A federal court said on Tuesday that “rendition” victims could sue a company involved in their detainment, rejecting government pleas that the case should be halted on national security grounds.
The 3-0 ruling by a panel of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstates a suit brought by five men, who say they were kidnapped and sent to secret overseas sites for interrogation and torture.
A federal judge originally threw out the suit, based on arguments by the administration of former US president George W. Bush.
Though US President Barack Obama’s administration has condemned the interrogation techniques authorized by Bush, he has angered civil rights activists by maintaining the same position in this case.
Unless the Obama administration succeeds in getting Tuesday’s ruling overturned, a lawsuit could proceed against California-based Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, which is accused of knowingly providing services that enabled rendition flights for the CIA.
Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who argued the case in February, welcomed the ruling.
“It demolishes once and for all the legal fiction, advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be deemed ‘secrets’ in a court of law,” Wizner said.
“Our clients, who are among the hundreds of victims of torture under the Bush administration, have waited for years just to get a foot in the courthouse door. Now, at long last, they will have their day in court,” he said.
US Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment, saying the department was reviewing the court’s ruling.
“Extraordinary rendition” involved abducting suspected criminals and terrorists without legal proceedings, and then taking them to foreign countries or CIA prisons. The Bush administration claimed it never took a prisoner to a foreign country without first being assured no torture would be used.
Judge Michael Hawkins wrote in Tuesday’s ruling that “the subject matter of this lawsuit is not a state secret” and said that the government could take steps to protect legitimate secrets as the case proceeds.
Two of the five men who brought the suit are still imprisoned, one in Morocco and one in Egypt, while the three others were released without charges from the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
One of the men, Bisher al-Rawi, praised the ruling. He was released from Guantanamo last year.
“We have made a huge step forward in our quest for justice,” Rawi said in a statement released by the ACLU.