Press release

CIA Kidnap and Rendition Case in Europe Ends without Investigation

December 06, 2019
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NEW YORK—The 47-member Council of Europe has declared that the Republic of North Macedonia is no longer required to investigate the 2004 kidnapping, detention and rendition by the CIA to Afghanistan of a German citizen who had been mis-identified as a terrorist suspect.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative said: “This disappointing decision in the case of Khaled el-Masri undermines one of the last remaining avenues for accountability for the global campaign of torture and rendition launched by the United States after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Macedonian security personnel detained el-Masri on December 31, 2003, and interrogated him in secret for over three weeks, having wrongly identified him as a suspected member of al-Qaeda. They then delivered him to CIA agents who flew him to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned in inhuman conditions and further mistreated by the CIA. In late May 2004, the CIA returned el-Masri to Europe, and then left him on a roadside in Albania, long after American authorities had concluded that they had mistakenly captured the wrong man.

On December 13, 2012, in a case brought on el-Masri’s behalf by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found North Macedonia had illegally detained and ill-treated el-Masri. The ruling also found that North Macedonia had failed to carry out an effective investigation into the abuses suffered.

Subsequently the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which is responsible for ensuring the implementation of the Court’s rulings, repeatedly urged North Macedonia to comply with the judgement.

However, the government has recently argued its statute of limitations prevents the opening of a criminal investigation. It also suggested that an apology issued to el-Masri in 2018, plus payment of damages ordered, was sufficient to close the case.

These views have now been accepted by the Committee of Ministers, which approved a resolution declaring the case closed on Thursday December 5.

The Justice Initiative had advised the Committee that international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the rulings of the ECHR itself, does not allow any time limit on prosecuting torture and ill-treatment, thus invalidating Macedonia’s claims.

Amrit Singh, who heads the Justice Initiative’s work on addressing national security related rights abuses, said:

“This decision is inconsistent with the Court’s judgement, which requires an effective investigation that leads to the identification and punishment of those responsible for Mr. el-Masri’s secret detention, rendition, and torture. In turning a blind eye to Macedonia’s failure to conduct such an investigation, the Committee of Ministers has done our client a grave injustice and undermined the authority of the Court.”

The European Court has issued three other rulings in cases involving the CIA’s post-September 11 program of torture, secret detention, and rendition: against Poland and Romania (Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri), and against Lithuania (Abu Zubaydah). These cases remain under the Committee’s review. 

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