National Security Watch: The CIA, the ACLU, and secret prisons
An embarrassing public debate is raging in much of the world over the practices of the United Statesand the CIA in particularwhen it comes to suspects detained as part of the war on terrorism.
One part of the debate was sparked by a series of revelations about alleged secret prisons run by the CIA overseas, including in two European countries. On a swing through Germany and Romania, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been barraged with questions about the prisons, as well as the CIA's practice of "renditions"the clandestine transfer of terrorist suspects to third countries for harsh interrogations. Investigations are underway in several countries, most notably Italy, over supposed renditions carried out in recent years by CIA officers.
Rice and President Bush have been forced to make unusual public denials, insisting that the United States does not transfer prisoners to countries that torture. But intelligence sources confirm to U.S. News that the CIA has administered several secret prisons overseas and that renditions to countries with spotty human-rights records like Egypt and Syria have also taken place.
Now, another embarrassment is looming for Washington in the form of a new lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of a German man who says he was forcibly abducted in Macedonia and held in a CIA prison in Afghanistan for several months. Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, spoke to reporters over a satellite link because he was refused permission to enter the United States last week.
The story he told began on a vacation to Macedonia in December 2003, where he was arrested, interrogated, and beaten. After several weeks of questioning, he says that he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and put on a plane to Afghanistan by several Americans. Upon arrival, he claims, he was kicked repeatedly and thrown in a dirty cell with only a ratty blanket and a bottle of filthy water.
Amid intense interrogations by several Americans, Masri embarked on a hunger strike to protest the conditions and his detention.
"All we had [to eat] were chicken bones boiled in water," he says. "My requests for a doctor were ignored."
Several months later, on May 28, 2004, he was thrown on another plane and dropped off in a remote corner of Albania. "They told me it was a case of mistaken identity," said el-Masri, who eventually made it back to Germany.
U.S. officials refuse to comment on his case, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Rice admitted privately that mistakes were made in the Masri case. The lawsuit could be problematic for the Bush administration. It first names former CIA Director George Tenet as a defendant, claiming that Tenet was notified about the CIA's mistaken detention of Masri soon after he was flown to Afghanistan but that Masri was held for an additional two months.
But the ACLU is also going after several aviation firms, likely CIA front companies, that owned and operated the airplanes that Masri allegedly was transported on, based in part on public flight records.
More on the ACLU lawsuit, including several drawings that Masri made of his prison accommodations, can be found at its Web site.