The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a German man who says he was tortured as part of Washington's practice of "extraordinary rendition,'' a move that could derail Maher Arar's quest for justice in this country.
The court, without comment, denied the bid by 44-year-old Khaled el-Masri, essentially upholding the Bush administration's argument that "state secrets'' would be endangered if the German man's lawsuit against the CIA was allowed to proceed.
It was the first time a case of rendition, often referred to as the out-sourcing of torture, has reached the country's highest court.
El-Masri has maintained he was a victim of mistaken identity when he was picked up by CIA agents in Macedonia on New Year's Eve 2003, then beaten, shackled, drugged and chained to the floor of a so-called "ghost flight'' and sent to a "black site'' prison in Afghanistan.
There he claimed he was tortured and abused for five months before being unceremoniously dumped on a hillside in Albania and told to find his own way home.
The White House has never acknowledged it rendered el-Masri, but his story has been documented in extensive media accounts, backed by European investigations and accepted by the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The only other rendition victim seeking redress in American courts is Canadian telecommunications engineer Maher Arar. Arar was shuttled to a Syrian prison, where he was tortured after being picked up by American authorities at New York's JFK Airport in 2002.
His U.S. lawyer said Arar's appeal of a lower court ruling would proceed in New York on Nov. 9 and pointed to differences in the two cases that could keep the Canadian's case alive.
Maria LaHood said in the el-Masri case, the government argued it cannot even reveal if the German was rendered.
But in the Arar case, the government has acknowledged the Canadian was removed to Syria, she said, but has argued it cannot reveal why.
Washington argues the reason Arar was sent to Syria is a "state secret,'' but LaHood said she will argue on appeal that the reasons are not relevant, only the rendition is at issue.
"This was a real disappointment that the court would not even hear the case and would just defer to the executive,'' she said.