The eyes of the nation's legal community -- and those who oppose car batteries and glorified dunk tanks being used as information-gathering tools -- are on San Francisco today. Five men are petitioning the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the case they have made against San Jose-based Jeppesen Dataplan, which they accuse of ferrying them to foreign locales to be tortured at the American government's behest.
While today's hearing is being touted
as the first opportunity for President Obama's Justice Department to repudiate the torture-happy policies of its predecessors, investigative journalist A.C. Thompson, coauthor of the 2006 book Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights
, doesn't expect to see "change" but rather "more of the same."
"As a reporter, I'd like to see this case go to trial and I'd be intrigued at what spills out in the courtroom and the documents," said Thompson, a former SF Weekly
staffer currently working out of New York for the investigative outfit Pro Publica. "But looking at the court documents that have already been filed, I don't see there being a lot of chance that justice is going to reverse course and suddenly throw open all the doors. For the CIA, there's no upside to allowing court proceedings to go on where it can be discussed in detail what Jeppesen did for the CIA, where they planned flights to, how many flights there were, who was picked up, and if they knew what happened to them when they touched down. Whenever you talk about what Jeppesen did for the CIA, you open up one million questions that are not comfortable for the agency."
And while Obama's election was arguably as much a repudiation of George Bush's policies as an endorsement of new strategies, Thompson points out that the "permanent government" does not shift every four years.
"The CIA career staffers, the National Security career staffers would be very, very upset if something like this was to proceed. If this case goes forward, then you start to get to the point where you can attach culpability to individual operators and agents of the CIA or other intelligence agencies," he said. "Intelligence staffers would say, 'Why are you exposing us opening the door for us to be civilly sued or perhaps even criminally prosecuted in other countries? We've been loyal to the government and we expect the government to be loyal to us.'"
So while Thompson predicts the government will continue to cite national security issues in refusing to allow this case to go forward, he notes that he'd "love to be wrong."