Lower court judge in Alexandria dismissed case based on “state secrets” claim

Richmond, VA—The national and Virginia offices of the American Civil Liberties Union filed papers on Monday asking the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to overrule a lower court judge who dismissed a case brought against the CIA by “extraordinary rendition” victim Khaled El-Masri. U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III dismissed the case in May after accepting the CIA’s argument that further court proceedings would disclose “state secrets.”
The landmark lawsuit charges that George Tenet and other CIA officials violated U.S. and universal human rights laws when they authorized agents to kidnap El-Masri, and that his unlawful abduction and treatment were the direct result of an illegal CIA policy known as “extraordinary rendition.”  El-Masri was forcibly abducted while on holiday in Macedonia.  He was detained incommunicado, beaten, drugged, and transported to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan, where he was subjected to inhumane conditions and coercive interrogation.  El-Masri was forbidden from contacting a lawyer or any member of his family.  After several months of confinement in squalid conditions, he was abandoned on a hill in Albania with no explanation, never having been charged with a crime.
“Depriving Khaled El-Masri of his day in court on the ground that the government cannot disclose facts that the whole world already knows only compounds the brutal treatment he endured,” said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who will argue the appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond. “Secret government kidnappings and detentions outside the law have no place in a free democracy. If this decision stands, the government will have a blank check to shield even its most shameful conduct from accountability.”
In a report released in June, the Council of Europe confirmed that several European nations were aware of the CIA’s policy to abduct terrorism suspects and fly them to countries where they may be tortured. The council’s investigation included thousands of records of flight plans of alleged CIA planes since 2001. The report corresponds with the accounts given by El-Masri and other prisoners who say they were abducted by the CIA.
“What I am seeking is an acknowledgement that the CIA is responsible for what happened to me, an explanation as to why this happened, and an apology,” said El-Masri.
A hearing date on the appeal has not yet been set. El-Masri is represented by Ann Beeson, Ben Wizner, and Melissa Goodman of the ACLU National Legal Department, Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman, LLP, Rebecca K. Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia, and Victor Glasberg of Victor M. Glasberg & Associates.
Links to the Council of Europe’s report and the ACLU’s legal briefs can be found online at: www.acluva.org/docket/elmasri.html

Contacts: Media@aclu.org or Kent Willis, ACLU of Virginia, 804/644-8022