Tuesday, December 6, 2005

A lawsuit filed yesterday in Virginia accuses George J. Tenet, who was CIA director at the time, of violating the U.S. Constitution and international law by authorizing the detention and interrogation of a German man the agency erroneously thought to be a terrorist.

“I’m filing this lawsuit because I believe in the American system of justice,” said Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent. “What happened to me was outside the bounds of any legal framework, and should never be allowed to happen to anyone else.”

The lawsuit says Mr. el-Masri was seized Dec. 31, 2003, “while on holiday in Macedonia,” and handed over to U.S. officials, who beat and drugged him, and took him to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was detained without charge and subjected to “coercive interrogation.”

Five months later, according to the complaint, he was “deposited at night, without explanation, on a hill in Albania.”

In addition to Mr. Tenet, the lawsuit names U.S. aviation companies Premier Executive Transport Services Inc., Keeler and Tate Management LLC and Aero Contractors Ltd., which it says supplied the aircraft and personnel that flew Mr. el-Masri from Skopje, Macedonia, to Bagram, Afghanistan, “knowing that they were to be used in Mr. El-Masri’s secret detention and interrogation.”

Twenty “Does” — people or corporations unknown to the plaintiff and identified only as “current or former employees” of the CIA and “of defendant corporations” who “directed or participated in the unlawful transport of plaintiff for the purpose of detaining and interrogating plaintiff outside the law” — also are named as defendants.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of denying Mr. el-Masri his constitutional right to due process and seeks damages under the Alien Tort Claims Act, saying they violated international law by subjecting Mr. el-Masri to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” and “prolonged arbitrary detention.”

The Alien Tort Claims Act is an 18th-century law that gives noncitizens of the United States the right to file cases against federal officials and U.S.-based private corporations for violating international law, said Ann Besson, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the lawyers who drafted the case.

The CIA public affairs office said the agency had no public response to make. Mr. Tenet also declined comment through a spokesman.

The el-Masri case, which has been investigated as a kidnapping by German prosecutors, has been a source of friction in U.S.-German counterterror cooperation, diplomats said.

Although it is not clear whether German authorities have any jurisdiction in the matter, because none of the reported actions against Mr. el-Masri took place on German soil, Berlin is irritated that the CIA did not inform it about Mr. el-Masri’s detention, a German official said.

“Ultimately, what I would like from this lawsuit is an acknowledgement that the CIA is responsible for what happened to me, an explanation as to why this happened, and an apology,” said Mr. el-Masri. The suit also seeks $75,000 in damages.

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