Anj — Khaled El-Masri: America Kidnapped Me

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Khaled El-Masri: America Kidnapped Me
Eventually my blindfold was removed, and I saw men dressed in black,
wearing black ski masks. I did not know their nationality.
By Khaled El-Masri
The US policy of “extraordinary rendition” has a human face, and it is
I am still recovering from an experience that was completely beyond
the pale, outside the bounds of any legal framework and unacceptable
in any civilized society. Because I believe in the American system of
justice, I sued George Tenet, the former CIA director, last week. What
happened to me should never be allowed to happen again.
I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, when Lebanon was
being torn apart by civil war, I fled to Germany in search of a better
life. There I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five
On Dec. 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we
arrived, my nightmare began. Macedonian agents confiscated my passport
and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone,
including my wife.
At the end of that time, I was forced to record a video saying I had
been treated well. Then I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a
building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my
body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed.
I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on
my back. I was humiliated.
Eventually my blindfold was removed, and I saw men dressed in black,
wearing black ski masks. I did not know their nationality. I was put
in a diaper, a belt with chains to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs, eye
pads, a blindfold and a hood. I was thrown into a plane, and my legs
and arms were spread-eagled and secured to the floor. I felt two
injections and became nearly unconscious. I felt the plane take off,
land and take off. I learned later that I had been taken to Afghanistan.
There, I was beaten again and left in a small, dirty, cold concrete
cell. I was extremely thirsty, but there was only a bottle of putrid
water in the cell. I was refused fresh water.
That first night I was taken to an interrogation room where I saw men
dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks as before. They
stripped and photographed me, and took blood and urine samples. I was
returned to the cell, where I would remain in solitary confinement for
more than four months.
The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew
why I had been detained. I said I did not. They told me that I was now
in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant?
They asked me many times whether I knew the men who were responsible
for the Sept. 11 attacks, if I had traveled to Afghanistan to train in
camps and if I associated with certain people in my town of Ulm,
Germany. I told the truth: that I had no connection to any terrorists,
had never been in Afghanistan and had never been involved in any
extremism. I asked repeatedly to meet with a representative of the
German government, or a lawyer, or to be brought before a court.
Always, my requests were ignored.
In desperation, I began a hunger strike. After 27 days without food, I
was taken to meet with two Americans â•” the prison director and
another man, referred to as “the Boss.” I pleaded with them to release
me or bring me before a court, but the prison director replied that he
could not release me without permission from Washington. He also said
that he believed I should not be detained in the prison.
After 37 days without food, I was dragged to the interrogation room,
where a feeding tube was forced through my nose into my stomach. I
became extremely ill, suffering the worst pain of my life.
After three months, I was taken to meet an American who said he had
traveled from Washington, D.C., and who promised I would soon be
released. I was also visited by a German-speaking man who explained
that I would be allowed to return home but warned that I was never to
mention what had happened because the Americans were determined to
keep the affair a secret.
On May 28, 2004, almost five months after I was first kidnapped, I was
blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to an airplane seat. I was told we
would land in a country other than Germany, because the Americans did
not want to leave traces of their involvement, but that I would
eventually get to Germany.
After we landed I was driven into the mountains, still blindfolded. My
captors removed my handcuffs and blindfold and told me to walk down a
dark, deserted path and not to look back. I was afraid I would be shot
in the back.
I turned a bend and encountered three men who asked why I was
illegally in Albania. They took me to the airport, where I bought a
ticket home (my wallet had been returned to me). Only after the plane
took off did I believe I was actually going home. I had long hair, a
beard and had lost 60 pounds. My wife and children had gone to
Lebanon, believing I had abandoned them. Thankfully, now we are
together again in Germany.
I still do not know why this happened to me. I have been told that the
American secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed in a meeting
with the German chancellor that my case was a “mistake” â•” and that
American officials later denied that she said this. I was not present
at this meeting. No one from the American government has ever
contacted me or offered me any explanation or apology for the pain
they caused me.
Secretary Rice has stated publicly, during a discussion of my case,
that “any policy will sometimes result in errors.” But that is exactly
why extraordinary rendition is so dangerous. As my interrogators made
clear when they told me I was being held in a country with no laws,
the very purpose of extraordinary rendition is to deny a person the
protection of the law.
I begged my captors many times to bring me before a court, where I
could explain to a judge that a mistake had been made. Every time,
they refused. In this way, a “mistake” that could have been quickly
corrected led to several months of cruel treatment and meaningless
suffering, for me and my entire family.
My captors would not bring me to court, so last week I brought them to
court. Helped by the American Civil Liberties Union, I sued the U.S.
government because I believe what happened to me was illegal and
should not be done to others. And I believe the American people, when
they hear my story, will agree.
-Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen born in Lebanon, was a car salesman
before he was detained in December 2003.
-Los Angeles Times