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2005-12-07

Extraordinary Rendition Under Fire: Lawsuit Charges CIA with Kidnapping and Torture of German Citizen

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On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a German citizen who says U.S. agents mistakenly kidnapped him and sent him to a secret prison in Afghanistan where he was tortured. We speak with British journalist Stehen Grey who helped expose the CIA rendition program of flying detainees to secret prisons around the world. [includes rush transcript]

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a German citizen who says U.S. agents mistakenly kidnapped him and sent him to a secret prison in Afghanistan.

The suit was filed against former CIA Director George Tenet and three companies that operate CIA aircraft.

This marks the first time the federal government has been sued for the secretive practice known as extraordinary rendition where CIA agents essentially kidnap people overseas and then transport them to overseas prisons.

The victim in this case–Khaled El-Masri–says he was first detained while on vacation in Macedonia. Once in CIA custody he says he was repeatedly beaten, roughly interrogated by masked men, detained in squalid conditions and denied access to an attorney or his family.

He was only released after the CIA realized they had detained the wrong man. After the ACLU announced the lawsuit on Tuesday, Khaled El-Masri spoke to reporters by videophone from Germany.

  • Khaled El-Masri, speaking December 6, 2005.

Khaled El-Masri was unable to attend the ACLU’s Washington press conference because he had been refused entry to the United States after arriving Saturday in Atlanta on a flight from Germany.

His lawsuit comes at a time when the Bush administration’s secret practices are coming under intense scrutiny in Europe. Investigations are underway throughout the region over the CIA kidnappings as well as the possibility that the U.S. has operated secret prisons inside Europe.

ABC News reported earlier this week, the U.S. was operating two such prisons as recently as last month. The men were moved ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Europe and are now being held in a secret prison in North Africa.

On Tuesday President Bush defended his administration clandestine operations.

  • President Bush, speaking December 6, 2005.

We speak with British journalist Stephen Grey, who helped expose that the CIA was flying detainees to secret prisons around the world.

  • Stephen Grey, has written extensively on these secret CIA programs for the Sunday Times of London, New Statesman, New York Times and other publications.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: After the ACLU announced the lawsuit Tuesday, Khaled El-Masri spoke to reporters by videophone from Germany.

KHALED EL-MASRI: [translated] I was denied being medically examined. In this room — they took me to this room, and I had handcuffs, and I had a blindfold. And when the door was closed, I was beaten from all sides. I was hit from all sides. I then was humiliated. And then I could hear just like — that I could hear that I was being photographed in the process when I was completely naked. Then my hands were tied to my back. I got a blindfold, and they put chains to my ankles and a bag over my head, and just like the pictures we have seen of Guantanamo, for example. Then I was dragged brutally into the airplane, and in the airport I was thrown to the floor. I was tied to the floor and to the sides of the airplane. At some point when I woke up again, I found myself in Afghanistan. I was brutally dragged off the airplane and put in the trunk of a car. I was thrown into the trunk of a car.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Khaled El-Masri, unable to attend the ACLU’s Washington news conference because he had been refused entry into the United States after arriving Saturday in Atlanta on a flight from Germany. His lawsuit comes at a time when the Bush administration’s secret practices are coming under intense scrutiny in Europe, investigations underway throughout the region over the CIA kidnappings, as well as the possibility that the U.S. has operated secret prisons inside Europe. ABC News reported earlier this week the U.S. was operating two such prisons as recently as last month. The men were moved ahead of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Europe and are now being held in a secret prison in North Africa. On Tuesday, President Bush defended his administration’s clandestine operations.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I don’t talk about secret programs, covert programs, covert activities. Part of a successful war on terror is for the United States of America to be able to conduct operations all aimed at protecting American people covertly. However, I can tell you two things. One, that we abide by the law of the United States. We do not torture. And two, we will try to do everything we can to protect us within the law. I mean, we are facing an enemy that would like to hit America again, and the American people expect us to — within our laws — do everything that we can to protect them. And that’s exactly what the United States is doing. We do not render to countries that torture. That has been our policy, and that policy will remain the same.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we’re joined in our New York studio by British investigative journalist, Stephen Grey, who has written extensively on the secret CIA programs for the Sunday Times of London. Welcome to Democracy Now!

