‘They beat me from all sides’
A German car salesman says that a year ago he was kidnapped in Europe, beaten and flown to a US-controlled jail in Afghanistan. Now the German government is collecting evidence to back up his story. James Meek hears Khaled el-Masri’s account of life in America’s secret offshore prison network …
The story that el-Masri tells them by way of explanation, on this evening in late May 2004, is extraordinary: a story of how an unemployed German car salesman from the town of Ulm went on a New Year’s holiday to Macedonia, was seized by Macedonian police at the border, held incommunicado for weeks without charge, then beaten, stripped, shackled and blindfolded and flown to a jail in Afghanistan, run by Afghans but controlled by Americans. Five months after first being seized, he says, still with no explanation or charge, he was flown back to Europe and dumped in an unknown country which turned out to be Albania.
What really happened? With no way to prove his story, el-Masri’s account remains in the balance, a terrifying snapshot of America’s “war on terror”. It is certain that he returned home to Ulm from Albania in May 2004, and that he was taken off a bus from Germany at the Macedonian border on New Year’s Eve 2003. The only person who has offered a clear explanation for what happened in the five months in between is el-Masri himself. Yet that may change.
The German authorities are now taking his allegations very seriously. They are subjecting a sample from el-Masri’s hair to radioisotope analysis, which can reveal, down to a particular country, the source of a person’s food and drink over a period of time. Discussions are also under way about bringing to Germany two men whom el-Masri has identified as being with him in the Afghan prison, and who were also subsequently released. The fact that the German authorities do regard Ulm as an area of potentially dangerous radical Islamic activity – a number of premises were raided and alleged Islamic activists were arrested on Wednesday – only emphasises the concern that Germany has over the el-Masri case…..
Mistaken identity, abuse and rendition: Khaled El-Masri finally has day in court | Darian Pavli
WORLD NEWS: CIA | GUARDIAN.CO.UK | MAY 15, 2012
… In the US, lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union took his case all the way to the supreme court. When that failed, they filed an international petition against the US with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, making El-Masri the first person to have brought cases before both the European and the American human rights systems.Back in Europe, two parallel international inquiries, led by Swiss Senator Dick Marty for the Council of Europe and Italian MEP Claudio Fava for the European Parliament, produced a compelling body of evidence corroborating El-Masri’s story – as did a multi-year investigation by the German Bundestag. More recently, Spanish investigating judges – following on the footsteps of a local investigative reporter – are considering issuing arrest warrants for the CIA rendition team that stopped in a Palma de Mallorca luxury hotel in the middle of a flight circuit that involved rendering both Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, the British detainee recently released from Guantanamo.
Freedom of information requests and advocacy also played a role in establishing the facts and discrediting the versions provided by the governments involved. Thus a FOI request filed by the Justice Initiative with the Macedonian civil aviation authority triggered an official confirmation – the first public one in Macedonia – of the Skopje landing and departure of the rendition flight, and the fact that it arrived with no “passengers’ and left with one. Similar requests filed with the authorities in Albania – where El-Masri was reverse-rendered when the CIA realised it had the wrong man – confirmed his account that he was placed on a commercial flight from Tirana to Frankfurt, with just a ticket put in his hand.
The Wednesday hearing is, of course, a testament above all to Khaled El-Masri’s own courage and tenacity in his eight-year-old quest for justice and the truth. As he said on the steps of a Manhattan courthouse, what he wants most is “an explanation and an apology.” He has yet to receive one from either the US or the Macedonian government. But, finally at least, a court will sit in judgment over what was done to him. That hearing will be public and will go forward, any state secrets notwithstanding….