RICHMOND, Virginia - November 28 - The American Civil Liberties Union today argued before the
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that its lawsuit on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, a
victim of the CIA’s policy of “extraordinary rendition,” should proceed.
Earlier this year a federal district court in Alexandria, VA dismissed
El-Masri’s lawsuit based on the government's argument that allowing it to
proceed would jeopardize state secrets.
“Our country’s system of justice, based on the rule of law, is intended to
allow everyone their day in court” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of
the ACLU. “But here the government seeks to keep the doors of the
courthouse closed to an innocent man who has suffered unthinkable abuse at the
hands of our government. We go to court to fight for his right and the
right of us all to petition for justice.”
El-Masri came to the United States to witness the appeal of the ACLU’s
landmark lawsuit on his behalf, and sat in the courtroom today behind his
attorneys. The suit charges former CIA director George Tenet, other CIA
officials and U.S.-based aviation corporations with violations of United States
and universal human rights laws. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he
was kidnapped, abused and rendered to a CIA-run “black site” in Afghanistan.
After several months of confinement in squalid conditions, he was flown from
Afghanistan and abandoned on a hill in Albania with no explanation, never having
been charged with a crime.
The ACLU argued that the government is invoking the state secrets privilege
to avoid accountability for the abuses it perpetrated against El-Masri rather
than to protect sensitive national security interests. Based on official
recognition of the rendition program and the volume of information on its
widespread use both generally and specifically in relation to El-Masri, the ACLU
argued that allowing El-Masri to litigate his claims further will not harm
“I have come to America seeking three things,” said El-Masri. “An
acknowledgement that the United States government is responsible for kidnapping,
abusing and detaining me; an explanation as to why I was singled out for this
treatment; and an apology because I am an innocent man who has never been
charged with any crime.”
According to the ACLU lawsuit, El-Masri, a 43-year-old German citizen and
father of six young children, was forcibly abducted while on vacation in
Macedonia on December 31, 2003 by agents of the Macedonian government. These
agents handed El-Masri over to the CIA who held him incommunicado, beat and
drugged him, and rendered him to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan, where he
was subjected to inhumane conditions and coercive interrogation. During
his detention, El-Masri was refused contact with a lawyer or any member of his
family. After several months of confinement in squalid conditions, on May
28, 2004 he was flown from Afghanistan and abandoned on a hill in Albania with
no explanation, never having been charged with a crime.
According to the ACLU, shortly after El-Masri was flown to Afghanistan, CIA
officers realized that they had abducted, detained and interrogated an innocent
man. Tenet, former director of the CIA, was notified of the mistake, yet
El-Masri remained in detention for two more months.
In September President Bush publicly acknowledged the widely reported fact
that the CIA has operated a secret prison system outside of the United States
and outside the requirements of U.S. and international law. Earlier this
month Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said that his committee’s priorities will include an investigation
into the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, including the use of CIA
operated aircraft. In an interview with the Financial Times, Levin said he
was uncomfortable with the system and believes “that there’s been some
significant abuses which have not made us more secure but have made us less
secure and have also, perhaps, cost us some real allies, as well as not
producing useful information. So I think the system needs a thorough review and,
as the military would say, a thorough scrubbing.”
Both the European
Parliament and the Council of Europe have conducted investigations into the
CIA’s use of European airspace and facilities as part of the rendition program.
An investigation by Swiss Senator Dick Marty concluded that not only do illegal
U.S. detention centers in Europe exist, but that 14 European nations have
assisted the CIA to carry out its rendition program.
“The CIA’s policy of extraordinary rendition has resulted in a worldwide web
of kidnapping, torture, and abuse,” said Steven Watt, an attorney with the
ACLU. “The policy violates fundamental human and civil rights, but perhaps
more importantly it violates basic principles of morality.”
El-Masri is represented by Watt, Ann Beeson, Ben Wizner and Melissa Goodman
of the ACLU National Legal Department, Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow
Harris & Hoffman, LLP, Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia and Victor
Glasberg of Victor M. Glasberg & Associates.
More information is available online at: www.aclu.org/rendition