Sleeping Under The Cell Tower
The best-known of all of CSC’s rendition victims is an innocent man named Khaled El-Masri. Born In Kuwait to Lebanese parents, El-Masri grew up in Lebanon before immigrating to Germany During the Lebanese civil war. He eventually married a German woman, obtained German Citizenship, divorced, and remarried. El-Masri settled in Ulm in southern Germany, where he worked as a car salesman and raised five children with his second wife. Late in 2003 El-Masri made the fateful decision to take a short vacation in Skopje, Macedonia. While traveling there by bus, he was detained by Macedonian border authorities on New Year’s Eve 2003 because his name is unfortunately similar to Khaled Al-Masri, an alleged al-Qaeda terrorist who also happened to live in Germany. They also falsely believed his passport was fake.
Macedonian security officials abducted El-Masri, who was then 42 years old, interrogating him in a hotel room for over three weeks before contacting the local CIA station. That’s when El-Masri’s real nightmare began. Alfreda Frances Bikowski, who headed the al-Qaeda division at the CIA’s counterterrorism center, decided on “a hunch” that El-Masri was a terrorist and designated him forrendition. On January 23, 2004 — more than a month after leaving his family in Germany — El-Masri was transferred from Macedonian to US custody. CIA operatives then stripped, hooded,shackled, sodomized, and drugged the innocent father. It’s what the agency liked to call “capture shock.”
Kidnapped and subjected to total sensory deprivation, El-Masri was flown halfway around the world, first to a brief stop in Iraq and ultimately to a secret CIA black site in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit.” That’s the notorious interrogation (read: torture) center where just months earlier suspected Afghan militant Gun Rahman was beaten, stripped naked from the waist down, and chained to a cement wall in near-freezing temperature where he froze to death. His family was not notified, nor was anyone ever punished for his death. In fact, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official responsible for Rahman’s death, was commended and awarded a $2,500 cash bonus for his“consistently superior work.”
None of this boded well for poor Khaled El-Masri. Indeed, the innocent German was regularly beaten during the course of his interrogation. He was also sodomized again and was jailed in asmall, dirty cell where he was underfed and given rancid water to drink. Meanwhile, the CIA had examined El-Masri’s passport three months into his detention, determining that it was legitimate and that his continued imprisonment was unjustified. The agency knew it had made a glaring error in rendering El-Masri and discussed internally how to fix it. One proposal involved secretly flying him back to Macedonia and leaving him there without informing German officials, denying everything if he ever spoke out. Meanwhile, a despondent El-Masri went on a hunger strike,demanding his American jailers give him due process or watch him die. After 27 days without eating — a period in which he lost roughly a kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, daily — he was granted a meeting with the black site director, a CIA operative known simply as “The Boss.” He admitted that El-Masri was being wrongfully imprisoned, yet refused to free him.
In April 2004 CIA director George Tenet was informed that El-Masri was being wrongfully held,and by the following month national security adviser Condoleezza Rice ordered his release. This is why US officials first notified their incensed German counterparts that the CIA had kidnapped ElMasri.On May 28, 2004 he was again hooded and shackled. A CSC plane then flew him out of Afghanistan and dumped him on an Albanian roadside at night. He was offered neither an apology nor any money or resources for him to get home to Germany. El-Masri believed he was about to be shot in the back and left to die. What ended up happening was that he was arrested by Albanian Security officials who thought he might be a terrorist due to his disheveled appearance. When he finally made his way back home to Germany, El-Masri tragically learned his wife had left him,taking their children with her to Lebanon because she believed he had abandoned them.
El-Masri wanted the justice he’d been denied for so long. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union he filed suit in the United States against Tenet and other CIA officials, alleging violations of US and international human rights law. However, El-Masri was denied justice yet again as a federal district judge ruled against him in May 2006, despite finding that he “suffered injuries” and “deserve[d] remedy.” The judge explained that he had no choice but to dismiss ElMasri lawsuit because it posed a threat to national security — a justification often used to sweep government misdeeds under the rug.
Germany then took up El-Masri’s case, issuing arrest warrants for 13 CIA operatives in connection with the unlawful abduction and imprisonment of a German national. Ignoring a warning from the Bush administration Berlin forwarded the 13 warrants to Interpol, although the German government later caved under pressure from Washington and ceased pursuit of the matter. Later, the Spanish National Court would ask for arrest orders for the 13 CIA agents involved in El-Masri’s kidnapping,although nothing would come of this request either. Finally, in May 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Macedonia bore responsibility for El-Masri’s torture and awarded him€60,000 (US$78,500 at the time). While the United States has never apologized, Macedonia finally issued El-Masri a formal apology in April 2018.