Former U.S. Diplomats Urge Court to Review Case of German Man Kidnapped by CIA

July 31, 2006 12:00 am

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Illegal CIA Kidnappings Hurt America, Say Experts in Court Brief

NEW YORK — Former United States diplomats and State Department officials today told a federal appeals court that denying a judicial forum to an innocent German citizen who was kidnapped by the CIA further “damages U.S. standing in the world community and our ability to obtain international cooperation in combating terrorism.”

Ten former officials and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, who was seized by the CIA and transported to a secret prison in Afghanistan where he was abused. A Virginia federal district court dismissed El-Masri’s lawsuit based on the government’s assertion that allowing the case to proceed would expose state secrets, even though the basic facts of the case have been widely reported in the media. The case is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia.

“The former diplomats who filed this brief care passionately about the United States and have spent years thinking deeply about how to protect the United States in the international arena,” said Aziz Huq, director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Project. “Their experience is that when we break our own laws, we not only inflict needless harm on others, but also damage our own national security.”

The brief submitted by the former diplomats states: “America’s reputation — and thus its ability to rally international coalitions to overcome terrorism — is critically wounded when one of its own agencies apparently violates laws enacted by Congress to protect basic rights, America’s stated foreign policies, and the nation’s treaty obligations — but the federal courts permit invocation of the state secrets privilege to give immunity for unlawful and notorious conduct.”

The brief’s co-signers, who include officials who have served in every administration since President Eisenhower, are:

  • Morton Abramowitz, former ambassador to Thailand and Turkey and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research. Abramowitz is also the former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  • F. Allen “Tex” Harris, past president of the American Foreign Service Association, who has served in the State Department for 35 years, including posts in Argentina, Australia and Venezuela.
  • William C. Harrop, former ambassador to Israel, Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles and Zaire, and Inspector General of the State Department and the Foreign Service during the Reagan administration. Harrop served in the Foreign Service from 1954 to 1994.
  • Sam Hart, former ambassador to Ecuador who served for 27 years as a Foreign Service Officer in Israel, the Far East and Latin America.
  • Edward L. Peck, Chief of Mission in Iraq during the Carter administration and Deputy Director of the Cabinet Task Force on Terrorism in the Reagan White House. Peck served as Deputy Coordinator for Covert Intelligence Programs at the State Department and is a former ambassador to Mauritania.
  • William D. Rogers, former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs and Under Secretary of State for International Economic Affairs during the Ford administration. Rogers has held State Department and diplomatic posts in the Kennedy, Johnson and Carter administrations, and is a past president of the American Society of International Law.
  • Pierre Shostal, former United States Consul General in Hamburg and Frankfurt and Director of the State Department’s Office of Central European Affairs. Shostal served as a Foreign Service Officer in Moscow, Brussels, Rwanda, Malawi and Congo.
  • E. Michael Southwick, former ambassador to Uganda and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the current Bush administration.
  • Ward Thompson, former Director of the Office of Human Rights Policy and Programs in the State Department Human Rights Bureau, and Editor-in-Chief of the U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Thompson was a member of U.S. delegations to the Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe Human Rights Experts Meetings in Ottawa and Copenhagen.
  • Peter Wolcott, a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Information Agency from 1962 to 1983 in Indonesia, Malaysia, Finland and Australia.
  • The former diplomats believe that the outcome of the El-Masri case could have a negative impact on America’s ability to combat terrorism.

“Denial of a forum at the outset of litigation to Mr. El-Masri and the use of the state secrets privilege to immunize kidnapping, torture and unlawful detention from judicial scrutiny are likely to send a message to our foreign allies that will exacerbate those effects,” states the brief. “When the courthouse door is slammed shut in the face of such notorious allegations… the work of diplomacy is rendered more difficult, and the damage to our reputation and our counter-terrorism goals, becomes incalculable.”

The El-Masri case and similar kidnappings have already had a strong negative impact on the standing of the United States in the world community, explain the diplomats. Several nations have responded critically to the CIA’s “rendition” policy and, in the face of broad public revulsion overseas at torture or abusive treatment, some democratic governments are abstaining from cooperating with the United States.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called for an end to illegal rendition and a remedy for its victims, including El-Masri, and stated that so-called “diplomatic assurances” that detainees will not face torture provide inadequate protection.

The former diplomats brief was prepared with the aid of Sidney S. Rosdeitcher, David M. Cave and Colin McNary of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The brief is online at:

El-Masri is represented by Ben Wizner, Ann Beeson, Melissa Goodman and Steven Watt of the ACLU. A hearing date has not yet been set by the court of appeals.

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