As the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged it had erroneously denied using British territory to transport victims of “extraordinary rendition,” a federal court bowed to pressure from the Bush administration to dismiss a case against a Boeing subsidiary being sued for providing the aircraft that carried the suspected terrorists.
The U.S. and British governments revealed last week that two American. "extraordinary rendition" flights carrying terrorism suspects refueled on U.K. territory on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in 2002. Both governments had repeatedly denied that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had ever used British airspace or territory for the secret flights.
Meanwhile, a Federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against a subsidiary of the Boeing Company, Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. for the company’s alleged role in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program.
The suit charged that Jeppesen knowingly aided the program by providing flight planning and logistical support services for aircraft and crews used by the CIA to transport victims to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas, where they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques and torture.
The government successfully intervened to block the suit, arguing that litigation of the case would reveal “state secrets” and harm national security. The Bush Administration has increasingly used the so-called State Secrets Privilege to block lawsuits.
The judge rejected the ACLU’s claim that “abundant evidence” was already in the public domain, including a sworn affidavit by a former Jeppesen employee and flight records confirming Jeppesen’s involvement. It was unclear whether the ACLU would appeal the verdict.
In a related development, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on the bipartisan State Secrets Protection Act, which would require courts to examine classified evidence instead of dismissing cases on the word of the perpetrators themselves, and would prohibit any dismissal prior to discovery. The measure has been introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, the committee’s ranking member.
These developments came on the heels of congressional testimony by a controversial Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyer, Steven G. Bradbury, during which he admitted that Bush administration allowed CIA interrogators to use tactics that were "quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening," but did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to qualify as torture.
President George W. Bush has nominated Bradbury to head the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), of which he is now acting chief. He is the author of several DOJ memoranda purporting to establish a legal basis for the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques. Waterboarding is generally defined as “simulated drowning.”
OLC, one of the DOJ’s most influential offices, drafts legal opinions of the Attorney General and also provides its own written opinions. The Office also is responsible for providing legal advice to the executive branch on all constitutional questions and reviewing pending legislation for constitutionality.
In surprisingly direct testimony before a House of Representatives committee, Bradbury described in grim detail how the administration regulated the CIA's use of aggressive tactics and offered new details of how waterboarding -- simulated drowning -- was used to compel disclosures by prisoners suspected of being al-Qaeda members.
He denied that the CIA’s waterboarding techniques were similar to the "water torture" used during the Spanish Inquisition and by the security services of dictatorial governments during the 20th century. He said it was subject to "strict time limits, safeguards, restrictions" and that no water entered the lungs of the three “high value” prisoners who were subjected to the practice in 2002 and 2003.