ACLU Suit Says Boeing Unit Profited from Torture

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a subsidiary of Boeing, for helping the CIA fly suspected terrorists as part of its "extraordinary rendition" program. The ACLU says this is a first for them — to accuse a blue-chip American company of "profiting from torture." The lawsuit claims the company, Jeppesen Dataplan, provided planes and logistical help for at least 70 flights.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

In a federal court in San Jose, California, an unusual lawsuit has been filed. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a subsidiary of Boeing for helping the CIA to fly suspected terrorists as part of its extraordinary rendition program, as it's called. The ACLU says this is a first for them — to accuse a blue-chip American company of profiting from torture.

NPR's intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is covering the story. Mary Louise, good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's figure this out, first, the basics. Boeing makes planes, but this subsidiary is accused of actually flying them and helping the CIA in that way?

KELLY: That's right. The subsidiary is called Jeppesen DataPlan. They are headquartered in Colorado, and what they do is help their clients fly from point A to point B. So their job is figuring out the route, the fuel requirements, the landing permits, all of that. Now, what the ACLU suit charges is that one of Jeppesen's clients is the CIA, that Jeppesen provided logistical support to at least 15 planes on 70 of these so-called rendition flights. These are flights in which suspected terrorists are flown to secret overseas prisons where they were held and, the ACLU says, tortured.

The ACLU says Jeppesen, the Boeing subsidiary, knew this was going on, knew that's what they were doing and that they should not be allowed to profit from participating in activity that led to illegal torture.

INSKEEP: Does Jeppesen admit it?

KELLY: They are not commenting on the specifics of this case. They say they are having a look at it, reading it through. A spokesman there, Mike Pound, who I spoke to, said, generally speaking though, Jeppesen sees its job, as we say, getting its clients where they need to go, that the company does not get involved in asking what the purpose of a trip is. He says that's just not something we know or need to know.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Does that suggest that the company actually did the flights, they just may not have known who the passengers were, where they were being taken, or why?

KELLY: Well, they are not even admitting or denying at this point that the CIA is a client. So, from Jeppesen's point of view, they are just not venturing into these waters at all. But possibility - they say they work for government clients, private clients, all sorts of people. That in any of these cases, they don't know where their clients or why their clients are going to the places they want to go.

INSKEEP: Well, that leads to another question, whether the ACLU has enough evidence and has the legal standing in order to make this a viable lawsuit.

KELLY: Right. Well, there are a couple of layers to that one. Legal experts who I spoke to yesterday said it's possible the ACLU has a case here, but it's never going to get that far in court and here's why - the CIA, which is not named in the suit, is clearly an interested party, and if they wanted to in that capacity could file a state secret's claim. That is, the CIA could come in and argue this program, that trying this in court would involve airing sensitive intelligence, could put national security at risk.

So the expectation, I think, is that the CIA will try to intervene early and try to get this case shut down.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly.

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