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Khaled El-Masri Denied Justice By U.S. Courts, Says ACLU
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent victim of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear El-Masri's case in October 2007.
"The United States justice system denied an innocent victim of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program his day in court," said Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program. "El-Masri and the countless other victims of extraordinary rendition are left without judicial recourse in the United States, and they have no choice but to turn to the international community for justice."
In 2003, El-Masri, a German citizen, was kidnapped and flown to a CIA-run "black site" in Afghanistan, where he was tortured and forbidden from contacting his family or a lawyer. Even after realizing he was innocent, the CIA continued to hold El-Masri for two more months before abandoning him on a hillside in Albania with no explanation, never having charged him with a crime.
The ACLU sued former CIA Director George Tenet and others on El-Masri's behalf, seeking compensation and an apology for subjecting him to the unlawful extraordinary rendition program. The lawsuit charged Tenet and others with violating U.S. and universal human rights laws. In March 2007, a federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit because of the government's assertion of the "state secrets" privilege. The U.S. Supreme Court let that decision stand when it refused to hear the case in October.
The state secrets privilege has historically been used to exclude discrete pieces of evidence from trials, but in recent years the government has asserted the privilege with increasing regularity in order to block entire lawsuits and justify withholding information from the public about rendition, illegal wiretapping, torture, and other breaches of U.S. and international law.
"This administration has routinely abused the state secrets privilege to avoid any accountability for egregious violations of the Constitution and international law," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The United States, which has historically been a leader in ensuring access to justice for human rights violations around the world, now risks becoming a pariah and undermining the values it has long promoted."
The IACHR is an autonomous body created by mandate of the Organization of American States to promote and protect human rights. The ACLU petition asks the IACHR to declare that the extraordinary rendition program violates the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; to find the U.S. responsible for violating El-Masri's rights under that declaration; and to recommend that the U.S. publicly acknowledge and apologize for its role in violating El-Masri's rights to be free from arbitrary detention and torture.
Attorneys filing the petition on El-Masri's behalf are Watt, Jamil Dakwar and Jennifer Turner of the ACLU Human Rights Program and Wizner and Melissa Goodman of the ACLU National Security Project.
The ACLU's petition is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/34837lgl20080409.html
More information about Khaled El-Masri and the ACLU's work to end the CIA's extraordinary rendition program is available online here: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/rendition.html