Federal Appeals Court Denies Day in Court for Victim of CIA Kidnapping, Citing “State Secrets”

March 2, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU Considers Supreme Court Appeal in Case of Khaled El-Masri; Urges Congress to End Human Rights Abuses

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its disappointment with an appeals court ruling upholding the dismissal of the case of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent victim of the CIA’s policy of “extraordinary rendition.”

Although El-Masri’s case has been discussed and investigated throughout the world, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that it could not be either discussed or reviewed in an American court because of the government’s invocation of the “state secrets” privilege.

“Regrettably, today’s decision allows CIA officials to disregard the law with impunity by making it virtually impossible to challenge their actions in court,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “With today’s ruling, the state secrets doctrine has become a shield that covers even the most blatant abuses of power.”

The ACLU said it was reviewing the opinion and will consider an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

The ACLU lawsuit charges former CIA director George Tenet, other CIA officials and U.S.-based aviation corporations with violations of United States and universal human rights laws. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he was kidnapped, abused and rendered to a CIA-run “black site” in Afghanistan. After several months of confinement in squalid conditions, he was flown from Afghanistan and abandoned on a hill in Albania with no explanation, never having been charged with a crime.

“Today the appeals court gave the CIA complete immunity for even its most shameful conduct," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued El-Masri’s case before the Fourth Circuit last November. "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."

Wizner noted that El-Masri was allowed to travel to the United States last November to attend the hearing and to meet with Congressional officials. “Were there a shred of evidence linking Mr. El-Masri to terrorism, he would not have been released from American custody, nor would he have been permitted to enter the United States last November, observe judicial proceedings in his case, and freely walk the halls of Congress,” Wizner said.

Indeed, according to the Washington Post, at least eight U.S. officials have confirmed that El-Masri spent months in a squalid CIA-run prison because "a couple of CIA officials in Washington had a hunch he was someone he was not" and "did not move fast enough when they found out he wasn't."

At the November 28, 2006 hearing before the appeals court, the ACLU argued that the government is invoking the state secrets privilege to avoid accountability for the abuses it perpetrated against El-Masri rather than to protect sensitive national security interests. Based on official recognition of the rendition program and the volume of information on its widespread use both generally and specifically in relation to El-Masri, the ACLU argued that allowing El-Masri to litigate his claims further will not harm national security.

To date, El-Masri’s case has been described in literally hundreds of newspaper articles and television news programs – many of them relying on sources within the U.S. government. It has been the subject of numerous investigations and reports by intergovernmental bodies, including the European Parliament. Most recently, prosecutors in El-Masri’s adopted country of Germany formally requested indictments against 13 CIA agents and contractors for their role in his kidnapping, abuse, and detention.

Last month the ACLU sharply criticized the Bush administration for its refusal to sign an international accord regarding secret detentions and forced disappearances. “We urge Congress to shine a bright light on our government’s use of secret detention and rendition,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Bush administration should stop stonewalling congressional efforts to examine these abuses of basic due process and human rights. Congress must permanently shut down these secret programs and facilities.”

More information on El-Masri’s case is online at www.aclu.org/rendition

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