Saturday, March 03, 2007

The public face of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program

Yesterday, a case that has been discussed throughout the world was dismissed by a U.S. court because of the invocation of the “state secrets” privilege. Khaled El-Masri is a German citizen kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia while on vacation. He was taken to Afghanistan where he was imprisoned at a “black site” and tortured for four months before they realized they had an innocent person. He was then taken to Albania and left on a hilltop without any explanation or apology. He was never charged with any crime or linked to any terrorist group. Publicity of his situation made him the public face of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program.

The ACLU represented Mr. El-Masri in his attempt to receive justice in an American Court. The case was dismissed by a federal district last spring based upon the state secrets privilege. On Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld the dismissal. His lawyers are reviewing the decision to determine whether or not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is always a sad day when individuals are denied their day in court but this case goes the denial of justice for an individual. The “state secrets” privilege is an excuse to shield government wrong-doing and to hold those involved above public accountability. Unfortunately for them, a number of U.S. agents suspected of involvement in the extraordinary rendition program have been indicted in Germany and Italy. Perhaps justice will prevail in a court outside the American judicial system.

The following is by Khaled El-Masri and appeared in today’s L.A. Times:
Why, then, does the American government insist that my ordeal is a state secret? This is something beyond my comprehension. In December 2005, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, I sued former CIA Director George Tenet along with other CIA agents and contractors for their roles in my kidnapping, mistreatment and arbitrary detention. Above all, what I want from the lawsuit is a public acknowledgment from the U.S. government that I was innocent, a mistaken victim of its rendition program, and an apology for what I was forced to endure. Without this vindication, it has been impossible for me to return to a normal life.

The U.S. government does not deny that I was wrongfully kidnapped. Instead, it has argued in court that my case must be dismissed because any litigation of my claims will expose state secrets and jeopardize American security, even though President Bush has told the world about the CIA's detention program, and even though my allegations have been corroborated by eyewitnesses and other evidence. To my amazement and dismay, last May, a federal district court judge agreed with the government and threw out my case. And then Friday, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. It seems that the only place in the world where my case cannot be discussed is in a U.S. courtroom.

I did not bring this lawsuit to harm America. I brought the lawsuit because I want to know why America harmed me. I don't understand why the strongest nation on Earth believes that acknowledging a mistake will threaten its security. Isn't it more likely that showing the world that America cannot give justice to an innocent victim of its anti-terror policies will cause harm to America's image and security around the world?

In November, I traveled to America for the first time to hear my lawyers argue my case before the appeals court in Richmond, Va. and to meet with members of Congress and their staff on Capitol Hill. (It's obvious that the U.S. government does not consider me a security threat, or I would not have been allowed to enter the country, much less be in the same room with federal judges and members of Congress.)

Although I did not understand all of the arguments made by the lawyers, I was impressed by the dignity of the proceedings and by the respect for the rule of law that I have always associated with America. I'm deeply disappointed to find that this same legal system denies me the chance to fully present my case.

If I were being treated fairly by the American legal system, perhaps we would not have reached the point where German prosecutors are bringing criminal charges against American citizens.

During my visit in November, many Americans offered me their personal apologies for the brutality that had been perpetrated against me in their name. I saw in their faces the true America, an America that is not held captive by fear of unknown enemies and that understands the strength and power of justice. That is the America that, I hope, one day will see me as a human being — not a state secret.
You can read his entire piece here.


Anonymous said...

Good God. Truly horrifying. A couple of years ago I told a friend of mine that she should go see the movie "Farenheit 911". Even though she has been a U.S. Citizen for a few years (she came here as a refugee from atrocities there), her first reaction was that she should not go as she might get in trouble with "the police". She actually thought the movie theater might be monitored by the authorites who would note who had attended. I was mortified and told her that people weren't watched like that in this country, and that George Bush would buy her a ticket to see the movie if he knew of her reluctance because her reaction wasn't what America is all about.

Now I am not so sure what I said to her was true.

Staff said...

Great post, please consider submitting it to The Carnival of Virginia.