The CIA Rendition Controversy: Is Khaled Al-Masri Lying?

The CIA Rendition Controversy: Is Khaled Al-Masri Lying?

Rumor has it that Democrats are eager to use their newly acquired power in Congress to "investigate" a variety of "uninvestigated scandals" linked to the Bush Administration: among them, the use of "CIA secret prisons" in the war on Islamic terror organizations. If an inquiry is opened into this latter question, one can expect a Democrat-led congressional panel to follow the pattern of investigations that have already been undertaken by the Council of Europe and the EU Parliament. It is indeed the latter investigations that are largely responsible for having converted a practice of detaining enemy operatives that might otherwise seem banal in a time of war into the "scandal" that it has become -- for the European public, at any rate. As has occurred in European investigations, one can likewise expect the case of Khaled Al-Masri to take center stage.

As a result of broad -- though, as we shall see, remarkably superficial -- media coverage, the story of Khaled Al-Masri is well known. A German citizen of Lebanese origins, Masri claims to have been "kidnapped" by the CIA while on a trip to Macedonia and then "rendered" to Afghanistan. There he is supposed to have been subjected to five months of depravations and torture in a secret CIA prison. Whatever consequences a congressional investigation of the Masri case might eventually have for the pursuit of American counter-terrorism operations, Masri's saga is already undermining -- or, more exactly, being vigorously exploited to undermine -- America's claim to cooperation from its nominal allies. In early October, for example, the Munich District Attorney's Office transferred the names of Americans allegedly involved in the Masri "kidnapping" to Germany's Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BKA). The move, a Bavarian official explained to the German television magazine Panorama, was being taken in the name of "averting the danger" [Gefahrenabwehr] that the Americans might represent: namely, to Germany and its citizens.

But what of averting the danger that Khaled Al-Masri might represent to America and Americans? The poster boy status that Masri has obtained in so much of the media coverage of the "secret prisons"/renditions controversy is largely dependent upon the assumption of his "innocence." In the given context, this assumption should presumably mean that Masri has had no connection to the Islamic extremist movements that the contested American measures are designed to combat. Only weeks before the move against the alleged American agents, however, two German news organizations, citing a confidential BKA memo, revealed that Khaled Al-Masri had been classified by German police as "a proponent of military jihad" since at the latest October 2003 (Financial Times Deutschland, Sept. 20; Stern, Sept. 21). October 2003 was three months before Masri allegedly went missing on the Serbian-Macedonian border.

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