Stopping the Torture Flights

The ACLU is fighting to stop our government's unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition --the clandestine abduction of individuals who are transferred to secret prisons in countries where torture is routine.
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In July 2002, an Ethiopian citizen named Binyam Mohamed, held by the CIA, was strapped to the seat of a nondescript plane, shackled, blindfolded, stripped and secretly flown to Morocco, where he was held for a year and a half. Moroccan security forces, not known for their sensitivity to human rights, interrogated and tortured Binyam for 18 months.

Then, in January 2004, he was moved to the "Dark Prison" in Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret "black site" facility run by the CIA, where he was again tortured. Finally, the American government transferred him to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains, held indefinitely without any effective way to challenge his detention. And Mr. Mohamed is not alone.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit on May 30th against a private aerospace company paid by the CIA to provide logistical services on the flights that secretly transported these detainees. Specifically we represent three men: Binyam, who is currently detained at Guantanamo Bay; Italian citizen Abou Elkassim Britel, who was tortured after being "rendered" to Morocco by the CIA, where he remains behind bars; and Egyptian citizen Ahmed Agiza, who was chained, shackled, drugged and flown to Egypt, where he was tortured and where he remains today.

We filed this lawsuit because the company, Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. (a subsidiary of Boeing), abetted and profited from torture. The New Yorker broke the story when a former Jeppesen employee quoted a senior executive on the record. "We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights -- you know, the torture flights," the source said. "Let's face it, some of these flights end up that way [and] it certainly pays well. [The CIA] spare[s] no expense. They have absolutely no worry about costs."

Mr. Mohamed and the two other plaintiffs in our lawsuit lack any meaningful way to challenge their detention or hold the government accountable for its violation of their basic human rights--and our fundamental American values. The ACLU, on the other hand, is giving them that voice, and we are fighting to stop these torture flights and our government's unlawful practice of extraordinary rendition -- the clandestine abduction of individuals who are transferred to secret prisons in countries where torture is routine.

The intelligence community has a long history of enlisting private corporations to conduct covert operations. The ultra-secret National Security Agency once had Western Union and other major telegraph companies provide a copy of every telegram to and from the United States. More recently, major phone companies caved to the Bush administration and opened up our telecommunications networks to wholesale warrantless wiretapping by the NSA.

To put it starkly, the Bush administration used our tax dollars-- with "absolutely no worry about costs"--to pay a company to facilitate the secret transfer of detainees to secret prisons for secret interrogations using methods that most Americans would find abhorrent. And if that's not troubling enough, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that intelligence experts have criticized those interrogation methods as "outmoded, amateurish and unreliable."

This disregard for basic human rights has become de rigueur in the Bush administration. We all want to protect America by preventing terrorism and punishing individuals who target civilians with violence. But at the same time, we want to protect our American values of fairness and respect for the rule of law.

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