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The Alien Tort Claims Act: An Activist Tool for Change

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and British human rights charity Reprieve filed suit...against...Jeppesen Dataplan Inc. The suit claims the Boeing subsidiary knowingly aided CIA rendition activities abroad and is complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects. The ACLU's suit, filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act...reaches...the sizeable business community that has contracts with federal agencies involved in the larger war against Islamist militants...[T]he rendition program alone involves many additional contractors, all of which now see themselves as possibly facing action... In addition to the renditions, the United States operates dozens of other programs that flirt with the boundaries of international human rights norms -- and private contractors have had at least a tangential role in almost all... [The ACLU's] strategy will affect how CIA and Defense Department contractors do business. Just as the oil, mining and resource-extracting industries have built structures to monitor problems with an eye toward ATCA, so too will defense contractors... The ATCA suit places government contractors (and would-be contractors) on notice: Any dealing with the government could place them at risk of a court case that, regardless of merit, can cause long-lasting damage to the company. The design, then, is to turn contractors into lobbyists for human rights. It is an approach that could work.

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