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US Battling CIA Rendition Case in 3 Courts
The Obama administration is fighting on multiple fronts - in courts in San Francisco, Washington and London - to keep an official veil of secrecy over the treatment of a former prisoner who says he was tortured at Guantanamo Bay.
The administration has asked a federal appeals court in San Francisco to reconsider its ruling allowing Binyam Mohamed and four other former or current prisoners to sue a Bay Area company for allegedly flying them to overseas torture chambers for the CIA.
Obama administration lawyers also argued that Mohamed's attorneys had violated secrecy procedures by writing a letter to President Obama, accompanied by a blacked-out document, asking him to disclose their client's treatment. A federal judge ordered Mohamed's lawyers to answer contempt-of-court charges in May that were punishable by up to six months in jail, but has since dropped those charges.
Most recently, a British government lawyer told her nation's High Court last month that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had threatened to limit U.S. intelligence-sharing with Great Britain if the court disclosed details of Mohamed's treatment in Guantanamo.
The British court declared in August 2008 that there was evidence Mohamed had been tortured, but deleted the details from its public version of the ruling at the Bush administration's insistence.
The court is now considering requests from lawyers for Mohamed and the news media to make the details public in a case over alleged British participation in his mistreatment.
According to a transcript of the court's July 29 hearing, Lord Justice John Thomas said there was "nothing in the paragraphs (about the U.S. government's treatment of Mohamed) that could conceivably identify anything that is of a national security interest."
Mohamed, 30, an Ethiopian refugee and British resident, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and turned over to U.S. authorities as a suspected terrorist and Taliban fighter. He said he was tortured in Morocco, where guards slashed his genitals with a razor blade, and in a CIA prison in Afghanistan, where he was beaten, hung from a pole and held in darkness and isolation. He was sent to Guantanamo in September 2004.
He and four other men have sued Jeppesen Dataplan, a San Jose subsidiary of the Boeing Co., for its alleged role in arranging their flights for the CIA. A Council of Europe report in 2007 described Jeppesen as the CIA's aviation services provider.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated the suit in April, rejecting arguments originally made by the Bush administration that the case posed grave risks to national security. Obama administration lawyers endorsed those arguments at a hearing in February and have asked the court for a rehearing.
Mohamed's lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith and Ahmad Ghappour of the British human-rights group Reprieve, were threatened with jail after drafting a letter to Obama in February urging him to release the evidence of their client's treatment in U.S. custody or to authorize Britain to do so.
The lawyers said a Defense Department review team refused to let them provide a summary of the classified evidence to Obama, so they sent him a blacked-out sheet instead and released both documents to the press. But government lawyers said Mohamed's attorneys misled the review team about their plans and misled the public by accusing the team of concealing information from the president.
Citing the government's accusations, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan of Washington ordered Mohamed's attorneys to appear before him in May and face contempt charges, punishable by up to six months in jail, for allegedly violating terms of the agreement that allowed them to gain access to Guantanamo prisoners.
But after further arguments, Hogan said there had been misunderstandings by both sides and no violation. The Justice Department declined comment on the case last week.