STEPHEN GREY: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, as you hear this case breaking, at least publicly, on Khaled El-Masri with the ACLU filing a lawsuit, he comes into the United States, he’s not even granted entry. Does this surprise you?

STEPHEN GREY: It doesn’t surprise me. I was surprised he actually tried to come here, but what seems to be the case is that the customs officials may have repeated the same error, which was responsible for him being captured in the first place. Khaled El-Masri just means Khaled the Egyptian, in fact, and there was someone they were looking for in relation to 9/11. And it seems they abducted Khaled El-Masri in Macedonia, sent him to Afghanistan for 6 months, where he was held and, he says, beaten and had to go on hunger strike to get himself released.

Finally they admitted their error, but they didn’t send him back to Germany to sort of go back home. They dropped him in the mountains in Albania to make his own way back. That was all because of a mistaken identity. When he came again Saturday, it seems like the same mistake was made again to send him back. And now I see that The New York Times is saying that the German officials are saying that if he wants to come back again, he could come back. But I’m not sure he will want to try again.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it’s interesting, with Condoleezza Rice going to Germany, and the new leader of Germany, Merkel, saying, well, the U.S. has admitted a mistake; even there the U.S. government has said, no, she is wrong. They did not admit a mistake.

STEPHEN GREY: Well, exactly. It was immediately after the meeting, Merkel said that the U.S. had finally admitted their error here, but that was immediately denied by the State Department. So, although the U.S. is saying, in general, that there are mistakes that are made and they apologize for those mistakes, they have not admitted an error in this case. And also, you wonder whether what it means to admit a mistake. Is it — in Europe, the concern really is that the U.S. believes it has the right to abduct people, take them to prisons secretly without any legal process. And that’s the point, really. Obviously, mistakes happen in any situation, but what the Europeans are saying is, well, actually, the U.S. doesn’t have the right to make the law for itself. If you are going to capture someone, then they should be brought before a court.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t the U.S. making these countries accomplices by sending them off to these different prisons? Now, Stephen Grey, this is just part one of our conversation, because we just have a minute to go, but you have been the leading investigative journalist on tracking these, what are called, torture flights, these — taking these people off the streets and sending them somewhere else. How have you been following them?

STEPHEN GREY: I’m among a number of journalists who have been doing this, but basically, we have managed to find the planes responsible, and then, through sources, obtained thousands of flight logs of their movements around the world. And what we did is you match those flight logs with the accounts of detainees who describe what had happened to them. And what that showed was those accounts from the detainees were true, that they really were taken to these prisons, because precisely what they said happened to them was shown to be true by the flight logs of these CIA planes.

AMY GOODMAN: And now, how many of these flights do you estimate have taken place?

STEPHEN GREY: Well, there are thousands of flights. Not all of them are rendition flights. There are many legitimate purposes that the CIA have for flying around the world. But there are dozens of people who have been rendited, have been moved to jails, both the CIA’s own secret jails and also, in more greater numbers, the jails of countries like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, which clearly practice torture and which the U.S. knows practice torture. And that’s what is, I think, the biggest concern for people in Europe at the moment is that the U.S. is quite aware of the policies of torture of these countries and yet is saying that they won’t send — that these people won’t be tortured when they get sent there. It doesn’t seem very credible, really.

AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian published for the first time the details of more than 200 flights in and out of Britain.

STEPHEN GREY: That’s right. I mean, Britain is a major center. Germany is a bigger center in Europe for the CIA’s planes, and Britain is number two. It’s a major base from which, clearly, operations are launched. But there hasn’t been really much official investigation so far, public knowledge, as to where prisoners have actually been moved whether prisoners have come through Germany and Britain. That remains to be seen.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to end this here, but this is part one of our conversation to find out where these flights are going, who is being taken and what happens to them when they are put in these secret prisons. Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times of London with us in our New York studio.

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