CIA Rendition Case Heads to Europe's Top Human Rights Judges

A botched CIA anti-terrorism operation in Macedonia that led to a German citizen being mistakenly shipped to Afghanistan for secret interrogation for four months is to come under the scrutiny of Europe’s most senior human rights judges.

The case, El-Masri v Macedonia, was brought before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on behalf of Khaled El-Masri by the Open Society Justice Initiative in 2009.

It has now become one of only 29 cases before the 17 judges of the European Court’s Grand Chamber, which focuses on exceptional cases of human rights law. The case will be heard on Wednesday, May 16.

Macedonian agents seized El-Masri on December 31, 2003 and held him incommunicado for 23 days, accusing him of being a member of Al-Qaida. They subsequently handed him over to a team from the US Central Intelligence who flew him to Kabul. He was secretly detained and interrogated for four months in Afghanistan, before being flown back to Europe and left on the side of a road in Albania.

El-Masri is seeking an investigation by Macedonia.

Macedonia continues to deny the facts of El-Masri’s detention and rendition. US courts have rejected attempts by El-Masri to seek compensation. US 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, while also encouraging Macedonia to maintain its silence on what happened.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, welcomed the decision to elevate the case from the Trial Chamber where it was initially filed. “This move underscores the importance the European Court properly attaches to the issues under examination,” he said.

Goldston added: “It is time for both the US and Macedonia to acknowledge the facts of this case and compensate El-Masri appropriately.”

While the US has declined to pursue investigations into abuses linked to the Bush era “extraordinary rendition” program, both the UK and Spain announced new inquiries into alleged abuses last month. A third inquiry is continuing in Poland.

In contrast, the Obama administration has stuck to its position not to investigate whether Bush administration officials acted illegally by authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques.