US Criticized in Europe on Torture and Rendition Cases

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Torture, or enhanced interrogation, as some call it, is back in the news. A fictionalized version of torture features in Kathryn Bigelow's new film, Zero Dark Thirty, a story of the raid that killed Osama Bin-Laden. And the debate is heating up over whether torture, like the one depicted in the movie, actually happened. We'll hear more about how Hollywood spins torture in a moment, but first, in real life there is no doubt that torture does happen, and today there is news supporting that. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of a man who claimed he was a victim of extraordinary rendition, torture, and abuse. Khaled el-Masri said he was kidnapped in Macedonia and flown to a so-called black site run by the CIA. The BBC's Dominic Casciani has been following el-Masri's case. Dominic, what did the court rule today?

Dominic Casciani: This decision by the European Court of Human Rights today is very significant. It involves the case of a man called Khaled el-Masri. He's a German national of Lebanese origin. And back in 2003 he was crossing the border into Macedonia for what he said was entirely innocent purposes. He was arrested effectively at the request of the CIA. He was eventually flown from Macedonia to Afghanistan, held in a secret CIA detention facility, and throughout this entire process, he says appalling things happened to him. He said he was stripped, beaten, objects were inserted into his body. I don't want to go into the details. It's pretty grim stuff, to be frank. But eventually his argument got through to them, that they had actually got the wrong person, and eventually he convinced them he was an innocent man, and at that point the CIA flew him back. Today the European Court of Human Rights, they ruled that Macedonia had breached his human rights and the reason why that is significant is that this is the first time that a European state has been found responsible and to be acting in collusion with the CIA during the allegations of rendition in the years after 9/11. So a very, very significant judgment today at the Court.

Werman: Right, and that's not the only case of torture and rendition in the news today. The British government agreed to pay more than $3 million today to the family of a Libyan man who says Britain was involved in his rendition back to Tripoli where he was tortured. So remind us of the broad strokes of that story.

Casciani: There were two men from Libya, both of them were very, very important opponents of the Colonel Gaddafi regime. This man, Sami al-Saadi, was one of the men who says he was rendered at the request of the Libyans with the help of the UK and the US. He was living in Hong Kong, effectively in hiding with his family. He was forced upon a flight. From there he ended up in Libya. He spent many years in prison, where he said he suffered torture. Now, his case only came to light because of the fall of Gadaffi. As there was chaos in Tripoli, a human rights organization went into the secret offices of Gadaffi's spy network. They found paperwork relating to those times, and one of the papers revealed secret telegrams from the CIA to Tripoli referring to Sami al-Saadi's rendition from Hong Kong to Libya. And that was the smoking gun, as it were. This was the evidence they said they needed to start bringing an action for rendition involving the US and UK. Now this battle was expected to go on for some years, but all of a sudden this case has been settled for about $3 million US. And that brings this case to an end. The question is, what's going to happen with another man? There's another Libyan man who's still alleging rendition. He says he is going to fight some of his case, he still wants to see British ministers in court, and it's going to be pretty tricky as things currently stand for the government to avoid that one because he says he doesn't want to settle.

Werman: The BBC's Dominic Casciani in London.