A German man who said he was mistaken for a terrorist more than eight years ago and tortured by U.S. agents had his suit against Macedonia heard by the European Court of Human Rights after his claims were rejected in three countries.
Khaled el-Masri said the Balkan country violated the European Convention on Human Rights by torturing him, denying his rights to freedom and privacy, and refusing to adequately investigate his claims. Macedonian guards turned him over to U.S. agents after he was mistaken for a terrorist with a similar name as he tried to visit the country in 2003.
Today’s case at the Human Rights court in Strasbourg, France, is the furthest el-Masri has been able to pursue his claims he was a victim of “extraordinary rendition,” a U.S. practice in which terrorism suspects are transferred to a different country. The U.S. Supreme Court refused in 2007 to reinstate his suit against the Central Intelligence Agency.
There is “clear evidence of Macedonian government collusion with covering up the rendition,” James Goldston, el- Masri’s lawyer, told the Grand Chamber of the court today. “Every investigation, except Macedonia’s insignificant inquiry, has found evidence of details in his complaints.”
El-Masri took a bus from Ulm, Germany, on New Year’s Eve, 2003 to visit the Macedonian capital of Skopje, according to court documents. Macedonian border guards at the Serbian border crossing questioned el-Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, about his German passport. El-Masri, whose name is similar to that of Khalid al-Masri, a man wanted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, was then held him in a hotel for about three weeks.
He was taken to the airport on Jan. 23, 2004, stripped and beaten, then drugged and flown to Afghanistan. There he was held at a CIA-run facility north of Kabul and interrogated about whether he had ties to al-Qaeda, according to Human Rights Court documents. He was returned to Europe about four months later and left on a road in Albania.
El-Masri filed the human rights case against Macedonia after he was notified his 2008 criminal complaint in the country was dismissed. He is also pursuing a civil case there.
A lawyer representing the Macedonian government said the complaint isn’t admissible under the European Convention of Human Rights because el-Masri waited too long after the criminal inquiry closed to pursue a claim at the human rights court. He also described el-Masri as uninterested in following up on the inquiry’s progress.
El-Masri “must have become aware of the ineffectiveness of the complaint long before” the public prosecutor notified him that the case had been dropped, said Kostadin Bogdanov, the lawyer for Macedonia. He was “totally passive and displayed no initiative in showing a crime had been committed against him.”
Darian Pavli, another lawyer for el-Masri, told the court that the Macedonian position misrepresented his client’s efforts to follow up on his complaint in Macedonia and that it was the duty of the public prosecutor to keep the parties informed about the investigation.
El-Masri’s Macedonian lawyer, who was present at today’s hearing, called the prosecutors “several times” and was told, even after a decision had been made to drop the probe, that there was nothing new to report, Pavli said. Their response was “a dismal failure of that duty” to the complainant.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2005 said then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice privately conceded that the U.S. had made a mistake in detaining el-Masri. The CIA held him long after then-agency director George Tenet learned he was innocent, el-Masri has said.
Dean Boyd, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.
Macedonia has disputed el-Masri’s account during an investigation lead by Switzerland’s Dick Marty, saying he was held while its intelligence officials checked with Interpol for outstanding warrants, then released at the border, according to excerpts of the 2006 Marty report published by the court.
The human rights tribunal rules on claims that signatories to the 1950 human rights convention have failed to uphold rights guaranteed under the treaty.
El-Masri didn’t attend today’s hearing. He has been in jail near Ulm for about two years after assaulting his town’s mayor, said Goldston, who is executive director of the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative, after the hearing. “There is little question he has suffered from post-traumatic stress,” he said.
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