Black prisons and extraordinary rendition to facilitate interrogation by torture.
Khalid El-Masri a German citizen was detained by Macedonian police in late 2003. His name was similar to the alleged mentor of the al Qaeda Hamburg cell (of which two of the 911 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi as well as Ramzi Binalshibh were members). He was held for 3 weeks and then released. Although the CIA knew that this El-Masri was not the one they were looking for, they kidnapped him and took him to Afghanistan where he was interrogated and beaten for months. Eventually, on May 28, 2004, after two orders from then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and being made to promise never to talk about what happened, El-Masri was dumped at night on a road in Albania. On December 6, 2005, the ACLU filed suit on his behalf in federal court. On May 12, 2006, Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis III dismissed the case accepting the government’s contention that a suit into Masri’s illegal detention would compromise national security. The dismissal was upheld by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 2, 2007. On January 31, 2007, a German prosecutor issued warrants for 13 people suspected of participation in the kidnapping. For his part, since his release, El-Masri has had a troubled history. On May 17, 2007, after an argument with clerks about a defective iPod, he set fire to the store and burned it down. On October 9, 2007, the Supreme Court denied certiorari to a suit by El-Masri and let stand a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion accepting the government’s state secrets argument and dismissing the case.
Meanwhile on February 17, 2003, the CIA kidnapped a cleric Abu Omar in Milan and rendered him to Egypt where he was held and tortured. In December 2005, an Italian court issued arrest warrants for 22 (now up to 26) CIA agents. Abu Omar was released early in 2007.
Several European countries are looking into the rendition programs. These efforts are complicated by US stonewalling and the complicity of their own intelligence services.
Something similar happened to Maher Arar. A Canadian resident with dual Canadian/Syrian citizenship was detained at JFK in New York on September 26, 2002 because he knew someone who knew someone who knew Osama bin Laden. He was held in US custody for 2 weeks without access to a lawyer. Then because the Canadian government falsely declared he was no longer a resident and with the knowledge of their intelligence services, he was rendered to Syria where he was held for a year and tortured. He was released October 5, 2003 and returned to Canada. The Canadian government eventually exonerated Arar and paid a $10.5 million settlement. A suit entered by Arar in US federal court was dismissed on February 16, 2006 on national security grounds. The US government has never admitted any wrongdoing and Arar continues to be on the US No-Fly list. On June 5, 2008, DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner in Congressional testimony said that his office had opened an investigation into whether immigration officials had broken the law in sending Arar to a country that tortures. He also revealed the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) had begun a similar investigation in March 2007 into the activities of DOJ lawyers in the affair.
As for black prisons, these were created to hold high value ghost detainees up to one hundred in number beyond the oversight of the judiciary and Congress, essentially so that they could be tortured. 14 of these, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were eventually transferred to Guantanamo. In Europe, Poland and Romania were rumored to be sites of the prisons. US bases in Iraq and Afghanistan held others. The remainder were scattered throughout the world in complicit countries and on other US bases. Although there had been previous revelations, the story broke officially in a Dana Priest Washington Post report of November 2, 2005. President Bush acknowledged their existence nearly a year later on September 6, 2006.
The purpose of both rendition and black prisons was to gain actionable intelligence, an obsession in the Bush Administration. In its pursuit, they stooped to torture and bartered our image as a champion of human rights for a stack of unreliable information. It is an exchange that is impossible to justify.
On August 12, 2008, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided on its own (sua sponte) to take another look at the Arar case en banc (with all the appellate judges of the Circuit involved). Oral arguments were scheduled for December 9, 2008.