ACLU Sues Boeing over CIA Rendition Flights
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.
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BRAND: First, though, should a company be held responsible if its products or services are used by the government to facilitate torture? The ACLU thinks so.
COHEN: It's suing a subsidiary of the Boeing company called Jeppesen. At issue, the so-called extraordinary rendition flights conducted by the CIA. That's when they secretly capture and transfer terrorism suspects on planes. The suspects are then interrogated in other countries.
BRAND: The suit claims Jeppesen DataPlan provided key logistical support for these trips, including flight plans and getting clearance to fly over other countries. Ann Brick is an ACLU attorney.
Ms. ANN BRICK (Staff Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union): We strongly believe that just as it is immoral and wrong for the U.S. government to be engaged in extraordinary rendition, it is equally wrong for private businesses to be complicit with the government in carrying out that program.
BRAND: Jeppesen won't comment on the lawsuit. It says the identity of its customers is confidential. Plus, says a company spokesman, Jeppesen knows only where flights begin and end, how many people are flying, the type of aircraft being used, and when the trip is supposed to occur. They are not expected to know the purpose of the flight.
Joining me now from London is Stephen Grey. He is author of the book "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program". Welcome to the program.
Mr. STEPHEN GREY (Author, "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program"): Hi.
BRAND: Why would the CIA use a private company for these flights?
Mr. GREY: Well, if you want to travel to another airport in the world, you need permission to be there, you need the plane to be refueled, you might need a hotel to stay in. And there are some specialist companies that provide those services generally to businessmen, VIPs who are flying around the world. But also, as it turns out, to the CIA, which is also using the same kind of luxury jet.
BRAND: Well, the company won't confirm this. Do you know this through your research?
Mr. GREY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I have seen the flight plans for many of these CIA rendition flights, the flights that took prisoners to countries where they claim they've been tortured. And if you look at those flight plans, you see who filed them, and that company is Jeppesen DataPlan in San Jose, California. What they knew about those missions I'm not sure, but they certainly were a key component of the operation.
BRAND: Well, how could they not know what was going on?
Mr. GREY: Well, it's interesting, because one of the key things that has to be arranged by that sort of company is permission to fly into places. These jets can't just turn up anyway, particularly if you're talking about sensitive parts of the world.
And if you're applying for permission, generally you would need to know - give some explanation of what the plane was doing there. But to be fair, I have not spoken to anyone in the company. And so at this stage one can say that they are certainly going to be very important witnesses as to the whole rendition program. But proving what they knew I think remains to be done.
BRAND: Well, in fact, it might not even get that far, because the CIA could conceivably hold off this lawsuit, claiming that such a trial would violate national security.
Mr. GREY: Well, you can see what the ACLU are doing, it's a device. Because what happened was that the Bush administration went around Europe saying we've got the strongest laws in the world against torture in America. And if someone's being tortured, they can file a lawsuit in the United States and complain about these things.
But every time a victim of rendition filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against the CIA or against the U.S. government, that lawsuit is being knocked down by judges in the U.S. on the grounds of state secrets, that we can't discuss the rendition program in public.
It's a program of secret detention in which the CIA, despite acknowledging the program exist in general, have actually yet to acknowledge a single case of rendition. So, for example, one of the victims in this lawsuit, Khalid El-Masri, we know that he was flown by the CIA from Macedonia to Afghanistan. I have spoken to people in the CIA who were involved in that operation.
And that would mean if they confirm that publicly that this individual was taken from Macedonia to a place where he was held in secret detention and he was tortured, then they would be liable. I mean, they could be prosecuted for what happened and they could have to pay damages and compensation. So what they're doing is acknowledging there is a program in general, it does this kind of thing. But mention any particular person to them and they'll say, we can't comment, we're not going to get into details. It remains classified.
So what the ACLU are trying to do is, instead of suing the CIA, they are trying to sue a company, presumably on the grounds that it's more likely that case will be heard.
BRAND: Stephen Grey is the author of "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program". He joined us from London. Stephen Grey, thanks for joining us.
Mr. GREY: My pleasure. Thanks.
ACLU Suit Says Boeing Unit Profited from Torture
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.