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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Man's Story May be a Snapshot of War on Terror

From guardian.com: A man is walking alone along a mountain path in the darkness. He is carrying a suitcase. He seems frightened, tired and confused. He has long hair and a long beard, but they are untidy, as if he did not grow them voluntarily. He turns a bend and meets three men carrying Kalashnikovs.

The man shows them his passport. It indicates that he is a German citizen, born in Lebanon, called Khaled el-Masri. Using poor English, he tells them that he does not know where he is. They tell him that he is on the Albanian border, close to Serbia and Macedonia, and that he is there illegally since he doesn't have an Albanian stamp in his passport.

The story that el-Masri tells them by way of explanation, on this evening in late May 2004, is extraordinary: a story of how an unemployed German car salesman from the town of Ulm went on a New Year's holiday to Macedonia, was seized by Macedonian police at the border, held incommunicado for weeks without charge, then beaten, stripped, shackled and blindfolded and flown to a jail in Afghanistan, run by Afghans but controlled by Americans. Five months after first being seized, he says, still with no explanation or charge, he was flown back to Europe and dumped in an unknown country which turned out to be Albania.

What really happened? With no way to prove his story, el-Masri's account remains in the balance, a terrifying snapshot of America's "war on terror". It is certain that he returned home to Ulm from Albania in May 2004, and that he was taken off a bus from Germany at the Macedonian border on New Year's Eve 2003. The only person who has offered a clear explanation for what happened in the five months in between is el-Masri himself. Yet that may change.

The German authorities are now taking his allegations very seriously. They are subjecting a sample from el-Masri's hair to radioisotope analysis, which can reveal, down to a particular country, the source of a person's food and drink over a period of time. Discussions are also under way about bringing to Germany two men whom el-Masri has identified as being with him in the Afghan prison, and who were also subsequently released. The fact that the German authorities do regard Ulm as an area of potentially dangerous radical Islamic activity - a number of premises were raided and alleged Islamic activists were arrested on Wednesday - only emphasises the concern that Germany has over the el-Masri case.

So far the US authorities have neither confirmed nor denied el-Masri's story, although German investigators first requested information about the case in autumn. The FBI office in the US embassy in Berlin did not return calls yesterday. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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