Stunning post by Darryl Li at the Middle East Research and Information Project:
Two of today’s headlines together provide a good example of the work of imperial forgetting. On the front page of theNew York Times, a story about the depiction of torture in the forthcoming national revenge flick Zero Dark Thirty shows how little debates have advanced over the past decade. “Reasonable” interlocutors in the Beltway remain stuck in the inane exercise of sparring over whether some utterance extracted by waterboarding in 2003 somehow contributed to the chain of events that led to Navy SEALs shooting an unarmed man in the face at point-blank range in 2011. Torture was bad, but perhaps it was a good thing after all, so no need to investigate the whole truth and hold people accountable. Moving on….
This is where we run into the second headline. Today the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France issued its long-awaited and unanimous decision (summary here) in a suit filed by Khaled el-Masri against Macedonia. El-Masri’s ordeal is one of the best-known horror stories of the war on terror: A German citizen of Lebanese origin, el-Masri was arrested in Macedonia on New Year’s eve in 2003, held incommunicado and interrogated in a hotel for several weeks at the behest of the United States, and then handed over to CIA personnel at Skopje airport. The Court recounts what happened next:
“On that occasion [el-Masri] was beaten severely from all sides. His clothes were sliced from his body with scissors or a knife. His underwear was forcibly removed. He was thrown to the floor, his hands were pulled back and a boot was placed on his back. He then felt a firm object being forced into his anus…a suppository was forcibly administered on that occasion. He was then pulled from the floor and dragged to a corner of the room, where his feet were tied together. His blindfold was removed. A flash went off and temporarily blinded him. When he recovered his sight, he saw seven or eight men dressed in black and wearing black ski masks. One of the men placed him in a nappy. He was then dressed in a dark blue short-sleeved tracksuit. A bag was placed over his head and a belt was put on him with chains attached to his wrists and ankles. The men put earmuffs and eye pads on him and blindfolded and hooded him. They bent him over, forcing his head down, and quickly marched him to a waiting aircraft, with the shackles cutting into his ankles.”
The CIA held el-Masri in the infamous “Salt Pit” prison in Afghanistan for five months before dumping him on a roadside in Albania. El-Masri’s secret detention and torture had all been based on a mistaken identification — one apparently pushed by a CIA analyst who was later promoted to lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden and is the basis for a central character in Zero Dark Thirty. The analyst went on to accolades and cinematic immortality; el-Masri, broken by his experience and frustrated by years of waiting for justice, got in trouble with the law back in Germany and cut off contact with his lawyers in 2010. One hopes this decision and its 60,000 euro reward will provide some vindication.