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A Times Editorial

Court impedes bid for justice by detainees

One of the more disgraceful chapters in the fight against terrorism under the Bush administration was the use of extraordinary rendition, a CIA program that secreted prisoners to overseas prisons where they would be interrogated and often tortured and abused. Now a sharply divided federal appellate court has allowed the Obama administration, under broad claims of national security, to block the lawsuit brought by five men who were held. That gives the executive branch and its contractors an easy way to avoid accountability, and it limits the judiciary's ability to check the excesses of government.

What these men claim they suffered is horrific. Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen and legal resident of Britain where he lives now, recounts in the lawsuit being arrested in Pakistan, handed over to the CIA, and being flown to Morocco where authorities there broke his bones during beatings, cut him with a scalpel all over his body, and poured "hot stinging liquid" into the open wounds. He claims that after 18 months he was flown to Afghanistan in American custody and kept in prison in nearly total darkness.

Mohamed and the other plaintiffs sued Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for its alleged complicity in the abuse by arranging extraordinary rendition flights for the CIA. One of the company's own officials described them as "torture flights." The Obama administration, following on the lead of the Bush administration, claimed that allowing the case to go forward would result in the disclosure of sensitive national security information. Given that as a candidate Obama denounced Bush's lack of transparency and disregard for the rule of law, as president he's shown a distressing willingness to adopt Bush-era policies.

There are undoubtedly sensitive details about covert operations that should not be heard in open court or even necessarily shared in full detail with federal judges. But classified information is routinely handled by the federal courts and there are special procedures in place to prevent disclosure.

Yet the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, reversing an earlier decision, dismissed the entire case earlier this month in a 6-5 opinion. Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the majority that the case is "a painful conflict between human rights and national security." Then the court sided with the government's claims of needed secrecy over the plaintiffs' ability to seek redress in court.

The plaintiffs said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but if the high court takes the case there is no guarantee that it will put things right.

Court impedes bid for justice by detainees 09/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 8:09pm]
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