Moral Low Ground

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European Court of Human Rights Hears Case of Khaled El-Masri, Innocent German Man Tortured by US

The highest human rights court in Europe is hearing the case of an innocent German man who was kidnapped in Macedonia in 2003, flown to a secret US prison in Afghanistan and tortured.

The BBC reports that the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights is hearing the case of Khaled El-Masri, a German who was abducted in Macedonia and subjected to ‘extraordinary rendition’— transported to a third country for interrogation– and torture at the hands of US personnel at a secret prison in Afghanistan.

El-Masri, then a 44-year-old car salesman from Ulm, Germany, was vacationing in Macedonia in 2003 when he was mistaken for a terror suspect and arrested by local police. He was interrogated about al-Qaeda and 9/11 for 23 days before being blindfolded, beaten, drugged, chained and flown by the US to Afghanistan where he was locked up in a tiny, freezing cell. He was tortured as he spent 149 days in US custody being repeatedly interrogated. He lost 60 pounds (27.2 kg) while imprisoned in Afghanistan.

Eventually, US officials realized they’d made a terrible mistake and sent El-Masri back to Europe, dumping him on an isolated road in Albania. He decided to sue the CIA. He said that he was after answers more than money.

“It’s a question of moral values, of principles,” he told CBS News in 2006. “I want to find out why they did what they did. I want an explanation and I want an apology.”

But Khaled El-Masri would get neither. US district judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that although El-Masri had “suffered injuries” and “deserves a remedy,” his lawsuit had to be dismissed because it posed a threat to national security. The US did admit to erroneously kidnapping El-Masri, but that’s as close to an apology that he has received.

Luckily for El-Masri, his own country took up his case. Despite a lack of cooperation from US authorities, a German court issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA personnel in connection with El-Masri’s unlawful kidnapping and imprisonment.  US officials had warned the German government not to issue the warrants, but they were handed over to Interpol, the international police organization.

The European Court of Human Rights will now consider whether Macedonian agents kidnapped El-Masri, and if so, whether they knew what would happen to him after they transfered him to US custody.

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