Friday, February 04, 2011

""Extraordinary Rendition" has a human face, and it is mine"

Today, Khaled El-Masri, a German survivor of the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme will bring a court case against the Macedonian government seeking €50,000 in damages for his torture and abuse and an apology. Similar claims were rejected in the US and Germany. The US has never openly admitted involvement in his ordeal, however the recent Wikileaks showed that diplomats in the US and Germany did their best to keep the story out of the news at the time, in 2004. The case is expected to last at least two years and is one of the few windows of opportunity for some form of justice for the victims of this extra-legal regime. Please read his moving story below in his own words.

Also today, former Australian prisoner and survivor of extraordinary rendition, Mamdouh Habib, addressed an anti-Mubarak rally in his town of Brisbane. Mr. Habib recently reached an out-of-court settlement with the Australian government, although Prime Minister Julia Gillard is to launch an inquiry into Australia’s role in his kidnap and torture. Mr. Habib said he would use the undisclosed amount he received under the settlement to sue the Egyptian and American governments for torturing him. He also states that the new Egyptian vice-president Omar Suleiman was personally present on at least one occasion when he tortured. Of Egyptian origin, Mamdouh Habib was rendered from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Egypt and then on to Guantánamo Bay. Omar Suleiman has been closely linked to the CIA programme since the mid-1990s when he helped the Clinton administration design and implement it.

Here is Khaled El-Masri’s public statement about his ordeal (and as read by George Saunders

The US policy of "extraordinary rendition" has a human face, and it is mine.

I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, I fled to Germany in search of a better life. I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five children.

On December 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we arrived, Macedonian agents confiscated my passport and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone.

I was forced to record a video saying I had been treated well. I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed. I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on my back.

When my blindfold was removed, I saw men dressed in black wearing ski masks. I was put in a diaper, a belt with chains to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs, eye pads, a blindfold, and a hood. I was thrown into a plane, my legs and arms spread-eagled and secured to the floor. I felt two injections and became nearly unconscious. I felt the plane take off, land, and take off.

When we landed again, I was beaten and left in a dirty and cold concrete cell with a bottle of putrid water. I was taken to an interrogation room where I saw men dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks as before. They stripped and photographed me and took blood and urine samples. I was returned to the cell.

The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew why I had been detained. I did not. They told me I was now in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant?

They asked me many times whether I knew the men who were responsible for the September 11th attacks, if I had traveled to Afghanistan, and if I associated with certain people in Germany. I told the truth: that I had never been in Afghanistan and had never been involved in any extremism. I asked repeatedly to meet with a representative of the German government, or a lawyer, or to be brought before a court. My requests were ignored.

In desperation, I began a hunger strike. After 27 days without food, I was taken to meet with two Americans — the prison director and another man, referred to as “the Boss.” I pleaded with them to release me or bring me before a court, but the prison director replied that he could not release me without permission from Washington. He also said he believed I should not be detained in the prison.

After 37 days without food, I was dragged to the interrogation room, where a feeding tube was forced through my nose into my stomach. I became extremely ill.

I was taken to meet an American who said he had traveled from Washington and who promised I would soon be released. I was also visited by a German-speaking man who explained that I would be allowed to return home but warned that I was never to mention what had happened because the Americans were determined to keep it secret.

Almost five months after I was kidnapped, I was again blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to an airplane seat. I was told we would land in a country other than Germany, but that I would eventually get to Germany.

After we landed I was driven into the mountains. My captors removed my handcuffs and blindfold and told me to walk down a dark, deserted path and not look back. I was afraid I would be shot in the back.

I turned a bend and encountered three men who asked why I was illegally in Albania. They took me to the airport, where I bought a ticket home (my wallet had been returned to me). I had long hair, a beard, and had lost 60 pounds. My wife and children had gone to Lebanon, believing I had abandoned them. We are now together again in Germany.

I still do not know why this happened to me. I have been told that the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed in a meeting with the German chancellor that my case was a "mistake" — and that American officials later denied she said this. No one from the American government has ever contacted me or offered me any explanation or apology for the pain they caused me.

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