US court lets government halt torture lawsuit

The lawsuit challenged a controversial post-Sept 11 CIA rendition program.

Updated: Sep 09, 2010, 14:42 PM IST

San Francisco: A sharply divided federal appeals court on Wednesday threw out a lawsuit challenging a controversial post-September 11 CIA program that flew terrorism suspects to secret prisons.

The complaint was filed by five terrorism suspects who were arrested shortly after 9/11 and say they were flown by a Boeing Co subsidiary to prisons around the world where they were tortured. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals cited national security risks when it dismissed the men`s case in a 6-5 ruling on Wednesday.

The case could have broad repercussions on the national security debate as it makes its way toward the Supreme Court, and it casts a spotlight on the controversial "extraordinary rendition" program the Bush administration used after 9/11.

The Obama administration subsequently said it would continue to send foreign detainees to other countries for questioning, but rarely — and only if US officials are confident the prisoners will not be tortured.

The appeals court reinforced the broad powers of the president to invoke the so-called "state secrets privilege" to stop lawsuits involving national security almost as soon as they are filed.

"The attorney general adopted a new policy last year to ensure the state secrets privilege is only used in cases where it is essential to protect national security, and we are pleased that the court recognised that the policy was used appropriately in this case," Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

President George W Bush invoked the privilege at least 39 times during his administration, the most of any president in history, according to according to research by University of Texas, El Paso, political science professor William Weaver. Critics of the practice had hoped President Barack Obama would curtail its use and were disappointed when his administration continued defending the lawsuit after Bush left office.

The terror suspects sued Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan in 2007, alleging that the extraordinary rendition program amounted to illegal "forced disappearances”. They alleged that the San Jose-based subsidiary conspired with the CIA to operate the program.

A trial court judge quickly dismissed the lawsuit after the Bush administration took over defence of the case from Chicago-based Boeing and invoked the state secrets privilege, demanding a halt to the litigation over concern that top secret intelligence would be divulged.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court reinstated the lawsuit in 2009, but the full court overturned that ruling on Wednesday.

"We have thoroughly and critically reviewed the government`s public and classified declarations and are convinced that at least some of the matters it seeks to protect from disclosure in this litigation are valid state secrets," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the majority. "The government`s classified disclosures to the court are persuasive that compelled or inadvertent disclosure of such information in the course of litigation would seriously harm legitimate national security interests."

Bureau Report