The log in Amer­ica's eye

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - James A. Gold­ston

Last week, af­ter the pros­e­cu­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court charged six se­nior Kenyan of­fi­cials with or­ches­trat­ing wide­spread vi­o­lence fol­low­ing the 2007 na­tional elec­tions, Pres­i­dent Obama rightly called on all Kenya's lead­ers to "co­op­er­ate fully" with the court.

Sim­i­larly, declar­ing that "there has to be ac­count­abil­ity," Obama called on Su­dan to co­op­er­ate with the court af­ter it ac­cused Pres­i­dent Omar Has­san al-Bashir of Su­dan of geno­cide in Dar­fur in July.

To its credit, this U. S. ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly af­firmed the cen­tral­ity of in­ter­na­tional jus­tice to U.S. for­eign pol­icy. But many won­der at the ap­par­ent dis­con­nect be­tween Amer­i­can sup­port for jus­tice abroad and Obama's de­ter­mi­na­tion to "look for­ward not back­ward" at home.

Re­sis­tance to ju­di­cial scru­tiny of post-9/11 U.S. govern­ment abuses, from tor­ture to ex­tra­or­di­nary ren­di­tion to un­law­ful sur­veil­lance, has made the pres­i­dent's solemn ex­hor­ta­tions to oth­ers ring hol­low, and it has un­der­cut the cred­i­bil­ity of U.S. as­pi­ra­tions to global lead­er­ship on hu­man rights. This month's Wik­iLeaks dis­clo­sure that the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion pres­sured Ger­many not to pur­sue 13 C.I.A. op­er­a­tives sus­pected of in­volve­ment in the un­law­ful 20032004 ab­duc­tion and mis­treat­ment of Khaled el-Masri, a Ger­man cit­i­zen of Le­banese de­scent, is yet an­other re­minder that the U.S. must change course. And Masri's path­break­ing law­suit be­fore the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights of­fers a timely op­por­tu­nity for Washington to do just that. As is now well known, Masri was seized by se­cu­rity of­fi­cers in Mace­do­nia on Dec. 31, 2003, while cross­ing the border by bus from his home in Ger­many. He was de­tained in­com­mu­ni­cado for 23 days, dur­ing which time he was threat­ened, in­ter­ro­gated and de­nied per­mis­sion to con­tact a lawyer, a con­sular of­fi­cer or his wife. On Jan. 23, 2004, he was hand­cuffed and blind­folded, driven to Skopje air­port and turned over to the C.I.A.

Told he would be med­i­cally ex­am­ined, Masri was in­stead se­verely beaten. His clothes were sliced from his body and his un­der­wear forcibly re­moved. He heard the sound of pho­to­graphs be­ing taken, he was thrown to the floor, his hands were pulled back and a boot was placed on his back. A firm ob­ject was forced into his anus.

With chains at­tached to his wrists and an­kles, Masri was flown to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was locked up for more than four months in a se­cret prison known as the "Salt Pit." Dur­ing this time, he was beaten and kicked, force-fed fol­low­ing a 27-day-long hunger strike and de­nied med­i­cal care. He was never charged or given ac­cess to his fam­ily or Ger­man rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

On May 28, 2004, long af­ter U.S. of­fi­cials knew they had the wrong man, Masri was flown in a C.I.A.-char­tered air­craft to a mil­i­tary air­base in Al­ba­nia, then driven sev­eral hours in a car, dumped on the side of the road and in­structed not to look back.

Af­ter meet­ing with Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleeza Rice in De­cem­ber 2005, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel de­clared that the U.S. govern­ment had ad­mit­ted that Masri had been "er­ro­neously taken." Of­fi­cial in­quiries by the Coun­cil of Europe, the Euro­pean Union, and the Ger­man Par­lia­ment have all pointed to U.S. in­volve­ment. Nonethe­less, Washington has never pub­licly ac­knowl­edged its role in Masri's mis­treat­ment. In­stead, se­nior U.S. of­fi­cials have per­sis­tently de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity and ob­tained dis­missal of Masri's at­tempts to se­cure ju­di­cial re­dress in U.S. courts on the grounds that "state se­crets" pre­cluded con­sid­er­a­tion of his claims. In 2009, rep­re­sented by my or­ga­ni­za­tion, Masri filed a com­plaint in Europe's high­est court against Mace­do­nia for its part in the af­fair. Last month, the court con­firmed that this case will go for­ward.

The Masri case pro­vides the United States a chance to back up Pres­i­dent Obama's ac­count­abil­ity rhetoric with sub­stance. Al­though the U.S. is not a party to the pro­ceed­ings, it may as­sist the court by ac­knowl­edg­ing that Masri's ren­di­tion was a mis­take and pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion about what hap­pened.

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