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To Khalid el-Masri’s astonishingly bad luck, his name closely resembles that of Khalid el-Masri, a man suspected to be involved in the planning of the 9/11 attacks. Born in Lebanon, he is a German citizen, legally living in Germany. On December 31, 2003, he travels by bus from Serbia to Macedonia on his way to Skopje for a weeklong vacation. At the border, Macedonian authorities take him in custody and interrogate him about possible involvement with terrorism. A few hours later, he is taken to a motel on the outskirts of Skopje, accompanied by armed police officers. For the next 23 days, he will be held there by a number of Macedonians, questioned repeatedly and accused of having a fake passport, being an Egyptian national, and having been to a training camp for terrorists in Jalalabad. After about ten days, one interrogator tells him, “[W]e’ll make a deal: you say you are an al-Qaeda member, and sign a paper saying that, and we’ll put you back on a plane and you will be deported to Germany.” El-Masri refuses, “naturally,” he recalls. “It would have been suicide to sign.” The man leaves, but two days later, the same man accuses him of not being cooperative, says he has only himself to blame for his troubles, and that they know everything about him. [Guardian, 1/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Following the arrest of German national Khalid el-Masri in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), a dispute breaks out at CIA headquarters over what to do with him. Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, argues that el-Masri should be rendered to Afghanistan. Author Jane Mayer will describe Bikowsky as a “tall, pale-skinned, spiky-haired redhead who wore bright red lipstick” and indicate she is a former Soviet analyst who had been at Alec Station during the pre-9/11 failures. Mayer will add that she “was particularly controversial among many of her male colleagues for her ferociousness,” and, that she was “reviled by some male colleagues for what they regarded as her aggression.” Lacking proof against el-Masri, Bikowsky argues that the man in custody is probably a terrorist and should be taken to a black site. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 35, 273, 282-283] A former CIA officer will say: “She didn’t really know. She just had a hunch.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2005] Mayer will attribute Bikowsky’s determination to having been part of the unit when it failed before 9/11. Other officers suggest they should wait to see whether el-Masri’s passport, suspected of being a forgery, is genuine or not, and point out there is no evidence he was anything but a tourist on holiday when he was arrested. However, Bikowsky does not trust the Germans, apparently thinking them soft on terrorism, and does not want to wait. Another problem is that these discussions occur during the holiday period and, by the time the CIA’s station in Germany looks at the paperwork, el-Masri is already on his way to Afghanistan (see January 23 - March 2004). [Mayer, 2008, pp. 282-283] Bikowsky will also make a sight-seeing trip to see alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003), will be considered for the position of deputy station chief in Baghdad (see (March 23, 2007)), and may be interviewed by the CIA’s inspector general during its investigation into torture (see July 16, 2003).

