CIA Slammed By Court in Khaled El-Masri Rendition Case


Khaled El-Masri

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.


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  1. The one thing I don’t get about this is why is he even alive today?

    I mean realistically why didn’t the CIA arainge an “accident” the minute they noticed the screw up?

    1. Because Bush, bad as he was, actually had some scruples….

      I suspect that today they might have just whacked him rather than snatching him.

      1. I’m sure they have plenty of times. Maybe they thought this wasn’t bad enough to warrant it or thought Macedonia would take the rap.

  2. And a big, damned check.


  3. At the risk of giving them ideas, I honestly don’t understand why when the government fucks up this badly they don’t just kill the guy they wrongly plucked up. People disappear, people die… releasing a guy you thought was another guy would just result in this bad press.

    Shit… typed all this out and then saw Rasilio’s post.

  4. Good lord, this case is just pure evil.

  5. 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.

    This actually brings up a question that has been festering in the back of my mind since the beginning of this so-called War on Terror: how the fuck can US government employees (read: NOT the smartest folks) tell the difference between Mohammed the terrorist and his cousin Mohammed the goat herder? With these tribal societies that have last names that consist of ‘al + place your tribe lives’ and their preference for the same 20 given names, are our watch lists useful at all?

    1. They can’t.

      I read a book by one of the defense attorneys @ Guantanamo. His client had been in England (working as a cook IIRC) when the U.S. govt was alleging that a guy with a slightly different name had been doing all sorts of nasty stuff in Pakistan.

      They even had confirmed that stuff with his wife.

      Except the guy sitting at the defense table had never been married and had been in England until a few months before the U.S. invasion (he was stupid and decided to fly to Afghanistan to do charity work right as the U.S. invaded).

      At the first hearing the defendant threw a monkey wrench in the proceedings by asking what proof the U.S. govt had that he was the guy that they had indicted. Comedy gold in a sick way.

      1. I try to imagine how I would react in such a situation. I can’t do it. I cannot even conceive of being put in that situation and not becoming a screaming banshee or something.

        1. I think the book is called 8′ o’clock ferry to the windward side. I think the chapter covering that hearing is one of the most powerful moving things I have read, not only the defendant’s statements, the military defense lawyer’s heroic performance as well. I felt like I was reading something out of an old book called IIRC Seven Great Trials covering land-mark criminal cases where the defense put forth powerful arguments on behalf of classical liberalism and against the totalitarian state.

          BTW, the military lawyers assigned to defend those guys are probably the most unsung heroes of the whole fiasco that is Guantanamo. Time after time I run across powerful reports of them representing their clients with great integrity despite incredible pressure to act as conductors in a railroading.

  6. “And a big, damned check.”

    One thing that would be a very positive reform would be to change the objects of suits against government to the actual officials who instituted the policy, instead of just having the taxpayers cut a check. Wrongfully convicted? Sue the DA! “Mistakenly” shot by a policeman? Sue him! Kidnapped by the CIA, brought to Afghanistan, and tortured? Sue George Tenet!

    Not only would this save taxpayers a bunch, it would provide an actual incentive for government officials to behave humanely, since their actions could no longer be consequence-free.

    1. To be consistent you would have to change corporate law also. Government is Limited Liability.

      1. You’d have a case for fraud, but other than that, it is like manufacturer’s limits on warranties. You voluntarily transact with LLCs, whereas with government you have no choice, so any mistake by them amounts to force (well most any action, but that’s another discussion)

        An LLC offering you a product or service with various terms and limits, is not the same as that entity invading, aggressing against person or property.

        So the proper analogy is not with regards to limited liability, but with regards to force. Using force against an agressor is justified, but if you make a mistake, you have now become that agressor, and that’s where Ray’s point comes in.

        More generally speaking, the issue revolves around sovereign immunity.

        1. As side note, LLC and other types of corporations could all simply be replaced by contracts and well defined property rights.

          1. As another side note, the corporate veil can also be pierced in cases of extreme wrongdoing.

            That never happens at the government level. I would think deliberate misconduct by a DA leading to a wrongful conviction would qualify to “pierce the veil”.

  7. From Wikipedia:

    “Frances”, the CIA analyst who mistakenly recommended El-Masri’s detention and rendition, has been identified by Gawker as Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. She has since been promoted to chief of the agency’s Global Jihad unit in charge of hunting al-Qaida and is part of the President’s inner circle as his Director for Counterterrorism.

    Don’t you just love a happy ending?

    1. She’s also the basis for the heroine of the new Bin-Laden killing propaganda film.

      1. Not true. Completely different person. Her identity is not yet known.

  8. Tried to explain that waterboarding was immoral to a hardcore evangelical Republican. He said that it wasn’t torture, it was just like getting dunked or splashed.

  9. lol, the kangaroo court is NOT happy lol

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