Khaled El Masri, a survivor of CIA kidnapping, torture, rendition, and detention, submitted testimony in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during his extradition trial.
The Central Criminal Court in London was prepared for El Masri to testify. An interpreter was lined up for the ninth day of proceedings. However, technical problems prevented him from addressing the court beyond his written statement.
Prosecutors also objected to El Masri giving live testimony. According to Court News UK reporter Charlie Jones, that prompted Assange to stand up and proclaim, "I will not accept you censoring a torture victim's statement to this court."
El Masri’s testimony directly relates to the defense argument that Assange published classified information from the United States in order to reveal abuses and misconduct, such as torture and war crimes.
In the United Kingdom, Assange’s legal team has been allowed to enter this evidence into the public record. However, during a potential trial in the United States, it will likely be excluded as irrelevant because the Espionage Act does not allow a public interest defense.
Assange is accused of 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime that, as alleged in the indictment, is written like an Espionage Act offense.
The charges criminalize the act of merely receiving classified information, as well as the publication of state secrets from the United States government. It targets common practices in newsgathering, which is why the case is widely opposed by press freedom organizations throughout the world.
El Masri declared, “I record here my belief that without dedicated and brave exposure of the state secrets in question what happened to me would never have been acknowledged and understood.” He added threats and intimidation are “not diminishing but expanding for all concerned.”
“I nevertheless believe that the exposure of what happened was necessary not just for myself but for law and justice worldwide. My story is not yet concluded.”
As El Masri noted, he submited testimony because “WikiLeaks publications were relied on by the [European Court of Human Rights] in obtaining the redress” he received.
While reading parts of El Masri’s statement for the court, defense attorney Mark Summers said that, as a result of cables, it is known that the German government bowed to pressure from the U.S. to not seek the extradition of the CIA rendition team.
El Masri also mentioned the WikiLeaks cables similarly showed that the U.S. government interfered in a judicial investigation in Germany and in Spain. (The rendition flight in question traveled from Palma airport in Spain.)
Media scrutiny led to a parliamentary investigation, but that did not prevent El Masri from facing what he described as “impediments” to ascertaining the truth, “including via witnesses whose details” he learned about while in prison in Afghanistan.
El Masri recalled incidents since his rendition and torture that have caused him fear, such as “being suddenly blocked on the motorway by cars, unknown strangers approaching my children,” and his complaints to police leading them trying to have him committed to a “hospital for the mentally ill.”
“I and my family endured extended and repeated hostile experiences over many years,” El Masri shared. “These have been fully documented, and I therefore do not go into them in detail in this statement.”
He mentioned the CIA told him he would be spied upon following his release, a fact an Inspector General report confirmed:
…The following evening, these officers met again with el Masri and related conditions for his release which included…that he would not reveal his experiences to the media or local authority; that he would accept that his post release activities would be monitored and that any breach of his pledge would have consequences.
The CIA Torture and Rendition of El Masri
By submitting testimony in Assange’s extradition trial, El Masri took a great risk. It is already known that the CIA supported UC Global, a Spanish private security company, in an espionage operation that targeted Assange while he was living under political asylum in the Ecuador Embassy in London.
El Masri has also been denied any semblance of justice by the U.S. government for what was done to him.
Therefore, while the details of what happened to El Masri are well-known, I’ll recount what was summarized in his statement.
At the Macedonian border, El Masri was kidnapped, detained, and held incommunicado and abused for 23 days. On January 23, 2004, a CIA rendition team handcuffed and blindfolded him at Skopje Airport.
A CIA rendition team “physically overwhelmed” El Masri and cut off all his clothes except his blindfold.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) confirmed nine years after that El Masri was “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled, and hooded, and subjected total sensory deprivation—carried out in the presence of state officials of Macedonia and within its jurisdiction.”
Macedonia’s “government was consequently responsible for those acts performed by foreign officials…Those measures had been used with premeditation, the aim being to cause Mr. Masri severe pain and suffering in order to obtain information,” the ECHR additionally found.
When his blindfold was removed, El Masri recalled flash photography “temporarily blinded” him. He then saw seven or eight men wearing black and black masks. They put him in a diaper and tracksuit with a bag over his head and earmuffs. He was shackled and marched to aircraft.
