Beaten and sodomized: European human rights court finds CIA guilty of torture
The Strasbourg-based court has unanimously ruled that German citizen Khalid el-Masri was tortured by a CIA ‘rendition team’.
The court also found the state of Macedonia guilty of secretly imprisoning, abusing and torturing Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, and ordered €60,000 in compensation to be paid to the former detainee. The Macedonian government denied any involvement in the kidnapping.
James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, told the Guardian that the ruling of the Grand Chamber of ECtHR should become a wake-up call for the Obama administration and US courts. For the US Congress to continue avoiding serious scrutiny of CIA activities is going to be "simply unacceptable", Goldston said.
Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, believes the ECtHR ruling is “a key milestone in the long struggle to secure accountability of public officials implicated in human rights violations committed by the Bush adminsitration CIA in its policy of secret detention, rendition and torture”.
Emmerson suggested that the US government must issue an apology for its "central role in a web of systematic crimes and human rights violations by the Bush-era CIA” and pay voluntary compensation to Khalid el-Masri. In turn, Germany should seek the US officials involved in this case to be brought to trial.
Khaled el-Masri (AFP Photo/DDP/Sebastian Widmann)
Masri’s unexpected journey
Macedonian police arrested Khalid el-Masri in December 2003. In January 2004 he was taken to a hotel in the airport of the capital Skopje, where for 23 days he was interrogated about alleged ties with terrorist organizations. The questioning was conducted in English despite the fact that el-Masri has only a basic knowledge of the language.
Masri says he was refused any contacts with German diplomats and once his captors threatened to shoot him after he declared his intention to leave immediately.
The court maintained that el-Masri was “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded, and subjected to total sensory deprivation” by the CIA rendition team.
The court also ruled that the torture at Skopje airport had been carried out “in the presence of state officials of [Macedonia] and within its jurisdiction".
Therefore, the ECtHR ruled “[the Macedonian] government was consequently responsible for those acts performed by foreign officials. It had failed to submit any arguments explaining or justifying the degree of force used or the necessity of the invasive and potentially debasing measures.”
The court found out that the measures applied to the detainee were premeditated, “aiming to cause Mr Masri severe pain or suffering in order to obtain information.”
“In the court's view, such treatment had amounted to torture, in violation of Article 3 [of the European human rights convention],” the sentence concluded.
From Skopje airport el-Masri was taken to Afghanistan where he spent four months in a dirty and dark concrete cell hidden in a brick factory somewhere near the capital of Kabul. He was beaten and interrogated on a regular basis, his demands to get in touch with German diplomats were ignored.
Once the Americans realized Khalid el-Masri was taken for someone else, he was taken to Albania, handcuffed and blindfolded, and later transferred to Germany.
US Congress finds torture fruitless
The milestone decision of the European court has come into spotlight together with the final approval on Thursday of a behemoth 6,000 page report on harsh interrogation techniques prepared by the US Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence.
In a specially released written statement, the chairman of the Committee on Intelligence Senator Dianne Feinstein refused to go into details ,so the exact findings of the report remain classified.
Still, Feinstein said the decisions allowing the CIA to create a network of secret prisons where enhanced interrogation techniques were used were “terrible mistakes.”
“This report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques,” Feinstein promised.
It will probably take months or even years before any parts of the report see daylight, because the Committee will be waiting for comments from the CIA and the Obama administration, which both will be provided with a copy of the document, Feinstein said.
Following that, another vote will have to be conducted on whether to release any part of the report at all. The CIA is expected to oppose the move, as it already claimed earlier the details of the interrogation program are classified and should be kept this way.
The three-year study of some six million documents describing implementation of controversial interrogation practices, including beating, forced nudity, sleep and sensory deprivation, stress positions and waterboarding, has found out that harsh measures do not bring intelligence breakthroughs.
The Democrats-dominated committee gave the green light to the report after a heated closed-door vote and strong resistance from the Republican members of the committee.
Allegedly, the report maintained that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques did not help to find Osama Bin Laden and sometimes were even counterproductive for America’s war with Al Qaeda.