Europe's highest human rights court has found that American and Macedonian agents tortured an innocent German citizen who was mistaken for an al-Qaeda operative.
The Guardianreports that the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled on Thursday that CIA agents shackled, beat, tortured and sodomized Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, in Macedonia while Macedonian agents looked on. The court also found Macedonia guilty of torturing and secretly imprisoning el-Masri in violation of domestic and international laws.
Macedonia was ordered to pay €60,000 ($78,500) in damages to el-Masri. The Macedonian Justice Ministry said it would comply with the judgment.
The court's ruling is a searing indictment of the American practice of extraordinary rendition, by which suspected terrorists are abducted overseas by US personnel and sent to third countries, where they are often tortured, in order to gain intelligence through harsh interrogations.
The ruling is also historic because it marks the first time that Europe's highest legal authority has called US mistreatment of terrorism suspects 'torture.'
El-Masri was abducted by Macedonian security agents on December 31, 2003 at a border crossing. It was a case of mistaken identity; the Macedonians believed that the vacationing car salesman was an al-Qaeda terrorist. He was not.
El-Masri was secretly imprisoned and tortured for 23 days before being blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to Skopje airport where he was handed over to CIA agents and severely beaten.
"They beat me from all sides, from everywhere, with hands and feet," el-Masri recounted in a 2005 interview with the Guardian. "With knives or scissors they took away my clothes. The beating, I think, was just to humiliate me, to hurt me, to make me afraid, to make me silent."
He was then sodomized-- subjected to an invasive anal cavity search before having a suppository shoved up his rectum, then fitted with a diaper, earplugs, a clip over his nose and shackles on his arms and legs. His arms were raised painfully behind his back and above his head. Then he was given an injection.
El-Masri woke up in a fetid cell in what he correctly guessed was Afghanistan. What he didn't know was that he was being held in a notorious CIA 'black site' known as the Salt Pit, where suspected Afghan militant Gul Rahman was beaten, stripped naked and allowed to freeze to death by his American captors.
El-Masri was held in this hellish prison for the next four months and repeatedly interrogated by men of various nationalities, including Americans. Eventually his captors realized that El-Masri, who had gone on a hunger strike (and lost 60 pounds) to protest his wrongful imprisonment, was innocent. His living conditions improved and the Americans promised he would soon be released. After four months of unlawful and wrongful imprisonment, during which time he was never charged, never brought before a judge and never allowed to contact his family or German government officials, El-Masri was once again blindfolded, shackled, ear-muffed, hooded and placed on a plane.
He found himself dumped unceremoniously on the side of an Albanian road without any information. When he finally made his way home to Ulm, Germany, El-Masri discovered that his wife had left for Lebanon with their children. He found them, explained himself and convinced them to return to Germany with him.
"It was a crime, it was humiliating, and it was inhuman," El-Masri told the Guardian of his treatment at the hands of the Americans and Macedonians. "This responsible have to take responsibility, and should be held to account," he said in 2005.
That same year, German Chancellor told a press conference-- in the presence of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice-- that the United States had admitted to mistakenly subjecting el-Masri to extraordinary rendition. But the US refused to acknowledge its horrific mistake and pressured other governments to suppress the truth.
El-Masri decided to sue the CIA. "It's a question of moral values, of principles," he told CBS News in 2009. "I want to find out why they did what they did. I want an explanation and I want an apology." But el-Masri would receive none of these. US District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that although el-Masri had "suffered injuries" and "deserves a remedy," his lawsuit must be dismissed because it posed a threat to national security.
Germany then took up el-Masri's cause, issuing arrest warrants for 13 CIA personnel in connection with the unlawful kidnapping and imprisonment of the German citizen. Despite a warning from the US government, Berlin handed the warrants over to Interpol. But Germany caved under pressure from Washington and did not pursue the matter further, although Spanish prosecutors requested the arrest of the 13 CIA agents.
In May, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear el-Masri's case.