The Strange Case of Khaled El-Masri

THE STRANGE CASE OF KHALED EL-MASRI….Back on New Year’s Eve of 2003, a German citizen named Khaled El-Masri had a fight with his wife and decided to blow off steam by getting on a bus and going to Macedonia. Unfortunately for him, his name was similar to that of an associate of a 9/11 hijacker, so he was picked up at the border by Macedonian police, who in turn contacted the CIA.

There was apparently no evidence of any kind against Masri, but the CIA took custody of him anyway. He was handcuffed, blindfolded, drugged, and put on a plane for Afghanistan, where he was beaten, kicked, and interrogated by American agents for weeks. He says he was told, “You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know.”

Finally, in March of 2004, the CIA figured out they had screwed up. Masri’s passport was genuine, and he was just some poor unemployed schmoe who had had a fight with his wife. But they kept him for two more months anyway because they weren’t sure what to do. Eventually, they flew him to Albania and dumped him off at a narrow country road at dusk. “They asked me not to look back when I started walking,” Masri said. “I was afraid they would shoot me in the back.” Three men met him and drove him to an airport, where he was flown back to civilization.

Charming, no? But mistakes can happen. The important thing is that you fess up and make good on them, which is exactly what Condoleezza Rice promised a month after Masri’s release:

When mistakes are made, we work very hard to rectify them. I believe that this will be handled in the proper courts, here in Germany and if necessary in American courts as well.

Well, guess what? It turns out the United States isn’t quite as interested in judicial oversight as Rice claimed. When Masri went ahead and asked an American court to hear his case, the Bush administration argued that he should be denied a trial because it might compromise national security. On Thursday a judge reluctantly agreed. Nadezhda has the details.