Image: Al-Masri
Alexandra Winkler  /  Reuters file
Khaled al-Masri is suing CIA officials for wrongful imprisonment and torture after he was mistaken for a Sept. 11 hijacker, he says.
updated 5/12/2006 2:59:16 PM ET 2006-05-12T18:59:16

The government urged a federal judge on Friday to block a lawsuit filed by a German national who says he was illegally held in a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for four months and tortured.

U.S. Attorney R. Joseph Sher said government secrets could be exposed if Khaled al-Masri were allowed to proceed with his lawsuit.

“Disclosure of information in the case would jeopardize national security,” Sher said during a hearing in which he asked the judge to dismiss the case.

Citing the harm he said public disclosure of any information regarding the case could do, Sher said, “We cannot and will not confirm or deny the allegations or diplomatic contact with foreign governments.”

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said he will issue a ruling as soon as possible on whether the case will proceed.

The lawsuit was filed against former CIA Director George Tenet and 10 unidentified CIA employees. While the Central Intelligence Agency was not named as a defendant, the agency intervened to uphold its state secret privilege.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the private civil rights organization representing al-Masri, rejected claims that secrets would be exposed. Ben Wizner, an attorney for group, said the details of al-Masri’s alleged capture and detention have already been disclosed, and said the government’s contention that pursuing the case could hurt relations with other countries is unsubstantiated.

“The government is moving to dismiss this case on the basis of a fiction,” Wizner said in court.

A committee of the European Parliament has found that the CIA has been involved in clandestine operations that have included the detention of individuals who were taken to Afghanistan and other countries, where torture has been used in the past.

Al-Masri said he was taken into custody after being mistaken for an associate of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers. He said Macedonian authorities arrested him when he crossed the border on New Year’s Eve 2003 and turned him over to the CIA after three weeks.

Says he was beaten
He said he was then flown to Afghanistan where he was “dragged off the plane and thrown into the trunk of a car” and beaten by his captors. He was held at a CIA-run facility known as the “Salt Pit,” an abandoned brick factory north of the Kabul business district used for detention of high-level terror suspects, al-Masri says.

Al-Masri said that when he became ill, “they didn’t pay any attention.” He said he went on a hunger strike that ended after 37 days when his captors force-fed him. He said he had lost more than 60 pounds.

After Tenet was notified that this was a case of mistaken identity, al-Masri was held for two more months, his lawsuit alleges.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other State Department officials have declined to address the al-Masri case. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the United States has acknowledged making a mistake in his arrest.

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