May 30, 2007 / 1:56 PM / in 10 years

Rights group sues Boeing unit over CIA flights

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a Boeing Co. unit it accuses of helping the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency transfer foreign suspects to overseas prisons where it says they were held and tortured.

<p>The tarmac of the Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase, east of Bucharest, indicated by Human Rights Watch as a possible location for a covert prison allegedly used by the CIA, in a file photo. The ACLU said on Wednesday it is suing a unit of plane maker and defense contractor Boeing for providing flight services to the CIA as it secretly flew abducted foreigners to overseas prisons where they were held and interrogated. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel</p>

The New York-based rights group said it would file a suit against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. on Wednesday, charging that the company provided flight and logistical support to at least 15 aircraft on 70 so-called “rendition” flights.

The suit, to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is being made on behalf of Binyam Mohamed, Abou Elkassim Britel and Ahmed Agiza, who the ACLU said were abducted by the CIA, detained and tortured.

The complaint alleges Jeppesen organized flights over a four-year period to countries “it knew or reasonably should have known that detainees are routinely tortured or otherwise abused in contravention of universally accepted standards.”

“Extraordinary rendition should be condemned. It should not be seen as a source of corporate profit,” Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director, told a news conference.

A European Parliament-backed report found at least 1,245 CIA flights were made into or over Europe in the four years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Washington acknowledges the secret transfer of suspects to third countries but denies torturing them or handing them over to countries that did. Jeppesen declined to comment on the ACLU suit, and would not say if the CIA was a customer.

According to the ACLU, Jeppesen played a key role in what it called Washington’s extraordinary rendition program, providing aircraft crew with itineraries, preparing flight plans, procuring landing permits from foreign governments and helping with customs clearance and ground transportation.

“ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL”

Steven Watt, an ACLU attorney, said that without Jeppesen’s services the rendition program could not have operated.

“It’s both illegal and immoral for a corporation to profit from kidnapping and torture and any corporation that knowingly does so must be held to account,” he said.

Romero warned other companies involved in a “program that is illegal and aids the government in the practices of torture” that they too are at risk of liability in U.S. courts.

“There are a number of other corporations that are involved with such efforts, whether they are military contractors at Guantanamo or personnel services in Iraq,” he said. The ACLU did not say whether it was considering further legal action.

The suit claims Jeppesen knew the purpose of the rendition flights. It is to be filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which permits foreigners to bring claims in the United States for violations of the law of nations or a U.S. treaty.

British resident Mohamed and Italian citizen Britel were separately arrested in Pakistan in 2002, while Egyptian citizen Agiza was apprehended in Sweden in 2001, the ACLU said.

Mohamed is now held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military prison in Cuba, Britel was convicted and imprisoned in Morocco on terrorism-related charges, while Agiza was convicted and imprisoned in Egypt for being a member of a banned group.

The ACLU also said on Wednesday it would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the dismissal of a lawsuit against former CIA Director George Tenet and 10 CIA employees by a German who says he was kidnapped and tortured by the agency.

In March, a U.S. appeals court upheld the dismissal of the suit, brought by Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin, after agreeing with government arguments that moving forward with the case would pose a risk of exposing state secrets.

Additional reporting by Bill Rigby

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