By Richard Walker
On December 13, the European Court of Human Rights found Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents guilty of beating and torturing a German citizen, who had been kidnapped and placed in the CIA’s rendition program. They also sodomized him in front of others and held him at a secret detention site for months.
Never before had the European Court of Human Rights defined CIA activities as torture or gone to the extent of explaining in graphic detail what had happened to 49-year-old Khaled al-Masri.
In January 2004, al-Masri was dragged from a hotel by police in Skopje, the Macedonian capital. After 14 days of questioning, he was handed over to the CIA. His crime was that his name was similar to that of an Arab revolutionary.
In the landmark ruling, the European court singled out Macedonia as one of the guilty parties in the torture and eventual rendition of al-Masri to the “Salt Pit,” a special CIA interrogation site in Afghanistan. Leading judicial figures in Europe are now calling on the Obama administration to compensate all those caught up in the rendition program since 2001.
The court’s ruling was remarkable because it highlighted the fact that the American court system has turned a blind eye to the issue of torture and has used the cover of “state secrets” to avoid dealing with cases like al-Masri’s.
Macedonia will certainly have to answer to the court and to other European Union institutions for its role in permitting torture on its soil. According to the evidence, a CIA “black snatch team,” under orders from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, transferred him from Macedonia by way of Iraq to Afghanistan. Al-Masri was actually sodomized in front of Macedonian officials before he was drugged, diapered and moved to Afghanistan.
While al-Masri was being tortured in Afghanistan, the CIA’s Office of Technical Services, responsible for “gadgets, disguises, forgeries, secret writings, weapons and assassinations,” realized they had the wrong man. Still, they continued to allow him to be treated horrifically until his release. The CIA eventually flew al-Masri to Albania and dumped him on a desolate border road, forcing him to make his own way back to Germany. Two of the CIA officials in Langley who authorized his rendition were female operatives. They were never disciplined.
But Macedonia is not the only country in the European judges’ crosshairs. The CIA had secret interrogation facilities in Poland, Lithuania and Romania. In 2009, Italy found 22 CIA agents guilty of kidnapping an Italian citizen and carting him off to Egypt where he was tortured.
Rendition secrets are beginning to unravel. On December 13, the British government paid a Libyan dissident almost $5 million. He and his wife and child had been kidnapped by Britain’s MI6. While in custody the husband was tortured. There are other torture cases presently being examined by the British judicial system.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.