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Khalid el-Masri.Khalid el-Masri. [Source: Reuters]In Macedonia, Khalid el-Masri is told he is free to return to Germany. His guards videotape him as evidence that he is in good health when he leaves their country. El-Masri steps out the door of the motel where he has been held, and walks a few meters, when a pick-up truck pulls up next to him. Several men pull him inside, handcuff him, and put a hood over his head. The truck appears to be driving towards the airport. [New York Times, 1/9/2005; Guardian, 1/14/2005] He hears the sounds of a plane, and the voice of one of his Macedonian minders saying he will receive a medical examination. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He is then taken into a building. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] “I heard the door being closed,” he recalls. “And then they beat me from all sides, from everywhere, with hands and feet. With knives or scissors they took away my clothes. In silence. The beating, I think, was just to humiliate me, to hurt me, to make me afraid, to make me silent. They stripped me naked. I was terrified. They tried to take off my pants. I tried to stop them so they beat me again. And when I was naked I heard a camera.” He is then rectally examined by force. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] “After I was naked they took off my mask so I could see, and all the people were in black clothes and black masks. There were seven or eight people.” El-Masri is then dressed in a blue warm-up suit, and his hands are cuffed and tied to a belt; his feet shackled. Plugs are put in his ears and he is blindfolded. Next, they put him on a plane and force him to lie on the floor, while someone injects him with a drug that makes him fall asleep. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] But he vaguely notices the plane taking off. He receives a second injection during the flight. When he awakes, the plane has landed and he finds himself driven in the boot of car. Taken inside a building, he is thrown into the wall and onto to the floor of a small room that is to become his cell for the next five months. His head and back are stepped upon, while his chains are removed. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] “Everything was dirty, a dirty blanket, dirty water, like from a fish aquarium.” Guards and fellow prisoners will later tell him he is in Kabul, Afghanistan. [New York Times, 1/9/2005] On the first evening of his captivity in Afghanistan, El-Masri receives a visit from a masked man, he assumes is a doctor, who takes a blood sample and appears to be an American. Accompanying guards repeatedly punch El-Masri in the head and neck. El-Masri says he nevertheless has the nerve to ask the American for fresh water. “And he said: ‘It’s not our problem, it’s a problem of the Afghan people.’” [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He is also forced to run up and down a stairs while his hands are tied behind his back. The next morning, an interrogator shouts at him: “Where you are right now, there is no law, no rights; no one knows you are here, and no one cares about you.” [New York Times, 1/9/2005] Perhaps the same interrogator says, while seven or eight men with black masks watched silently, “Do you know where you are?” El-Masri answers: “Yes, I know. I’m in Kabul.” The interrogator replies: “It’s a country without laws. And nobody knows that you are here. Do you know what this means?” [Guardian, 1/14/2005] He discovers the identity of some of the other prisoners. There are two Pakistani brothers, who have Saudi citizenship, a man from Tanzania, who has been detained for several months, a Pakistani who has been there for nearly two years, a Yemeni, and a number of Afghans. [New York Times, 1/9/2005; Guardian, 1/14/2005] Comparing his situation to that of the others, El-Masri concludes: “It was a crime, it was humiliating, and it was inhuman, although I think that in Afghanistan I was treated better than the other prisoners. Somebody in the prison told me that before I came somebody died under torture.” The identity of his interrogators remains a secret, though after about a month, he is visited by two unmasked Americans. One, referred to by the prisoners as “the Doctor,” is tall, pale, in his 60s and has long grey hair. The other, named “the Boss,” has red hair and blue eyes and wears glasses. [Guardian, 1/14/2005] In the meantime, el-Masri’s wife, Aisha, completely unaware of her husband’s whereabouts, begins to think he has gone to marry another woman. Together with their children, she moves to Lebanon. [New York Times, 1/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

A CIA review of the passport of Khalid el-Masri determines that it is genuine, not a forgery. El-Masri had been arrested in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004) and rendered to Afghanistan, where he is being tortured (see January 23 - March 2004), partly because the CIA thought he was traveling on a false German passport. However, the news that the passport is legitimate does not inspire the CIA to release him, as a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, still wants him held. A former colleague will say that this is because of a “gut feeling” the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, has and because she “can’t admit a mistake.” Another former colleague will say, “She just looked into her crystal ball and it said that he was bad.” Although it is clear by now that there was no problem with el-Masri’s passport and that he is not an associate of the 9/11 hijackers (note: the hijackers knew a different man with the same name), Bikowsky insists el-Masri “had phone calls to people who were bad. Or to people who knew people who were bad.” Some other CIA officers are unhappy with this state of affairs. One CIA official comes in every morning and asks, “Is that guy still locked up in the Salt Pit?” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 284-285]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, agrees that the agency can release an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri who has been imprisoned in one of the CIA’s black sites for about two months (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). The CIA has known el-Masri is innocent for some time, but has not yet got around to releasing him (see (February 2004)). However, the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, makes his release conditional on the German intelligence services promising to follow him once he is free. She is told that as el-Masri is not a terrorist, but innocent, he cannot be put on a watch list, followed, or monitored when making phone calls. Therefore, she is reluctant to let him go and he remains in prison in Afghanistan. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two senior CIA managers, Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, are informed that an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri is being held at one of the agency’s black sites in Afghanistan. The news comes about as a result of dissatisfaction on the part of some officers that the agency is holding an innocent man and refusing to release him (see Late March 2004). According to author Jane Mayer, “a lawyer for the [Counterterrorist Center] surreptitiously alert[s] a lawyer for the European division—which ha[s] an interest in [el-]Masri because of his German citizenship—that he [is] innocent. Together the CIA lawyers scheme […] about how to get [el-]Masri released.” A senior European division officer then goes to see Rodriguez, who had heard that el-Masri is, in Mayer’s words, a “tremendous catch.” However, the officer tells him, “It’s the wrong Khalid el-Masri.” (Note: some of the 9/11 hijackers knew a different man of the same name.) Subsequently, Pavitt is also informed of the problem. Mayer will comment, “Yet for months after these senior CIA officers were warned that the agency was holding an innocent man in dire circumstances, the situation continued.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]

