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Originally published Monday, February 9, 2009 at 2:35 PM

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Justice maintains Bush position in torture suit

A government lawyer urged an appeals court Monday to toss a lawsuit accusing a Boeing Co. subsidiary of illegally helping the CIA fly suspected terrorists overseas to be tortured, maintaining a Bush administration position that the case would jeopardize national security.

Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO —

A government lawyer urged an appeals court Monday to toss a lawsuit accusing a Boeing Co. subsidiary of illegally helping the CIA fly suspected terrorists overseas to be tortured, maintaining a Bush administration position that the case would jeopardize national security.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others had called on the White House to change direction and drop its move to dismiss the suit. The organization filed the lawsuit on behalf of five men swept up in the "extraordinary rendition" program and who are still being held in various prisons around the world.

The lawsuit claims that San Jose-based Jeppesen DataPlan Inc. should be punished for allegedly providing the CIA airplanes and crew to carry out the program that included torture.

The U.S. government intervened in the case and a trial court judge last year tossed it out after CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden invoked the government's so-called "state secrets privilege," which lets intelligence agencies bar the use of evidence in court cases that threaten national security.

U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Douglas Letter on Monday urged a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold the lower court decision. Letter said his position was "thoroughly vetted with the appropriate" administration officials.

"These are the authorized positions of the administration," Letter said in a response to a question from Judge Mary Schroeder.

Letter said that he was confident that Schroeder and her two colleagues on the appeals court would toss the suit after they read top secret legal documents the government filed with the court under seal.

The case presented Obama's Justice Department with one of the first of many policy and legal decisions it faces in countless actions across the country left over from the Bush administration. Legal scholars contend that the prior administration stopped litigation involving the government by invoking state secret claims a record number of times, including in more than 40 legal challenges to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap program.

A Department of Justice spokesman in Washington, D.C., said government lawyers were reviewing all such state secret assertions in lawsuits across the country.

"It's vital that we protect information that if released could jeopardize national security," said Justice spokesman Matt Miller. "But the Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government's actions that they have a right to know."

Outside of court, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero criticized the new president.

"This is not change," Romero said in a prepared statement. "Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama's Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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