“On the plane, I was spread-eagled and my limbs tied to the sides of the aircraft. I was given injections and an anesthetic. I was unconscious for most of the journey,” according to El Masri.
El Masri later learned he was in Afghanistan. He was held incommunicado in a “cold concrete cell” in winter. “Humiliated, stripped naked, insulted, and threatened.” He was interrogated, and in March 2004, he initiated a hunger strike.
On the 34th day of the hunger strike, El Masri said he was dragged from the cell to an interrogation room, “tied to a chair, and a tube [was] painfully forced through [his] nose.”
El Masri discovered later that the CIA knew his detention was a result of “mistaken identity.” They understood he should be released but kept him detained for several more months.
By May 2004, El Masri learned he would be released. He was interrogated once more and “warned as a condition” of his release that he was “never to mention what happened” or there would be consequences.
El Masri was blindfolded and shackled — again—on May 28. He was led out of his cell, handed the suitcase he arrived with in Skopje, and told to change back into the clothes he had in Macedonia.
Then, El Masri was brought to an aircraft and subject to what can only be described as a reverse rendition. He was blindfolded, earmuffed, and chained to a seat. He was informed he would eventually land in a European country and then be allowed to return to Germany.
The plane landed in Albania. He believed when he landed he would be shot in the back. They asked him why he was in Albania with no permission because he had a German passport. He said he didn’t know where he was.
Without WikiLeaks, The Truth Of What Happened To El Masri Would Still Be Buried
On September 16, John Goetz, a German journalist who worked for Der Spiegel from 2010-2011, provided a statement to the court to help reinforce El Masri’s testimony.
“The investigation into what happened to him was as difficult as anything I have worked on,” Goetz declared. “It was only years later, when WikiLeaks published U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010-2011, that I finally found an explanation about why there were so many difficulties during the investigation. It revealed not only that significant information had been suppressed, but I finally understood why there were no repercussions when that information was revealed.”
“The U.S. diplomatic cables revealed the extent of pressure brought upon the German authorities (and in parallel, relevant Spanish authorities) not to act upon the clear evidence of criminal acts by the USA even though by then exposed,” Goetz added.
“As is clear from his statement,” Goetz stated, El Masri’s “ordeal did not end in 2004 after he found himself again in Germany. I have maintained contact with Mr. El Masri since the time of my investigation and confirm, in addition to the accuracy of his account of his rendition and torture in 2004 that what he describes of his frustrated quest for acknowledgment by those in a position to do so can also be corroborated.”
“Every impediment has been and continues to be placed in the appropriate resolution and conclusion of his case including acceptance and responsibility by the primary perpetrator of the atrocities against him, the USA.”
“The impediments have taken a further and disturbing course to this day, with threats and intimidatory measures being announced by the relevant minister, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, threatening retribution upon those party to bringing cases (of which Mr El-Masri’s case is currently one) to the International Criminal Court,” Goetz contended.
Goetz wrote, “The intimidation surrounding this case, frequently intruding in the past as he described, at times covert, is now manifestly overt.”
“I note that the denial of the ‘right to truth’ referred to by the European Court in relation to Mr. El Masri has had severe and enduring effects upon Mr. El Masri and his family. It remains difficult even for those closely reporting on the history of the last 15 years for Mr. El Masri to fully explain the extent of his continuing trauma and the need for it to be addressed and recognized by those responsible—to ‘acknowledge the truth,'” Goetz maintained.
Goetz, who traveled to North Carolina to confront members of the CIA team behind El Masri’s rendition, further declared, “Without publication of information that the U.S. government intended to be kept secret for national security reasons, the entire truth would still be buried. Because it was only when reading the diplomatic cables that we saw the role the U.S government was playing behind the scene.
The publication of the cables “threw light on the pressures and bullying techniques brought by the U.S. in more than one country to prevent the prosecution of CIA agents involved [in the El Masri case].”
Goetz concluded, “These detailed revelations threw light on otherwise inexplicable actions by the countries involved. Together with other information [related to] the Afghan/Iraq Wars and Guantanamo Bay, and in relation to other renditions and rendition flights, the full picture could finally be seen and understood.”