Court finds for CIA rendition victim

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Khaled el-Mazri’s rights were violated when he was arrested by Macedonian authorities, turned over the the CIA, brutalized, and held for months in Afghanistan. The case focused attention on the CIA’s rendition program. Mazri was awarded $78,000 in damages.

Associated Press

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Khaled el-Mazri’s rights were violated when he was arrested by Macedonian authorities, turned over the the CIA, brutalized, and held for months in Afghanistan. The case focused attention on the CIA’s rendition program. Mazri was awarded $78,000 in damages.

BERLIN — A German man who was mistaken for a terrorist and abducted nine years ago won a measure of redress Thursday when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his rights had been violated and confirmed his account that he was seized by Macedonia, handed over to the CIA, brutalized and detained for months in Afghanistan.

In a unanimous ruling, the 17-judge panel, based in Strasbourg, France, found that Macedonia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, and ordered it to pay him about $78,000 in damages.


It was the first time a court had ruled in favor of the man, Khaled el-Masri, 49, in a case that focused attention on the CIA’s clandestine rendition program, in which terrorism suspects were transported to third countries for interrogation.

The decision, which Amnesty International hailed as ‘‘a historic moment and a milestone in the fight against impunity,’’ is final and cannot be appealed.

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The CIA declined to comment. A lawsuit against the United States filed on Masri’s behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union was dismissed in 2006 on the grounds that it would expose state secrets.

The group filed a petition in 2008 at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2008; the US government has yet to respond.

Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, was pulled off a bus at the Macedonian border on New Year’s Eve in 2003 after guards confused him with an operative of Al Qaeda with a similar name.


He was taken to a hotel in the capital, Skopje, and locked in a room there for 23 days. His detention, along with the threat that he would be shot if he left the hotel room, ‘‘amounted on various counts to inhuman and degrading treatment,’’ the ruling said.

When he was handed over to the CIA rendition team at the Skopje airport, he was ‘‘severely beaten, sodomized, shackled, and hooded’’ in the presence of Macedonian officials, the ruling said, a treatment that ‘‘amounted to torture.’’

After more than four months, he was dropped on a roadside in Albania.

His German lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, said his mental state had suffered not only from the abuse but the ‘‘nine years of constantly fighting, being called a liar, a terrorist, an Islamist, a hard-liner.’’

Masri has broken off contact with his lawyers while serving a prison sentence on unrelated charges involving a 2009 assault on the mayor of Neu-Ulm in Bavaria.

Gnjidic said he had written Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany asking the German government to appeal to the US government on Masri’s behalf and to see what could be done on the German side to help him.

‘‘Macedonia was only the henchman of the great powers,’’ Gnjidic said. ‘‘The question is: What is with the big fish, with Germany, with the USA? All he ever wanted was to know why this was done to him and an apology.’’

Jamil Dakwar, the head of the group’s human rights program, said that it had been ‘‘an uphill battle’’ to persuade the Obama administration to hold officials accountable under international law for Masri’s mistreatment, but that the case before the commission ‘‘gives the Obama administration the opportunity to acknowledge the egregious violations against Khaled, offer an official apology and reparation.’’

He called the European court’s ruling ‘‘historic’’ and said it ‘‘sends the message to European nations that they have a heightened obligation to investigate their complicity and cooperation with the illegal CIA extraordinary rendition program.’’

Kostadin Bogdanov, a lawyer who represents Macedonia before the court, said Macedonia would pay the damages and perhaps take other actions in light of the ruling.

They include reopening the Masri investigation and amending laws regarding criminal procedures or their implementation, he said.

James A. Goldston, executive director at the Open Society Justice Initiative, who argued the case before the court, called the ruling ‘‘a comprehensive condemnation of the worst aspects of the post-9/11 war on terror tactics that were employed by the CIA and governments who cooperated with them.’’

In another rendition case Thursday, lawyers for a former Libyan dissident said he and his family had accepted a $3.5 million settlement from the British government, according to the Associated Press.

The dissident, Sami al-Saadi, had sued the British government and its spy agency, MI6, saying that he had been abducted in Hong Kong in 2004 and sent to Libya, where he spent years in prison and was tortured. The rest of the family — his wife and four children — were also sent to Libya.

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