Richmond, Va.; Nov. 29, 2006 – A federal appeals court heard arguments here Tuesday from civil rights advocates trying to reinstate a landmark lawsuit against the CIA over alleged human rights abuses.
- German sues CIA, Corporations for Rendition, Torture (Dec 7, 2005)
Federal attorneys argued vigorously to keep the case from going to trial.
The lawsuit, originally filed last December on behalf of German citizen Khaled El-Masri, claims former CIA director George Tenet and other unnamed CIA officials violated due-process and human rights protections by facilitating his capture, torture and prolonged secret detention. Under the CIAâ€™s "extraordinary rendition" program, Macedonian government agents abducted El-Masri in 2004 and eventually helped to transport him to a prison in Afghanistan, the suit alleges.
The complaint also lists unnamed US-based aviation companies that allegedly carried El-Masri during his captivity.
El-Masri says he was stripped, beaten and sodomized. At the prison, El-Masri says, masked American and foreign questioners regularly interrogated him about affiliations with terrorist groups. He says he started a hunger strike â€“ his only form of protest â€“ and eventually suffered forced tube-feeding at the hands of his captors.
As previously reported by The NewStandard, the suit also alleges that El-Masriâ€™s detention and mistreatment continued, even after Tenet and other Bush administration officials discovered he was in no way connected to terrorism.
"I was held captive for five months under deplorable conditions â€“ I think itâ€™s fair to say conditions not fit for human beings."
"I was kidnapped, I was beaten, I was drugged and taken to Afghanistan against my will," El-Masri said through a translator outside the courthouse. "I was held captive for five months under deplorable conditions â€“ I think itâ€™s fair to say conditions not fit for human beings." When he was finally freed, El-Masri said, his handlers dumped him "like a piece of luggage in the woods in Albania."
El-Masri, in the United States for the first time, said all he wants is an acknowledgement that the US is responsible for his kidnapping, an explanation and an apology. The lawsuit also seeks $75,000 in damages, though El-Masriâ€™s attorneys emphasized that the case is not about a monetary award.
The US government has refused to confirm or deny the allegations, saying that by doing so, clandestine CIA activities would be divulged. Last May, US District Judge T.S. Ellis granted the governmentâ€™s request to use the "state secrets" privilege to dismiss the lawsuit. Ellis concurred with the defendantsâ€™ argument that proceeding with the lawsuit "would reveal considerable detail about the CIAâ€™s highly classified overseas programs and operations.â€�
At Tuesdayâ€™s hearing, the ACLU accepted that, if the case were to go to trial, some evidence would be kept both from the plaintiffs and the public during court proceedings. But ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner said the government is misusing the state-secrets privilege to avoid accountability for illegal activity.
ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner said the government is misusing the state-secrets privilege to avoid accountability for illegal activity.
"Itâ€™s not enough that [the US] made a hypothetical defense," Wizner told the court. "They need to make a valid defense."
Representing the Department of Justice, attorney Gregory Katsas countered that in classified evidence submitted to judges only, the defense shows that even "seemingly innocuous" information "will lead to a cascading effect of national-security harms."
"Even disclosure of information to judges carries risk," added Katsas.
The ACLU contends that the federal government waived its right to call the rendition program a state secret after President Bush acknowledged the secret CIA prisons in September and other top ranking officials confirmed the rendition program.
"The world is watching this case," said Wizner, "not to learn intelligence secrets but to see if the US can give justice to an innocent victim of our anti-terror policy. The answer to that is terribly important."