Khalid El-Masri – The Torture Victim the US Supreme Court Declined to Hear

KHALED EL-MASRI

Nationality: Born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents, German citizen since 1995

Date of birth: 29 June 1963
Place of birth: unknown

Capture: 31 December 2003, Serbian Macedonia
 
SSCI prisoner number: 97 (typo in report gives 98, but he was 97th prisoner)

Entered CIA custody: 24 January 2004
Period of CIA custody: 125 days
Left CIA custody: 28 May 2004

Detained: Macedonia, Afghanistan

Current status: released, 28 May 2004

Khalid El-Masri, whose only crime was sharing the name of someone blacklisted by the US Army, had his German passport seized and was extradited to an Afghan military Base where he was beaten, injected with drugs and forced to wear a diaper after being abducted whilst on vacation in Macedonia on New Year’s Eve 2003. After four months of this treatment his detainees realised he was an innocent man and left him ‘on a rooftop in Albania, without explanation or apology’.

Behind the scenes, American officials worked diligently to ensure that the CIA officers involved in El-Masri’s rendition were kept shielded from European justice. In particular, they were concerned with the German judiciary’s intention to arrest and prosecute thirteen CIA operatives invoked with the case. In a cable dating from February 2, 2007, the Munich consulate reported back to Washington:

[07BERLIN200]

The Office of the Munich Prosecutor announced January 31 the issuance of 13 arrest warrants for the alleged kidnappers of Khaled El-Masri, a Lebanese-German national who claims he was abducted from Macedonia and taken to Afghanistan in 2004. The thirteen individuals named are the same as those in the previous Spanish case (reftel). Federal Justice Ministry (MOJ) officials told us the arrest warrants are valid in Germany only. The MOJ and MFA will need to assent to an international arrest warrant and will be able to weigh all factors including foreign policy implications in making the decision. The Munich prosecutor’s office told ConGen Munich that there had been intense media pressure to act and that they will seek an international arrest warrant. The DCM spoke with MFA State Secretary Boomgaarden who said the German Federal Government had not been warned in advance of the arrest warrants. Boomgaarden called the prosecutor’s action “premature” in his personal view. The Bavarian Chancellery called ConGen Munich to say it was surprised and displeased by the prosecutor’s actions.

In another cable dated February 6, 2007, The US deputy Chief of Mission John Koenig met with the German deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nickel. In this meeting, Koenig threatened that issuing international arrest warrants would ‘have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship’ and warned that the US was troubled by this case gaining traction in German media. Nickel, to his credit, ‘underscored the independence of the German judiciary’ and made it clear that Germany had vast political differences – ‘for example on the appropriateness of the Guantanamo facility and the alleged use of renditions’.
     Despite Germany’s initial resiliance, they ultimately did not press for the extradition of any Americans involved with the El-Masri case. Although the European Court of Justice ruled in late 2012 that El-Masri was tortured at the hands of the CIA, they had no authority to charge the 13 CIA operatives responsible, and the only consequence of the trial was the State of Macedonia being forced to pay a paltry fine of $78,000 for their involvement in his rendition.
     El-Masri’s earlier attempts to file suit against various American courts were all blocked. His 2006 suit, El-Masri vs Tenet, in which he was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was dismissed due to the US government claiming the State Secrets Privilege. The case was also dismissed by the Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit, and in December 2007, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The ACLU insist to this day that the US government are guilty of abuse of privilege for declining to allow El-Masri a fair trial having suffered human rights abuses.

Whilst this spat between the Bavarian judiciary and the US Government was unfolding, American officials in Madrid were reporting back to Washington that Spanish media were reporting negatively about Spanish involvement in the El-Masri case (Spanish troops were complicit in his rendition). US diplomats moved quickly in order to obstruct the troublemaker in question – Spanish judge Ismael Moreno, who ‘requested on January 31 that the Spanish Ministry of Defense and the National Intelligence Center (CNI) declassify any information related to the transit of CIA aircraft through Spanish territory, as well as any information indicating whether Spanish airports were used for the transfer of detainees in other countries’ [07MADRID173_a].
In this cable, American diplomats expressed their concern that coordination between Spanish judge Moreno and German investigators of the El-Masri case ‘will complicate our efforts to manage this case at a discreet government-to-government level’.

Khaled el-Masri’s account of his rendition from Macedonia to Afghanistan

I was taken out of the vehicle and made to sit down on a chair, where I sat for about another one and a half hours. At this point, I heard the voice of the assistant who had come to see me with the high-ranking official. I was told that I would soon be taken into a room for a medical examination before being returned to Germany. As I was led into this room, I felt two people violently grab my arms, one from the right side and the other from the left. They bent both my arms backwards. This violent motion caused me a lot of pain. I was beaten severely from all sides. I then felt someone else grab my head with both hands so I was unable to move. Others sliced my clothes off. I was left in my underwear. Even this they attempted to take off. I tried to resist at first, shouting out loudly for them to stop, but my efforts were in vain. The pain from the beatings was severe. I was terrified and utterly humiliated. My assailants continued to beat me, and finally they stripped me completely naked and threw me to the ground. My assailants pulled my arms back and I felt a boot in the small of my back. I then felt a stick or some other hard object being forced in my anus. I realized I was being sodomized. Of all the acts these men perpetrated against me, this was the most degrading and shameful. I was then pulled to my feet and pushed into the corner of a room. My feet were tied together, and then, for the first time since the hotel, they took off my blindfold. As soon as it was removed, a very bright flashlight went off and I was temporarily blinded. I believe from the sounds that they had taken photographs of me throughout. When I regained my vision, I saw seven to eight men standing around me, all dressed in black, with hoods and black gloves. I was dressed in a diaper, over which they fitted a dark blue sports suit with short sleeves and legs. I was once again blindfolded, my ears were plugged with cotton, and headphones were placed over my ears. A bag was placed over my head and a belt around my waist. My hands were chained to the belt. They put something hard over my nose. Because of the bag, breathing was getting harder and harder for me. I struggled for breath and began to panic. I pictured myself like the images I had seen in the media of the Muslims that were brought to Guantánamo. They bent me over, forcing my head down, and then hurried with me to a waiting car and then on to a waiting aircraft. They walked so fast that the pain at my joints was getting worse, as the iron of my shackles chaffed against my ankles. When I tried to slow down they almost dislocated my shoulder. In the airplane, I was thrown down onto the floor and my arms and legs were spread-eagled and secured to the sides of the plane. During the flight I received two injections, one in the left arm and one in the right arm, at different times. They put something over my nose. I think it was some kind of anesthesia. It felt like the trip took about four hours, but I don’t really remember. However, it appeared to be a much longer trip than one to Germany. I was mostly unconscious for the duration. I think the plane touched down once and took off again. When the plane landed for the final time I was fully conscious, although still a little light-headed. I was taken outside the aircraft. I could feel dry, warm air and knew immediately that the place where the plane had landed couldn’t possibly be Europe.

Wikileaks Decrypted | Cablegate