Obama's "Disgraceful Abandonment" of Civil Liberties in Extraordinary Rendition Case

Update, 2:00PM PST: John Schwartz, the New York Times reporter whose excellent work I've often blogged on the space/sci/tech beat, recently became the paper's national legal correspondent. He was in the courtroom for this hearing, and filed what may be the most definitive report right here: Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets. Sorry for not catching this in the original post.- XJ

The Wall Street Journal may have said it best today: "On State Secrets and Rendition, Holder Holds the Bush Line." Or, NPR — "Deja Bush." Yesterday, the Obama administration invoked the "state secrets" privilege when opposing the reinstatement of a lawsuit alleging that a Boeing unit flew detainees to countries where they were tortured as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

The Washington Post has a quick roundup here, but read Glenn Greenwald's coverage at Salon for the most thorough coverage I've found: "Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability — resoundingly and disgracefully." Greenwald writes:

Two weeks ago, interviewed the ACLU's Ben Wizner, counsel to 5 individuals suing the subsidiary of Boeing (Jeppesen) which had arranged the Bush administration's rendition program, under which those 5 plaintiffs had been abducted, sent to other countries and brutally tortured. Today the Obama administration was required to file with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals its position in this case — i.e., whether it would continue the Bush administration's abusive reliance on the "state secrets" privilege to prevent courts from ruling on such matters, or whether they would adhere to Obama's previous claims about his beliefs on "state secrets" by withdrawing that position and allowing these victims their day in court.

(…)The new President — who repeatedly condemned the extreme secrecy of the Bush administration and vowed greater transparency — has now acted to protect, purely on secrecy grounds, the government and company that did this, as Wizner described:

"They were essentially the CIA's torture travel agents. They were the one who arranged all the overflight rights for the CIA civilian planes to be able to fly from country to country. They handled the security and the logistics. They filed dummy flight plans to try to trick air traffic controllers into not being able to track where the actual flights were going. And we know they knew what they were doing because we have a witness in our case, someone who's given us a sworn declaration, who was an employee of Jeppesen DataPlan, and who was present when senior officials of the company were openly boasting about their role in the torture flights, and about how much money they made from them because the CIA spared no expense.

"We were able, with the help of an investigative journalist and other documentary evidence, to link Jeppesen to an number of very specific CIA rendition flights, involving these five torture victims who were flown to countries like Egypt, Morocco, to CIA sites in Afghanistan and eastern Europe. . . .

"[Plaintiff Ahmed Agiza] was picked up off the streets of Stockholm and then he was taken to an airport where a CIA rendition team–this is a bunch of men dressed all in black, with their faces covered–sliced off all of his clothes, put a suppository into him, chained him to the floor of an airplane, flew him to Egypt, where he was exposed to absolutely brutal torture, including shock treatment, all kinds of beatings. He was then given a show trial in an Egyptian military court and sentenced to 15 years for involvement in a banned organization."

Below, two recent episodes of Boing Boing Video which document the testimonials of "extraordinary rendition" survivors whose ordeals are the subject of this case. Binyan Ahmed Mohammed was one of the plaintiffs. These episodes are excerpts from the WITNESS documentary OUTLAWED. Read the original blog posts for each of these Boing Boing Video episodes, for more background:

* Boing Boing Video: "OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 1 — Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture.
* Boing Boing Video: "OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 2 — Khaled El-Masri.