CIA abductee interviewed by German newspaper

Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 11:21 am
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a leading German daily, carries in today's edition an interview with Khaled el-Masri. In 2004, the CIA abducted El-Masri in Macedonia, flew him to a camp in Afghanistan, then brought him back half a year later when he turned out to be innocent. Condoleeza Rice declined to acknowledge that a mistake had been made. I already pointed to the interview in the "Bush Supporters' Aftermath Thread" and also gave a pointer to Babelfish for those who don't read German. But then I thought this issue merits a real translation, so I gave a shot at writing one. Here is the result. [Occasional explanation in square brackets, as some terms mean different things in German than in American English.]


Interview with Khaled el-Masri

"I am an Innocent"

The Libanese-German who was abducted by the CIA talks about his Odyssey.

The conversation was led by Nicolas Richter

SZ: Last Saturday, departing from Stuttgart, you wanted to enter the USA to prepare a lawsuit against the CIA. What happened?

Masri: Right at the airplain, two police officers awaited me. They inspected my passport and asked me to follow them. In a room where my lawyer wasn't allowed to accompany me, they asked me what I wanted in the USA. I replied: Talk to my American lawyer about an incident with the CIA. They said I must not enter and must not talk to anyone in the USA, not even my lawyer.

SZ: They didn't get more specific?

Masri: No. When they told me I had to go back, I got afraid. I thought about Guantanamo, about a camp like the one where I was abducted. They said there was no flight back to Stuttgart, I would have to spend the night in a cell at the airport. I refused. I said: Find a flight to anywhere in Europe, I'm not staying here. I was upset that they treated me like a criminal again, and disappointed because I was refused access to American justice.

SZ: Was a flight eventually found?

Masri: There was a machine to Paris. I first looked into the airplane, whether there were a lot of passengers in it. I would not have boarded an empty machine under any circumstances. It was in an empty Boeing that I had been flown to Afghanistan in the first place. The police officers said: You will get your passport back only after the start. Then, in Paris, it was given back to me by a French officer.

SZ: What were your expectations when you traveled to the USA?

Masri: I was very insecure. I don't trust the USA anymore. They don't obey laws.

SZ: Suddenly you are known throughout the world. Is this pleasant or distressing?

Masri: I am pleased that the affair may eventually be cleared up, instead of just vanishing in some drawer. After my return from imprisonment, I was very distraught. My faith in justice and the law, but also in humanity, was shaken to the core. I doubted if anyone would believe me. The story sounded too wild. Now I have hope again.

SZ: Are you disappointed in [Germany's] federal government? Do you believe it didn't do enough to help you?

Masri: Yes, I am disappointed. I would have expected that the government would help clarify the case in a judicial way. I want to know why this has been done to me and how that happened. It's not about money for me, even though I am suing the USA for damages too. I want to know the background at last -- and an apology from the USA.

SZ: [German minister of the interior] Schily knew this in May 2004, but didn't do anything. Does he have to apologize too?

Masri: I don't know those details. But it sounds like a grave mistake.

SZ: During your captivity in Macedonia and Afghanistan, did you ever understand what were the charges against you?

Masri: In the beginning in Afghanistan, they also first said that my passport was counterfeit. Then the Americans asserted that I was actually someone else and had trained in a camp near Djalalabad. I said: Why don't you check my old passport? It still lies at home with all the old visa. I never was in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

SZ: You hail from Neu-Ulm [a city in Bavaria]. The Multikulturhaus there has long been considered as a meeting point for islamists. Were you asked about this?

Masri: In the beginning they asked me if I go to the Mosque, whether there are any hate preachers there, or incitements to holy war. Only in March, two months after my arrest, they asked very intensively about Neu-Ulm and the people there. About Rda Seyam for example (against whom the German attorney general's office investigates because of the 2002 attacks in Bali; he is alleged to have supported the Jihad in Bosnia, the [SZ] Editor.)

I told them I knew Reda Seyam from the Multikulturhaus. We once went shopping together, I helped him move, he has invited me and my family for dinner. But we never talked about Bosnia or Jihad. I knew the newspaper articles about him and about other suspect occurences in Neu-Ulm. I ignored that because I myself had never heard or seen anything suspect. No hate sermons, no pleas for holy war. I thought, if Reda had a problem with justice, he wouldn't walk around free.

SZ: Alledgedly you were mistaken for a suspect in the context of the Hamburg terror cell. It seems at odds with the fact that that you were not asked at all about the leader Muhammed Atta and his accomplices?

Masri: In the end, I was told I had been mistaken for someone else. But they did not specifically ask me about the Hamburg terror cell, it was rather coincidental. In one interrogation, an American ranted: The greatest terrorists come from Germany! I answered, how is it my fault that Atta was in Germany once? The man then jumped off his chair and said: how do you know Atta? I replied: From the media. That the Hamburg Terrorists knew a man named Masri, I only learned when I was back in Germany.

