evidence is indispensable to either party should it dismiss the complaint,” Judge Michael Hawkins wrote for the appeals court.
The prisoners’ attorney, Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling will give his clients a chance to prove their case, which was filed in 2007 and alleged torture in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“It is now 2009 and no torture victim has achieved justice or compensation,” Wizner said. “This finally puts us at the starting line.”
The government or the company could appeal the decision to a bigger panel of the 9th Circuit or ask the Supreme Court to review the ruling.
The Bush administration was widely criticized for its practice of extraordinary rendition — whereby the CIA transfers suspects overseas for interrogation. Human rights advocates said renditions were the agency’s way to outsource torture of prisoners to countries where it is permitted practice. Some of the prisoners allege they were tortured.
The Bush White House had said the U.S. does not engage in torture.
The Obama administration says it will continue to send foreign detainees to other countries for questioning but only if U.S. officials are confident the prisoners will not be tortured. The White House is reviewing the entire detention and rendition program.