To the pitifully few who have followed him over the years, Khaled el-Masri is the man who arguably holds the world’s record of unsuccessful attempts to get his “day in court.” He has knocked on courtroom doors all over the US and some overseas venues as well, and has each time been rebuffed.
This Wednesday he will try one more time. He will pursue Justice in the Grand Chamber of the European Court, which will hold a hearing on May 16, 2012. At the last hearing of this case, Macedonia entered an unbroken series of denials – no, it did not collude with the CIA to kidnap el-Masri from Germany. No, it did not seize his passport and force him to spend a month in a Macedonian hotel, interrogated without a lawyer, without contact with his family, and without the foggiest idea of why he was being held.
What el-Masri is seeking from the Macedonians is a fullblown investigation into his kidnapping and abuse. And while he is waiting, there are grim signs that el-Masri, the human being, is continuing his descent into chaos and confusion.
But even Macedonia’s denials – whether true or not – don’t begin to paint even a remotely accurate picture of what has happened to this Lebanese-born German citizen. To understand how he has come to where he has come to, it’s necessary to go back in history to a time when the never-ending black clouds began to gather over el-Masri’s head.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, (OSJI), which is el-Masri’s counsel for the Macedonia case, charges that the Macedonians stopped him at the border, confiscated his passport and other papers, and held him without charge for 23 days, accusing him of being a member of al-Qaeda.
They then drove him to the capitol’s Skopje airport and handed him to a CIA rendition team who flew el-Masri to Kabul as part of the U.S. “Extraordinary Rendition” program, where he was detained for four months. The government of Macedonia denies any involvement in his abduction.
Every attempt at justice has failed. el-Masri seeks an investigation to discover the truth.
The following statement of facts is based on notes prepared by The Open Society Justice Initiative.
On December 31, 2003, Khaled el-Masri traveled from his home in Ulm, Germany, to Skopje in Macedonia, by bus. When he reached the border, Macedonian law enforcement officials confiscated his passport and detained him for several hours.
He was then transferred by armed officers in plainclothes to the Skopski Merak hotel in Skopje, where he was detained for 23 days, guarded at all hours by rotating shifts of armed Macedonian officers. The curtains were closed day and night, and he was not permitted to leave the room. He was interrogated repeatedly, and told to admit that he was a member of al-Qaeda.
His frequent requests to see a lawyer, translator, or German consular official, or to contact his wife, were denied. When he once moved toward the door and attempted to leave, three of his captors pointed pistols at his head and threatened to shoot him. He went on hunger strike to protest his innocence.
On January 23, 2004, seven or eight Macedonian men entered the hotel room, handcuffed and blindfolded el-Masri and placed him in a car. He was driven to Skopje airport. He was removed from the vehicle, still handcuffed and blindfolded, and was led to a building. Inside, he was told that he would be medically examined. Instead, he was beaten severely from all sides with fists and what felt like a thick stick.
His clothes were sliced from his body with scissors or a knife, leaving him in his underwear. He was told to remove his underwear and he refused. He was beaten again, and his underwear was forcibly removed. He heard the sound of photographs being taken. He was thrown to the floor. His hands were pulled back and a boot was placed on his back. He then felt a firm object being forced into his anus.
El-Masri was pulled from the floor and dragged to a corner of the room. His blindfold was removed. A flash went off and temporarily blinded him. When he recovered his sight, he saw seven or eight men dressed in black and wearing black ski masks. One of the men placed him in a diaper. He was then dressed in a dark blue short-sleeved tracksuit and placed in a belt, which was connected to chains that attached to his wrists and ankles. The men put earmuffs and eye pads on him, blindfolded him, and hooded him.
El-Masri was then marched to a waiting aircraft, with the shackles cutting into his ankles. Once inside, he was thrown to the floor face down and his legs and arms were spread-eagled and secured to the sides of the aircraft. He felt an injection in his shoulder, and became lightheaded. He felt a second injection that rendered him nearly unconscious.
The men dressed in black clothing and ski masks were members of a United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) “black renditions” team, who were operating under the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.
Flight records show that on January 23, 2004, a Boeing 737 business jet owned by a U.S.-based corporation, Premier Executive Transportation Services, Inc., operated by another U.S.-based corporation, Aero Contractors Limited, and registered by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as aircraft N313P, flew el-Masri from Macedonia via Baghdad to Afghanistan.
The same plane has been identified as being involved in other rendition flights. El-Masri was detained in conditions that were inhuman and degrading, beaten by armed guards, subjected to violent and prolonged interrogations, force-fed following a 27-day hunger strike, and denied medical treatment. He was never charged, brought before a judge, granted access to German government representatives, or allowed to communicate with his family or anyone else in the outside world. He lost some thirty kilograms while in detention.
On May 28, 2004, el-Masri’s belongings were returned to him, including his passport, and he was flown on board a CIA-chartered Gulfstream aircraft with the tail number N982RK to a military airbase in Albania called Berat-Kuçova Aerodrome. On arrival he was driven in a car for several hours and then let out and told not to look back.
Almost immediately he was arrested by the Albanian authorities and driven to Mother Theresa Airport near Tirana where he was put on a commercial flight to Frankfurt. When he arrived at his home in Ulm, Germany, he learned that his wife and children had relocated to Lebanon, not having heard from him for more than four months.
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