May 15, 2006 – With the Bush administration on the defensive against civil suits challenging its practices in the so-called "war on terror," Justice Department attorneys are turning to state-secrets arguments to suppress filings against its own and other departments.
- German sues CIA, Corporations for Rendition, Torture (Dec 7, 2005)
In the virtual absence of government oversight in federal anti-terror programs, public-interest groups have tried taking matters into their own hands by suing government officials for allegedly abusing their power. In turn, the Bush administration has in some cases attempted to protect itself and its corporate allies from scrutiny by arguing that allowing the civil suits to go forward would breach national security.
On Friday, administration lawyers asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who says American agents flew him to Afghanistan where he was held incommunicado and tortured for five months. Though the New York Times reports that US officials have since admitted that El-Masriâ€™s abduction was a case of mistaken identity, no official apology has been offered, so El-Masri is suing former CIA head George Tenet as well as the airlines that allegedly carried him to his detention.
But the Justice Department told US District Judge T. S. Ellis III on Friday that allowing El-Masri to pursue the case would force the government to reveal sensitive national-security information. The "state-secrets privilege," if granted by the judge, could allow officials to remove from consideration any evidence deemed a threat to national security, or even dismiss the case altogether.
The Bush administration is using a similar argument to come to the defense of telecommunications giant AT&T, which is being sued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for helping the National Security Agency illegally gather communications between its customers and overseas contacts.