Tuesday, January 11, 2005

KHALED EL-MASRI LIVES IN GERMANY. On New Year's Eve, he got on a tourist bus bound for Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, for a week's vacation. At the Macedonian border, after being asked standard questions about his business in Macedonia, El-Masri was ordered off the bus; his passport was confiscated; he was interrogated and accused of being a terrorist; and then he was taken into custody and flown to a prison in Afghanistan. He did not see his home again for five months. In those five months, according to El-Masri, he was kept chained, he was beaten up repeatedly, he was injected with drugs, he was photographed naked, and interrogated over and over about his supposed ties to Al Qaeda. His interrogators, whom El-Masri says were American, refused to believe that he had no ties to Al Qaeda.

When he was finally allowed to return home -- not having been charged with any crime during that entire time -- El-Masri reported what had happened to the German police. This is where it gets interesting.

Mr. Masri's lawyer, Manfred R. Gnjidic, said he suspected that his client was swept into the C.I.A.'s policy of "renditions" - handing custody of a prisoner from United States control to another country for the purposes of interrogation - because he has the same name, with a slightly different spelling, as a man wanted in the Sept. 11 attacks. The policy has come under increasing criticism as other cases have come to light recently.

Although the German authorities say they have no specific suspects in the Masri case, they say they are looking into the possible role of the United States and other countries.

The response of the U.S. authorities to these allegations is even more interesting.

A senior administration official said the Bush administration had been aware of these allegations for some time, but he referred questions to the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.

In a series of interviews, neither the C.I.A. nor the F.B.I. would deny or confirm Mr. Masri's allegations. A C.I.A. spokeswoman said the agency would not comment at all. Senior F.B.I. officials in Washington acknowledged that they received a request for help from the Germans last October, and said they were assisting in the investigation [although the German authorities said the FBI had not been helpful at all].

Obviously, El-Masri is not the first person of Muslim background this has happened to. He met many others during the time he was imprisoned. The policy of "renditioning," or transferring detainees to other countries for interrogations -- usually countries with few or no human rights protections -- has been going on since before 9/11. And how do U.S. policies and actions such as these affect the safety of Americans in the United States? Not positively.

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