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CIA Sued for Wrongful Kidnapping, Interrogation

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the practice of rendition: sending terrorist suspects to other countries to be interrogated. The case involves a German man allegedly held by the CIA for several months in Afghanistan in what he alleges is a case of mistaken identity. Germany's new chancellor said she discussed the matter with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Berlin today. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

The ACLA had been hoping that Khalid al-Masri could tell his story in person, but the organization said the German man of Lebanese descent was turned back at the airport in Atlanta. So al-Masri had to speak via satellite linkup through an interpreter, who described how he was picked up in Macedonia at the end of 2003 and weeks later taken to the airport.

Mr. KHALID AL-MASRI: (Through Translator) In there I was beaten down, and my clothes were torn off with sharp objects. And one has--they dragged me into the airplane. In there I got injections with drugs, and then I was flown to Afghanistan.

KELEMEN: Al-Masri says he was kept in Afghanistan for several months in a dark, dirty jail cell with putrid water to drink. He claims that an American ran the prison and at one point acknowledged his was a case of mistaken identity. But he says he was told by a German speaker, who identified himself only as Sam, that it would take awhile to get back to Germany.

Mr. AL-MASRI: (Through Translator) The Americans don't want to admit that I was detained by them. And they want to obscure the path, so nobody would know where I was detained.

KELEMEN: According to the suit his lawyers filed today, al-Masri was left on an Albanian hillside five months after he was first detained. He's suing three companies that allegedly operated the plane that took him to Afghanistan. His suit also names former CIA Director George Tenet, who would not comment today. Al-Masri is seeking damages of at least $75,000. In Berlin, Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel, said through an interpreter that she talked about the case with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through Translator) I'm very relieved. I'm pleased that I'm able to say that we actually talked about that one particular case, and that the American government, the American administration has admitted that this man has been erroneously taken and that as such the American administration is not denying that it has taken place.

KELEMEN: Secretary Rice wouldn't comment on the specifics in the case, but she has been defending in broad terms the way the US handles terrorism suspects. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli did the same today.

Mr. ADAM ERELI (State Department Spokesman): If and when mistakes are made in the lawful practice of renditions, we will take every effort and every step possible to rectify them and ensure that they don't happen again.

KELEMEN: But the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, says he's hoping that by pursuing al-Masri's case in US courts his organization can bring an end to renditions, a practice he says is illegal.

Mr. ANTHONY ROMERO (American Civil Liberties Union): The rules that have been long-established and long-followed were disregarded in this war on terror. A and those changes in rules and policies fell down the chain of command like a boulder off a cliff, and you saw a complete disregard for the protection of rule of law in cases of rendition like in the case of Mr. al-Masri.

KELEMEN: Romero says that the use of renditions has expanded considerably in recent years, and he believes it amounts to kidnapping. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.