Monday 19 February 2018

Car salesman snatched by the CIA takes his rendition case to European court

Lawyers for Mr Masri say he has never received an apology, compensation or an explanation from the US government Photo: Getty Images
Lawyers for Mr Masri say he has never received an apology, compensation or an explanation from the US government Photo: Getty Images

Peter Foster in Washington

A GERMAN car salesman of Lebanese birth who was the victim of a mistaken "extraordinary rendition" by the CIA is to have his case heard by the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday.

The case of Khalid el-Masri, 48, will be heard before a panel of 17 judges in Strasbourg, the first time it has been considered in open court more than eight years after he was arrested in error by Macedonian border guards, handed over to the CIA and flown to a detention centre in Afghanistan known as the “salt pit”.

The case sparked an outcry after Mr Masri was dumped on an Albanian mountain road in May 2004, and was instrumental in lifting the veil on the CIA’s black operations teams that moved al-Qa’eda suspects around the world in the early years of the “war on terror”.

The Macedonian government has always officially denied handing over Mr Masri to the CIA, however *The Telegraph* can reveal that the European Court is expected to hear new evidence from a senior former Macedonian government minister that will contradict those claims.

“One of the most powerful pieces of evidence in the case is that a former senior minister of the Macedonian government has provided testimony that is in the file, essentially confirming Mr el-Masri’s account,” said James Goldston, a lawyer from the US-based Open Society Justice Initiative, who is representing the appellant.

“It confirms that Macedonia did detain him, that they did so at the request of the CIA, that el-Masri was held for a time, after which this senior minister said to the US government ‘you’re going to have to come get him, or we’ll have to let him go’ and that the CIA then brought a plane and took him away.”

Lawyers for Mr Masri say he has never received an apology, compensation or an explanation from the US government. An attempt to sue the CIA in the US courts was rejected in 2006 under “states secrets” laws that allow cases to be thrown out if they risk revealing classified information.

The closest that the US has come to admitting involvement in the case came in 2005, when the German chancellor Angela Merkel said that the then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had accepted that an “error” had been made in Mr Masri’s case.

It has been speculated that Mr Masri was misidentified as another man, Khaled al-Masri, who was named in the US government’s 9/11 Commission report as the man who persuaded two of the September 11 hijackers to travel to Afghanistan for training. Both names are spelt identically in Arabic.

Mr Masri also attended a mosque in his hometown of Ulm, Bavaria that was is reported to have been under surveillance for enlisting worshippers to fight in the war in Chechnya, however there has never been any suggestion that he was involved in militant activity himself.

His claims about abduction were corroborated by hair analysis which showed he had been in Afghanistan, as well as flight records which showed that planes known to be used by the CIA had flown to Skopje on the day Mr Masri said he was “rendered”.

In his account, he was stripped, beaten, blindfolded and, after being given an enema, chained into the aircraft which flew via Baghdad to Afghanistan where he was held by the CIA.

Although not tortured, Mr El-Masri was interrogated for days on end, losing several stones in weight after going on a hunger strike in which he demanded to see a representative of the German government.

After CIA checks showed his passport was genuine, he was released, and dumped on a mountain road in Albania, the court will hear during the hearing.

Since 2004 there have since been several other European government investigations, but lawyers for Mr Masri, who was never charged with a crime, said their client still wanted answers to basic questions and an apology.

Lawyers and human rights groups say that the court can put on record Mr Masri’s suffering as well as order the Macedonian government to pay financial compensation.

“He wants the Macedonian and other governments to make clear they were responsible for what happened to him,” said Mr Goldston.

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