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America kidnapped me

December 18, 2005|Khaled El-Masri | KHALED EL-MASRI, a German citizen born in Lebanon, was a car salesman before he was detained in December 2003.

THE U.S. POLICY of "extraordinary rendition" has a human face, and it is mine.

I am still recovering from an experience that was completely beyond the pale, outside the bounds of any legal framework and unacceptable in any civilized society. Because I believe in the American system of justice, I sued George Tenet, the former CIA director, last week. What happened to me should never be allowed to happen again.

I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, when Lebanon was being torn apart by civil war, I fled to Germany in search of a better life. There I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five children.

On Dec. 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we arrived, my nightmare began. Macedonian agents confiscated my passport and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone, including my wife.

At the end of that time, I was forced to record a video saying I had been treated well. Then I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed. I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on my back. I was humiliated.

Eventually my blindfold was removed, and I saw men dressed in black, wearing black ski masks. I did not know their nationality. I was put in a diaper, a belt with chains to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs, eye pads, a blindfold and a hood. I was thrown into a plane, and my legs and arms were spread-eagled and secured to the floor. I felt two injections and became nearly unconscious. I felt the plane take off, land and take off. I learned later that I had been taken to Afghanistan.

There, I was beaten again and left in a small, dirty, cold concrete cell. I was extremely thirsty, but there was only a bottle of putrid water in the cell. I was refused fresh water.

That first night I was taken to an interrogation room where I saw men dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks as before. They stripped and photographed me, and took blood and urine samples. I was returned to the cell, where I would remain in solitary confinement for more than four months.

The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew why I had been detained. I said I did not. They told me that I was now in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant?

They asked me many times whether I knew the men who were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, if I had traveled to Afghanistan to train in camps and if I associated with certain people in my town of Ulm, Germany. I told the truth: that I had no connection to any terrorists, had never been in Afghanistan and had never been involved in any extremism. I asked repeatedly to meet with a representative of the German government, or a lawyer, or to be brought before a court. Always, my requests were ignored.

In desperation, I began a hunger strike. After 27 days without food, I was taken to meet with two Americans -- the prison director and another man, referred to as "the Boss." I pleaded with them to release me or bring me before a court, but the prison director replied that he could not release me without permission from Washington. He also said that he believed I should not be detained in the prison.

After 37 days without food, I was dragged to the interrogation room, where a feeding tube was forced through my nose into my stomach. I became extremely ill, suffering the worst pain of my life.

After three months, I was taken to meet an American who said he had traveled from Washington, D.C., and who promised I would soon be released. I was also visited by a German-speaking man who explained that I would be allowed to return home but warned that I was never to mention what had happened because the Americans were determined to keep the affair a secret.

On May 28, 2004, almost five months after I was first kidnapped, I was blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to an airplane seat. I was told we would land in a country other than Germany, because the Americans did not want to leave traces of their involvement, but that I would eventually get to Germany.

After we landed I was driven into the mountains, still blindfolded. My captors removed my handcuffs and blindfold and told me to walk down a dark, deserted path and not to look back. I was afraid I would be shot in the back.

I turned a bend and encountered three men who asked why I was illegally in Albania. They took me to the airport, where I bought a ticket home (my wallet had been returned to me). Only after the plane took off did I believe I was actually going home. I had long hair, a beard and had lost 60 pounds. My wife and children had gone to Lebanon, believing I had abandoned them. Thankfully, now we are together again in Germany.

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