German sues CIA for abduction

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted during talks in Berlin on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the US had made a mistake in Khaled al-Masri’s case, Merkel said.

“I’m happy to say we have discussed the one case, which the government of the United States has of course accepted as a mistake,” Mrs Merkel said.

Mr Masri, who is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said he was kidnapped on December 31, 2003 while on holiday in Macedonia and then flown by CIA agents for interrogation in Afghanistan.

He said his aim in filing the suit against former CIA director George Tenet was to force the US government to acknowledge his mistreatment and apologise.

“I want to know why they did this to me and I want an official excuse,”
Mr Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, told a Washington press conference via a satellite link from Germany.

The 42-year-old unemployed car salesman, and father of five, said he had flown to the US on Saturday to present his case but was denied entry at Atlanta airport and put back on a plane to Germany.

Mr Masri said the whole experience had left him a broken man.

Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director, said Mr Masri’s case highlighted the “culture of impunity” that has developed under the administration of US President George W Bush.

“It should go without saying that forcibly kidnapping foreign citizens,
holding them without access to a lawyer and brutalizing them is not only illegal but immoral,” he said.

The ACLU said Mr Masri’s arrest was linked to the CIA’s rendition program, which allows US agents to arrest terrorist suspects and transfer them abroad for interrogation without going through the courts.

The practice has been widely denounced by human rights groups and has caused a furor in European countries, some of which allegedly hosted secret CIA prisons.

Mr Masri said his ordeal began when guards at the Macedonian border with Serbia stopped his tourist bus on New Year’s Eve 2003 and confiscated his passport.

He said after 23 days of interrogation in a hotel in Skopje, he was
blindfolded and taken by US agents to what he believed was an airport.

Once there, he was taken into a room, stripped naked and photographed.

He said a firm object, believed to be an enema, was forced into his anus before he was put in diapers and a jumpsuit.

He was then loaded onto a plane and given an injection that made him pass out. He awoke in a jail cell in Kabul.

Mr Masri said over the next several months, interrogators repeatedly asked him whether he was acquainted with Mohamed Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers, whether he had attended Palestinian training camps and whether he associated with alleged extremists in his German hometown of Ulm.

The suit charges that not long after Mr Masri was flown to Afghanistan, Mr Tenet was informed he was innocent but that nonetheless he remained in custody for two additional months.

Mr Masri said he was finally flown to Albania on May 28, 2004 and left on a deserted hilltop.

He returned home to find his house empty, as his family had relocated to Lebanon.

He said the family was now back together in Germany.

Apart from Mr Tenet, also named as defendants in the lawsuit filed in the US District court in Alexandria, Virginia, are three companies that owned and operated the airplanes used to transport Mr Masri.

A CIA spokeswoman said she could not comment about the case as it was before the courts.

Mr Masri is seeking at least 75,000 dollars in damages.

He was reportedly arrested in a case of mistaken identity as after
September 11, the CIA had listed a man named Khaled el-Masri as a suspect with ties to Osama bin Laden. That Masri is believed to still be at large.