US Court Drops Illegal-Abduction Suit Against CIA | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 19.05.2006

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US Court Drops Illegal-Abduction Suit Against CIA

A US court dismissed a German citizen's lawsuit against the CIA for allegedly having him abducted and tortured in a secret operation, saying a hearing would damage US national security.

In the El-Masri case, a US court opted to put society before the individual

In the El-Masri case, a US court opted to put society before the individual

The district court in Alexandria, Virginia turned back a lawsuit by German citizen Khaled El-Masri against former CIA chief George Tenet and others, on the basis of "state secrets" privilege -- that a trial would disclose secret information crucial to US security.

George Tenet CIA Chef

El-Masri named ex-CIA chief George Tenet, and others, in his suit

But the court also said that if his story is true, the US government should come up with an unspecified "remedy" for El-Masri's complaint.

El-Masri, 42, sued Tenet, three allegedly CIA-linked aviation companies, and numerous unnamed Central Intelligence Agency agents for $75,000 (58,000 euros), alleging he was forcibly seized in a CIA rendition operation in Skopje, Macedonia on Dec. 31, 2003.

Mistaken identity claim

After being held for several weeks in an unknown location, where he was beaten and sodomized with a foreign object, he alleged, he was drugged and sent to the CIA-run Afghan prison called the "Salt Pit" where he was tortured and interrogated as a suspected terrorist with links to the plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

After four months -- on May 28, 2004 -- Lebanon-born El-Masri claims, he was flown blindfolded in a private jet from Kabul to Albania, where he was left on the side of an abandoned road to make his own way home.

The 42 year old El-Masri believes that he was mistaken for another person sought by the United States in its war on terror and that he was nevertheless held for weeks after Tenet, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top US officials knew of the error.

Asserting state-secret privilege

The judge did, however, stress that his rejection of the lawsuit made no judgement on the merit of el-Masri’s claims. But in the end the court ruled in favor of government arguments that because the case involves clandestine activities it should not be allowed to proceed because it would cause damage to national security.

CIA Flugaffäre Kalenderblatt

This airplane was mentioned in a report by police investigating the CIA rendition program

"There is no doubt that the state secrets privilege is validly asserted here," the ruling said.

"While dismissal of the complaint deprives El-Masri of an American judicial forum for vindicating his claims ... El-Masri's private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets."

The El-Masri case was the first legal challenge in the United States confronting the controversial clandestine CIA "extraordinary renditions" program, which involves seizing terrorist suspects and transferring them to secret prisons for interrogation.

His claims led European leaders to order investigations into the US rendition policy. US and foreign human rights groups have said the program involves severe torture and denial of basic rights.

Court requests 'remedy'

The Alexandria court showed some sympathy to El-Masri, who was not present for the hearing, when it concluded in its ruling that, if there is any truth to his story, the US government should offer a "remedy."

"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 (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 judgement said.

The judge said that remedy should come from the US government's executive or legislative branch, and not the courts.

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