Nearly 14 years after a German citizen of Lebanese origin was unlawfully detained by intelligence services while on a vacation in Macedonia, the Balkan nation’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov issued a formal apology on behalf of his country, expressing regret for wrongfully detaining Khaled el-Masri, holding him in isolation and then handing him over to the Central Intelligence Agency as part of its secret rendition and torture program.
Dimitrov expressed his “sincere apologies and unreserved regrets” for the “improper conduct of our authorities” and acknowledged the “immeasurable and painful experiences and grave physical and psychological wounds” el-Masri suffered as a result of this harrowing experience.
In 2003, the Macedonian authorities seized el-Masri and covertly interrogated him for over 20 days, asking him about his alleged connections to extremist organizations, such as al-Qaeda. He was then delivered to the CIA, who reportedly stripped him of his clothes and drugged him before transferring him to a black site in Afghanistan under a post-9/11 torture program.
The 54-year-old was kept there for over four months, during which he was repeatedly tortured, abused and forced-fed. After the CIA finally concluded el-Masri was innocent, they left him on the side of a road in Albania in the middle of the night.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights found Macedonia in breach of several provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights after the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit on el-Masri’s behalf.
The court also awarded el-Masri a compensation of over $73,000, which the Macedonian government paid.
It is important to mention the United States has still not apologized for the German citizen’s reported detention and abuse at the hands of CIA officers.
Although the formal apology came almost six years after the said ruling, human rights groups still saw it as a positive step.
“We welcome the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) government’s apology to El-Masri, and its recognition that its security personnel violated the European Convention on Human Rights,” stated James A. Goldston, the executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
“This certainly goes further than the United States, which continues to refuse to hold anyone at the CIA responsible for this appalling case, or to acknowledge the wrong done to El-Masri, let alone to provide compensation. However, the conduct at issue was illegal, not merely ‘improper,’ and thus requires a thorough investigation. The FYROM has yet to open a formal criminal inquiry into what happened, or to hold anyone to account.”
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, which represented el-Masri in the United States, also released a statement.
“While we welcome Macedonia’s official apology, it is only the first step in revealing the whole truth about El-Masri’s illegal kidnapping and torture,” said ACLU Human Rights Director Jamil Dakwar.
“It’s also a stark reminder of America’s utter failure to hold its own officials accountable for serious violations of U.S. and international law, which is important for preventing anything like it from happening again. El-Masri deserves justice and nothing less than a full and transparent investigation into those responsible for overseeing and implementing the CIA torture and rendition program. He also deserves an official apology and compensation to help him and his family to rebuild their lives.”