Macedonia Must Pay For Uncle Sam’s Mistakes

When government agents violate basic rights, they rarely apologize. And when those whose rights were violated try to sue, the suits are usually thrown out. Khaled el-Masri is one such victim of this system. However, he did find a little justice on December 13. The Associated Press reports, the “European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman was a victim of torture and abuse,” calling it “a long-awaited victory for a man who had failed for years to get courts in the United States and Europe to recognize him as a victim.”

In a case of mistaken identity, el-Masri was kidnapped by the CIA in late-2003. Agents of the CIA then tortured and raped him in the presence of Macedonian State Police. El-Masri was taken from Macedonia to a CIA prison in Afghanistan called the “Sand Pit” and again, he was tortured. Four months later, in April 2004, el-Masri was “dumped… on a desolate road in Albania.” reports in 2007, el-Masri “attempted to sue the CIA over the abuse, but the US courts threw out the case on national security grounds, saying information about the case could never be made public. The German government briefly issued Interpol warrants for the agents involved in el-Masri’s kidnapping, but dropped this after the State Department threatened ‘repercussions’ from pursuing the case.”

The European Court of Human Rights ruled the Macedonian government “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” and ordered the Macedonian government to pay restitution of 60,000 Euro (approximately $78,000).

The AP reports the American government has “long since closed internal investigations into the el-Masri case” and the Obama Administration has tried to distance itself from the Bush Administration policies of secret torture.

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, described the ruling as “a key milestone in the long struggle to secure accountability of public officials implicated in human rights violations committed by the Bush Administration,” and said U.S. government must issue an apology and “pay voluntary compensation to Mr. el-Masri.”

We can only hope that el-Masri’s victory will lead to court victories for other rendition victims.