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October 9th, 2007 - Top US Court Rejects CIA Kidnap Case
By Agence France Presse
October 9, 2007
Washington - The Supreme Court Tuesday threw out a case against the US government brought by a Lebanese-born German, alleging he was kidnapped by the CIA and tortured for months before being freed without charge.
The court did not give any reason for rejecting the case brought by Khaled el-Masri, an unemployed former car salesman and father of six, who says he was abducted by US agents in the Macedonian capital Skopje on December 31, 2003.
He was demanding an apology from the US administration and 75,000 dollars in compensation, alleging he was flown to a prison in Afghanistan for questioning before being released five months later in Albania, without any explanation.
"This is a sad day, not only for Khaled el-Masri, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our country's reputation around the world," his lawyer Ben Wizner told AFP.
"When we deny justice to an innocent victim of our anti-terror policies, we make America less safe and we provide the government with the most complete immunity for even the most shameful human rights abuses."
Masri's case is one of the most-high profile cases of the CIA's "rendition" program under which terror suspects are seized in one country and taken to another for questioning, during which human rights groups fear they are tortured.
The US administration had called on the Supreme Court to reject the case for reasons of national security, arguing it could not respond to Masri's allegations without revealing the secret CIA activities.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on Tuesday again refused to confirm or deny whether Masri was abducted or mistreated, as she welcomed the court's decision.
"I am not in a position to say anything different" to the government's refusal to discuss the case in the past, she said.
"I believe that the Justice Department is judicious in applying a state secrets act when it goes in front of the courts. And the fact that the Supreme Court agreed with us is, in our opinion, a good thing."
Two earlier suits in lower US courts were also rejected, and Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling closes the door on any further legal action by Masri in the United States.
Masri's lawyers had urged the Supreme Court to clarify the limits of state secrecy, highlighting that President George W. Bush had already publicly acknowledged the existence of the CIA's rendition program.
"As a matter of law and common sense, the government cannot legitimately keep secret what is already widely known," they argued in their deposition.
If the Supreme Court rejected Masri's case, then "the government may engage in torture, declare it a state secret and by virtue of that designation avoid any judicial accountability for conduct that even the government purports to condemn as unlawful under all circumstances."
Documents supporting the case filed by the rights watchdog Constitution Project called Masri's allegations "extremely disturbing."
"An innocent man, held by American agents for months, drugged, beaten and tortured in violation of US laws and treaties was then unceremoniously dumped in a foreign country after the government realized its mistake," it said.
But the Bush administration argued that if the case went to trial information concerning "highly classified methods and means of the program" would have to be revealed to the court.
Such "a showing could be made only with evidence that exposes how the CIA organizes, staffs and supervises its most sensitive intelligence operations," the government lawyers argued.
"I would say that this is a country that's facing unprecedented threats that we have not dealt with before in terms of Al-Qaeda and other terrorists," added Perino.
The last time the principle of state secrets was examined by the Supreme Court was in 1953, when after a military plane crash it ruled the then government did not have to disclose a military report into the accident to the families of three civilians killed.
Copyright © 2007 AFP.