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Did CIA kidnap vacationer? It's a state secret.

At issue is whether the White House has the power to keep an alleged victim from seeking redress in US courts.

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In December 2003, German citizen Khaled el-Masri boarded a bus in Germany for a holiday in Skopje, Macedonia.

Instead of a restful vacation, the Muslim man of Lebanese heritage says he ended up in a Central Intelligence Agency isolation cell in Afghanistan as a suspected terrorist. He was released after five months of interrogation with no explanation justifying the action or apology if it was a mistake.

Now, nearly four years later, his lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to examine whether the Bush administration has the power to prevent Mr. Masri from seeking recourse in American courts.

Masri's lawyers claim that the CIA kidnapped and tortured an innocent man. The government has never responded directly to the accusation. Instead, Justice Department lawyers asked a US judge to throw the case out of court to prevent disclosure of state secrets. He did.

At issue in El-Masri v. US is the government's use of the so-called state-secrets privilege. The judicial doctrine provides that some legal cases must be dismissed if the central evidence in the court battle would require disclosure of national security secrets. The Bush administration is using the same doctrine to block a string of legal challenges to other secret terror-war tactics, including warrantless electronic surveillance in the US.

Masri's lawyers say he is not seeking to disclose secrets; he just wants to have US officials held accountable for their alleged treatment of him, which has already been made public. The government counters that any effort to defend US actions in the Masri case would require disclosure of how the CIA handles terror suspects and other US intelligence sources and methods. Such information is secret and must remain secret, government lawyers say.


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