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April 28, 2009: Appeals Court Rejects ‘State Secrets’ Argument in Torture Lawsuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstates the case of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, overruling strong objections from the Obama administration (see February 9, 2009), which argued that the case risked revealing “state secrets.” The New York Times writes that the verdict “deal[s] a blow to efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to claim sweeping executive secrecy powers.” Five victims of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program are suing Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, for assisting the CIA with its transfer flights to and from secret overseas detention sites. The former detainees are joined in their suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A lower court had previously ruled in the government’s favor while President Bush was in office; the Obama administration supported the Bush administration’s position. The logic of the state secrets privilege, the appeals court panel writes, “simply cannot stretch to encompass cases brought by third-party plaintiffs against alleged government contractors for the contractors’ alleged involvement in tortious intelligence activities. Nothing the plaintiffs have done supports a conclusion that their ‘lips [are] to be for ever sealed respecting’ the claim on which they sue, such that filing this lawsuit would in itself defeat recovery.” The ACLU had argued that there was no compelling reason to prevent the victims from bringing suit against a government contractor who allegedly assisted in their torture. The pursuit of those claims would not necessarily endanger state secrets. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Government Asked for Immunity from Oversight, Court Finds - Repudiating the state secrets claim in the case, the appeals court adds: “The [government’s position] has no logical limit—it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government activities from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.” [Salon, 4/28/2009]
Civil Liberties Advocates Celebrate Verdict - Civil liberties correspondent Daphne Eviatar calls the decision “a huge victory, not only for the five victims themselves, but also for many civil liberties advocates.” Former civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald calls the government’s position a “radical secrecy theory” that should have been repudiated in its entirety. “Today’s decision is a major defeat for the Obama [Justice Department]‘s efforts to preserve for itself the radically expanded secrecy powers invented by the Bush [Justice Department] to shield itself from all judicial scrutiny,” he writes.
Further Actions Possible - The Obama administration has the option to ask for another appeals court hearing, ask that the Supreme Court review the decision, or accept the ruling. Greenwald is certain it will ask for another appeal. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; Salon, 4/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, Glenn Greenwald, Central Intelligence Agency, Obama administration, Daphne Eviatar, Jeppesen Dataplan, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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