CIA torture victim more than just a leaked cable


When Wikileaks released thousands of classified US diplomatic cables this week, a familiar criticism was repeated by the project's foes: these leaks could harm innocent people. There's no evidence of that yet, but within the documents there is evidence the American government has harmed innocent people.

One of them is Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, and a victim of so-called "extraordinary rendition." He was a car salesman in Germany, a father of six. The CIA kidnapped him by mistake (his name sounds and looks identical to that of an actual terror suspect), and sent off to receive months of torture in Afghanistan.

When the CIA realized he was innocent, he was flown to Albania and dumped on a back road without so much as an apology.

El-Masri's futile efforts at receiving justice in the U.S. are well-known, but the cables published this week by Wikileaks include revelations the U.S. also warned German authorities not to allow a local investigation into his kidnapping and abuse.

The nearest he's gotten to justice is an arrest warrant for 13 CIA agents issued by prosecutors in Spain, which they entered on forged passports.

In this video, originally part of the documentary OUTLAWED, El-Masri relates his experiences. Boing Boing presented a portion of this documentary on our video channel back in 2008; the documents brought to light by Wikileaks provide an opportunity to revisit the story with new context.

[Video Link; Photo: (Photo: Khaled el-Masri with his family in Germany, 2005. Dieter Mayr for The New York Times)]


  1. My lord, is there some kind of “I’m sorry my country was horrible” fund we can contribute to for this guy?!

  2. well, truth be told El Masri also tried to burn down a supermarket and kill a mayor after returning from prison and is now in a psychiatric institution as far as I remember….
    related to the whole CIA thing or not, the father-of-six also posed a serious threat to individuals in Germany.
    Just saying.

  3. Thank you for keeping the U.S’s democracy. I hope these people will remember that all their deeds (misdeeds) will become public. We should sll live a life like an open book for everyone to read. This proverb will now hold true for those with power within our goverment. Thank you tattletalers.


  4. If anyone thinks this is outrageous and want to do more than comment here join Amnesty International and help work against torture.

  5. I wonder why people can’t just submit to government. We’d be so much safer if we let government do what ever it wants to in order to make us safe. they’re professionals, and elected officials. Why people can’t understand that so long as people are vetted and elected that gives them a ‘divine right of officials’ to do what his needed…….

    You can believe this is how government officials view themselves. They are beyond reporach to the full extent that we allow them to be.

  6. The case has in fact been widely discussed ever since it became public in 2005, especially here in Germany. But thank you for bringing it up again. Everybody knows what happened to Mr. El-Masri and everybody did at least suspect an intervention by US officials concerning the prosecution of Americans in Germany. Good thing we have it on record now. This case leaves you with a lot of anger and dismay, since El-Masri has never fully recovered and is currently facing a 2-year prison sentence for assault. He states that mental-health problems resulting from his traumatic experience in Afghanistan are the main reason for his recurring legal problems, and I for one believe him.

      1. No, I’m serious. Why do you think in some European countries that it is banned. It is a symbol of a woman’s subjugation to men. Most women who wear it do so because they have no choice. I remember reading in Rivebend’s blog how she was afraid and forced to wear it in the new liberated Iraq and how even Christian women were wearing it because it was dangerous for any woman to go around without one. Riverbend: Iraqi Girl Blog

        It’s a sign of subjugation.

        1. It’s not always a sign of subjugation. I don’t doubt that in many cases it is but, I am friends with a woman here in the States, raised in the States, in a muslim family who never had to wear a hijab growing up, and worked here on campus with her husband. When they decided to start a family and she got pregnant, she decided (note: SHE decided) to begin wearing the hijab as a sign of respect for her husband and her religious beliefs. I think unless we ask this guy’s wife why she wears the hijab, we’ll never know. I don’t think I can make a judgment about her life from a simple photo.

        2. Are you seriously saying that because they BOTH grew up in a society in which women are subjugated, whether they know it or not, and from which they emigrated, that makes it OK for the US government to kidnap and torture him because they mistakenly think he might maybe be linked to terrorism?

          In googling this, I see some countries have banned burqas and niqabs, the full-face veils that leave only a slit for the eyes, I don’t see any reference to a country that has banned the hajib.

          Your comment, as odd as it was, did get me to learn stuff, which always a good thing, even if what I learned wasn’t anything that would endorse your point.

          Interesting story about the Politics of Womens Head Coverings.

    1. I sincerely hope that is misplaced sarcasm. I truly believe this issue supersedes any “first-world problem” relating to the real or imagined cultural victimizations of women. Or to put it another way: please explain how a square yard of cloth mitigates 5 months of torture?

      Personally I don’t feel guilty, I feel helpless to stop evils being funded with the taxes of my labors. I protest, I write letters, I vote and still this sh!t keeps happening. How long will it be before I am declared a “terrorist”?

    2. Jesus, alllie!

      In a larger sense, I don’t even technically disagree with you on your point about subjugation, but that point is so far beyond the point and you miss the point so amazingly that I stagger in disbelief.
      You actually seem to have a sort of twisted “eye-for-an-eye” thing going on in your head regarding this situation, which fails on at least two levels:

      First Level- This isn’t *even* eye-for-an-eye, even if the only differentiating circumstance you manage to factor in is how what the CIA did to Khaled El-Masri *affected his family as well* – wife included.

