Boing Boing Video: Khaled El-Masri "Outlawed" interview, part two.

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Today's episode of Boing Boing video is the second in a series of excerpts we're featuring from OUTLAWED, a film produced by WITNESS, in partnership with more than a dozen other human rights groups around the world. Here was our previous installment.

In this episode, we meet a German citizen named Khaled El-Masri, who survived kidnapping, extraordinary rendition, and torture at the hands of the U.S. government and foreign governments acting on its behalf. His case has been the subject of New York Times editorials and involved a widely-reported lawsuit seeking justice in the US, which was thrown out and is now on appeal.

Here is a snip from his description of what happened when he was abducted and transferred to a CIA "black site" prison:

Here is my story. On December 31, 2003, I boarded a bus in Ulm, Germany for a holiday in Skopje, Macedonia. When the bus crossed the border into Macedonia, Macedonian officials confiscated my passport and detained me for several hours. Eventually, I was transferred to a hotel where I was held for 23 days. I was guarded at all times, the curtains were always drawn, I was never permitted to leave the room, I was threatened with guns, and I was not allowed to contact anyone. At the hotel, I was repeatedly questioned about my activities in Ulm, my associates, my mosque, meetings with people that had never occurred, or associations with people I had never met. I answered all of their questions truthfully, emphatically denying their accusations. After 13 days I went on a hunger strike to protest my confinement.

On January 23, 2004, seven or eight men entered the hotel room and forced me to record a video saying I had been treated well and would soon be flown back to Germany. I was handcuffed, blindfolded, and placed in a car. The car eventually stopped and I heard airplanes. I was taken from the car, and led to a building where I was severely beaten by people's fists and what felt like a thick stick. Someone sliced the clothes off my body, and when I would not remove my underwear, I was beaten again until someone forcibly removed them from me. I was thrown on the floor, my hands were pulled behind me, and someone's boot was placed on my back. Then I felt something firm being forced inside my anus.

I was dragged across the floor and my blindfold was removed. I saw seven or eight men dressed in black and wearing black ski masks. One of the men placed me in a diaper and a track suit. I was put in a belt with chains that attached to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs were placed over my ears, eye pads over my eyes, and then I was blindfolded and hooded. After being marched to a plane, I was thrown to the floor face down and my legs and arms were spread-eagled and secured to the sides of the plane. I felt two injections, and I was rendered nearly unconscious. At some point, I felt the plane land and take off again. When it landed again, I was unchained and taken off the plane. It felt very warm outside, and so I knew I had not been returned to Germany. I learned later that I was in Afghanistan.

Just this Saturday, Mr. El Masri filed a damages lawsuit against the government of Macedonia for their role in his unlawful abduction and detention five years ago.

"This lawsuit is possibly the last opportunity for Khaled El Masri to receive justice," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. "Macedonia has a chance to step up and show that it will not tolerate complicity in human rights violations by its security services."

Macedonian security forces in December 2003 seized El Masri at a border crossing with Serbia, and held him -- incommunicado -- for 23 days. El Masri was handed over to the CIA and flown to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and tortured. After several months, El Masri was finally released and dumped on a roadside in Albania. He was never charged with a crime.

OUTLAWED was produced around the time when the Council of Europe issued a report on the topic of rendition and torture involving America's "War on Terror." To document why those issues matter, WITNESS created a coalition with a number of US human rights and social justice 'project partners' such as Amnesty and the ACLU to distribute the video.

You can watch the film in entirety at links provided here, or purchase the documentary on DVD.

(Special appreciation to Boing Boing Video producer Derek Bledsoe. Sincere thanks to Bryan Nunez, Grace Lile, and Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm from WITNESS. Music in this episode graciously provided by Amon Tobin / Cinematic Orchestra. Inset photo: AP)

Previously on Boing Boing Video:
"OUTLAWED" excerpts, pt. 1 -- Guantánamo Detainee Who Survived Torture.

Link to Boing Boing Video Archives.

Discuss

14 Responses to “Boing Boing Video: Khaled El-Masri "Outlawed" interview, part two.”

  1. TJ S says:

    Even if Khaled El Masri had been guilty of thousands of heinous crimes, even if he was proven to be Adolf Hitler re-incarnated, there is no possible reason or justification to treat a human being in such a way.

    The fact that this happened to a man who didn’t even have enough evidence against him to be charged with a crime is inconceivably deplorable. I hope against hope that his case was a rare and unique one, but my heart knows that’s not the truth.

    The last 6 years have made me decreasingly proud to be an American, with Obama being the only thing to bring that pride back up a tick.

    I’m not a praying man, but I pray that Khaled El Masri wins his case, and that it becomes a landmark which any others who may have been through similar ordeals can use to bring about their own justice.

  2. Bledsoefilms says:

    @ Falix

    Let me see if I have you correct: you’re suggesting that perhaps his use of the phrase “…or I will die for it,” could be misconstrued in layman’s terms as “terror speak?”

    I would submit a few thoughts:

    1. El-Masri is a German citizen (though born by Lebanese parents), so if he said literally “or I will die for it,” that’s probably what he meant to say. As in all translations though, the interpretation of that phrase alone can not be looked at at face value; the cultural context of his Middle Eastern background in combination with German nationality add a number of complexities that I couldn’t even begin to get into.

    2. As I continue to read it over again, I think the film actually is in error by “correcting” his words. Claiming to do something until you die somehow doesn’t quite carry the same weight as saying that you would die for it, instead. This man nearly lost his family, was stricken of his dignity, denied justice, and is currently unemployed. In his position, I imagine I’d almost be consumed by the desire to have justice…. of course, as I write that, I can watch myself slipping down the slope.

