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European court backs man in CIA rendition

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 8:36 p.m.
FILE - In this March 13, 2006 file photo, German Khalid al-Masri who says CIA agents abducted him and transported him to Afghanistan attends a meeting of the European Parliament committee investigating claims of U.S. secret prisons and flights in Europe at the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, eastern France. The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 in favor of al-Masri who says the CIA illegally kidnapped him and took him to a secret prison in Afghanistan in 2003. The decision was hailed by critics of the so-called extraordinary renditions programs in the U.S. war on terrorism. (AP Photo/Christian Hartmann, File)

A European court issued a landmark ruling on Thursday that condemned the CIA's extraordinary rendition programs and bolstered those who have claimed they were illegally kidnapped and tortured as part of an overzealous war on terrorism.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that a German car salesman was a victim of torture and abuse — in a long-awaited victory for a man who had failed for years to get courts in the United States and Europe to recognize him as a victim.

Khaled El-Masri said he was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, mistaken for a terrorism suspect, then held for four months and brutally interrogated in an Afghan prison run by the Central Intelligence Agency. He said that once authorities realized he was not a threat, they illegally sent him to Albania and left him on a mountainside.

The European court, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled that El-Masri's account was “established beyond reasonable doubt” and that Macedonia “had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the U.S. authorities in the context of an extra-judicial rendition.”

It said the government of Macedonia violated El-Masri's rights repeatedly and ordered it to pay $78,500 in damages. Macedonia's Justice Ministry said it would enforce the court ruling and pay El-Masri.

Several legal cases are pending from Britain to Hong Kong involving people who said they were illegally detained in the CIA program. Its critics hope that Thursday's ruling will lead to court victories for other rendition victims.

The case focused on Macedonia's role in a single instance of wrongful capture. But it drew broader attention because of how sensitive the CIA extraordinary renditions were for Europe, at a time when the continent was in fear of terrorist attacks but divided over the George W. Bush administration's methods of rooting out terrorism.

Those methods allegedly involved abducting and interrogating terrorist suspects — without court sanction — in the years after 9/11. A 2007 Council of Europe probe accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.

The CIA declined to comment on the ruling.

Jim Goldston of the Open Society Institute said that even if the ruling has no effect in the United States, courts in other countries are likely to take it into account.

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