SZ: So it wasn't a confusion?

Masri: I had my passport with me, my ID, my bank card, the metro card, the receipt from the travel agency. It would have been easy to determine that I was innocent, with authentic papers. Why I was kept for so long anyway, I don't know. I want to know it. Everything is very strange.

SZ: Germany's role in this case is still very diffuse. Shortly before your release, a man called Sam appeared. The German secret services claim he is no German agent. What was your impression?

Masri: He was one hundred percent a German. He had a North German accent. Not a hint of American dialect. He told me once that his wife also shops at Metro. Before he flew to Germany once, he asked me if I wanted something from home. In the end he accompanied me in the airplane to the Balkans. He said: We have a new president. That was Horst Köhler.

SZ: So, possibly a German. But for whom did he work?

Masri: I asked if he was from a German agency. He said: I don't want to answer this. Whether the German authorities knew I'm in Afghanistan, he also did not want to answer. I asked: Does my wife know I am here? He said: No. He appeared to be very experienced, he acted towards the American guards as if he knew his way around well. His wrist watch was the same as those of the Americans. Perhaps he worked for the USA.

SZ: What is your worst recollection from this time?

Masri: At the airport in Skopje [, Macedonia,] the Americans prepared me for the flight, stripped me naked, and beat me up. They humilated me. I don't want to give the details. But that was the worst. I will never forget nor forgive it.

SZ: Were you abused in Afghanistan too?

Masri: In the beginning they threw me to the floor and kicked me from all sides.But the violence stopped. The bad thing were the circumstances: Food and water were disgusting. We went into hunger strike because of it, for more than a month.

SZ: Were others mistreated?

Masri: Not in this prison. But many had made horrible experiences elsewhere. They told me about an American prison nearby, maybe a ten minute drive away. It was called the prison of darkness. It was always very dark there, day and night they played loud, aggressive music or insults against Allah. Others reported they had been hung by their hands for days, even for sleeping. My cell neighbor was from Africa, he was doing very badly, he hit his head against the wall. The police at his home had broken his arms several times. They also put him in a suitcase that smelled so bad he had to vomit in there. Then the Americans took him over. They threatened to rape him.

SZ: Have you been able to a normal life since?

Masri: I am not finding work. Who would want someone who had something to do with the CIA? Even before the abduction it was hard to be an Arab in Neu-Ulm. When I was looking for an apartment I was asked: But you have nothing to do with Osama bin Laden? Now people are sometimes talking about me on the street. I leave the house just rarely.

SZ: Does the abduction haunt you?

Masri: Yes. I dream of interrogations. I feel queasy in the basement. What's really bad are TV images from Guantanamo, Abu Gharib, barbed wire, military bases. Then I'm overwhelmed by tears, the wounds break up, and I think of the prisoners, what they are going through.
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Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 01:01 pm
Thanks thomas.
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Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 01:06 pm
wish I didn't know now what I didn't before reading that.
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Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 01:08 pm
I second the thanks.

Good ole America. Lets put the people we arrested and found to be innocent on watch lists so they can't come here.
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Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 03:47 pm
How many announcements have there been of the sort "terrorist cell thwarted in Portland"?

Has even one of them led to conviction on anything other than some matter regarding visa irregularities or dumping garbage in the wrong place?

Is the whole notion of 'sleeper cells' bullshit?
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Reply Sat 10 Dec, 2005 04:07 pm
blatham wrote:
Is the whole notion of 'sleeper cells' bullshit?

I can't answer your first two questions, but I gather from German newspapers that there definitely was a sleeper cell in Hamburg. Atta was its most prominent member, and so were a few other people involved in 9/11. Prior to 9/11, nobody in that cell did anything illegal. I guess this is what makes this whole "war on terrorism" so dangerous. The warriors have nothing real to go on, but are under enormous pressure to prevent the next attack. Little wonder they don't want to bother with niceties like due process, proscription of unreasonable searches and seizurs, proscriptions of cruel and unusual punishments, and the like.
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Reply Sun 11 Dec, 2005 05:06 am

I focused on the US because, to my knowledge, there has been not a single case found where there is evidence of some linked group of covert teams hiding and waiting for that wonderful perfect moment to do evil. That of course is that way the story is told. But every case, though loudly put forward in public announcements of the 'progress in protecting americans' variety has been, apparently, a lie. The Padilla 'dirty bomb' example demonstrates how exaggerated or downright false these fear-mongering claims can be AND how convenient and effective - for the maintenance of a fearful environment - the legal maneuvers to prevent anyone doing oversight can be. One would have to assume a government capable of such deceits. I now assume this government is.

In England, as we know, the folks who perpetrated that act were locals with no clear ties to any 'network' unless one defines network to mean effectively all the muslim communities living in a european city. There is a radicalism afoot throughout the Muslim world, but it is nothing like a singular, tentacled, murderous Manchurian-candidate organization. That picture is the one forwarded with al Qaida as the label.

