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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.

In a few minutes, can music make a president?

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.