Khalid El-Masri also known as Khaled Masri, is a German citizen who was kidnapped at the Serbian-Macedonia border, flown to Afghanistan, allegedly beaten, stripped naked, violated while searched, interrogated and tortured by the CIA for several months. First he was tortured in Macedonia, then again in Afghanistan. He was finally released AFTER the CIA it was realized his arrest and torture by the agency was due to the fact that his name was spelled similarly to a suspected terrorist. El-Masri was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents. He grew up in Lebanon. He based his application for political asylum on his membership in the Islamic Unification Movement. He was granted asylum and in 1994 he had legally obtained German citizenship through previous marriage with a German woman. In 1996, he married a fellow Lebanese woman and has several children. The abduction and torture by the CIA is as reported, El-Masri traveled from his home in Ulm to go on vacation in Skopje at the end of 2003. While attempting to cross the border, he was detained by Macedonian border officials in December 2003, because his name was identical to that of a wanted terrorist known as Khalid Al-Masri, an alleged mentor to the Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell who had not been apprehended and because of suspicion that his German passport was a forgery. He was held in a motel in Macedonia for over three weeks and questioned about his activities, his associates and the mosque he had attended in Ulm. Macedonian police contacted the local CIA station, who in turn contacted the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia…
In December 2005, an article in the Washington Post said that an argument arose within the CIA over whether they should remove El-Masri from Macedonia in an extraordinary rendition. The decision to do so was made by the head of the al Qaeda division of the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center on the basis of a hunch he was involved in terrorism. The local authorities released him in January 2004 and American security officials, described in an MSNBC article as members of a “black snatch team”, came to Skopje, and detained him. El-Masri alleges that they beat him, stripped him naked, drugged him, sodomized him and gave him an enema. He was then dressed in a diaper and a jumpsuit and flown to Baghdad, then immediately to “The Salt Pit“, a covert CIA interrogation center located in Afghanistan which contained prisoners from Pakistan, Tanzania, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
El-Masri wrote in the Los Angeles Times that, while held in Afghanistan, he was beaten and repeatedly interrogated. He has also claimed that his custodians forcibly inserted an object into his anus. He was kept in a bare, squalid cell, given only meager rations to eat and putrid water to drink. In February, CIA officers in Kabul began to suspect his passport was genuine. The passport was sent to the CIA headquarters in Langley where in March the CIA’s Office of Technical Services concluded it was indeed genuine. Discussion over what to do with El-Masri included secretly transporting him back to Macedonia, without informing German authorities, dumping him and denying any claims he made. In the aftermath of the detention, United States officials had requested a non-disclosure agreement from the German government on the grounds it feared, “exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Mr. Masri and others with similar allegations.”
During March 2004, El-Masri was tired of the abuse and took part in a hunger strike, demanding that his captors afford him due process or watch him die. After 27 days without eating, he forced a meeting with the prison director and a CIA officer known as “The Boss”. They conceded he should not be imprisoned but refused to release him. El-Masri continued his hunger strike for 10 more days until he was force-fed and given medical attention. He had lost more than 60 pounds since his abduction in Skopje. While being wrongfully imprisoned in Afghanistan, El-Masri befriended several other detainees who were also there. They memorized each others telephone numbers so that if one was released they could contact the others’ families.
One of these detainees, an Algerian named Laid Saidi, was recently released and his description of his capture and detention closely matches that of El-Masri. El-Masri reported that “high-value detainee“ named Majid Khan was held in the salt pit at the same time as he was held captive. Khan spent a further three and a half years in CIA custody prior to being transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006.
In April 2004, CIA Director George Tenet learned that El-Masri was being wrongfully detained. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice learned of his detention in early May and ordered his release. El-Masri was released on May 28 following a second order from Rice. They flew El-Masri out of Afghanistan and released him at night on a desolate road in Albania, without apology, or funds to return home. He eventually got onto a plane with the help of some people who saw him on the road. He claimed that at the time he believed his release was a ruse and he would be executed.
He was eventually intercepted by Albanian guards, who also believed him to be a Al-Qaeda terrorist due to his haggard and unkempt appearance. He was subsequently reunited with his wife who had returned to her family in Lebanon, with their children, because she thought her husband had abandoned them. Using isotope analysis, scientists at the Bavarian archive for geology in Munich analyzed his hair and verified that he was malnourished during his disappearance and wrongful imprisonment.
“Frances”, the CIA analyst who mistakenly recommended El-Masri’s detention and rendition, has been identified as Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. She has since been promoted to chief of the agency’s Global Jihad unit in charge of hunting Al-Qaeda and is part of the President’s inner circle as his Director for Counterterrorism. “Elizabeth” (her first name), the CIA lawyer who approved the seizure of El-Masri, was reprimanded but continued to work for the agency as legal advisor to its Near East division. In the end the “CIA Rewards Mistakes With Big Promotions.”
On December 13, 2012, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Mr. El Masri had been tortured while in CIA custody, under the responsibility of the Macedonian Police. El-Masri was accorded 60,000 Euros by the Court. El-Masri’s abduction, detention and torture in Macedonia, and subsequent rendition to Afghanistan was called a forced disappearance by the Human Rights Court. The United States was called-upon to apologize to El-Masri for his horrific treatment, by the Open Society Institute, which supported his case, before the Grand Chamber. James Goldston, Executive Director of the Open Society Justice Initiative stated the following, “… for Mr. El-Masri, the most important thing that he was hoping for was to have the European court officially acknowledge what he did and say that what he’s been claiming is in fact true and it was in fact a breach of the law… It’s an extraordinary ruling.”
The Court stated that El-Masri’s allegations were established “beyond reasonable doubt,” given they were supported by previous investigations into flight logs, as well as forensic evidence. Prior to this ruling, El-Masri attempted recourse in several courts, including lodging a lawsuit in the United States in 2005, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit ACLU filed on behalf of El-Masri against CIA Director George Tenet was dismissed on the state secrets privilege.
In October 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. Goldston,stated his hopes that ECHR ruling could spark further investigations of the CIA rendition program, as well as “all these kinds of cases where allegations of abuse arise from counter-terrorism practices. […] The grand chamber of the European court of human rights unanimously found that Mr. el-Masri was subjected to forced disappearance, unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition outside any judicial process and inhuman and degrading treatment.”
You can read more about this case at at The Guardian and the ACLU website. What do you think about the way the US government treated El-Masri? Please share your thoughts and comments about this extremely controversial topic with me below…