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Alleged torture victims' lawsuit dismissed on secrecy grounds

September 8, 2010 | 12:34 pm

Five foreign men who claim they were kidnapped and tortured by the CIA had their lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary dismissed Wednesday by a sharply divided federal appeals court because of the danger of state secrets being revealed at trial.

The suit brought against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. of San Jose sought to hold the defense contractor responsible for alleged civil rights abuses committed during counter-terrorism operations conducted by U.S. intelligence forces. Jeppesen reportedly supplied the flight services and other assistance to CIA interrogators who conducted the "extraordinary rendition" program.

In a 6-5 ruling by the full U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the majority agreed with U.S. Justice Department assertions that the case shouldn't go forward, even on the basis of unclassified evidence already revealed to the public.

The majority of the court said it reached the conclusion "reluctantly" that the claims of the five men couldn't be decided at trial because of the risk of courtroom disclosures damaging U.S. national security. The judges pointed out that the plaintiffs could seek other forms of compensation or congressional redress now that "our decision forecloses at least one set of judicial remedies."

Five judges joined in a dissenting opinion, arguing that to dismiss the men's claims before a court could evaluate their merits was an extreme application of case law to the government's assertion of the state-secrets privilege.

The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the plaintiffs said the 9th Circuit ruling would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had a day in court," said Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney. "If this decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers."

Charles S. Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the government had no comment on the ruling.

In the 55-page majority opinion, the judges repeated in exacting detail the plaintiffs' claims of having been stripped, beaten, subjected to electrical shocks and laceration of genitals in the CIA's interrogation of foreign subjects suspected of having information about terrorist attacks.

-- Carol J. Williams