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Law School Case Brief

El-Masri v. United States - 479 F.3d 296 (4th Cir. 2007)


The state secrets privilege provides exceptionally strong protection because it concerns areas of U.S. Const. art. II duties in which the courts have traditionally shown the utmost deference to Presidential responsibilities. To the extent an executive claim of privilege relates to the effective discharge of a President's powers, it is constitutionally based. The Executive's constitutional authority is at its broadest in the realm of military and foreign affairs. Accordingly, the judiciary's role as a check on presidential action in foreign affairs is limited. The Executive's constitutional mandate encompasses the authority to protect national security information. The state secrets privilege thus has a firm foundation in the Constitution, in addition to its basis in the common law of evidence.


Plaintiff was regarded as a suspect of terrorism. Plaintiff alleged that defendants, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), CIA employees, and companies and their employees, were involved in a CIA operation in which the suspect was unlawfully detained and interrogated. More specifically, plaintiff alleged that he was detained pursuant to the CIA's rendition policy, that he was beaten and mistreated, and that the companies provided the CIA with an aircraft to transport the suspect, the suspect asserted claims under the Fifth Amendment and the Alien Tort Statute. After reviewing a classified declaration submitted by the Director of the CIA, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia's granted intervenor United States of America's motion to dismiss the complaint under the state secrets doctrine.On appeal, plaintiff argued that dismissal of the complaint prior to the filing of a responsive pleading was improper because facts regarding the CIA's operation of a rendition program had been so widely discussed that litigation concerning his detention could do no harm to national security.


Did the district court err in dismissing the complaint?




On appeal, the court held that dismissal of the complaint was proper because the information that was made public did not include the facts that were central to litigating the suspect's action, facts concerning the CIA's means and methods of gathering intelligence remained state secrets, and the suspect's action could not be litigated without threatening the disclosure of state secrets.

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