The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the CIA on behalf of a German who alleges he was wrongfully abducted in Europe and sent to Afghanistan for anti-terrorism interrogation.
Masri says he was imprisoned by the CIA for five months
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted during talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday that the United States had made a mistake in the case of Khaled el-Masri, Merkel said.
Masri, a Lebanese-born German, alleges he was wrongfully abducted as a terrorism suspect in Europe and sent to Afghanistan for interrogation.
The landmark lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the first to challenge the Central Intelligence Agency over its handling of "war on terror" secret detainees.
It charges that the CIA violated US and universal human rights laws when it authorized agents to abduct Masri and hold him for five months in Afghanistan in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
The ACLU said that Masri, 42, had flown to the United States on Saturday for the case but was stopped at Atlanta airport and put on a plane back to Germany.
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in Washington as the US secretary of state held talks in Berlin with the German chancellor.
Pressure on Merkel
Merkel's government has come under intense pressure to explain whether German authorities had helped the CIA cover up Masri's case. The chancellor said Rice had admitted during their meeting that the United States had made a mistake in Masri's case.
Rice and Merkel in Berlin Tuesday
"We talked about this one case which, of course, was accepted as a mistake by the US administration," Merkel told reporters. "I'm glad that Rice told me that mistakes would be corrected."
There has been widespread condemnation in Europe of reports of secret CIA prisons, known as "black sites," used to interrogate and allegedly torture terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The agency also allegedly used airports across Europe to transport the suspects.
US officials have consistently refused to confirm the existence of the covert prisons or flights while defending the US right to adopt tough anti-terrorism tactics.
Detained and drugged
Masri, an unemployed car salesman, told a press conference via satellite link he was detained on Dec. 31, 2003 as he was heading on a bus to Macedonia for a holiday following a dispute with his wife.
He alleged that when the bus reached the Serbia-Macedonia border, guards confiscated his passport and detained him on suspicion he was linked to the al Qaeda terror network.
Masri said he was drugged before being put on a plane to Afghanistan where he was held at a secret CIA prison and interrogated for several months. He said he was held incommunicado long after his innocence was established.
He was flown to Albania in May 2004 and released without being charged.
The ACLU said Masri's abduction and treatment was the direct result of a CIA policy known as "extraordinary rendition," which allows the agency to arrest terrorism suspects and transfer them to other countries for interrogation without going through formal extradition proceedings.
A CIA plane allegedly used to transport terror suspects
"Kidnapping a foreign national for the purpose of detaining and interrogating him outside the law is contrary to American values," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU. "Our government has acted as if it is above the law," he said, adding that there was a "climate of impunity" in the practices of the US administration.
The suit names former CIA director George Tenet and three companies that owned and operated the airlines used to transport Masri.
Masri seeks damages but Romero said the former detainee wanted most of all a "simple acknowledgement" of the wrong done against him and an apology.
Rice on Monday struck a defiant tone before heading on a four-nation European tour, stressing that the US did not engage in torture and defending the right to transfer prisoners around the world for interrogation. Masri was reportedly arrested in a case of mistaken identity as after September 11, the CIA had listed a Khaled el-Masri as a suspect with ties to Osama bin Laden. That Masri is believed to still be at large.