State Department Has Two Months to Respond to Forced Disappearance and Torture Charges
Two months. That’s how long the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has given to the U.S. government to respond to allegations of kidnapping and torture put forth in a petition the ACLU filed on behalf of an innocent victim of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program.
In 2003, Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen, was kidnapped and flown to a CIA-run “black site” in Afghanistan, where he was secretly detained and tortured for months. Although his innocence was clear soon after his detention, the CIA continued to hold El-Masri for four months before flying him to Albania and abandoning him on a hillside in the dead of night. El-Masri has never been charged with a crime.
In 2005, the ACLU sued former CIA Director George Tenet and three U.S.-based aviation corporations that owned or operated the aircraft used by the CIA to render El-Masri to Afghanistan. The lawsuit charged Tenet and others with violating the U.S. Constitution 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. In October 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court let that decision stand. The U.S. justice system effectively denied El-Masri his day in court, which left the ACLU no choice but to turn to the international community for justice in April 2009.
The IACHR, a regional human rights body headquartered in Washington, D.C., and a part of the Organization of American States, regularly investigates allegations of human rights violations in the western hemisphere.
Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program discussed the significance of the IACHR’s review in a statement issued today, “The United States has an opportunity to reverse one of the most shameful legacies of the Bush administration and finally give an innocent victim of the extraordinary rendition program his day in court.”
The State Department must address the gross violation of El-Masri’s human rights, including his forcible disappearance and torture. The U.S. has an opportunity to restore its standing in the world and comply with domestic and international human rights law.