Top US court rejects CIA kidnap case

Oct. 09, 2007

The Supreme Court Tuesday threw out a case against the US government brought by a Lebanese-born German, who says he was kidnapped by the CIA and tortured before being released months later 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.

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 under torture.

The US administration had called on the Supreme Court to reject the case for reasons of national security, arguing it could neither confirm or deny Masri's allegations without revealing the secret activities of the CIA.

Two earlier suits in lower US courts were rejected, and Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling closes the door on any further legal action by Masri in the United States.

His lawyers had urged the Supreme Court to clarify the limits of state secrecy, arguing that in past cases national security had limited what evidence could be presented in court, but had not prevented a trial from going ahead.

In documents filed to the Supreme Court last week, Masri's lawyers highlighted that President George W. Bush had already publicly acknowledged the existence of the CIA's rendition program.

Other details of Masri's case had also been made public in news reports, including the plane used to fly him to Afghanistan, they argued.

"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.

"Under a system predicated on respect for the rule of law, the government has no privilege to violate our most fundamental legal norms," it added.

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.

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.

A German court in southern Munich in January meanwhile has issued arrest warrants for 13 suspects in Masri's alleged kidnapping.

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