Boeing Co. Invokes National Security to Avoid Claims It Was Travel Agent for Torture Flights

In a 6-5 ruling, judges of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco yesterday "reluctantly" concluded that five men cannot sue the Boeing Co. for the role its Seattle subsidiary played in helping kidnap and torture the onetime suspected terrorists. Boeing and the Obama administration sought the ruling, which turned on the issue of national security and potential exposure of secrets.

Ben Wizner, an attorney for the alleged victims, says the decision means the government has "closed its courtroom doors to torture victims."

After 9/11, the CIA, using a modified, Renton-built 737 as part of its "extreme rendition" squadron, ferried the five foreigners and other suspected terrorists to secret prisons with Jeppesen Inc. acting as its travel agent. Jeppesen Dataplan, a unit of Boeing's Seattle-based Commercial Aviation Division, cleared the airways and runways for the CIA, providing landing and navigation assistance, scheduling flight crews, and booking hotels for the flight team.

As Seattle Weekly reported in 2006, the cargo of CIA/Boeing prisoners included many who say they were tortured and others who claim to have been mistakenly abducted and abused. One detainee, Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese decent, was injected with a drug and chained to the floor of the plane, Wizner, of the New York ACLU, told us. "I don't think anybody would hold Boeing responsible for manufacturing the plane. However, the emergence of [Boeing's flight-assistance role] changes all that."

Said Judge Raymond C. Fisher, who wrote yesterday's appeals court majority opinion:

This case requires us to address the difficult balance the state secrets doctrine strikes between fundamental principles of our liberty, including justice, transparency, accountability and national security. Although as judges we strive to honor all of these principles, there are times when exceptional circumstances create an irreconcilable conflict between them.

The U.S. and Boeing contended that litigating the lawsuit would expose government and military secrets that could benefit U.S. enemies, though many details of the covert extreme rendition flights have already been reported. Nonetheless, the case could not go forward because the court cannot order the U.S. to "disentangle" innocuous information from what is secret, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The alleged victims plan to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. But they did win a small victory from the 9th Circuit: Judges ordered the pay all parties' legal costs.

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