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Khaled el-Masri

Photo: Amnesty


Nationality: Born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents, German citizen since 1995
Date of birth: 29 June 1963
Place of birth: unknown

Capture: 31 December 2003, Serbian Macedonia
SSCI prisoner number: 97 (typo in report gives 98, but he was 97th prisoner)

Entered CIA custody: 24 January 2004
Period of CIA custody: 125 days
Left CIA custody: 28 May 2004

Detained: Macedonia, Afghanistan

Current status: released, 28 May 2004


Timeline of Key Events

31 December 2003
Capture, Macedonia

31 December 2003 – 23 January 2004
Detention, hotel room, Skopje, Macedonia

23-24 January 2004
Rendition, Macedonia-Afghanistan

24 January - 28 May 2004
Detention, Salt Pit prison, Afghanistan

28 May 2004
Rendition, Afghanistan-Albania

28 May 2004
Transfer to airport, commercial flight to Germany, release

Khaled el-Masri is a German citizen. His was born in Kuwait in 1963, and raised by his Lebanese parents in Lebanon. In 1985, during the Lebanese civil war, he fled and settled in Germany where he completed his education and became a carpenter.

While on holiday in Macedonia in December 2004, he was apprehended at the border crossing between Serbia and Macedonia, where officials confiscated his passport and detained for several hours before being transferred by plain clothes officials to a hotel Skopje, where he was held for 23 days. He was denied access to lawyers, translators, consular personnel and was not allowed to contact his wife. He was also had guns put to his head when he attempted to leave.

El-Masri was repeatedly interrogated throughout this period, particularly about a trip his captors alleged he had made to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to meet an Egyptian man and Norwegian contacts. He had never been to Jalalabad. After a week, he was told that if he confessed his involvement with al Qaida, he would be returned to Germany. He refused, and after 13 days, went on hunger strike which lasted for the remainder of his detention in Skopje.

On 23 January, he was forced to give a statement that was filmed, indicating that he had not been ill-treated, and was told he would be flown back to Germany. He was then driven to an airport. On arrival at the airport, he described what happened in the declaration he made as part of court proceedings filed against the Director of the CIA in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia:


Khaled el-Masri's account of his rendition from Macedonia to Afghanistan

I was taken out of the vehicle and made to sit down on a chair, where I sat for about another one and a half hours. At this point, I heard the voice of the assistant who had come to see me with the high-ranking official. I was told that I would soon be taken into a room for a medical examination before being returned to Germany. As I was led into this room, I felt two people violently grab my arms, one from the right side and the other from the left. They bent both my arms backwards. This violent motion caused me a lot of pain. I was beaten severely from all sides. I then felt someone else grab my head with both hands so I was unable to move. Others sliced my clothes off. I was left in my underwear. Even this they attempted to take off. I tried to resist at first, shouting out loudly for them to stop, but my efforts were in vain. The pain from the beatings was severe. I was terrified and utterly humiliated. My assailants continued to beat me, and finally they stripped me completely naked and threw me to the ground. My assailants pulled my arms back and I felt a boot in the small of my back. I then felt a stick or some other hard object being forced in my anus. I realized I was being sodomized. Of all the acts these men perpetrated against me, this was the most degrading and shameful. I was then pulled to my feet and pushed into the corner of a room. My feet were tied together, and then, for the first time since the hotel, they took off my blindfold. As soon as it was removed, a very bright flashlight went off and I was temporarily blinded. I believe from the sounds that they had taken photographs of me throughout. When I regained my vision, I saw seven to eight men standing around me, all dressed in black, with hoods and black gloves. I was dressed in a diaper, over which they fitted a dark blue sports suit with short sleeves and legs. I was once again blindfolded, my ears were plugged with cotton, and headphones were placed over my ears. A bag was placed over my head and a belt around my waist. My hands were chained to the belt. They put something hard over my nose. Because of the bag, breathing was getting harder and harder for me. I struggled for breath and began to panic. I pictured myself like the images I had seen in the media of the Muslims that were brought to Guantánamo. They bent me over, forcing my head down, and then hurried with me to a waiting car and then on to a waiting aircraft. They walked so fast that the pain at my joints was getting worse, as the iron of my shackles chaffed against my ankles. When I tried to slow down they almost dislocated my shoulder. In the airplane, I was thrown down onto the floor and my arms and legs were spread-eagled and secured to the sides of the plane. During the flight I received two injections, one in the left arm and one in the right arm, at different times. They put something over my nose. I think it was some kind of anesthesia. It felt like the trip took about four hours, but I don’t really remember. However, it appeared to be a much longer trip than one to Germany. I was mostly unconscious for the duration. I think the plane touched down once and took off again. When the plane landed for the final time I was fully conscious, although still a little light-headed. I was taken outside the aircraft. I could feel dry, warm air and knew immediately that the place where the plane had landed couldn’t possibly be Europe.

