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Supreme Court refuses terror suspects' case alleging CIA torture

US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the case of five foreigners seeking to pursue a lawsuit alleging CIA-directed torture abroad. With that, appeals court ruling stands, disallowing the suit to protect 'state secrets.'

By Staff writer / May 16, 2011

The US Supreme Court building is seen in this file photo.

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The US Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal by five foreign nationals seeking to reinstate a lawsuit claiming they were kidnapped and tortured overseas at the direction of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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The high court acted without comment. The case involved the US government’s use of the so-called state secrets privilege to have certain lawsuits immediately thrown out of court when they touch on sensitive national security issues.

The five men were all suspected of being Islamic militants. They alleged in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that they were victims of a secret US policy called extraordinary rendition.

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US officials have acknowledged that such a policy existed, but the government nonetheless urged the courts to throw the case out because the litigation would disclose state secrets.

The dismissal by the high court comes after a period of years when both the Bush and Obama administrations have increasingly invoked the state secrets doctrine to quash lawsuits seeking independent judicial oversight to examine allegations of civil and human rights violations – including torture – by the US government.

Executive officials have successfully used the doctrine to block lawsuits challenging the warrantless surveillance of US citizens by the National Security Agency and to block judicial review of the capture of an innocent German national who was held incommunicado and interrogated in Afghanistan for four months before being released, without apology. He was deposited in the middle of the night on a deserted road in Albania.

The state secrets privilege is a court-created doctrine that directs judges to dismiss cases that would require the disclosure of highly sensitive government secrets. When the government can show that the very subject matter of a lawsuit would publicly reveal sensitive national security information, the doctrine suggests judges should defer to the requests of the executive branch.

Lawyers for the five men say the issue raises fundamental questions about whether the federal courts are properly serving their constitutional role as an independent check on executive authority. It is up to the courts to hold the government accountable for alleged illegal conduct against individuals, they say.

“Otherwise, the government may engage in torture, declare it a state secret, and by virtue of that designation avoid any judicial accountability for conduct that even the government purports to condemn as unlawful under all circumstances,” ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner wrote in his brief urging the justices to take up the case.

Of the five men in the Supreme Court lawsuit, three have obtained compensatory payments from the British or Swedish governments for the role those governments played in assisting the US. In contrast, the US government has made no payments and offered no acknowledgement of mistakes or wrongdoing.

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