The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings & Torture
December 8th, 2010 - Officials Pressed Germans on Kidnapping by C.I.A.
By Michael Slackman
New York Times
December 8, 2010
Berlin - American officials exerted sustained pressure on Germany not to enforce arrest warrants against Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in the 2003 kidnapping of a German citizen mistakenly believed to be a terrorist, diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks show.
John M. Koenig, the American deputy chief of mission in Berlin, issued a pointed warning in February 2007 urging that Germany “weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.” in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese descent. Mr. Masri said he was held in a secret United States prison in Afghanistan and tortured before his captors acknowledged their mistake and let him go.
The United States’ concern over the Masri case was detailed in cables sent from the United States Embassies in Germany, Spain and Macedonia in 2006 and 2007.
The cables indicated what was long suspected by German opposition leaders who led a parliamentary inquiry into the case: intense political pressure from Washington was the reason that Germany never pressed for the arrest and extradition of 13 operatives believed to be from the C.I.A. who were ultimately charged in indictments issued in Spain and in Munich.
“I am not surprised by this,” said Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of the Green bloc in Parliament who then sat on the legislative investigative committee. “It was confirmed once again that the U.S. government kept the German government” from seeking the arrest of the agents.
In one cable, written before Mr. Koenig’s warning to Germany’s deputy national security adviser, the embassy in Berlin reported that diplomatic officials had “continued to stress with German counterparts the potential negative implications for our bilateral relationship, and in particular for our counter-terrorism cooperation, if further steps are taken to seek the arrest or extradition of U.S. citizens/officials.”
In 2006 and 2007, the Masri case was one of the most difficult issues between Washington and Berlin, exposing to public scrutiny secret tactics used in the Bush administration’s antiterrorism efforts that were sharply criticized both in the United States and in Europe. At the time, political pressure was mounting in Germany to investigate and expose the practice of extraordinary rendition, which involved capturing suspects and sending them to third-party countries for questioning in secret prisons.
Mr. Masri was seized on Dec. 31, 2003, as he entered Macedonia while on vacation; border security guards confused him with an operative of Al Qaeda with a similar name. He says he was turned over to the C.I.A., which flew him to Afghanistan, where he says he was tortured, sodomized and injected with drugs. After five months, he was dropped on a roadside in Albania. No charges were brought against him.
The case drew widespread attention in Europe. The cables show that the United States was especially concerned about cooperation between Spanish and German prosecutors. The Spanish courts became involved because they concluded that the plane that transported Mr. Masri had traveled through Spanish territory.
“This coordination among independent investigators will complicate our efforts to manage this case at a discreet government-to-government level,” read a cable sent from the embassy in Madrid in January 2007.
The cables’ release has created a stir in Germany mostly because the documents contain American diplomats’ caustic comments about German officials and because they show that the embassy had informants in one of the governing parties. The Masri case, however, has already been so thoroughly discussed in public, and the degree of Washington’s pressure on Berlin is so well known, that it has not gained much attention.
The one cable that has caught the attention of some in the German press was written on Feb. 6, 2007, by Mr. Koenig, the second-highest-ranking diplomat in the embassy, under the title “CHANCELLERY AWARE OF USG CONCERNS.”
Rolf Nikel, Germany’s deputy national security adviser, told Mr. Koenig that the two governments had differences over Washington’s antiterrorism methods, including German opposition to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to rendition. Mr. Nikel said, according to the cable, “the Chancellery is well aware of the bilateral political implications of the case, but added that this case ‘will not be easy,’ because of the intense pressure from the parliament and the German media.”
Mr. Koenig said that while Washington “recognized the independence of the German judiciary,” he added that “to issue international arrest warrants or extradition requests would require the concurrence of the German Federal Government.”
His point was that the case could be stopped.
The prosecutor’s office in Munich issued warrants for the arrest of the C.I.A. operatives, but Germany’s government did not press for arrests or extraditions.
“We already dealt with this, including in the Bundestag, about why the German federal government did not take further action to carry out the arrest warrant,” said Mr. Ströbele. “How one deals with the fact that he was taken into custody and tortured - whether more will be revealed on that - what was done in order to keep it a secret: that is what interests me.”
Diana Aurisch contributed reporting.