The aircraft which was used to carry out the rendition of el-Masri from Macedonia to Kabul was an unmarked 737 Boeing Business Jet with registration N313P. As analysis of the flight data shows, the rendition of el-Masri on board this aircraft occurred just after the same aircraft had been used in the rendition of Binyam Mohamed from Morocco to Afghanistan on 22 January. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with el-Masri’s rendition from Macedonia to Afghanistan.

Very soon after his rendition, the CIA realised it had abducted an innocent man. Although the then-CIA Director, George Tenet, was advised of this, el-Masri continued to be held for a further two months, and he continued to be subjected to inhumane treatment and interrogations.

On arrival in Afghanistan, el-Masri was transferred to what the SSCI report called a “Country [redacted] facility used by the CIA for detention purposes.” This is likely to refer to an Afghan-run site, rather than one of the CIA-run sites such as DETENTION SITE COBALT. According to el-Masri, on his first night he was stripped, photographed naked and medically examined by a masked doctor with an American accent. His captors also took blood and urine samples. The next night, his interrogations began again, and again the focus was the alleged trip to Jalalabad. He was repeatedly threatened, insulted and pushed and shoved around, and his requests for access to lawyers and representatives of the German government were repeatedly denied. CIA cables dated 27-28 January 2004 note that al-Masri “seemed bewildered on why he had been sent to his particular prison,” and was “adamant that [CIA] has the wrong person.” Continued disagreement within the CIA meant that he was detained for a further four months.

In March 2004, el-Masri and other inmates began a hunger strike. After 27 days without eating, senior personnel finally met with el-Masri. They stated that they could not release him without permission from Washington, but that he should not be detained. He continued his hunger strike, and on the 27th day, was taken to the interrogation room where he was force fed through a feeding tube that had been forcible inserted through his nose. He was weighed, and had lost 60 pounds since his capture. The force-feeding made him very ill and he had to receive medical treatment.

The following month, el-Masri began to receive visits from ‘Sam’, a German speaker, along with the US prison director and a translator, during which many of the same questions asked during previous interrogations were asked again. At the end of May, el-Masri was told he would be released, but only on condition that he never mention what happened to him.

On 27 May 2004, after more than four months (125 days) in CIA secret detention, el-Masri was prepared for his rendition back to Germany, which took place the next day. Flight data and associated documentation demonstrate that, this time, he was boarded onto a CIA-chartered Gulfstream III jet with tail number N982RK. ‘Sam’ accompanied el-Masri, and told him that the aircraft would not land in Germany because the US did not want his movements traced. The aircraft in fact landed in Albania, near the Macedonian border. Click here for our analysis of the flight data and documentation associated with el-Masri’s rendition from Afghanistan to Albania.

On arrival in Albania, he was transported by car through the mountains in a journey that lasted three hours. He was finally taken out of the vehicle, had his handcuffs removed and his possessions returned to him. He was instructed to walk down a path without looking back. El-Masri believed at this point that he would be executed with a shot in the back. As he turned a corner he was apprehended by armed men who scrutinised his passport and asked why he didn’t have permission to be in Albania. He asked to be taken to the German embassy. Instead they transported him to the airport where he passed through customs and immigration without any inspection, and boarded a flight bound for Frankfurt. The aircraft landed in Frankfurt at 8:40am, and from there he made the journey to his home in Ulm. He found his house empty and discovered that his wife and children had moved to Lebanon when he had failed to return from his holiday.


Investigations and Accountability



German prosecutors launched an investigation into el-Masri’s case. As explained by the Open Society Justice Initiative, German officials were able to prove el-Masri’s travel and subsequent capture in Macedonia. They also proved, through scientific testing of his hair, that he had spent an extended period in a South Asian country. After meeting with then US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the US accepted it had made a mistake in its abduction of el-Masri.


Legal proceedings in the US

On behalf of el-Masri, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued CIA Director George Tenet for violating international law when he authorised the abduction, rendition and arbitrary detention of el-Masri. The ACLU also named the companies that facilitated his rendition in the case. The case was dismissed in May 2006, when the US government intervened and argued that the case would allow state secrets to be jeopardised. In November 2006, the ACLU appealed the decision, but the appeals court upheld the district court’s decision. In October 2007, the US Supreme Court also refused to review the case. 


Legal proceedings in Europe

El-Masri filed a lawsuit for damages against the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior in January 2009. But these proceedings could not provide redress for the violations of el-Masri’s rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. Therefore, litigators, in Macedonia, with the support of a co-counsel from the Open Society Justice Initiative, brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights. The Court found that El-Masri had been tortured by the rendition team, and it held Macedonia responsible. Macedonia was ordered to pay €60,000 in damages.


Further Reading


El-Masri v. Tenet, Declaration
El-Masri v. Tenet, Complaint
American Civil Liberties Union, El Masri v. Tenet
Open Society Justice Initiative, El-Masri v. Macedonia



Rendition Research Team - © University of Kent
University of Westminster University of Kent E.S.R.C