I’ve become somewhat overwhelmed by what my country, the United States, has done. While I’m still struggling with the definition of “torture,” I believe that some abuse (most of the things that I’ve read) can be classified as torture. We have a long history in our country of delineating good treatment from bad treatment of detainees (prisoners or soldiers).

marsiI’ve come across a story of Khaled el-Masri (I found the story in Jane Mayer’s book, the Dark Side. Other accounts of this tale can be found here and here.)  El-Masri was a Muslim of Lebanese descent but became a German citizen in 2003. He had a German passport. Going across from Macedonia into Serbia for a vacation from the family, he was stopped at a checkpoint. For 13 days he was held by Macedonian authorities. He was not allowed to call his family. He was not allowed access to a lawyer. As it turns out, he has the exact same name as a terrorist the United States government was looking for. As a twist of fate, this happened around the holidays so the Macedonian authorities had difficulty verifying the new German passport.

Almost immediately the CIA was alerted of his capture. The CIA wanted him transferred to a prison in Afghanistan. So, basically we have a man who was stopped at a checkpoint. He is arrested and detained for 13 days without Macedonian authorities verifying that the redesigned passport was indeed an official German passport. United States officials, the CIA, desperately wanted to talk with this man.

After 13 days, El-Masri believed that he was going to be released. He was taken to the airport, where he was blindfolded and led into a small room. In this room, he was stripped of all his clothes, photographed and beaten. Earplugs were placed in his ears, a hood is thrown over his head and he was thrown on a jet, tranquilized and sent to Afghanistan. Over the next 149 days, a debate raged within the CIA. The head of the counterterrorism division believed that he, el-Masri, was in fact a terrorist, even though she has never seen or spoken with this man. CIA agents, in Afghanistan and at Langley, argue that they have no evidence against him. In Afghanistan, el-Masri was thrown in a cold dank cell. The water was foul and the food was even worse. He developed chronic diarrhea. He lost some 40 to 50 pounds. He was given frequent enemas.  According to reports, he was threatened with death. “You’re in a country where no one knows about you. There is no rule of law. If you die, you will be buried here. No one will ever know.”

After 149 days, El-Masri was released as only the CIA could do it. There is no explanation. He was simply flown to Albania. He was driven down the long winding road and given back his possessions, told to walk and not look back. He was met by three men who gave him some food and took him to the Tirana airport. From there he was flown home.

I have a problem understanding how you can whisk somebody away from their family for almost five months without one shred of evidence. I find this completely mind-boggling, nauseating and stupid.  One CIA officer call the program of rendition – Kidnap, Inc.