Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reactions to Obama/Holder Injustice in Jeppesen Case

Ateqah Khaki, from the National Security Project, in an article posted at ACLU Blog of Rights, has described the significant press reaction following the Obama Administration's decision to claim "state secrets" in their argument to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to drop plaintiffs' plea to let their suit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplans, Inc. go forward. ACLU attorneys argued the case for plaintiffs.

It is public record that Jeppesen knowingly participated in the CIA extraordinary rendition program, providing critical flight planning and logistical support services and aircraft crews. Jeppesen employees were even known to brag about their services to the CIA program. One managing director told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker:
"We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights—you know, the torture flights. Let’s face it, some of these flights end up that way."
The five men involved in the lawsuit, which was dismissed by a lower court in February 2008 thanks to the Bush administration's inappropriate assertion of "state secrets privilege," that release of information in court regarding the case would supposedly harm national security. The men had been forcibly disappeared by the Jeppesen-serviced CIA program and sent from countries like Sweden, Gambia, Pakistan, and Jordan and flown to secret detention and torture in CIA prisons, or by CIA proxies in Morocco and Egypt, or elsewhere.

One of these five, Binyam Mohamed, lies near death on hunger strike in Guantanamo prison, where U.S. authorities are pondering his release to return to Britain. One of Mohamed's attorney's, Lieutenant-Colonel Yvonne Bradley, an American military lawyer, has written an appeal for his release, published in today's UK Guardian. She describes some of what her client is currently suffering. This, not yesterday's Obama press conference, displays the real face of American power and how it is used:
Guards told Binyam that he was going home in December, and so he is on hunger strike (together with 50 or so other prisoners). This means that he is tube-fed while strapped to a chair, twice a day. Binyam has lost so much weight that he speaks of the pain he suffers from being strapped to the chair for hours each day – he speaks of feeling his bones against the chair. I am really worried that if Binyam does not come home soon, he will leave Guantánamo Bay in a coffin.

The Joint Task Force, which runs Guantánamo Bay, gives me no information about Binyam. When I called to enquire about his condition, they said first, that they would look into it and then that they would tell me nothing and that I should make a Freedom of Information request, which would have taken months to process. Therefore, whenever I want information about Binyam, I have to make the 5-hour trip to Guantánamo. Each time, he asks why he is still there.

It is worth bearing in mind that all charges against Binyam have been dropped and that Binyam's chief prosecutor resigned, citing the unfairness of the system.
Meanwhile, outrage continues to pour out regarding the injustice of the Obama administration's actions in court on Monday. The Los Angeles Times highlighted the incredulity of one judge regarding the government's argument to dismiss the Jeppesen case:
At one point during the hearing, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, a Clinton appointee, told the government’s lawyer that he was not convincing.

"So any time the executive branch of the government says the fact is classified, it means it cannot be examined?" Hawkins asked Letter.

Letter, noting that national security was at stake, told the court it should "not play with fire" by permitting the suit to go forward.

"Nor should the government in asserting [secrecy] privilege," Hawkins shot back.
The New York Times editorialized today against the Obama Department of Justice actions:
The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law....

Incredibly, the federal lawyer advanced the same expansive state-secrets argument that was pressed by Mr. Bush’s lawyers to get a trial court to dismiss the case without any evidence being presented. It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred....

The fact that some of the evidence might be legitimately excluded on national security grounds need not preclude the case from being tried, and allowing the judge to make that determination. More fundamentally, the Obama administration should not be invoking state secrets to cover up charges of rendition and torture.
The simple truth is this: the government has had years to make their cases against the Guantanamo detainees. If they cannot bring a case today, the detainees should be released. They could be given provisional residency status in the United States, pending final disposition. Those for whom their is acceptable evidence of crimes could be turned over to federal courts and charged and tried accordingly. Binyam Mohamed should be released immediately. Britain has already indicated they are ready to accept him.

The news last week that President Obama is still considering some kind of modified version the hated military commissions to try Guantanamo prisoners should be dropped. The U.S. courts can handle any appropriate prosecutions. Whether its bogus military commissions or "state secrets privilege" to torpedo accountability lawsuits, why doe the U.S. government want to keep these issues out of American courts? One good reason: their actions and programs would not withstand legal scrutiny.

FYI: The ACLU has posted a link so everyone can hear the oral arguments made last Monday in the Jeppesen case.

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