Obama's Legal Team Copies Bush's 'State Secrets' Trick to Cover Up Torture and Renditions
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On Monday in San Francisco, attorneys representing the Obama administration did what many of the president's supporters would have considered unthinkable on election day: they arrived in a federal courtroom and defended one of the most controversial practices of the Bush administration.
"Eric Holder's Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government," Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said in an impassioned statement. "This is not change. This is definitely more of the same."
The case was Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, a lawsuit originally brought in 2007 by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition, the notorious CIA program in which terror suspects are kidnapped, thrown on a plane and flown to another country to be tortured and interrogated.
Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, is said to have provided the logistical support for the rendition of all five plaintiffs, among them, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who, in July 2002, was taken from Pakistan to Morocco, where for 18 months he was imprisoned and brutally tortured, including being cut with razorblades on his testicles. Mohamed was later sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he supposedly awaits imminent plans for his release. He has never stood trial.
Under Bush, the ACLU's lawsuit was thrown out multiple times on "state secrets" grounds -- a bogus excuse according to human rights lawyers who have long argued that the real goal was to keep evidence of the sort of torture endured by Mohamed away from a courtroom.
"To date, not a single torture victim has had his day in court in the United States," ACLU attorney Ben Wizner told reporters last week. Thus, the objective of yesterday's hearing was simple: the ACLU was asking that the lawsuit move forward. But to the dismay of many who believed Obama would open the door to justice for torture victims in the so-called war on terror, it appears his administration is instead following in Bush's footsteps.
"This case cannot be litigated," Department of Justice lawyer Douglas Letter said on Monday. "The judges shouldn't play with fire in this national security situation."
For those who spent the past eight years fighting back against cynical claims of "national security" to justify illegal and inhumane practices, the words smack of the Bush era.
"If the Obama administration, so early on, is toeing the Bush line," Romero warns, "that speaks volumes for where we might end up years from now."
The Debate Over Rendition
The Jeppesen hearing came on the heels of a week that saw the topic of extraordinary rendition -- and Obama's approach to it -- under particular scrutiny. On Feb. 1, the Los Angeles Times ran a story that caused a stir around the issue in the media, the blogosphere and the human rights community.
"The CIA's secret prisons are being shuttered," the article began. "Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.
"But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counterterrorism tool.
"Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States."
The article quoted an anonymous administration official, who said,