SJ company in court over CIA secret prisons

February 9, 2009 7:35:40 PM PST
It was a big disappointment Monday for civil libertarians and human rights activists, when in a hearing in San Francisco's Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, President Barack Obama's administration walked in lock step with the Bush administration in a landmark torture case.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Ben Wizner walked out of the courtroom frustrated and disappointed.

"This whole idea that this lawsuit involves state secrets is a farce and a fiction," Wizner said.

Wizner represents five men, including one who is still be held at Guantanamo Bay, who claim they were kidnapped by the CIA and flown to secret prisons on flights coordinated by San Jose-based, Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan.

"The government's position is that these torture allegations can be published in newspapers, can be discussed around the world, can be investigated by foreign governments, but federal courts in the United States have to close their eyes and ears to what the entire world already knows," Wizner said.

Wizner's clients are trying to sue Jeppesen Dataplan for its part in cooperating with the CIA program.

Two and a half weeks ago, President Obama ordered an end to the CIA prisons and the program, but Monday in court lawyers for the government continued the Bush administration argument that the lawsuit should be dismissed to protect state secrets.

Justice Department lawyers would not comment on camera.

"There is extraordinary evidence showing that Jeppesen was involved in this project; there are receipts, invoices, flight manifests, all with Jeppesen's name on it," Trevor Paglen said. Paglen is the author of "Terror Taxi," an investigation of the secret prisons and the private jets used to shuttle suspected terrorists.

A spokesperson for Jeppesen Dataplan said the company has no comment on the hearing, or the allegations of the company's involvement with the CIA.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said, "It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs had hoped for change.

"It can't be in this country that we have a president who abolishes torture but then closes the door to any victim who tries to enforce that abolition," Wizner said.

The three judge panel that heard Monday's arguments gave no word on when they might rule.

The precedent for the government's claim of state secret protection dates back to the Cold War and the case United States v. Reynolds, a landmark and controversial case.

Click here to read mark Matthews blog about the history of the state secrets privilege.