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‘State Secrets’ Strikes Again

The government’s “state secrets” argument was back in full force yesterday, this time being made by the Justice Department before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in the ongoing case against Jeppesen Dataplan, a Boeing subsidiary. Jeppesen is accused by five alleged victims of the Bush administration’s “extraordinary rendition” program of assisting the CIA in transporting them to places where they’d be interrogated under torture.

Although the men did not sue the government directly, the Bush administration intervened in the case two years ago and convinced a judge to dismiss all claims on the grounds that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would reveal sensitive “state secrets” and endanger national security.

The plaintiffs appealed, and the Obama administration has adopted its predecessor’s position, arguing before the appellate court that allowing the five men the opportunity to prove their case would jeopardize national security. At the same time, the administration claims it has ended the program of “extraordinary rendition,” whereby terror suspects are abducted in one location and sent to another country for interrogation, where they are likely to be tortured. The administration says it still renders suspects to other countries, but only for legitimate court proceedings. Nevertheless, it has insisted that any information about the Bush administration’s program would pose a current danger.

That argument doesn’t sit well with the plaintiffs in the case, like Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who says he was kidnapped by CIA agents in Pakistan and flown to Morocco and Afghanistan, where he was brutally tortured into falsely confessing to crimes he did not commit.

In court yesterday, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner, representing the five men, argued that it was absurd to suggest that allowing the truth about the program to come out, while still protecting any classified evidence, would endanger national security.

“The facts of this case are known throughout the world,” Wizner said. The Bush administration’s CIA directors had previously testified about the rendition program, and President George W. Bush had acknowledged it. As for the plaintiffs involved in the case against Jeppesen, the Swedish government has already apologized and offered to compensation one of the plaintiffs who was seized from Sweden, where he had sought asylum. The plaintiff claims he was taken to Egypt, where he was tortured with electrical shocks.

Whoever wins this round before the Ninth Circuit could still seek review from the Supreme Court.

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