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Context of 'December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004: Lebanese Man Mistaken for Suspected 9/11 Plotter and Detained in Macedonia'

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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

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

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

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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