A federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that five men who say they were detained and tortured as part of the Bush administration's "extraordinary rendition" program can proceed with a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary they say was involved in their ill-treatment.
The ruling was a setback to efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations, which both supported throwing out the lawsuit on the grounds that it risked revealing state secrets.The case is shaping up to be a landmark, as it is the first lawsuit filed by former detainees in the rendition program against a private company allegedly implicated in torture and illegal detention.
That firm is Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, of San Jose, Calif., which the San Francisco Chronicle reports was identified as the CIA's "aviation services provider" in a 2007 Council of Europe report.
Said the court:
"According to the government's theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law," Judge Michael Hawkins said in the 3-0 ruling.
Allowing the government to shield its conduct from court review simply because classified information is involved "would ... perversely encourage the president to classify politically embarrassing information simply to place it beyond the reach of judicial process," Hawkins said
"As the founders of this nation knew well, arbitrary imprisonment and torture under any circumstances is a 'gross and notorious ... act of despotism,' " Hawkins said, citing language from a 2004 Supreme Court decision.