A botched CIA operation that led to Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen, being mistakenly abducted in Macedonia and secretly shipped to Afghanistan for four months in 2004 is to come under the scrutiny of Europe’s most senior human rights judges in Strasbourg on Wednesday, May 16.
El-Masri was seized by Macedonian agents at a border crossing on December 31, 2003, who then held him incommunicado for 23 days in the capital Skopje, wrongly accusing him of being a member of Al-Qaeda.
Macedonian officials subsequently handed him over to a team from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency at Skopje airport, where he was beaten, abused and drugged before being spread-eagled and chained to the floor of an aircraft and flown to Kabul. In Afghanistan, he was secretly detained and interrogated for four months at the infamous detention center known as the Salt Pit, before being flown back to Europe and left on the side of a road in Albania.
Lawyers from the Open Society Justice Initiative, acting on behalf of El-Masri, are asking the European Court of Human Rights to order the government of Macedonia to pursue a full investigation into the case, and to make redress for having colluded in his illegal seizure and abuse by members of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, who will be presenting the case, said: “From the start, Macedonia has offered Khaled El-Masri a wall of silence, denying his rights, and seeking to wipe what happened to him from any official record. But the evidence is there; it is time for both the US and Macedonia to acknowledge the facts of this appalling case and to provide appropriate redress.”
The application argues that Macedonia’s conduct has violated five articles of the European Convention on Human Rights: article 3, the right to freedom from torture or ill-treatment; article 5, the right to liberty; article 8, the right to private and family life; article 10, the right to information; and article13, the right to due process.
Macedonia continues to deny the facts of El-Masri’s detention and rendition.
In 2007, U.S. courts dismissed on state secrecy grounds a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on El-Masri’s behalf. The lawsuit charged former CIA Director George Tenet and two U.S.-based aviation corporations of violating El-Masri’s rights under U.S. and international law. In 2008, the ACLU filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which the U.S. has yet to respond to.
U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks website show that US diplomats put pressure on Germany not to seek the extradition of several Americans allegedly involved in the case, following an investigation by the Bavarian state prosecutor's office in Munich. The U.S. has also encouraged Macedonia to maintain its silence over what happened.
The Obama administration has stuck to its position not to investigate whether Bush administration officials acted illegally by authorizing the use of torture against al-Qaeda suspects.