Entity Tags: James Pavitt, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid el-Masri, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two officers in the CIA’s European division hatch a plan to free an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri who has been held at an agency black site since January (see January 23 - March 2004). The plan, which is termed a “reverse rendition,” is basically to take el-Masri out of prison, fly him somewhere, drive him round in circles for a few hours, and then let him go. However, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is opposed to this plan. The manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, had been the driving force behind el-Masri’s rendition to Afghanistan in the first place and had previously put obstacles in the way of his release (see Late March 2004). Now, she still argues that el-Masri is a terrorist. Author Jane Mayer will comment on why Bikowsky’s opposition carries weight: “She had an unusual amount of clout in the agency. She was smart and tough. And her trump card was that she sometimes personally briefed President Bush.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285-286] Despite Bikowsky’s opposition, a version of the “reverse rendition” plan will be implemented at the end of May (see May 29, 2004).

Entity Tags: Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Khalid el-Masri, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director George Tenet is informed that the agency has wrongly rendered an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri to a black site in Afghanistan and has been holding him there for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Tenet receives this information at a meeting with all the main participants in the case: a bin Laden unit manager named Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who pushed the rendition in the first place; Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, who have known of the case for some time but done nothing about it (see (April 2004)); and two European Division officers who have a plan to free el-Masri (see (April 2004)). After they all say their piece, Tenet is, according to author Jane Mayer, “stunned.” He says: “Are you telling me we’ve got an innocent guy stuck in prison in Afghanistan? Oh sh_t! Just tell me—please—we haven’t used ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques on him, have we?” The group then discusses what to do, and one suggestion is to let him go with a large quantity of cash. According to two of Mayer’s sources, Pavitt chuckles, “At least the guy will earn more money in five months than he ever could have any other way!” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286] No definitive decision about what to do is taken, and Tenet goes to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see (May 2004)).

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Counterterrorist Center, George J. Tenet, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, James Pavitt

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director George Tenet informs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the agency has been holding an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Rice’s demeanor during the meeting will be described as “very flat, as always,” and after hearing the story she says slowly, “Okay.” Tenet then explains the plan to conduct a “reverse rendition,” releasing el-Masri with a large amount of cash, but with no explanation to anyone, including the German government. Rice disagrees with the plan. “Your plan won’t work. We have to tell the Germans. We can’t put the president in the position of telling a lie to our allies,” she says. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is also consulted about the matter, and agrees with Rice’s assessment. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid el-Masri, Richard Armitage, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A native German speaker visits Khalid el-Masri in the US prison in Kabul but does not identify himself. “I asked him,” El-Masri recalls, “‘Are you from the German authorities?’ He says: ‘I do not want to answer that question.’ When I asked him if the German authorities knew that I was there, he answered: ‘I can’t answer this question.’” What the German is able to tell him, is that one of the obstacles to his release is that the Americans do not want to leave any evidence that el-Masri has ever been in the prison. [Guardian, 1/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The US Ambassador to Germany Daniel Coats tells German Interior Minister Otto Schily that the CIA has been holding an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004) and shortly plans to release him (see May 29, 2004). The CIA had intended to keep this information from the German authorities (see (May 2004)), but the Germans are told at the suggestion of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see (May 2004)). According to author Jane Mayer, Schily is “extremely unhappy” at hearing the news and makes it clear that he would have preferred not to have known. “Why are you telling me this?” he asks. “My secretary is here—taking notes! Now there’s a record! It will get out—it will become a German political issue. I’ll have to face investigations—I’ll have to testify in front of the Bundestag! Why didn’t you just let him go, give him some money, and keep it quiet?” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286]