There was a group in Hamburg. But ought we to duplicate the unreflected use of the term "sleeper cell"? Note the throwback to anti-commie propaganda terms forwarding precisely the same notions (covert groups of evilness lurking in neighborhoods everywhere waiting, just waiting for the command to do unspeakable evil to freedom and innocents. Or earlier still, the same set of terms/notions about anarchists)?

Of course, there was also Bali and Spain. But the ties and connections aren't clear and we don't have much to connect them, at least in the manner of the Osama tentacled-beast propaganda notion.

What I'm arguing for here is two re-evaluations: first, a re-evaluation of the American administration's enormous propaganda effort to paint a particular picture (clearly false and exaggerated in many characteristics) and second, a re-evaluation of why that has happened.
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Reply Sun 11 Dec, 2005 01:57 pm
I would not doubt for a moment either that sleeper cells existed, or that they will exist in the future. The genius of the "cell" concept of political organization was forcefully demonstrated by the Bolsheviks a century ago--they survived the failed 1905 Menshevik uprising precisely because they were organized in cells, no one of which could compromise another. They survived every effort of the Tsarist government to root them out of the factories during the Great War--and when their members were discovered, they were sent to the front, ostensibly as punishment. Arrived in the army, they organized new cells among the soldiers. After the February uprising (March by the Gregorian calendar), Petrograd was ruled by the Soldiers and Sailors Soviet.

None of which, however, authorizes the assumption that an al Qaeda cell can be found under every Muslim bed if one simply looks long and hard enough . . .
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Reply Sun 11 Dec, 2005 03:37 pm

I saw a documentary recently where an ex CIA or State analyst talked about a team working under Casey just before the Russia began dismantling. They were studying one area of weapons development in which the Russians were completely quiet...no activity discernible at all. The team became utterly convinced that this complete lack of anything going on was the indicator there was an active program of such import that the Russians managed to keep it entirely silent to western intelligence.

The notion of secret evil cells lends itself rather perfectly to the paranoid mindset and, of course, to a highly militarized economy which would prefer to remain on a constant war footing.

My bullshit detectors are vibrating.
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Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2005 03:17 am
blatham wrote:
The team became utterly convinced that this complete lack of anything going on was the indicator there was an active program of such import that the Russians managed to keep it entirely silent to western intelligence.

Similar story here. My 15 months of service in the German army ended on September 30, 1989. In July that year, there was a role call for our regiment., during which our commander told us all in no uncertain terms not to be fooled by those Hungarians. True, it looked as if they were dismantling the Iron Curtain to Austria. But his, he warned, was a transparent plot by Gorbachev to make the foolish Western public complacent and dovish. As soldiers, it was our duty to see through such cheap maneuvers, and to keep resisting those Soviets with iron resolve.

blatham wrote:
My bullshit detectors are vibrating.

They ought to be. The truth is that nobody knows how many sleeper cells there are in America, if any. This is a problem for policymakers because, as Frank Apisa pointed out, most people just can't say "I don't know." They view this as a sign of weakness. From a political point of view, paranoia beats weakness by a long shot.
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Reply Mon 12 Dec, 2005 08:50 pm
I don't doubt that there have been unwarranted imprisionments and episodes of rough treatment on the part of our security and intelligence forces. This sort of thing occurs as well with the police in every city of the Western world - albeit generally with more prompt resolution and probably lesser consequences. We have heard the story of one unfortunate individual. however we have not heard any details about the case for his arrest and imprisonment by the security forces. He evidently did associate with key figures they were tracking, and it seems highly unlikely the case against him was pure fabrication or speculation. This is a serious business both in the U.S. and in Europe where attacks have continued and a few others are known to have been thwarted. In this area it is very difficult to know if we have done enough, ... or too much. We also have no way of knowing just what we have (or have not) evaded by the action of our security measures. As has been noted, there were certainly several substantial cells that did indeed survive to do great damage, and which left indicators no more substantial than those that evidently led to this guy's arrest.

Blatham's assumptions and generalizations are merely expressions of values and opinions he has been touting here for several years. He interprets the actions of the United States, and certainly those of the current Administration, through a certain filter which puts a malevolent spin on everything that passes through it. That is his right of course, but it is an evident bias, and one that doesn't particularly recommend his opinions to the dispassionate reader.

Thomas' rendition of the warnings of his commander in the days preceeding the collapse of the Soviet Empire was interesting. There was, at that time, detectable anxiety even within the Kohl government and (if opinion reports are to be believed) among the people of the FRG as well. Given all that had taken place in Central Europe over the preceeding 40 years, that may be understandable. Despite a bit of hand-wringing about this among our Allies, and some unease among some about a reunited Germany, the United States was steadfast on both counts. We got through it and the world is a bit better for it. I don't think these fears (including those of Thomas' commander) were the salient feature of the time and I don't believe they represent the significant lessons to be learned from it.
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