WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a setback for the government, a federal appeals court Tuesday revived a lawsuit from five men who claim they were secretly transported to countries where they were tortured.
The controversial highly classified program known as "extraordinary rendition" has been the subject of a major legal clash between government lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union over the use of "state secret" privilege.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco, California, overturns the decision by a lower-court judge to dismiss the case citing the "state secret" defense.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have argued the case should not go forward because it could threaten national security, and that the very subject of the lawsuit is a state secret.
The ACLU lawsuit names a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, accusing it of helping the CIA abduct the men and fly them to other countries that allow torture in interrogations.
ACLU attorney Ben Wizner called the decision historic.
"Our clients, who are among the hundreds of victims of torture under the Bush administration, have waited for years just to get a foot in the courthouse door. Now, at long last they will have their day in court, " Wizner said.
He said the decision ends the "legal fiction advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be deemed 'secrets' in a court of law."
The court, however, did not hand a total victory to the ACLU, ruling that the state secret defense could be used to protect specific pieces of classified evidence.