Macedonia complicit in CIA torture, unlawful detention, European court says

Court rules in favor of former detainee el-Masri
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Macedonia shares responsibility for the torture and unlawful detention of a German man the country turned over to the CIA in a case of mistaken identity, the the European Court of Human Rights ruled Dec. 13.

Khaled el-Masri was traveling to Macedonia in 2003 for vacation; when his bus arrived at the Serbia-Macedonia border, Macedonian authorities mistook him for an al Qaeda suspect and detained him for 23 days. They then passed him over to a CIA team that beat and brutalized him, treatment that the court says (.pdf) "amounted to torture."

The CIA then flew him to Afghanistan, where he was unlawfully detained for 4 months.

"Although the investigation of terrorist offences undoubtedly presents the authorities with special problems, that does not mean that the authorities have carte blanche...to arrest suspects and detain them in police custody, free from effective control by the domestic courts," the ruling says.

It also says the Macedonian authorities knew or should have known what kind of treatment el-Masri would endure in CIA custody. The authorities knew the CIA would take him to Afghanistan, the court says.

Macedonia must pay el-Masri €60,000, about $78,000, in damages.

This was the first time a court had ruled in favor of el-Masri, according to The New York Times.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the decision "is a stark reminder of America's utter failure to hold its officials accountable for serious violations of both U.S. and international law."

The ACLU previously filed a lawsuit on el-Masri's behalf that a federal judge dismissed in 2006 after the Bush administration argued that it would jeopardize state secrets.

The European Court of Human Rights ruling says that "the concept of 'State secrets' has often been invoked to obstruct the search for the truth" and that governments must investigate human rights allegations to maintain public confidence that the rule of law is in force.

For more:
- download the ruling in El-Masri v. Macedonia (.pdf)

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