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Context of 'Late March 2004: CIA Manager Agrees to Release Innocent German, Only on Impractical Condition Germans Follow Him'

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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

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

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