Civil Liberties

CIA Slammed By Court in Khaled El-Masri Rendition Case


The case was formally against "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," but since that country acted as a proxy for the United States, everybody knew Khaled El-Masri's real beef was with the Central Intelligence Agency. Rightfully, then, the CIA plays a major role in headlines about Mr. El-Masri's victory in the European Court of Human Rights, which found that he was illegally detained, transferred and tortured at the behest of American officials.

The official announcement of the court's findings says:

there had been:

a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights on account of the inhuman and degrading treatment to which Mr El-Masri was subjected while being held in a hotel in Skopje, on account of his treatment at Skopje Airport, which amounted to torture, and on account of his transfer into the custody of the United States authorities, thus exposing him to the risk of further treatment contrary to Article 3; a violation of Article 3 on account of the failure of "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" to carry out an effective investigation into Mr El-Masri's allegations of ill-treatment;

violations of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) on account of his detention in the hotel in Skopje for 23 days and of his subsequent captivity in Afghanistan, as well as on account of the failure to carry out an effective investigation into his allegations of arbitrary detention;

a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life); and,

a violation of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

What led to this? Khaled El-Masri must be a threat to the United States, right? He must be a terrorist who had to be dealt with roughly to save lives. Except … he's not. As the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a post on the case, Khaled El-Masri is a poster-child for why these policies aren't Jack Bauer-esque exercises in getting shit done, they're dangerous and abusive:

Mistaken for an Al Qaeda operative with a similar name, El-Masri was abducted at a border crossing while vacationing in Macedonia on New Year's Eve in 2003 and held incommunicado for 23 days. He was subsequently transferred into CIA custody and, as part of the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program, flown to Afghanistan where he was secretly held, tortured and abused for four months.

The European Court of Human Rights goes into some detail on El-Masri's treatment, which is succinctly summarized at one point as involving him being "severely beaten, sodomised, shackled and hooded, and subjected to total sensory deprivation." Mr. El-Masri originally tried to sue the United States government directly, in its own courts, but rather than respond to his allegations, officials had the case dismissed on "state secrets" grounds in 2006. A New York Times story on that dismissal showed that officials weren't making any efforts to deny the case against them.

United States officials have acknowledged the principal elements of Mr. Masri's account, saying intelligence authorities may have confused him with an operative of Al Qaeda with a similar name. The officials also said he was released in May 2004 on the direct orders of Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, after she learned he had been mistakenly identified as a terrorism suspect.

Effectively, the official American attitude toward Khaled El-Masri has been: Yeah, we did it. Too bad for you.

El-Masri's compensation in this case amounts to 60,000 euros that Macedonia must pay him for the treatment he suffered. Maybe an apology from the United States would be in order, too. And a big, damned check.