Imagine if you had arranged for a short holiday to escape the drudgery of unemployment on the recommendation of a friend, getting a cheap bus ticket and looking forward to some time away. Imagine then if you are seized from the bus once it crossed the border, violently interrogated, shipped off to a destination thousands of miles away, subjected to horrendous abuse, then when it is realised a mistake has been made thrown on a deserted road in a foreign country and left for dead without explanation or apology. This is not a film starring Matt Damon, this was real life for Khaled El Masri for five terrible months.
Khaled was an unemployed car salesmen from Germany, who is married with six children. His friend suggested he take a cheap holiday to Skopje in Macedonia after he had noticed his friend feeling down and depressed due to the poverty he was suffering in Germany. The El-Masris at that time lived in a single room for the whole family, a situation which would test anyone.
Once he crossed into Macedonia on this bus, armed police arrived on the bus and took him away at gun-point. He was taken to a hotel room where he was searched and subjected to questions about “Islamic organisations”, of which there were none other than attendance at his local Masjid. He was also told that if “he admitted to being a member of Al Qaidah, he can get sent back to Germany straight away.” He was told it was just “administrative reasons” that they would have to say this. After he refused to go along with this ridiculous assertion, he was bundled into a car and taken where he was told he would be sent to germany after a medical exam. Once he got into the room at an airport of some sort, the beatings started. They stripped him naked with a knife or scissors, hitting him on all limbs before taking photos and subjecting him to a violent cavity search. After this, he was dressed in a nappy and jumpsuit, with his ears plugged and nose clipped. He was then strapped down in an aircraft and given an injection. When he landed he was thrown into a boot of a car, before taken out and thrown into a cell with just a blanket and a bottle of putrid water. To say he was disoriented would be the understatement of the millennium.
After taking stock of the writing on the walls, the dress of the guards, he established he was in Afghanistan, and well away from the consciences of the public. He was interrogated by Americans through a Palestinian translator. He was told repeatedly he was in a country without laws, and they can do what they want to him and no one will know. From the voices in the cell corridor there were Pakistanis, Yemenis, Arabs and Africans presumably in the same predicament. He began a hunger strike, lasting 37 days before he was forcefed by a tube being shoved up his nostrils. He was then taken to see a german native speaker, who would not state whether he was from the German government, however suspicions are that the government knew about his torture and false imprisonment.
In one of the most bizarre twists of the war against Islam has been that the American Government actually claimed that they have made a “mistake”, agreeing to release him. He was told by the German that the Americans realised this was a mistake but were trying to remove any trace of him ever having been there at that prison. He was also told never to tell anyone of his release. This then led to him being bundled again into a car blindfolded, taken to an airplane, then after a long flight still blindfolded was driven through winding roads which seemed like mountains. Then, taken out the boot, handcuffs cut off, was on a deserted road at night was told” to walk straight and don’t look back.” Believing he was about to be shot in the back of the head, he walked hysterically till he rounded the bend, and amazingly instead of a bullet greeting him, there were members of the Albanian border guards, who immediately demanded to know who he was and why he was in Albania. Having been provided with his passport, he was able to arrange to be deported to Germany.
If we take stock of the above five months, can we imagine the terror that the United States Government, The Afghanistan Puppet Regime, The German Authorities and the Macedonian Authorities put this person through? To be kidnapped, tortured, and then abandoned is surely one of the most callous acts in modern times, it is the actions of criminals, not of governments. To then read on Wikileaks that the US Government then threatened Germany to stop investigating ( surely in no way coincidental that his case regarding complicity was thrown out of the German Court ) is proof that the dispossessed of society can expect no justice through the fourth reich and its supporters.
Now, the psychological effects and physiological effects of such treatment were felt the minute he was returned to Germany and continue to this day. He lost 40 pounds, and worse was his family had returned to Lebanon believing that he had abandoned them. He engaged in a campaign to tell the world his story, even travelling to the United States as part of an ACLU delegation, and it is only through his bravery that we were able to compile this story. Of course, in a culture where the word “sorry” is hard to come by with substance, all his legal claims have been thrown out of court, with the usual array of “national security considerations” being quoted. The German Government shamefully dropped their claims towards the United States, and it seems that Khaled is expected to “just get on with it”.
Unfortunately, he has been unable to do this since his return, experiencing hallucinations, paranoia that he is being followed constantly, and this eventually took his toll when he was committed to a psychriatic hospital following an altercation at a shop. Early last year he was involved in another altercation this time with the mayor of Ulm, who he believed was responsible for agents trying to “recruit him”. He has been sentenced to two years in prison whilst his kidnappers and the state supporters continue to walk free.
This is War on Terror Justice, and we should never forget.
Write to Khaled El-Masri
About the “Victims” Series
When we use the word victim, we think of a weak, dishevelled, cowed creature who cannot defend themselves and is subjected to the most brutal attacks and violence. Clearly those who have suffered torture and ill-treatment yet remain stoic in adversity do not fit into this category as their bravery knows no bounds.
However, its important to remember that however a brave face has been put on a matter, their experience will have long term physical and mental implications for the rest of their lives and it is still fair in spite of their bravery to be considered victims justifiably.
Through reclaiming this term, we also reclaim the responsibility for it and we direct the responsibility not to a government with weak apologies and photo-friendly expressions of regret, but instead to a series of governments who wilfully and deliberately tried to rob men and women of their futures and have demonstrated nothing to show that they would not do so again. Indeed, many such cases of kidnapping, violence and murder are still carried out in the name of freedom : the extrajudicial killings are one aspect, yet the secret prisons continue to exist and the families continue to suffer. Helptheprisoners.org believe that only through understanding the past and remembering the past can we get angry about the present and motivate ourselves to have the confidence and the will to challenge this oppression.