(CN) - A British parliamentarian can sue the CIA, Pentagon and other intelligence agencies for information on the United Kingdom's complicity in the extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Conservative politician Andrew Tyrie founded the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition to oppose the practice of transferring detainees to another country outside the extradition process, often to secret locations known as "black sites" where detainees reported having been tortured.
The United Kingdom denied participating in the program, a controversial feature of George W. Bush's so-called "war on terror," until Foreign Secretary David Miliband revealed in 2008 that two rendition flights stopped in a British territory six years earlier.
Tyrie, his group and their New York-based lawyer Joe Cyr filed information requests with the CIA and components of the Departments of Defense, Justice, State and Homeland Security.
Labeling them "representatives" of the British government, the agencies refused the requests under the foreign-government exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.
A federal judge later upheld that decision, but an appellate panel reversed Tuesday while quibbling with the definition of "representative."
"When pressed at oral argument to provide a definition of the term that would apply more broadly, counsel suggested that 'representatives' of foreign government entities include all those who have the capacity to act on behalf of such entities," Judge David Tatel wrote for a three-judge panel. "But counsel seemed less willing to defend this interpretation once he realized that it might capture personal secretaries, cafeteria employees, and janitors."
The panel agreed with Tyrie and the other requestors that a "representative" should be construed to be an "agent" of a foreign government.
Although the agencies argued that this broader definition would risk spilling U.S. secrets to its enemies, Tatel said the government already can shield classified information under freedom of information law.
"Contrary to the intelligence agencies' suggestion that interpreting 'representative' to mean 'agent' would expose government secrets to terrorists, national security is not at issue here," he wrote.
Hogan Lovells partner Joe Cyr, a Manhattan-based attorney for the plaintiffs, applauded the decision.
"Without threatening our national security, the court's ruling will allow Mr. Tyrie and I to continue our pursuit of information that will shed further light on whether the anti-terrorist activities of the UK and the US intelligence agencies have been consistent with our values," Cyr said in a statement.