FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has filed an appeal on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German citizen who was kidnapped by the CIA and transported to a secret Afghan prison where he was detained and abused. A lower court previously dismissed the suit after accepting the CIA's argument that further court proceedings would disclose "state secrets."
"Depriving Khaled El-Masri of his day in court on the ground that the government cannot disclose facts that the whole world already knows only compounds the brutal treatment he endured," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who will argue the appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond. "Secret government kidnappings and detentions outside the law have no place in a free democracy. If this decision stands, the government will have a blank check to shield even its most shameful conduct from accountability."
This appeal comes on the heels of news reports that another man, an Algerian named Laid Saidi, was also abducted by the CIA and detained in the same Afghan facility as El-Masri. Saidi and El-Masri were held in nearby cells and Saidi has confirmed many of the allegations made by El-Masri in his complaint.
The landmark lawsuit charges that former CIA Director George Tenet violated U.S. and universal human rights laws when he authorized agents to abduct El-Masri, beat him, drug him, and transport him to Afghanistan. The corporations that owned and operated the airplanes used during the rendition are also named in the case. The CIA continued to hold El-Masri incommunicado long after officials discovered they had abducted the wrong man. Five months after his abduction, El-Masri was released on a hill in Albania during nighttime, without any explanation and without ever having been charged with a crime. His wife and children were never informed of his whereabouts during the ordeal.
While accepting the CIA's invocation of the state secrets privilege to dismiss the case, Judge T.S. Ellis III acknowledged that "if El-Masri's allegations are true or essentially true, then all fair-minded people, including those who believe that state secrets must be protected, that this lawsuit cannot proceed, and that renditions are a necessary step to take in this war, must also agree that El-Masri has suffered injuries as a result of our country's mistake and deserves a remedy."
In a report released last month, the Council of Europe confirmed that several European nations were aware of the CIA's policy to abduct terrorism suspects and fly them to countries where they may be tortured. The council's investigation included thousands of records of flight plans of alleged CIA planes since 2001. The records correspond with the accounts given by El-Masri and other prisoners who say they were abducted by the CIA.
Last week, El-Masri shared his story at a panel before the United Nations in Geneva. The U.N. Human Rights Committee is currently reviewing the United States' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a major international human rights treaty ratified by the United States in 1992.
"What I am seeking is an acknowledgement that the CIA is responsible for what happened to me, an explanation as to why this happened, and an apology," said El-Masri. "As a global society, we must condemn the practice of rendition whenever we see or hear of it."
A hearing date on the appeal, filed late yesterday, has not yet been set.
El-Masri is represented by Wizner, Ann Beeson and Melissa Goodman of the ACLU. Steven Watt is a senior human rights advisor on the case.
Background and legal briefs in this case are online at: www.aclu.org/rendition and here: El-Masri v. Tenet Appeal
Video of El-Masri's testimony before the United Nations is online at: