No Comment — November 29, 2010, 5:23 pm

The El-Masri Cable

From the small mountain of diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks is now slowly putting up at their website, one significant historical document has so far gotten only scant mention. It’s dated February 6, 2007 and directed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It reflects a meeting between John M. Koenig, the senior career diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, and Rolf Nikel, the deputy national security advisor for Germany. The subject was the criminal investigation into the kidnapping and torture of Khaled El-Masri, a German greengrocer from the town of Neu-Ulm, seized in a case of mistaken identity. Koenig, aware that German prosecutors had issued arrest warrants against thirteen U.S. government agents who were involved in El-Masri’s abduction and torture, and that an effort would shortly be made to enforce them internationally, was pressing the German government to block this effort. It would have a “negative impact on our bilateral relationship,” he apparently told Nikel. While Koenig mouthed formulas about respect for the “independence” of the German criminal justice system, he noted that there was also a “political” element—unlike their colleagues in Italy and Spain, German prosecutors are subject to direction by the government on a political basis. Though this cable is framed in typically diplomatic politesse, the underlying message seems clear: it was a demand that Chancellor Merkel’s government intervene to block the criminal investigation, coupled with a threat of negative consequences if it failed to do so.

Over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday in 2003, Khaled El-Masri traveled by bus to Skopje, Macedonia. There he was apprehended by border guards who noted the similarity of his name to that of Khalid al-Masri, an Al Qaeda agent linked to the Hamburg cell where the 9/11 attacks were plotted. Despite El-Masri’s protests that he was not al-Masri, he was beaten, stripped naked, shot full of drugs, given an enema and a diaper, and flown first to Baghdad and then to the notorious “salt pit,” the CIA’s secret interrogation facility in Afghanistan. At the salt pit, he was repeatedly beaten, drugged, and subjected to a strange food regime that he supposed was part of an experiment that his captors were performing on him. Throughout this time, El-Masri insisted that he had been falsely imprisoned, and the CIA slowly established that he was who he claimed to be. Over many further weeks of bickering over what to do, a number of CIA figures apparently argued that, though innocent, the best course was to continue to hold him incommunicado because he “knew too much.” Dana Priest furnished the core of this account in an excellent 2005 Washington Post story. Other aspects have been slowly confirmed by German criminal investigators. By studying El-Masri’s hair and skin samples, for instance, they were able to confirm allegations that he was drugged and subjected to a bizarre starvation regimen. Throughout this process, El-Masri’s account of what transpired, part of which he wrote up as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, has consistently been vindicated.

The El-Masri cable suggests that the Embassy in Berlin was trying to protect thirteen CIA agents then subject to an arrest warrant. These agents’ true names are now known, and an arrest warrant continues to hang over them–now issued by Spanish prosecutors after American diplomatic pressure effectively chilled the German investigation. But the most noteworthy thing about this cable is the addressee—Condoleezza Rice. Might she and her legal advisor, John Bellinger, have had an interest in the El-Masri case that went beyond their purely professional interest in U.S.-German diplomatic relations? The decision to “snatch” El-Masri and lock him up in the “salt pit” involved the extraordinary renditions program, and it seems as a matter of routine that this would have required not only the approval of the CIA’s top echelon but also the White House-based National Security Council. It’s highly likely that Rice and Bellinger would have been involved in the decision to “snatch” and imprison El-Masri. If authority was given by Rice, then responsibility for the mistake—which might well include criminal law accountability—may also rest with her, and this fact would also not have escaped Koenig as he performed his diplomatic duties.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Estimated temperature of Hell, according to two Spanish physicists ‘ interpretation of the Bible:

832°F

The ecosystems around Chernobyl, Ukraine, are now healthier than they were before the nuclear disaster, though radiation levels are still too high for human habitation.

A TSA agent in Seattle was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of women in the airport, a Maryland police officer was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of an off-duty colleague, and the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that taking up-skirt photos is legal in the state.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today