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Extraordinary Rendition Victim in U.S. to Appeal Lawsuit Dismissal

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Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen, was abducted by the CIA and flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was tortured. He has traveled to the United States for the first time in an attempt to seek answers about his case. We play excerpts of a press conference he held with his attorneys this week in Washington, D.C. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another less happy story. A German citizen, abducted by the CIA and flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, has traveled to the United States for the first time in an attempt to seek answers about his case. Khalid El-Masri was seized December 31st, 2003, while on a holiday in Macedonia. He was detained for five months, then released.

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on his behalf. At a news conference Wednesday, the ACLU’s Anthony Romero introduced Khalid El-Masri.

ANTHONY ROMERO: He’s a concrete example of a victim of the gross excesses of the Bush administration and its torture policies. Here is a concrete example of a human being been treated inhumanely. Here is a concrete example of a human being denied habeas corpus, denied due process, held indefinitely, not charged, tortured — all things that run contrary to American values and the American way of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Khalid El-Masri briefly explained his ordeal through a translator.

KHALID El-MASRI: [translated] To begin with, as I already mentioned, it started out in Macedonia, where I was denied any kind of contact to German authorities, the German Embassy, lawyers, an interpreter — nothing. I was detained for 23 days in a hotel room, where I was not even permitted to look out of the window. Thereafter, they took me to the airport at Skopje. I was beaten to the ground and humiliated. And then I was drugged, and I was taken to Afghanistan. And I was kicked, kicked around with their feet. I was humiliated again.

I was mortally afraid throughout the entire five months in prison in Afghanistan. The conditions I was confronted with in jail were not fit for human consumption. I went on hunger strike for 37 days. And I was force-fed thereafter. And then, thereafter, I was taken to Albania, and in the middle of the night I was just dumped in a forest. To this day, I don’t know why they did this to me. I don’t know why they arrested me in the first place. I don’t know why they released me. I do not know.

AMY GOODMAN: Khalid El-Masri, speaking in the United States. When he first tried to come in months ago, he was prevented. His legal team is still seeking answers as to what happened to him. This is his attorney, Steven Watt.

STEVEN WATT: We don’t know what information the Americans had which led to his capture, because they’ve taken the position that they’re not prepared to discuss this case under any circumstances whatsoever. So it’s really only guesswork on our part as to what information they had on him. But if we can take an analogous case, the case of Maher Arar, which is another extraordinary rendition case, the Canadian government, in the course of their inquiry, found out that Maher Arar was an entirely innocent victim caught up in the rendition program, and the Canadian government, the intelligence agencies there, passed on information to their American counterparts which had no intelligence value whatsoever. The evidence just didn’t match up to Maher Arar being who the Canadian authorities or the American authorities originally thought Maher Arar was.

So I think it’s probably a similar situation here. There was vast volumes of information with no qualitative value whatsoever. And that led to Khalid El-Masri being swept up into the extraordinary rendition program. That is one of the fundamental failings of this rendition program. There is no due process. There is no way of determining what information the government is basing its decisions upon.

AMY GOODMAN: At Wednesday’s news conference, El-Masri also spoke about conditions inside the CIA prison in Afghanistan, where he said other detainees spoke about being tortured.

KHALID El-MASRI: [translated] I was the only one in this prison in Kabul who was actually treated slightly better than the other inmates. But it was known among the prisoners that other prisoners were constantly tortured with blasts of loud music, exposed to constant onslaughts of loud music. And they were — for up to five days, they were just sort of left hanging from the ceiling completely naked in ice cold conditions. The man from Tanzania whom I mentioned before had his arm broken in three places. He had injurious trauma to his head, and his teeth had been damaged. They also locked him up in a suitcase for long periods of time, foul-smelling suitcase that made him vomit all the time. Other people experienced forms of torture whereby their heads were being pushed down and held under water.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Khalid El-Masri speaking in Washington, D.C., the German citizen abducted by the CIA, flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan, traveled now to the United States. He was seized on December 31, 2003, when he had traveled to Macedonia, and held for five months, then released. The ACLU is suing on his behalf, suing the U.S. government.

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