Paris: A European court issued a landmark ruling on Thursday that condemned the CIA`s so-called extraordinary renditions programs and bolstered those who say they were illegally kidnapped and tortured as part of an overzealous war on terrorism.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman was a victim of torture and abuse, in a long-awaited victory for a man who had failed for years to get courts in the United States and Europe to recognise him as a victim.
Khaled El-Masri says he was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, mistaken for a terrorism suspect, then held for four months and brutally interrogated at an Afghan prison known as the "Salt Pit" run by the US Central Intelligence Agency. He says that once US authorities realised he was not a threat, they illegally sent him to Albania and left him on a mountainside.
The European court, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled that El-Masri`s account was "established beyond reasonable doubt" and that Macedonia "had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial rendition."
It said the government of Macedonia violated El-Masri`s rights repeatedly and ordered it to pay USD 78,500 in damages. Macedonia`s Justice Ministry said it would enforce the court ruling and pay El-Masri the damages.
United States officials have long since closed internal investigations into the El-Masri case, and the US administration of President Barack Obama has distanced itself from some counterterrorism activities conducted under former US president George W Bush.
But several other legal cases are pending from Britain to Hong Kong involving people who say they were illegally detained in the CIA program. Its critics hope that Thursday`s ruling will lead to court victories for other rendition victims.
The case focused on Macedonia`s role in a single instance of wrongful capture. But it drew broader attention because of how sensitive the CIA extraordinary renditions were for Europe, at a time when the continent was in fear of terrorist attacks but divided over the Bush administration`s methods of rooting out terrorism.
Those methods involved abducting and interrogating terror suspects, without court sanction, in the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A 2007 Council of Europe probe accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centres or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.