NEW YORK, June 14 — The European Court of Human Rights will consider the case of a German citizen who was kidnapped and beaten in connection with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the Open Society Justice Initiative revealed today. This is the first time an extraordinary rendition case related to the “war on terror” has reached Europe‘s top court.
Macedonian security forces seized Khaled El-Masri at the request of the United States in December 2003 and held him—incommunicado—for 23 days. El-Masri was then handed over to the CIA and flown to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was confined in appalling conditions, interrogated, and abused. After several months, El-Masri was finally released and dumped on a roadside in Albania. Despite overwhelming evidence of its collaboration, Macedonia has denied that El-Masri was detained illegally on its territory or handed over to the CIA.
“European governments must be held accountable for participating in torture, abuse, and kidnappings in association with the CIA’s rendition program,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is litigating the case. “United States courts may have closed their doors on this matter, but we hope that El-Masri will find justice before the European Court.”
As with rendition survivor Maher Arar, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear El-Masri’s case. The U.S. government asserted the “state secrets privilege” when challenged in the United States, which resulted in the case’s dismissal. The United States has yet to publicly acknowledge El-Masri’s rendition. He has never been charged with a crime or given any explanation for his treatment.
“Official recognition of what happened is essential for survivors like El-Masri, who are trying to deal with this traumatic experience and move on with their lives,” said Rupert Skilbeck, Justice Initiative litigation director. “Khaled El-Masri has a right to public acknowledgement of the injustice he has suffered, and the people of Europe have a right to know the truth about how their governments colluded with the CIA.”
In May, the Open Society Justice Initiative sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, requesting that the U.S. government publicly confirm that it wrongly rendered El-Masri, as well as provide, in light of its observer status with the Council of Europe, any assistance sought by the European Court. The Justice Initiative also wrote to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking her to confirm that the United States government has privately acknowledged its error in El-Masri’s case, as was widely reported in 2005. The letter encouraged Germany to consider intervening in the case on El-Masri’s behalf.
Secretary Clinton has not responded to the Justice Initiative to date. The German government replied, referring the Justice Initiative to a transcript of Merkel’s previous remarks, in which she acknowledged that the U.S. privately admitted to having wrongfully detained El-Masri.
The Open Society Justice Initiative uses law to protect and empower people around the world. Through litigation, advocacy, research, and technical assistance, the Justice Initiative promotes human rights and builds legal capacity for open societies.