- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

Keeping the CIA rendition story in the news is critical for opponents of the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies. Since even a Democratic Congress is not ready to attack the CIA frontally on the matter, the resort of choice is lawsuits, including spurious ones. Certainly that’s the case regarding the ACLU, which finds a lifeblood of newsmaking ability in its lawsuits.

The latest is filed against a Boeing subsidiary for its alleged role in CIA renditions of terrorism suspects. So, the ACLU is suing a government contractor for allegedly carrying out a government contract in a case where it cannot lay hands on the CIA directly. The suit has a near-zero chance of success in the courtroom, but the move is already a media success, which was assuredly the point to begin with.

The contractor, Jeppesen Dataplan, has not confirmed that it undertook work in connection with CIA renditions and probably will never need to. The executive branch typically relies with success upon a state-secrets defense to torpedo such lawsuits, and we’ve heard of no reason why a contractor could not also be protected this way or by some other means. The ACLU alleges that Jeppesen knowingly “enabled the clandestine transportation” of three terrorism suspects: Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian and current Guantanamo detainee accused of training in a Taliban paramilitary camp in Afghanistan; Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen currently jailed in Morocco for reasons not yet clear; and the Egyptian Ahmed Agiza, an al Qaeda associate. Each claims torture at the hands of American-backed captors.

One of the most revealing aspects of this story concerns what we’re not hearing — a more audible drumbeat of outrage from Congress on this subject, if indeed outrage is warranted. The political context has changed dramatically since the rendition story first broke in late 2005. President Bush’s popularity has plummeted; public support for many of the administration’s wartime policies has fallen. Now, most importantly, the Democrats are in control of Congress. In short, lawmakers have every incentive to pursue worthwhile allegations of abuses by the administration. But in this case they are not.

Does this mean that the story is not worthwhile? We suspect so. Presumably, congressional intelligence committees should be hives of activity on the subject if it were. But they are not, at least not in any publicly visible way. One of the most underreported sides to this story is the apparent rise of renditions as a practice of handling the worst suspected terrorists or international criminal figures under the Clinton administration. This suggests that renditions may not be some nefarious Bush scheme after all — just one very aggressive intelligence-community method of combating terrorists.

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