Human Rights

In Landmark Ruling, European Court Sides With Torture Victim; Slams CIA's Rendition Program

European Court of Human Rights rules in favor of a German car salesman kidnapped and "interrogated" as suspected terrorist, uses WikiLeaked docs as evidence.

Carabinieri stand outside a court in Milan during the trial of US secret agents in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect, Mustafa Hassan Osama, as part of the CIA's covert "extraordinary rendition" programme.

The European Court of Human Rights in Paris released a ruling in favor of  a German car salesman kidnapped and "interrogated" as suspected terrorist during the CIA's illegal "extraordinary rendition" phase,  striking out against the Macedonian govnerment for collaborating with the kidnapping.

It's an important ruling, say human rights lawyers, because victims fo these programs have found no recourse in the US courts. 

The ruling also shines the international spotlight, yet again, on the immorality of the War on Terror's worst moments.

From the AP:

Khaled El-Masri says 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 says 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."

El-Masri is awarded financial damages from the Macedonian government. His lawyers says that he is a "broken man" after his unsusccessful attemtps at purusing "justice" at the US, and is hopeful that this decision will turn things around for him. Everyone from the ACLU and Amnesty International to foreign human rights orgnaizations is applauding this decision, which was based in part on evidence from WikiLeaks-released cables:

The court based its 92-page 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 court said El-Masri was severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded "at the hands of the CIA rendition team" in the presence of Macedonian authorities. It described the measures as "invasive and potentially debasing ... used with premeditation, the aim being to cause Mr. El-Masri severe pain or suffering in order to obtain information." And that was only the first stage in El-Masri's months-long ordeal.

Jim Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Institute and a lawyer for El-Masri, said the ruling "serves as a wake-up call to the U.S. government and judiciary to re-examine how the CIA has treated rendition victims. ... and offers an opportunity to re-examine the (U.S.) position of looking forward instead of backward."

Goldston said that even if the ruling has no impact in the United States, courts in other countries are likely to take it into account. He expressed hope that it will encourage "victims who have been denied redress or have simply not come forward."

Several other cases of rendition victims are pending, and a similar case in Italy (see picture) was also decided in favor of the victim.


Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at

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