It is one of the most shameful tactics in the war on terrorism.
The CIA calls it "extraordinary rendition" — intelligence-speak for seizing suspects and either interrogating them in secret prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere, or turning them over to allies to extract information. That too often meant mistreatment, even torture.
America needs a thorough cleansing from this travesty, but that appears less and less likely to happen. In a 6-5 ruling on Wednesday, the federal appeals court based in San Francisco refused to let five former rendition prisoners even have their day in court. The court accepted the Obama administration's claim that if the lawsuit proceeded any further, it would expose "state secrets."
The five men sued Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., accusing the San Jose-based Boeing subsidiary of arranging flights for the rendition program and thus being complicit in the torture they say they endured. To read just the summaries of the allegations is to be horrified anew. The lead plaintiff, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian who was also a legal British resident, said the CIA handed him over to Moroccan security agents who broke his bones, sliced his body with a scalpel and poured "hot stinging liquid" in the open wounds.
To his credit, President Barack Obama has turned the page on many of President George W. Bush's mistakes and excesses. To his disgrace, Obama is reading from the same book on renditions. While the administration promises that suspects are no longer tortured, we do know that rendition, in some form, persists. And Obama, like Bush, wants to keep hidden what atrocities were done to supposedly protect us.
It's unclear exactly what secrets are at stake. The broad outlines of the program have already been disclosed, largely through the hard work of human rights lawyers and investigative reporters. Administration officials want us to take them at their word that further disclosures would damage national security, just as the majority on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did.
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