NEW YORK – In a historic ruling, the European Court of Human Rights today condemned Macedonia’s illegal transfer of Khaled El-Masri into CIA custody and found that his abusive treatment at Macedonia’s airport by the U.S. rendition team “amounted to torture.” The court also found that his abduction and detention – including the time he was in U.S. custody – constituted “enforced disappearance” under international law.
“Today’s landmark decision is a stark reminder of America’s utter failure to hold its own officials accountable for serious violations of both U.S. and international law. Continued lack of accountability is turning the United States into an outlier among its European allies, which is an appalling outcome for a nation that prides itself as a global leader on the rule of law and human rights,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program. “Today’s ruling makes it harder for the United States to continue burying its head in the sand and ignoring domestic and global calls for full accountability for torture. This remarkable decision will no doubt put greater pressure on European nations to fully account for their complicity in cooperating with the illegal CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’ program, and to hold responsible those who violated the human rights of El-Masri and those like him.”
El-Masri is a German citizen who in 2003 was mistaken for another person and abducted by Macedonian authorities at a border crossing and held incommunicado for 23 days. He was then handed over to CIA operatives who put him on a secret flight to a “black site” in Afghanistan where he was secretly held, tortured and abused for about four months.
The ACLU currently represents El-Masri in a case against the U.S. now being considered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and also represented him in a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, which was dismissed. His case before the ECHR was brought by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
In a unanimous decision awarding El-Masri 60,000 Euros, the European court said that the court “underlines the great importance of the present case not only for the applicant and his family, but also for other victims of similar crimes and the general public, who had the right to know what had happened… The concept of ‘State secrets’ has often been invoked to obstruct the search for the truth. State secret privilege was also asserted by the US government in the applicant’s case before the US courts.”
The court’s ruling is available at:
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A German citizen, who says was abducted in Macedonia by the CIA and taken to a prison in Afghanistan and tortured, has demanded justice from Europe’s human rights court.
Khaled El-Masri of Lebanese descent says he was brutally tortured and interrogated at a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for more than four months after being kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, the Associated Press reported.
On Wednesday, Masri took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
“Mr. El-Masri has spent the last eight years seeking legal redress for the crimes that were committed against him,” said James Goldston, who is the executive director of the Open Justice Initiative, a rights group that campaigns against the US extraordinary rendition practice.
Extraordinary rendition is a practice enabling the US apprehension and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another.
He noted, “There is abundant evidence, including data on CIA flights to and from [Macedonia’s capital] Skopje.”
Masri was eventually released after the CIA realized it had mistaken him for another suspect.
He is also suing the Macedonian government for its role in the kidnapping, an accusation that the authorities in Skopje deny.
The court will consider whether Macedonian agents actually kidnapped Masri, and, if they did, whether they knew what would happen to him after they handed him over to US authorities.