By now you’ve hopefully heard of Khaled El-Masri. A victim of mistaken identity, the German citizen was a victim of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition.” More and more details of his horrific experience keep leaking out, and they get more and more bizarre. U.S. media coverage has been greater than that afforded other victims of our officially sanctioned kidnap and torture campaign, but only because the details are so outrageous, and because his trials and tribulations have haunted Condoleeza Rices’s every step on her European excursion.

The Washington Post summed up most of Khaled El Masri’s nightmare in a December 4 article, though they missed a crucial detail revealed today by The Washington Note. First the Post:

Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake

German Citizen Released After Months in ‘Rendition’ By Dana Priest

In May 2004…the U.S. ambassador in Germany… carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA’s Berlin station… According to several people with knowledge of the conversation. Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public (emphasis added). The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.
The Masri case, with new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials, offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence…

…The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation– a process called “rendition” — is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

…While the CIA admitted to Germany’s then-Interior Minister Otto Schily that it had made a mistake, it has labored to keep the specifics of Masri’s case from becoming public…

Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center’s al Qaeda unit “believed he was someone else,” one former CIA official said. “She didn’t really know. She just had a hunch.”

…Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA’s own covert prisons — referred to in classified documents as “black sites,” which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe…

The Masri Case

Khaled Masri came to the attention of Macedonian authorities on New Year’s Eve 2003. Masri, an unemployed father of five living in Ulm, Germany, said he had gone by bus to Macedonia to blow off steam after a spat with his wife. He was taken off a bus at the Tabanovce border crossing by police because his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker. The police drove him to Skopje, the capital, and put him in a motel room with darkened windows, he said in a recent telephone interview from Germany.

The police treated Masri firmly but cordially, asking about his passport, which they insisted was forged, about al Qaeda and about his hometown mosque, he said. When he pressed them to let him go, they displayed their pistols.

…In the first weeks of 2004, an argument arose over whether the CIA should take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation. The director of the al Qaeda unit supported that approach. She insisted he was probably a terrorist, and should be imprisoned and interrogated immediately.

Others were doubtful. They wanted to wait to see whether the passport was proved fraudulent. Beyond that, there was no evidence Masri was not who he claimed to be — a German citizen of Arab descent traveling after a disagreement with his wife. The unit’s director won the argument. She ordered Masri captured and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan.

…Masri said his cell in Afghanistan was cold, dirty and in a cellar, with no light and one dirty cover for warmth. The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: “You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know.”

Masri was guarded during the day by Afghans, he said. At night, men who sounded as if they spoke American-accented English showed up for the interrogation. Sometimes a man he believed was a doctor in a mask came to take photos, draw blood and collect a urine sample.

Back at the CTC, Masri’s passport was given to the Office of Technical Services to analyze. By March, OTS had concluded the passport was genuine. The CIA had imprisoned the wrong man.

At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. “There wouldn’t be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him,” one former official said. “There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over.”
Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, including the idea of not telling the Germans. Condoleezza Rice, then Bush’s national security adviser, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage argued they had to be told, a position Tenet took, according to one former intelligence official.

…Meanwhile, Masri was growing desperate. There were rumors that a prisoner had died under torture. Masri could not answer most questions put to him. He said he steadied himself by talking with other prisoners and reading the Koran.

A week before his release in late May 2004, Masri said he was visited in prison by a German man with a goatee who called himself Sam. Masri said he asked him if he were from the German government and whether the government knew he was there. Sam said he could not answer either question.

“Does my wife at least know I’m here?” Masri asked.

“No, she does not,” Sam replied, according to Masri.

Sam told Masri he was going to be released soon but that he would not receive any documents or papers confirming his ordeal. The Americans would never admit they had taken him prisoner, Sam added, according to Masri.

On the day of his release…Masri said he was taken to a narrow country road at dusk. When they let him off, “They asked me not to look back when I started walking,” Masri said. “I was afraid they would shoot me in the back.”

…Meanwhile, a German prosecutor continues to work Masri’s case. A Macedonia bus driver has confirmed that Masri was taken away by border guards on the date he gave investigators. A forensic analysis of Masri’s hair showed he was malnourished during the period he says he was in the prison. Flight logs show a plane registered to a CIA front company flew out of Macedonia on the day Masri says he went to Afghanistan.

Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. “I have very bad feelings” about the United States, he said. “I think it’s just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws.”

It gets worse.

On Tuesday (December 6th) al-Masri filed suit against the CIA, George Tenet, unknown CIA employees, and three private aviation companies that worked with the CIA in transporting al-Masri to and from Afghanistan. He had wanted to be present at an ACLU Washington press conference announcing the lawsuit, but U.S. authorities on Saturday night refused, without explanation, to let him enter the country. In a video hook-up he described his ordeal to reporters:

…During his captivity in Afghanistan, al-Masri said, he complained that the water was unfit to drink.

“That’s not your problem; that’s somebody else’s problem,” al-Masri said he was told by an American he said seemed to be a doctor.

Al-Masri said that when he became ill, “they didn’t pay any attention.” He said he went on a hunger strike, which ended after 37 days when his captors force-fed him. He said he had lost more than 60 pounds.

…Al-Masri contends his due process rights were violated and that he was subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

…”Throughout my time in the prison, I asked to be brought before a court but was refused. ..”

And still worse…

Steve Clemons of the Washington Note is writing his blog from London this week. In today’s blog he adds some horrifying details to the manner of el-Masri’s eventual release:

…I just got off the phone with a prominent Arabic journalist producing a program on the politics and practice of rendition.

This journalist, Yosri Fouda, has interviewed at length Khaled El-Masri, the innocent victim of American kidnapping and rendition gone very wrong.

I have not read extensively about El-Masri’s case, so this may be public record, but what I did not know when I wrote last night’s post were the details of how he was “dumped” after American authorities learned he was innocent.

Get this now. El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was kidnapped while vacationing by American intelligence agents. He was transported and “questioned” — allegedly roughly — by American authorities in Afghanistan. Along the way, these investigators finally figured out he was innocent and reported back to CIA Director George Tenet. Tenet had him held ANYWAY for another two months.

And then. . .you might ask, could it get worse? Well, yes.

We dumped him blind-folded in the deep forest, mountainous triangle area between Albania, Serbia and Macedonia. He had to walk out with no money, no identification.
He got to a border guard station — and because of his inability to identify himself and because of how “outlandish” his story sounded to the border guards he met, he feared that the entire process would begin.

We dumped him blindfolded in a forest in one of the roughest regions nearby. Were U.S. authorities hoping he’d just be shot by someone else? What were they thinking?
Let’s make sure that one of the journalists TRAVELING with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asks about this detail of the story that had escaped me and others before. What is this about DUMPING a known-innocent guy in the Serbia-Kosovo-Macedonia triangle?

Is it really unreasonable to speculate whether those responsible for the kidnapping and torture of an innocent foreign national were hoping that el-Masri would not emerge from that forest to tell his tale?

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