      Second Level- “eye-for-an-eye” is stupid in the first place!

      Or is it some sort of faith in some “Karma” idea or what?

      If I’m reading your statement correctly, and I hope I’m not, it seems as though you’re basically expressing a sentiment of “If women continue to suffer and be subjugated in Muslim societies, then it’s just as well that the whole world is potentially targeted to be plunged into CIA rape prisons!”
      If you just *stop* and think about it for more than even a split-second, the problem here – regardless of how you personally feel about this particular guy for whatever reason – is that if they can do it to this guy, they can pretty much do it to anyone. I don’t see a way to make italics here, so I’ll just copy and paste it again:

      The problem here is that if they can do it to this guy, they can pretty much do it to anyone!

      Hopefully the exclamation point added the second time helps it sink in better.

      Holy crap.

  7. Semantics. I feel like in this country our words have lost their meanings. Terrorism. Freedom. Socialism. Free Market. War. Treason. Torture. These and many other important words don’t mean the right thing any more. This is the fundamental flaw in our democracy, in any democracy, maybe, that you can define words to mean anything, declare war on abstract concepts (war on drugs, war on terror…), and before you know it our most important principles are meaningless.

    1. Well said thunderhammer. Definitions are extremely important, and have been used to befuddle for quite some time. Words lead to thoughts, and thoughts to actions. With no clear definitions, there can be no clear thoughts.

    2. Double plus good post.

      While we’re on the subject of semantics, and since it’s an issue which will certainly be the next argument raised, “innocent” does not imply “nice,” and “dickbag” does not mean “guilty.”

  8. Actually Mr. El-Masri developed massive psychatric issues attributed to the rendition.
    Afaik he is in jail atm for assaulting the major of his hometown during a paranoid episode.
    Great job CIA.
    Turning a valuable member of our society into an insane fuckup and plunging his family into misery sure keeps the USA safe.

  9. alllie, symbols mean different things in different places. What can be an oppressive symbol in one place can also be something that a person uses to express their personal identity and religion. The whole world is not homogeneous and it’s a mistake to assume that headscarf means exactly the same thing to her as it does to every other woman who’s worn one. I also think it’s a big mistake to assume that her husband is the one who chooses what she wears.

    I think you’re suffering from a fundamental inability to actually see this from their point of view. They are both victims of injustice. They’ve both suffered something horrible that shouldn’t have happened.

    He experienced a terrible ordeal. She spent months taking care of those four children alone, not knowing if her husband would ever be coming home, not knowing what horrible thing had happened to him or if he was even alive.

    How could you even begin to comfort children about their father’s absence when you have no answers and no comfort for yourself?

    Neither of them deserves to have abuse hurled at them by people who know nothing about their personalities or inner lives.

  10. Awesome story.

    The above poster with the hijab == slave clothes and thus justifies the torture of people, nice bit of thinking. Should draw some breast implants == justification for rape logic next.

  11. Why do you think in some European countries that it is banned. It is a symbol of a woman’s subjugation to men.

    When European countries make it illegal for women to take their husbands’ surnames, I’ll believe that they’re concerned about women’s identities being erased. In the interim, you’re apologizing for torture to justify your own xenophobia.

    1. When European countries make it illegal for women to take their husbands’ surnames, I’ll believe that they’re concerned about women’s identities being erased.

      I´ve seen it a dozen times, it´s tragic. Young women in the prime of their life´s, their identities brutally erased by taking their husband´s surname. It´s like they never existed.

      Or, you could be kidding. I can´t tell.

  12. follow-the-constitution-FAIL. Poor guy, I too wish there was a “sorry, our bad” donation site for this guy.

  13. Oh, he’s a violent criminal, is he? Oh WELL then, it’s perfectly OK to abduct and torture criminals, isn’t it?

  14. A few clarifications:

    He was picked up in Macedonia, not Spain. The Spanish authories are making noise only because they like to do that sort of thing. The CIA agents who apprehended him are unlikely to be the same ones who allegedly roughed him up at the black site. That was legal and proper under U.S. law. Rendition is still going on now under the Obama administration.

    In other words, Spain’s complaints about this matter should be with the U.S. government, not its agents.

    El-Masri is not a peaceful guy. Aside from his other troubles in Germany, the Islamic center he went to was shut down a few years ago for inciting hatred. It’s not your garden variety mosque.

    I wouldn’t call hijab’s “hate clothes” either but it’s worth noting that not every Muslim woman in Lebanon wants to wear them. Lebanon isn’t Saudi Arabia. It says something that she does wear them.

  15. I hate USA.I don’t hate American people,i hate American Government.
    But it was American people who voted American Government.
    I am confused now,WTF are American’s doing.Wake up and instead of arguing with us fight ur GOVT if u have the guts to do so otherwise take this _|_

    DONATE atleast 10 bucks TO WIKILEAKS.

    1. Most Americans didn’t vote for these people. We’re given the choice of voting for a crook, a thief, or a liar. Which would you choose? With these choices, we have developed a kind of “learned helplessness.” We see U.S. government marching perpetually toward fascism and nothing we have tried has stopped it.

      If we take up arms, we take up arms against the world’s most advanced military. If we try to build grassroots political movements, they are corrupted, invisible, or demonized by the corporate media. When we write letters to senators, they just scan them, giggle, and do as they please anyhow, knowing that the person who takes their place will be just as deaf to the wishes of the populace. And when we get fed up and try to leave, they tighten the borders and their allies hunt us down like dogs after our visas expire. There is no chance at permanent residency for most of us.

      So, can you understand why we all feel angry, helpless, and trapped? Wouldn’t you console yourself with movies and beer?

  16. A drunk American soldier, employed by the US Embassy in Bucharest, killed with his car a famous Romanian musician, in Bucharest downtown. A squad of the Embassy came instantly and sent the guy in the States. Five years later, the family is still trying to get with the case in court.

    Nobody is anti-American, nobody would change the American Dream for a Chinese one! In fact, our grandparents died after the WW2 looking in the sky for the US Air Force to come and help Eastern Europe to escape from the Soviet slavery just like they did it in Western Europe. They never came.

    As I said: there’s not anti-Americanism. But the way the Washington authorities are sometimes acting is hurting around.

    PS: Thunderhammer, good point!


  17. Since everyone with the same name as a terrorist, can be safely assumed to be that terrorist, then any right-thinking person who has such a name would immediately change it. Anyone failing to do this is obviously expressing their solidarity with the terrorist, and deserves the same treatment. Of course, this requires that all citizens obtain the list of all terrorists’ names, in order to avoid committing namecrime. Regular updates to this information are necessary, so anyone who really cares about freedom must call the FBI, TSA, NSA, and CIA regularly to inquire whether their own name appears on the list, and then call back at regular intervals to ensure it has not been added in the interim. No patriot can do less. Ignorance of the contents of the terrorist watch list is no excuse.

  18. I see several people talking about starting a donation site for this guy. A nice thought, but really, isn’t that just the American thing, to throw money at an issue and hope that makes it all better. What this guy needs is to have the crimes of his torturers exposed, not a bunch of money.

    And this whole head scarf = subjugation thing is a load of xenophobic crap. There are a variety of dress codes applying to men and women separately all over the world, and they mean very different things depending on the culture they came from and the culture they currently exist in.

    Implying that you can determine that she is “subjugated” from a single photo of the couple, without any other information on their relationship, is an insult to her as well as her husband.

    1. I actually think a donation would be a good thing.
      It would show him and his family that there are decent ppl out there who think about their individual plight and not about the “lager picture” thats more important than their misery.
      That mindset they already experienced at the hands of the CIA.
      And his family could really use the money.
      B4 the CIA took their breadwinner away and broke him they were immigrant middle class, now they are living on welfare with a shellshocked dad which is prone to violence.
      Dunno though how one could get the money to them.

  19. Are you American citizens going to allow this to happen?

    Because I tell you one thing. If you don’t start taking action against YOUR Government and bringing the truth to the fore, you will be dragged down with them.

    You’ll have too many enemies and it’ll only take one of them to nuke the shit out of the U.S. Now I don’t want that because i know that the majority of Americans are good folk but if you keep going like you have and the truth gets out with no recognisable action from your citizens, its just a matter of time.

    Stand up for America and stand up for the values that I know you hold.

    It’s a cliche, but we’re at a fork in the road, and the lights about to turn green. What are you going to do?

  20. I guess money is being offered because folks in the US realize their government won’t be held accountable. The CIA is caught facilitating kidnapping and torture, and NO ONE IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE. I don’t want to pass the hat for this man, I want him to be able to sue the US government for damages, I want extraordinary rendition stopped, and I want the people who did this to go to prison. Since that will never happen, I will donate a few hours worth of pay.

  21. “No, I’m serious. Why do you think in some European countries that it is banned.”

    She’s wearing a Hijab (head-scarve). It’s not banned anywhere in Europe (although there are restrictions regarding work wear in some cases), else they could start fining old ladies in general, who love head-scarves, being Muslim, Christian or atheist. What’s banned in some countries like France is the Burqua and/or the Niqāb (a Burqua, but you see the eyes).

  22. I can’t remember when I became ashamed to be American, it was so long ago. That one moment when I said, “This whole thing is disgusting,” has since been buried under a wave of stories and news articles even more brutal than the last.

    And no one’s turning the faucet off. Maybe no one’s capable of turning it off.

  23. My mother and spouse often wear head-scarves just about identical to that in the photo. We live in the United States and are not Muslim. They like to keep their hair tidy, I guess.

    Who am I subjugating again? My wife with her two college degrees and career in science, or my mother who is a retired nurse and licensed medical technician?

    Wait, I think my sister, the successful lecturer and college professor, with the doctorate from the Sorbonne and all – yeah, the one that didn’t take her husband’s name when she married – she likes to wear headscarves too. Am I subjugating her?

    Modern life is so confusing for us politically correct white men.

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