US government uses state secrecy to block lawsuit for CIA rendition and torture victims

September 9, 2010

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled by a 6-5 majority that ex-prisoners cannot sue Jeppesen Dataplan, a Boeing subsidiary that arranged extraordinary rendition flights for the CIA, after the Obama administration invoked ‘state secrets’ privilege.

The narrow majority — and the fact that the Court ordered the US government to pay the plaintiffs’ costs — speaks volumes as to the reluctance with which the judges deprived the torture victims of their day in court.

Neverthless, Judge Raymond Fisher’s opinion, in which he urged the US government to make reparations of its own accord to victims of CIA “misjudgements or mistakes”, highlights how easy it has been for the White House to evade judicial oversight and intervention.

State secrets privilege effectively makes the executive a judge in its own cause, allowing it to label embarrassing information a ‘state secret’ and thus remove it from public scrutiny. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband used a similar strategy when confronted with the seven paragraphs relating to Binyam’s abuse; fortunately, the Court of Appeal rejected his request for blanket ‘public interest immunity’. By contrast, the broad-spectrum defence of ‘national security’ continues to trump justice and transparency in the US.

Reprieve Executive Director Clare Algar said:

“This regrettable decision has derailed another precious chance at a legal reckoning with the excesses of the war on terror. Yet again, those responsible for torture and rendition have used state secrecy to avoid facing up to their crimes in court. The need for an independent inquiry into state involvement in torture has never been more urgent, and, if we are serious about learning from our mistakes, the UK must lead the way.”


Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

ReprievePO Box 52742London EC4P 4WSTel: 020 7353 4640Fax: 020 7353 4641Email:

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner