Thursday, December 5, 2013
By GREG MILLER The Washington Post
After a contentious closed-door vote, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a long-awaited report Thursday concluding that harsh interrogation measures used by the CIA did not produce significant intelligence breakthroughs, officials said.
German Khaled El-Masri, seen in March 2006, says CIA agents abducted him and transported him to a secret Afghanistan prison in 2003, where he was tortured.
The Associated Press
European court condemns
PARIS - A European court issued a landmark ruling Thursday that condemned the CIA's "extraordinary renditions" programs and bolstered those who say they were illegally kidnapped and tortured as part of an overzealous war on terrorism.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman was an innocent victim of torture, in a long-awaited victory for a man who had failed for years to get courts in the U.S. and Europe to acknowledge what happened to him.
Khaled El-Masri says he was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, mistaken for a terrorism suspect, then held for four months and brutally interrogated at an Afghan prison known as the "Salt Pit" run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. He says that once U.S. authorities realized he was not a threat, they illegally sent him to Albania and left him on a mountainside.
The European court, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled that El-Masri's account was "established beyond reasonable doubt" and that Macedonia "had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the U.S. authorities in the context of an extra-judicial rendition."
It said the government of Macedonia violated El-Masri's rights and ordered it to pay $78,500 in damages. Macedonia's Justice Ministry said it would pay El-Masri the damages.
U.S. officials closed internal investigations into the El-Masri case two years ago, and the administration of President Obama has distanced itself from some counterterrorism activities conducted under former President George W. Bush.
But other legal cases are pending from Britain to Hong Kong involving people who say they were illegally detained in the CIA program. Critics hope Thursday's ruling will lead to court victories for other rendition victims and prevent future abuses.
The case focused on Macedonia's role in a single instance of wrongful capture. But it drew broader attention because of how sensitive the CIA extraordinary renditions were for Europe, at a time when the continent lived in fear of terrorist attacks but was divided over the Bush administration's methods of rooting out terrorism.
Those methods involved abducting and interrogating suspects -- without court sanction -- in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A 2007 Council of Europe probe accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.
The CIA declined to comment on Thursday's ruling.
El-Masri's lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, said he hoped the ruling would inspire El-Masri to resume contact with his lawyers and family, which he broke off after he was sentenced to prison in 2010 for assaulting the mayor of the German town of Neu-Ulm. The Lebanese-born El-Masri, who is scheduled for release from a Bavarian prison next year, is a "broken" man after unsuccessfully seeking justice in U.S., German and Macedonian courts, Gnjidic told The Associated Press.
"I hope this will give him a little bit more confidence again that even a little person who has come into a crime of great nations has the chance to have his rights," Gnjidic said.
Macedonian authorities had argued that El-Masri was detained on suspicion of traveling with false documents, then traveled on his own to neighboring Kosovo -- an argument the court called "utterly untenable."
The court based its 92-page ruling not only on El-Masri's version of events but also on testimony from former Macedonian officials, results of a German investigation, and U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.
The court said El-Masri was severely beaten, sodomized and shackled "at the hands of the CIA rendition team" in the presence of Macedonian authorities. It described the measures as "invasive and potentially debasing ... used with premeditation, the aim being to cause Mr. El-Masri severe pain or suffering in order to obtain information." And that was only the first stage in El-Masri's months-long ordeal.
-- The Associated Press
The 6,000-page document, which was not released to the public, was adopted by Democrats over the objections of most of the committee's Republicans. The outcome reflects the level of partisan friction that continues to surround the CIA's use of waterboarding and other severe interrogation techniques four years after they were banned.
The report is the most detailed independent examination to date of the agency's efforts to "break" dozens of detainees through physical and psychological duress, a period of CIA history that has become a source of renewed controversy because of torture scenes in a forthcoming Hollywood film, "Zero Dark Thirty."
Officials familiar with the report said it makes a detailed case that subjecting prisoners to "enhanced" interrogation techniques did not help the CIA find Osama bin Laden and often were counterproductive in the broader campaign against al-Qaida.
The committee chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., declined to discuss specific findings but released a written statement describing decisions to allow the CIA to build a network of secret prisons and employ harsh interrogation measures as "terrible mistakes."
"I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques," Feinstein said.
That conclusion has been disputed by high-ranking officials from the George W. Bush administration, including former vice president Richard Cheney and former CIA director Michael Hayden. Both have argued that the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other measures provided critical clues that helped track down bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader who was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May 2011.
Largely because of those political battle lines, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee refused to participate in the panel's three-year investigation of the CIA interrogation program, and most opposed Thursday's decision.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee's ranking Republican, said in a statement that the report "contains a number of significant errors and omissions about the history and utility of CIA's detention program." He also noted that the review was done "without interviewing any of the people involved."
The 9 to 6 vote indicates that at least one Republican voted in favor of the report, although committee officials declined to provide a breakdown.
Other GOP lawmakers voiced support for the report's conclusions. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, issued a statement saying that the committee's work shows that "cruel" treatment of prisoners "is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country's conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence."
It could be months, if not years, before the public gets even a partial glimpse of the report or its 20 findings and conclusions. Feinstein said the committee would turn the document over to the Obama administration and the CIA to provide a chance for them to comment.
When that is completed, the committee would need to vote again on whether to release even a portion of the report, a move likely to face opposition from the CIA, which has fought to keep details of the interrogation program classified.
Even if it is released, the report would probably have little impact beyond providing new ammunition for a largely dormant interrogation debate.
The agency abandoned its harshest interrogation methods years before President Obama was elected, and the Justice Department began backing away from memos it had issued that had served as the legal basis for the program.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department closed investigations into alleged abuses, eliminating the prospect that CIA operatives who had gone beyond the approved methods would face criminal charges.
Civil liberties groups praised the report.