For Immediate Release
Rachel Myers, (212) 549-2689 or 2666;
Federal Court Permits Landmark ACLU Rendition Case to Go Forward
Government Cannot Claim State Secrets to Deny Torture Victims Day in Court
NEW YORK - A
federal appeals court today ruled that a landmark American Civil
Liberties Union lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan
Inc. for its role in the Bush administration's unlawful extraordinary
rendition program can go forward. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court dismissal of the lawsuit, brought
on behalf of five men who were kidnapped, forcibly disappeared and
secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence
agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The
government had intervened, improperly asserting the "state secrets"
privilege to have the case thrown out. Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Ninth Circuit ruled, as the ACLU has argued, that the
government must invoke the state secrets privilege with respect to
specific evidence, not to dismiss the entire suit.
"This historic decision marks the
beginning, not the end, of this litigation," said Ben Wizner, staff
attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the case
for the plaintiffs. "Our clients, who are among the hundreds of victims
of torture under the Bush administration, have waited for years just to
get a foot in the courthouse door. Now, at long last, they will have
their day in court. Today's ruling demolishes once and for all the
legal fiction, advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the
Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be
deemed 'secrets' in a court of law."
In its ruling, the court wrote that
"the Executive's national security prerogatives are not the only
weighty constitutional values at stake," and quoted the Supreme Court's
decision in Boumediene v. Bush
that security depends on the "freedom from arbitrary and unlawful
restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adhering to the
separation of powers."
"The extraordinary rendition program
is well known throughout the world," said Steven Watt, a staff attorney
with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "The only place it hasn't been
discussed is where it most cries out for examination - in a U.S. court
of law. Allowing this case to go forward is an important step toward
reaffirming our commitment to domestic and international human rights
law and restoring an America we can be proud of. Victims of
extraordinary rendition deserve their day in court."
"I am happy to hear this news," said
Bisher Al-Rawi, a plaintiff in this case who was released from
Guantánamo last year without ever having been charged with a crime. "We
have made a huge step forward in our quest for justice."
In recent years, the government has
asserted the state secrets claim with increasing regularity in an
attempt to throw out lawsuits and justify withholding information from
the public not only about the rendition program, but also about illegal
wiretapping, torture and other breaches of U.S. and international law.
Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of Al-Rawi, Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel, Ahmed Agiza and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah.
In addition to Wizner and Watt,
attorneys in the lawsuit are Steven R. Shapiro and Jameel Jaffer of the
national ACLU, Ann Brick of the ACLU of Northern California, Paul
Hoffman of the law firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman
LLP and Hope Metcalf of the Yale Law School Lowenstein Clinic. In
addition, Margaret L. Satterthwaite and Amna Akbar of the International
Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law and Clive
Stafford-Smith and Zachary Katznelson represent plaintiffs in this case.
More information about the case is available online at: www.aclu.org/jeppesen
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.