U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether to consider alleged CIA kidnapping suit


The Associated Press
Published: October 9, 2007

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Supreme Court could decide as early as Tuesday whether to hear the appeal of a German citizen who alleges he was kidnapped by the CIA, held illegally for five months and abused.

The high court is the last option of appeal for Khaled el-Masri in his lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and others after lower courts, agreeing with the Bush administration, dismissed the case on national security grounds.

If the court should decide to hear the case, it could have implications for U.S. arguments in many terror-related cases that court hearings risk exposing state secrets and could harm national interests.

The case is one of many challenges to policies the Bush administration says are necessary to defend the United States against terror threats.

The el-Masri case centers on the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, in which terrorism suspects are captured and taken to foreign countries for interrogation. The U.S. government says it does so only after receiving assurances that transferred prisoners will not be subjected to torture.

Human rights groups have heavily criticized the program and insisted that government should have to answer allegations in court.

El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was mistakenly identified as an associate of the Sept. 11 hijackers and was kidnapped while attempting to enter Macedonia legally on New Year's Eve 2003.

He claims he was flown to a CIA-run prison known as the "salt pit" near Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was beaten and sodomized with an object during five months in captivity. The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $75,000 (€53,000).

The U.S. government has neither confirmed nor denied el-Masri's account.

If the Supreme Court should take up the case, it would rule eventually whether lower courts were right to dismiss the lawsuit. The justices also could reject el-Masri's appeal without a hearing, which would have the effect of confirming the lower courts' rulings.