PARIS – A European court issued a landmark ruling Thursday that condemned the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions” programs and bolstered those who say they were illegally kidnapped and tortured as part of an overzealous war on terrorism.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman was an innocent victim of torture and abuse, in a long-awaited victory for a man who had failed for years to get courts in the U.S. and Europe to acknowledge what happened to him.
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.”
It said the government of Macedonia violated El-Masri’s rights repeatedly and ordered it to pay $78,500 in damages.
U.S. officials closed internal investigations into the El-Masri case two years ago.
But several other legal cases are pending from Britain to Hong Kong involving people who say they were illegally detained in the CIA program. Its critics hope that Thursday’s ruling will lead to court victories for other rendition victims and prevent future abuses.
The case focused on Macedonia’s role in a single instance of wrongful capture. But it drew broader attention because of how sensitive the CIA extraordinary renditions were for Europe.
Those methods involved abducting and interrogating suspects – without court sanction – in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A 2007 Council of Europe probe accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.