At a joint press conference during Condoleezza Rice's recent trip to Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "pleased" that Rice had discussed the al-Masri affair with her and that the U.S. had accepted that it had made a mistake. Rice, who was standing next to Merkel when she said this, didn't say anything at the time, but U.S. officials later denied that Rice had made any admissions about the case.
BERLIN - Despite U.S. assurances that any mistreatment of prisoners will be investigated and punished, German prosecutors have been waiting since May for the American government to respond to charges that the CIA kidnapped and mistreated a German citizen named Khaled al-Masri.
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Al-Masri was arrested as he was traveling from Germany to Macedonia on New Year's Eve 2003. He said that after five months in Afghanistan, he was flown to Albania, put on another plane and taken back to Germany. The German government also is seeking information from the Albanian and Macedonian governments.
A spokesman for state prosecutors in Munich, Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld, said German prosecutors had been seeking answers from U.S. officials since May. They have al-Masri's testimony, but need to confirm it, he said. "If it's accurate, it would indicate a criminal violation."
The case now names "persons unknown" as the perpetrators of al-Masri's alleged kidnapping.
"We are not quite sure what was in (Merkel's) head," a senior official said.How's that for diplomatic language?
Al-Masri has now sued former Director of Central Intelligence Tenet, and his statement regardig his experience at CIA hands is not pretty. The case has become well-known in Germany.
It appears most likely that al-Masri was the victim of mistaken identity, overexcited CIA officials, and a rather extreme case of CYA when they figured out they had the wrong guy and basically dumped him in Albania in the hope that no one would believe his story.
At this point, I suppose one question would be how we would react if another country had done this to an American citizen.
Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center's al Qaeda unit "believed he was someone else," one former CIA official said. "She didn't really know. She just had a hunch."
Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip.
Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.
Khaled Masri came to the attention of Macedonian authorities on New Year's Eve 2003....He was taken off a bus at the Tabanovce border crossing by police because his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker.
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Unbeknown to Masri, the Macedonians had contacted the CIA station in Skopje. The station chief was on holiday. But the deputy chief, a junior officer, was excited about the catch and about being able to contribute to the counterterrorism fight, current and former intelligence officials familiar with the case said.
"The Skopje station really wanted a scalp because everyone wanted a part of the game," a CIA officer said.
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Others were doubtful. They wanted to wait to see whether the passport was proved fraudulent. Beyond that, there was no evidence Masri was not who he claimed to be -- a German citizen of Arab descent traveling after a disagreement with his wife.
The [CIA Counterterrorism Center's al Qaeda] unit's director won the argument. She ordered Masri captured and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan.
Back at the CTC [Counterterrorism Center], Masri's passport was given to the Office of Technical Services to analyze. By March, OTS had concluded the passport was genuine. The CIA had imprisoned the wrong man.
At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said. "There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over."
Several intelligence and diplomatic officials said Macedonia did not want the CIA to bring Masri back inside the country, so the agency arranged for him to be flown to Albania. Masri said he was taken to a narrow country road at dusk. When they let him off, "They asked me not to look back when I started walking," Masri said. "I was afraid they would shoot me in the back."
He said he was quickly met by three armed men. They drove all night, arriving in the morning at Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana. Masri said he was escorted onto the plane, past all the security checkpoints, by an Albanian.
Masri has been reunited with his children and wife, who had moved the family to Lebanon because she did not know where her husband was. Unemployed and lonely, Masri says neither his German nor Arab friends dare associate with him because of the publicity.
Another question would be: what have we become? Al-Masri says he was beaten by Americans at the prison and force-fed when he went on a hunger strike. And although the CIA realized its mistake by March, they let him rot for another couple of months.
A forensic analysis of Masri's hair showed he was malnourished during the period he says he was in the prison....
Masri can find few words to explain his ordeal. "I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws."