CIA ‘tortured and sodomised’ German prisoner, court rules


From daily The Guardian in Britain:

CIA ‘tortured and sodomised’ terror suspect, human rights court rules

Landmark European court of human rights judgment says CIA tortured wrongly detained German citizen

Richard Norton-Taylor

Thursday 13 December 2012 18.54 GMT

Khaled el-Masri

The European court of human rights has ruled German citizen Khaled el-Masri was tortured by CIA agents, the first time the court has described treatment meted out by the CIA as torture. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/AP

CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on, the European court of human rights said in a historic judgment released on Thursday.

In a unanimous ruling, it also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin allegedly linked to terrorist organisations.

Masri was seized in Macedonia in December 2003 and handed over to a CIA “rendition team” at Skopje airport and secretly flown to Afghanistan.

It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.

“The grand chamber of the European court of human rights unanimously found that Mr el-Masri was subjected to forced disappearance, unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition outside any judicial process, and inhuman and degrading treatment,” said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

He described the judgment as “an authoritative condemnation of some of the most objectionable tactics employed in the post-9/11 war on terror”. It should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and US courts, he told the Guardian. For them to continue to avoid serious scrutiny of CIA activities was “simply unacceptable”, he said.

Jamil Dakwar, of the American Civil Liberties Union, described the ruling as “a huge victory for justice and the rule of law”.

The use of CIA interrogation methods widely denounced as torture during the Bush administration’s “war on terror” also came under scrutiny in Congress on Thursday. The US Senate’s select committee on intelligence was expected to vote on whether to approve a mammoth review it has undertaken into the controversial practices that included waterboarding, stress positions, forced nudity, beatings and sleep and sensory deprivation.

The report, that runs to almost 6,000 pages based on a three-year review of more than 6m pieces of information, is believed to conclude that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” adopted by the CIA during the Bush years did not produce any major breakthroughs in intelligence, contrary to previous claims. The committee, which is dominated by the Democrats, is likely to vote to approve the report, though opposition from the Republican members may prevent the report ever seeing the light of day.

The Strasbourg court said it found Masri’s account of what happened to him “to be 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 US authorities in the context of an extra-judicial ‘rendition’”.

In January 2004, Macedonian police took him to a hotel in Skopje, where he was kept locked in a room for 23 days and questioned in English, despite his limited proficiency in that language, about his alleged ties with terrorist organisations, the court said in its judgment. His requests to contact the German embassy were refused. At one point, when he said he intended to leave, he was threatened with being shot.

“Masri’s treatment at Skopje airport at the hands of the CIA rendition team – being severely beaten, sodomised, shackled and hooded, and subjected to total sensory deprivation – had been carried out in the presence of state officials of [Macedonia] and within its jurisdiction,” the court ruled.

It added: “Its government was consequently responsible for those acts performed by foreign officials. It had failed to submit any arguments explaining or justifying the degree of force used or the necessity of the invasive and potentially debasing measures. Those measures had been used with premeditation, the aim being to cause Mr Masri severe pain or suffering in order to obtain information. In the court’s view, such treatment had amounted to torture, in violation of Article 3 [of the European human rights convention].”

In Afghanistan, Masri was incarcerated for more than four months in a small, dirty, dark concrete cell in a brick factory near the capital, Kabul, where he was repeatedly interrogated and was beaten, kicked and threatened. His repeated requests to meet with a representative of the German government were ignored, said the court.

Masri was released in April 2004. He was taken, blindfolded and handcuffed, by plane to Albania and subsequently to Germany, after the CIA admited he was wrongly detained. The Macedonian government, which the court ordered must pay Masri €60,000 (£49,000) in compensation, has denied involvement in kidnapping.

UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, described the ruling as “a key milestone in the long struggle to secure accountability of public officials implicated in human rights violations committed by the Bush administration CIA in its policy of secret detention, rendition and torture”.

He said the US government must issue an apology for its “central role in a web of systematic crimes and human rights violations by the Bush-era CIA, and to pay voluntary compensation to Mr el-Masri”.

Germany should ensure that the US officials involved in this case were now brought to trial.

Lesser kestrel saved from death by bullets


This is a lesser kestrel video from France.

From Fauna & Flora International:

Rescued kestrel released after close call with illegal hunters

6th September 2012

A team of conservationists in Macedonia has managed to rescue, revive and release a lesser kestrel that had been shot and injured by hunters.

On 6 August 2012, during a routine survey of the medium-voltage electricity pylons near Sudik village in eastern Macedonia, two researchers – Metodija Velevski and Bobi Arsovski – from the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) were disturbed to find three dead lesser kestrels, which had been killed with pellet shotguns.

The team located the shotgun capsules near the dead birds and found several more in a perimeter of 300 metres. They also found a survivor – a female who, despite sustaining injuries to her forehead and breast, was mercifully still alive (though severely dehydrated).

They instantly rushed her back to Skopje for emergency treatment at the National Veterinary Institute, where X-rays revealed two pellets stuck in the skin but no broken bones.

Once her wounds had been disinfected, the researchers took the kestrel back to an improvised shelter that had been put together by Mr Arsovski, one of MES’s most active members.

“Although the injuries from the pellets were not too serious in themselves, the bird was extremely stressed, and the vet advised us that this would be the biggest threat to her survival because stress can kill,” said Danka Uzunova, intern at MES and alumnus of the Conservation Leadership Programme.

“He said that if the kestrel started feeding and flying while in recovery then there would be a chance of her surviving and being returned to the wild, so all we could do was wait and hope for the best.”

After a few days the team began to see real improvements. “For the first couple of days she was very timid, and would not leave the corner of her shelter, and I had to actually put the food in her beak to make her eat,” explained Mr Arsovski. “But then she started to trust me, and began flying freely in the shelter – it was sight of real triumph. After a while I started putting several small mice in the shelter and she would catch them, like the pro predator she is,” he added with a smile.

Back into the wild

After 10 days in the shelter, the survivor had recovered from her wounds and regained her confidence. She had also gained back enough weight to face the migratory challenge ahead.

On 16 August, the MES team returned to the scene of the crime, this time to release the kestrel in her home grounds.

In the neighbouring cereal crop fields they spotted around 70 other lesser kestrels, feeding and aggregating before the migration back to Africa. Their presence was reassuring for the team as they knew their feathered friend would have time to interact with the group prior to their departure.

Once released, the kestrel made some short, clumsy flights from one electricity pole to the next (“She looked like a young kestrel who was just learning to fly, she was flapping her wings so vigorously!” said Danka). But then a soft, warm wind picked up, and from that moment on, her movements became smooth and elegant – she was back on track.

After watching their kestrel interact with others in the colony and perform a typical gliding flight (used by kestrels when soaring and hunting), the team returned home filled with relief, hope and happiness.

Tackling the wider issue

Macedonia once held 6% of Europe’s lesser kestrel population, but the latest information indicates that this percentage has fallen by half over the last ten years. Although these birds are strictly protected under Macedonian law, their relatively large size and steady flight patterns make them an easy target for hunters.

As a result, the National and Regional Hunting Inspectors (who had been informed of the incident) have issued a written warning to all hunting societies in the Sveti Nikole region and to all hunters registered in the area.

There are however many illegal, unregistered hunters in the region, and the Hunting Inspectorate believes that these are the most likely suspects in the case.

“So far, the Inspectorate has filed a charge against an unknown hunter on the basis of our report into this illegal hunting incident,” says Danka. “Although the process is still ongoing, hopefully it will serve as a warning to others. At the very least, it reminds us that there are people out there who care about these beautiful birds.”

This news just in…

This story was brought to the attention of Fauna & Flora International by Danka Uzunova, one of the researchers who released the kestrel. Danka is an alumnus of the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) – a partnership between BirdLife International, Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society that works to develop future conservation leaders.

Danka has been volunteering and working with the Macedonian Ecological Society since 2006, and in 2011 was awarded funding from the CLP for her work on assessing the threats to the lesser kestrel, imperial eagle and Egyptian vulture in two proposed Important Bird Areas in Macedonia. Today she is an intern at the society, and her placement is also funded by the CLP.