What CIA director Michael Hayden calls “bottomless criticism”

Back in February, German authorities issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents who are suspected to have kidnapped and abducted a German national. Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese decent, was on holiday in Macedonia in December 2003 when he was taken captive and flown to a prison in Afghanistan where he remained until May 2004. While Mr. Masri claims that he was beaten and mistreated by US interrogators despite the fact that his innocence was clear, the CIA and officials in Washington refer to events like this as “extraordinary renditions”. Another case was the CIA kidnapping of Abu Omar in Milan who was taken to a prison in Egypt. The Milan prosecutor eventually filed charges against 26 CIA agents.

This probably didn’t cause sleepless nights for any of the agents involved; they routinely use aliases and false identities, wear military uniforms and face masks. However, the German investigation turns out to be more than just a symbolic act. Prosecutors in Munich filed international warrants with Interpol to have ten CIA employees arrested and extradited to Germany. Investigators have been able to uncover the identities of most of the agents involved.

“Extraordinary renditions”, justified by the US government, require active collaboration or at least tacit acquiescence from (not only European) countries that harbor secret prisons, hand over individuals, issue flight permits for CIA airplanes, and allow them to use their airports. Dick Marty, President of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, even suspects that the European governments have signed secret agreements with the United States. He has led an inquiry into claims that the CIA runs illegal secret detention centers in Europe, and accused the US of violating human rights. His latest report on “alleged secret detentions and illegal inter-state transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states” will be presented to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly within the next days, and if approved, is due to be debated by the plenary Assembly on Wednesday 27 June in Strasbourg.

That the CIA is involved in illegal and scandalous activities is hardly surprising; nearly 700 pages of materials that the agency plans to declassify next week tell a gruesome tale of wiretappings of journalists, kidnappings, warrantless searches, and other human rights violations that happened over 30 years ago. This, Michael Hayden says, is “CIA’s history”, unflattering, but “a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency”. Tom Blanton, head of the National Security Archive, begs to differ: “The resonance with today’s controversies is just uncanny,” he said.

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