ACLU Vows to Fight Government's Abuse of "State Secrets" Privilege in Widely Publicized CIA Kidnapping of German Citizen
NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it will
continue to pursue a fair hearing for Khaled El-Masri, a victim of the CIA
policy of illegal abduction and detention known as extraordinary rendition. The
ACLU said that the government is abusing the state secrets privilege to cover up
its kidnapping and torture of an innocent man.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied El-Masri access to justice yesterday because, according to the court, the simple fact of holding proceedings would jeopardize state secrets, a position advanced by the CIA.
"The court's decision gives the government a blank check to shield even its most shameful conduct from any scrutiny or accountability," said Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU. "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."
In his opinion, Judge T.S. Ellis III held that CIA properly invoked the state secrets to dismiss El-Masri's lawsuit, notwithstanding the vast amount of public information concerning El-Masri's claims. The court acknowledged, however, 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."
The ACLU said the government has been invoking the state secrets privilege with increasing regularity in an effort to avoid the exposure of illegal and immoral practices, including, most recently, in an effort to dismiss lawsuits challenging illegal NSA wiretapping. Yet in this case, the ACLU argued that all the information needed to establish CIA culpability is already public.
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 a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. The corporations that owned and operated the airplanes are also named in the case. The CIA continued to hold El-Masri incommunicado in the notorious "Salt Pit" prison in Afghanistan long after his innocence was known. Five months after his abduction El-Masri was deposited at night, without explanation on a hill in Albania, never having been charged with a crime.
In a related development, the U.N. Committee Against Torture today issued a series of recommendations to bring the U.S. into compliance with the Convention Against Torture. Included is a direct charge to "Cease the rendition of suspects, in particular by its intelligence agencies, to States where they face a real risk of torture."
Recently, a special committee of the European Parliament issued an interim report concluding that the CIA has on several occasions illegally kidnapped and detained individuals in European countries. The report also found that the CIA detained and then secretly used airlines to transfer persons to countries like Egypt and Afghanistan, which routinely use torture during interrogations. Members of the European investigative committee came to the United States last week meet with the ACLU and Members of Congress. A parliamentary inquiry into El-Masri's kidnapping is also currently ongoing in Germany.
The ACLU has also called on a United Nations human rights investigative body, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, to conduct a full investigation into the United States' "extraordinary rendition" program.
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 briefs on the case are online at: www.aclu.org/rendition