In a landmark ruling today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the CIA tortured a German citizen during his time in custody.
Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese decent, was found to have been taken in 2004 in a joint U.S.-Macedonian effort first to a hotel near the Skopje, Macedonia airport, then to an extraordinary rendition location — also referred to as a “black site” — in Afghanistan. In both locations, the Court has ruled that the actions of both the CIA and Macedonia qualified “beyond a reasonable doubt” as torture:
“Masri’s treatment at Skopje Airport at the hands of the CIA rendition team – being severely beaten, sodomised, shackled and hooded, and subjected to total sensory deprivation – had been carried out in the presence of state officials of [Macedonia] and within its jurisdiction,” the court ruled.
It added: “Its government was consequently responsible for those acts performed by foreign officials. It had failed to submit any arguments explaining or justifying the degree of force used or the necessity of the invasive and potentially debasing measures. Those measures had been used with premeditation, the aim being to cause Mr Masri severe pain or suffering in order to obtain information. In the court’s view, such treatment had amounted to torture, in violation of Article 3 [of the European human rights convention].“
El-Masri was also awarded 60,000 Euros in the verdict, to be paid by Macedonia. The ruling is the first from Europe’s highest judicial authority on human rights that specifically labels the CIA’s actions during the Bush era of extraordinary rendition as torture.
According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the practice of taking foreign nationals to third countries for harsh interrogation, often utilizing torture, officially halted in 2009, as the U.S. sought to seek “assurances” that the host country would not utilize torture. Despite that, the renditions themselves remain classified, meaning the full extent of the current program is still unknown.
The ruling comes at a time when the debate over torture is reigniting in the United States. Depictions of the act in the film Zero Dark Thirty has prompted defenders of the torture program under the Bush administration to reemerge, while the Senate Intelligence Committee is due to approve a 6,000 page report on the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Thursday.