    3. Would his words be used against him? Of course- you don’t have to go past Miranda to know that. Thus is the judicial system, and I in this case, ANYTHING that appears suspect is used against you. However, the degree to which we allow this to occur is always subject to the degree of fear that is propagated among ourselves. If this video was published say… in 2003, would the reaction be the same as today? I’m sad to say I do not believe that to be so.

    Thank you to everyone for watching, it means a lot to us!

  3. VICTOR JIMENEZ says:

    So many years in the “War on Terror” we didn’t realized that it was a “War on Dignity”…
    So sad, so true.
    Unicorn chaser pliz!

  4. verygneiss says:

    “Du bist hier in einem Land, wo keine Gesetze gibt.”

    That’s got to be one of my favourite quotes of all time, and it pretty much sums up the whole extraordinary rendition process for me.

  5. failix says:

    Without wanting to sound arrogant, degrading, or whatever to this man who I admire for his courage, his german isn’t perfect. That’s why I think he said something that he really didn’t mean. His thoughts are probably correctly reflected in the translation that says:

    I will continue to fight for this case until we prevail…or until I die

    But the words that came out of his mouth were “oder ich sterbe dafür“, and not “oder bis ich sterbe“.

    So literally he said:

    …or I will die for it.

    That leaves room for misinterpretation… and the fact that it got translated differently maybe shows it’s a conscious modification of what he said to avoid this misinterpretation. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the case. Will they highlight what he said to make him look like an extremist “who is ready to die blabla”… or is this just way to far-fetched?(As you can notice, I’m a bored person right now ^^.) What are your thoughts on this?

  6. failix says:

    Thank you very much for the answer. You have me correct, and even understood what I wasn’t able to formulate correctly.
    It pretty much clears up my mind on this detail.

    I think the film actually is in error by “correcting” his words. Claiming to do something until you die somehow doesn’t quite carry the same weight as saying that you would die for it, instead.

    The translation was bugging me for that specific reason. I guess that if it had been literal, I probably wouldn’t even have cared about this specific phrase.

  7. mdh says:

    That Lynndie Englund sure got around… Iraq, Macedonia, Germany, AND Afghanistan? She must have been real busy.

  8. JoshuaTerrell says:

    Human beings shouldn’t treat anybody in this way, no matter what crimes they have been committed.

    I hope he wins too, and I hope the people responsible are brought to justice, for what it’s worth.

  9. anchower says:

    Thanks for posting about this.

  10. Anonymous says:

    @7

    Are you saying Alexander the Great wasn’t the King (and the son of the previous king) of Macedon? Everything I’ve ever read places him solidly in Macedonia until he went out a-conquering.

    Also, it looks like the majority of the UN states have decided that Republic of Macedonia is a name they’re happy with in bilateral relations. Smells like a vendetta to me.

  11. zio_donnie says:

    off topic but as a greek i do have to protest. there is no independent “macedonia”. macedonia is a greek province. there is FYROM (former yugoslavian republic of macedonia and UN official name) which is the state mentioned here but there is an ongoing diplomatic issue on the name of said state. please try to understand the difference.

  12. verygneiss says:

    @ #6, unfortunately, it is a tad unrealistic to expect an English-language blog to use FYROM when talking about the country in question. No one uses this acronym: Macedonia is commonly understood to be that litle round country north of Greece, and it makes sense to use this name when trying to communicate.

  13. zio_donnie says:

    maybe it is unrealistic nontheless i insist on the matter for what it is worth. you are talking about a country that in its constitution declares that thessalonica(a greek city) is its capital and refuses to set its borders with greece. for gods sake they claim that alexander the great was not greek. maybe not a big deal for you but its still a big deal for greeks and the balkans in general. so if you think that the UN resolutions still mean something please use the UN name.

    said that i’m ashamed of the greek goverment that not only closed an eye but actively permitted “rendition” flights at the time. this post is not even news. in greece (and italy) there is still an ongoing legal battle on the rendition flights.

  14. Cassandra says:

    Anonymous @5:

    Thanks for having gay people at your church!

    I agree with your general point that there are a lot of people obsessed with shoving things up people’s butts, people who probably shouldn’t be, and that a lot of those people are working from and within an authoritarian power structure.

    But I disagree with you when you say that “It’s not like they do it in order to achieve any goal other than their own titillation, they never do it as part of any program of interrogation”.

    I think that putting something in a detainee’s butt is probably a way to achieve a lot of goals that are part of the torture process:

    - It’s going to make the detainee uncomfortable physically, if not in pain.
    - It will likely make the detainee mentally uncomfortable by violating gender/cultural/religious rules and taboos.
    - It’s going to make the detainee aware, each time they move, of how much their body now belongs to their torturers/captors, and how little control they themselves have over what happens to them.
    - It’s going to give the torturers an object around which they can construct a story with which to further tease, goad, or humiliate the detainee.
    - It probably won’t leave a mark.
    - It’s cheap and can probably be reused after sterilization (if the torturers even bother).

    So if your goal as a torturer is to freak out the detainee, mentally, physically, and emotionally, that’s a great way to do it.

    That’s not to say that the homophobic torturers aren’t also getting their jollies from it at the same time they’re doing all the rest of this stuff.

    I might trust my kids with a flaming drag queen but I’d never trust them with a blatant homophobe. They’d be far more likely to be unwillingly sodomized by a macho homo-hater.

    I agree, but I think you’re conflating some things here.
    Homosexual does not always equal drag queen (nor do either of those indicate a higher-than-normal propensity for rape or pedophelia, though on a second reading of your comment it looks like you understand that).

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