SAN FRANCISCO – The national American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Northern California today filed a federal lawsuit against San Jose-based Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing Company, on behalf of three victims of the United States government’s unlawful “extraordinary rendition” program. The suit charges that Jeppesen knowingly provided direct flight services to the CIA that enabled the clandestine transportation of Ahmed Agiza, Abou Elkassim Britel, and Binyam Mohamed to secret overseas locations where they were subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
“Today’s lawsuit charges that the San Jose-based Jeppesen corporation participated in an illegal and morally reprehensible program that resulted in the torture of foreign citizens,” said Maya Harris, Executive Director of the ACLU-NC. “Extraordinary rendition should be condemned, not seen as a source of corporate profit. Jeppesen must be held accountable for its role in the CIA’s illegal rendition program.”
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, charges that Jeppesen, through its travel service known as Jeppesen International Trip Planning, has been a main provider of flight and logistical support services for aircraft used by the CIA in the U.S. government’s extraordinary rendition program. The CIA rendition flights transfer terror suspects to countries where the U.S. government knows detainees are routinely tortured or otherwise abused in contravention of universally accepted legal standards. The complaint also alleges that Jeppesen facilitated flights to U.S.-run detention facilities overseas where the U.S. government maintains that the safeguards of its laws do not apply. According to the lawsuit, since December 2001, Jeppesen has provided flight and logistical support to at least 15 aircraft that have made a total of 70 rendition flights.
As described in the complaint, Jeppesen’s participation in the rendition flights has included furnishing aircraft crew with flight planning services including itinerary, route, weather, and fuel planning; responsibility for the preparation of flight plans; facilitation of customs clearance and arrangements for ground transportation, catering, and hotel accommodation for aircraft crew upon landing; and provision of physical security for aircraft and crew.
“The cooperation of companies like Jeppesen has been critical to the functioning of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program,” said Ann Brick, a staff attorney for the ACLU-NC. “This lawsuit charges that Jeppesen knew or should have known that our clients, and many like them, were placed onboard the flights blindfolded and shackled, and were being taken to countries where torture awaited them.”
According to published reports, Jeppesen had actual knowledge of the consequence of its activities. A former Jeppesen employee informed the New Yorker magazine that, at an internal board meeting, a senior Jeppesen official stated, “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.” Jane Mayer, Outsourcing: The C.I.A.’s Travel Agent, The New Yorker, Oct. 30, 2006.
“In a country that believes in respect for the rule of law and basic human dignity, participation in a program based on forced disappearance and torture should never be seen as simply another money-making activity,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the national ACLU.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that Jeppesen provided crucial support services to the CIA for the following flights involving the three plaintiffs in the lawsuit:
In July 2002, Ethiopian citizen Binyam Mohamed, while in CIA custody, was stripped, blindfolded, shackled, dressed in a tracksuit, strapped to the seat of a plane and flown to Morocco where he was secretly detained for 18 months and interrogated and tortured by Moroccan intelligence services.
In January 2004, Mohamed was once again blindfolded, stripped, and shackled by CIA agents and flown to the secret U.S. detention facility known as the “Dark Prison” in Kabul, Afghanistan where he was again tortured and eventually transferred to another facility and then to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he still remains.
In May 2002, Italian citizen Abou Elkassim Britel was handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped, dressed in a diaper, chained, and flown by the CIA from Pakistan to Morocco where he was tortured by Moroccan intelligence agents and where he is now incarcerated.
In December 2001, Egyptian citizen Ahmed Agiza was chained, shackled, and drugged by the CIA and flown from Sweden to Egypt where he was severely abused and tortured and where he still remains imprisoned.
In San Jose, Amnesty International and community groups have organized protests in front of the downtown offices of Jeppesen. In March, the San Jose Human Rights Commission passed a resolution condemning Jeppesen’s involvement in the government’s rendition program.
Sanjeev Bery, Director of the San Jose ACLU office, said, “Jeppesen should not profit from the torture and suffering of individuals like those named in today’s lawsuit. We urge the San Jose City Council to take a stand and denounce any corporation that willingly supports the CIA’s immoral and illegal actions.”
In addition to the San Jose office, Jeppesen has offices in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Oregon, Colorado, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, China, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
Today’s lawsuit against Jeppesen was filed under the Alien Tort Statute which permits foreigners to bring suit in the United States for violations of the law of nations or a United States treaty. The statute recognizes international norms accepted among civilized nations that are violated by acts like enforced disappearance, torture and other inhuman treatment included in the lawsuit.
In addition to Ann Brick of the ACLU of North California, attorneys on the Jeppesen lawsuit are Steven Watt, Ben Wizner, Steven Shapiro, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas and Jameel Jaffer of the national ACLU, Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, and Hope Metcalf of the Yale Law School Lowenstein Clinic. Clive Stafford-Smith and Zachary Katznelson also represent Binyam Mohamed.