By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The Supreme Court declined yesterday to open U.S. courts to a German citizen who said he was abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the CIA because he was mistakenly identified as a terrorist.
The government had invoked its "state secrets" privilege and said there was no way for Khaled el-Masri to bring his lawsuit, or for the government to defend itself, without the disclosure of information that would endanger national security.
A federal district judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had dismissed Masri's suit, and the Supreme Court's denial of review of those actions came without comment or dissent.
Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, has said he was detained by Macedonian police while on vacation on Dec. 31, 2003, and handed over to the CIA a few weeks later under a secret program that transfers terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation. He said he was taken to a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan and physically abused before he was flown back to the Balkans without explanation in May 2004 and dumped on a hillside in Albania.
German officials said they were later informed privately by their U.S. counterparts that Masri was detained in a case of mistaken identity, apparently confused with a terrorism suspect of a similar name. The case has drawn wide attention in Europe, although U.S. officials have not publicly admitted any guilt or responsibility in the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union had taken up Masri's case, and lawyer Ben Wizner said the Supreme Court's decision not to hear it "has provided the government with complete immunity for its shameful human rights and due-process violations."
ACLU lawyers that "the entire world already knows" the information the government said it is seeking to protect. But government lawyers said comments from officials are different from the specific details the administration would need to expose in order to litigate the case. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement called Masri's lawsuit an "extravagant request" that would overturn the precedent set by the court more than 50 years ago in denying a lawsuit brought during the Cold War about a downed warplane.
German authorities had tried to extradite 13 CIA agents they claimed were involved in Masri's abduction, but they dropped the effort last month.
Masri was committed to a psychiatric institution in May after he was arrested in the southern German city of Neu-Ulm on suspicion of arson. His attorney in Germany blamed his troubles on the CIA, saying the kidnapping and detention had left Masri a "psychological wreck."