Don't Panic

Who is Khaled el-Masri?

click to enlarge Don't Panic - Andisheh Nouraee
Andisheh Nouraee
Don't Panic

Never underestimate the price of being stuck with a notable name.

My heart goes out to all the Adolfs and Osamas out there — people with what were once perfectly fine names, but which, through no fault of their own, became tainted by the atrocities of others.

It's not just people who share names with famous evildoers who have a hard time.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I dated a then-co-worker named Libby. She eventually confessed that she liked me, in part, because I was the only man in our office who didn't feel the need to sing the Libby's Vegetables commercial jingle to her at her desk. What can I say? I know what the ladies like.

And when I was a kid, there was a woman at my dad's office named Linda Lovelace.

Can you imagine the crap (translation: sexual harassment) she had to put up with? If you're not sure what I'm talking about, Google.

But as challenging as their lives can sometimes be, the Adolfs, Osamas and Linda Lovelaces of this world got nothin' on Khaled el-Masri.

El-Masri is a 44-year-old German of Lebanese descent who took a bus to Macedonia on Dec. 31, 2003, for a vacation.

At the Macedonian border, el-Masri was removed from the bus by Macedonian officials. His passport was taken and he was stashed in a dark hotel room.

El-Masri's description:

"I was threatened with guns, and I was not allowed to contact anyone. At the hotel, I was repeatedly questioned about my activities in Ulm, my associates, my mosque, meetings with people that had never occurred, or associations with people I had never met. I answered all of their questions truthfully, emphatically denying their accusations."

On Jan. 23, 2004, el-Masri was told he was going to be flown back to Germany. Instead, he was handed over to a group of people who allegedly stripped, beat, sodomized and drugged him before flying him, he later learned, to Afghanistan.

What kind of sickos would do that to a man?

Unfortunately, sickos-r-us. El-Masri was in CIA custody.

More from el-Masri:

"That first night I was interrogated by six or eight men dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks, as well as a masked American doctor and a translator. They stripped me of my clothes, photographed me, and took blood and urine samples. I was returned to my cell, where I would remain in solitary confinement, with no reading or writing materials, and without once being permitted outside to breathe fresh air, for more than four months."

Why did the CIA brutalize Khaled el-Masri? Because of his name.

Khaled el-Masri has the extreme ill fortune of having the same name as a suspected al-Qaeda operative believed to have conspired with 9/11 hijackers.

At some point, the CIA figured out its mistake. The agency didn't apologize. It didn't offer to compensate. It didn't fess up.

The CIA instead flew el-Masri to Europe, chained and blindfolded, and dumped him in a field in Albania. Albanian border guards found him and returned him to Germany.

"When I returned I had long hair and beard, and had lost 40 pounds. My wife and children had left our house in Ulm, believing I had left them and was not coming back."

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a CIA official has confirmed el-Masri's detainment to the Washington Post. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told her privately of the mistaken capture.

El-Masri tried to hold the U.S. government responsible by suing former CIA Director George Tenet and the unidentified agents involved. The Bush administration balked, arguing that a courtroom discussion of the events jeopardizes national security. On Oct. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected el-Masri's appeal without comment, effectively endorsing the Bush administration's "ix-nay on the odomy-say" argument. So much for small-government conservatism.

I'm not sure what el-Masri plans to do next, but if I were his lawyer, I'd recommend he rummage through U.S. phone books, find people named George Tenant, Dick Chainey and George Besh — and start suing them.

El-Masri's description of his capture and torture can be found here:

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.