German Khalid al-Masri said the CIA brutally interrogated him for four months before dumping him on a mountainside in Albania.

Christian Hartmann, Associated Press

European court condemns CIA renditions

  • Article by: ANGELA CHARLTON
  • Associated Press
  • December 13, 2012 - 9:19 PM

PARIS - A European court issued a landmark ruling Thursday that condemned the CIA's so-called extraordinary renditions programs and bolstered those who say they were illegally kidnapped and tortured as part of an overzealous war on terrorism.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman was a victim of torture and abuse, in a long-awaited victory for a man who had been unable for years to get courts in the United States and Europe to recognize him as a victim.

Khaled El-Masri said he was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, mistaken for a terrorism suspect, then held for four months and brutally interrogated at an Afghan prison known as the "Salt Pit" run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He said that once U.S. authorities realized he was not a threat, they illegally sent him to Albania and left him on a mountainside.

The European court, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled that El-Masri's account was "established beyond reasonable doubt" and that Macedonia "had been responsible for his torture and ill treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the U.S. authorities in the context of an extra-judicial rendition."

It said the government of Macedonia violated El-Masri's rights repeatedly and ordered it to pay $78,500 in damages. Macedonia's Justice Ministry said it would honor the ruling and pay El-Masri the damages.

U.S. officials have long since closed internal investigations into the El-Masri case, and the Obama administration has distanced itself from some counterterrorism activities conducted under former President George W. Bush.

The CIA declined to comment on Thursday's ruling.

The case focused on Macedonia's role in a single instance, but it drew broader attention because of how sensitive the CIA extraordinary renditions were for Europe, at a time when the continent feared attacks but divided over the Bush administration's methods of rooting out terrorism.

El-Masri's lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, said he hoped the ruling would inspire El-Masri to resume contact with his lawyers and family, which he broke off after he was sentenced to two years in prison in 2010 for assaulting the mayor of the German town of Neu-Ulm.

Macedonian authorities had argued that El-Masri was detained on suspicion of traveling with false documents, then traveled on his own to neighboring Kosovo -- an argument the court called "untenable."

The court based its ruling not only on El-Masri's version of events but also on testimony from former Macedonian officials, results of a German investigation, and U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

The decision is the second blow for the CIA program in recent months. In September, Italy's highest criminal court upheld the convictions of 23 Americans in the abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect, paving the way to possible extradition requests for CIA operatives by Italian authorities.

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