Federal courts in Virginia have dismissed claims based on “state secrets” doctrine

The ACLU today petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the case of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German citizen who was a victim of the government’s unlawful “extraordinary rendition” program.
Although the story of El-Masri’s mistaken kidnapping and detention at the hands of the CIA is known throughout the world, his lawsuit against the CIA was dismissed in May 2006 by the federal district court in Alexandria after the government invoked the so-called “state secrets” privilege. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Richmond last November, but in March of this year upheld the lower court’s decision.
“This administration has invoked the state secrets privilege not to protect national security, but to protect itself from embarrassment and accountability,” said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. “Mr. El-Masri’s case should be a powerful reminder that when our government abandons the rule of law, innocent victims suffer the consequences.”
“Unfortunately, the lower courts have deferred to the CIA so far, allowing the government to advance the untenable argument that it is not required either to admit to or deny El-Masri’s allegations,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We’re hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize the importance of at least giving Mr. El-Masri his day in court.”
The lawsuit charges former CIA director George Tenet, other CIA officials, and U.S.-based aviation corporations with violations of U.S. and universal human rights laws. El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia when he was kidnapped, abused and placed in 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 without explanation, never having been charged with a crime.
In a related matter, the ACLU today filed a federal lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing Company, on behalf of three other victims of the extraordinary rendition program. The lawsuit charges that Jeppesen knowingly provided the CIA with flight services to foreign locations where the victims were subjected to torture and other forms of inhuman treatment.
Khaled El-Masri is represented by ACLU Legal Director Steve Shapiro, Steven Watt, Ben Wizner, Jameel Jaffer, and Melissa Goodman of the national ACLU, Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia, and Victor Glasberg of Victor M. Glasberg & Associates.
For more information on the El-Masri and Jeppesen cases, visit www.aclu.org/rendition.

National ACLU Contact: Laurie Beacham or Emily Whitfield 212-519-7811 or 212-549-2566 media@aclu.org

Virginia ACLU Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director Office: 804-644-8022