ACLU Sues San Jose Firm; CIA 'Rendition' Role Alleged

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ACLU Sues San Jose Firm; CIA 'Rendition' Role Alleged

by
Bob Egelko

SAN FRANCISCO - A San Jose subsidiary of Boeing Co. was accused in a lawsuit Wednesday of providing crucial technical support for CIA flights in which captives were taken to foreign countries and tortured.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of three men who remain in prison -- one in Morocco, one in Egypt and one at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after earlier incarceration in Morocco and Afghanistan. The suit accuses the San Jose company, Jeppesen International Trip Planning, of violating international law by enabling the CIA to secretly take the men to countries known to torture prisoners.

Jeppesen provides a variety of flight planning services, including routing, weather forecasting, fueling, obtaining landing permits and arranging ground transportation. The suit says the company has supplied those services to the CIA for the agency's program of "extraordinary rendition'' -- taking terrorism suspects to countries beyond the reach of U.S. law for imprisonment and interrogation.

Since 2001, Jeppesen has arranged at least 70 flights at the CIA's direction to "countries such as Morocco and Egypt, which the whole world knows use torture in a routine fashion,'' ACLU attorney Steven Watt said at a news conference in New York. Without the participation of companies such as Jeppesen, he said, "the program could not have gotten off the ground.''

Mike Bounds, a spokesman at Jeppesen Inc. corporate headquarters in Englewood, Colo., said the company does not violate international law. He declined to comment further, saying the firm's arrangements with its customers are confidential.

The CIA did not respond to an inquiry about the suit. Bush administration officials have said they transfer suspects to other countries only after receiving assurances that the inmates will not be tortured.

Others who allege they were flown by the CIA to foreign nations and tortured have tried to sue the U.S. government, without success. One plaintiff, Khaled el-Masri, a German, said he was abducted in Macedonia in December 2003, flown by the CIA to a secret prison in Afghanistan for five months of interrogations and beatings, then set free on a hillside in Albania after his captors realized they had the wrong man.

A U.S. appeals court in Richmond,. Va., upheld the dismissal of his suit in March, on the ground that CIA secrets might be revealed if the case proceeded. On Wednesday, the ACLU, which represents al-Masri, asked the Supreme Court to hear his case and review the Bush administration's increasing use of the state-secrets defense to scuttle lawsuits about clandestine programs.

A related issue is pending before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which is reviewing a federal judge's refusal to dismiss a lawsuit by AT&T customers accusing the company of illegally giving the government access to their phone records and e-mails.

That suit, like Wednesday's case, was filed only against the company. But the Bush administration intervened on AT&T's side and sought dismissal, saying details of its electronic surveillance program must remain secret.

The plaintiffs in Wednesday's suit are:

-- Binyam Mohamed, 28, an Ethiopian arrested in Pakistan in 2002. The suit said he was flown by the CIA to Morocco and held for 18 months of beatings, mutilation and interrogation, in which he was told to admit that he had met with Osama bin Laden. After further imprisonment at U.S. installations in Afghanistan, where he was kept in darkness, beaten and hung from poles, he was taken to Guantanamo in September 2004 and remains there without charges, the suit said.

-- Abou Britel, 40, an Italian citizen of Moroccan descent, who was also arrested in Pakistan in 2002. He confessed to being a terrorist after a month of beatings, threats and sleep deprivation, then was flown by the CIA to Morocco, blindfolded and chained to the floor, wearing a diaper and a torn T-shirt, the suit said. He was released after more than eight months in prison, arrested again several months later, signed another confession under torture and was convicted of terrorist activities in 2003, the suit said. An Italian judge ruled in September that Britel had committed no crimes, but he remains in a Moroccan prison.

-- Ahmed Agiza, 45, an Egyptian who sought refuge in Sweden after an Egyptian military court convicted him of belonging to a banned organization. He was denied asylum in December 2001, based on secret information and political pressure from U.S. officials, the suit said, quoting a Swedish parliamentary investigation. Flown to Egypt by the CIA, he was subjected to beatings and electric shocks, was convicted again by a military tribunal in 2004 and remains in prison, the suit said.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

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