Entity Tags: Otto Schily, Daniel Coats

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

At the end of May, more than a week after the German’s visit (see Mid-May 2004), [Guardian, 1/14/2005] Khalid el-Masri is cuffed, blindfolded, and put on a small jet. After a bus ride of six or seven hours, he is left on the side of the road. He follows the instruction of a man who tells him to walk in a certain direction and arrives at a border crossing, which he discovers is in northern Albania close to the Macedonian border. Three Albanian border officers await him. When El-Masri tells them of his five months in captivity, one of them starts to laugh. He says, according to El-Masri, “Don’t tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh.” El-Masri is then handed back the belongings that were taken from him on the first day of his captivity in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), including his passport and money. His passport is then stamped with the date of May 29, 2004. He returns to Germany on June 3. [New York Times, 1/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Alfred Frances Bikowsky (see September 21, 2011), the CIA officer responsible for the wrongful rendition and torture of the innocent German Khalid el-Masri (see Before January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004), is promoted at some point after el-Masri is released from prison (see May 29, 2004). Writing in 2008, author Jane Mayer will say Bikowsky is appointed to “a top post handling sensitive matters in the Middle East.” [New York Review of Books, 8/14/2008] A February 2011 Associated Press article will state that at that time Bikowsky is head of the agency’s Global Jihad Unit, so presumably the promotion is to the position of head of this unit. [Associated Press, 2/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Global Jihad Unit, Central Intelligence Agency, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The CIA closes a prison known as the Salt Pit near Kabul, Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the reason for the closure is that the road leading to the prison is unsafe. The facility is relocated to Bagram Air Base. The date of closure is uncertain, although a detainee was still being held there in late May 2004 (see May 29, 2004) and the prison’s closure is reported in November 2005. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The “Salt Pit” prison near Kabul, Afghanistan.The “Salt Pit” prison near Kabul, Afghanistan. [Source: Trevor Paglen.]Khalid el-Masri and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) file a lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and three corporations. The suit alleges that all of the defendants were complicit in el-Masri’s abduction transfer to to a secret prison, and subsequent mistreatment (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004, January 23 - March 2004, and March-April 2004 ). Tenet is said to have known that the CIA had mistakenly detained an innocent man, but allowed el-Masri to remain in detention for two months. The three corporations are accused of owning and operating airplanes that transported el-Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 12/6/2005; Beeson, Wizner, and Goodman, 12/6/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, American Civil Liberties Union, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

A group of German civil rights lawyers files a lawsuit against the German government, demanding that the government attempt to extradite 13 CIA agents named in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen. Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). He was flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and abused for months. El-Masri says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and told that he was the victim of mistaken identity (see May 29, 2004). No government or body has yet taken responsibility for el-Masri’s kidnapping and brutalization. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials have refused to address the case, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the US acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
Accountability - “We are demanding accountability” with the lawsuit, says attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. For himself, el-Masri says, “I just want the German government to acknowledge what happened to me.” An American judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by el-Masri against the CIA and three US corporations in 2006 (see May 18, 2006). In January 2007, German prosecutors issued warrants for the arrests of 13 CIA agents, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm. The US Justice Department refused the requests, citing “American national interests,” and the German Ministry of Justice dropped the request. The lawsuit seeks to force the German government to reconsider extradition for the CIA agents.
Extraordinary Rendition - According to human rights organizations, el-Masri’s case is an example of “extraordinary rendition,” where the US takes suspected terrorists to foreign countries where they are subjected to abuse and torture. A criminal lawsuit against CIA officers in conjunction with the el-Masri case is also ongoing in Macedonia; that case could end up before the European Court of Human Rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a petition on el-Masri’s behalf through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body that seeks to establish international laws. [Associated Press, 6/9/2008]

Entity Tags: European Court of Human Rights, Condoleezza Rice, American Civil Liberties Union, German Ministry of Justice, Khalid el-Masri, US Department of Justice, Wolfgang Kaleck, Central Intelligence Agency, Angela Merkel

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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