Mayo 19, 2007

Rendition victim sent to mental institution after arson attack

By Tony Paterson in Berlin
Published: 19 May 2007

German authorities have been accused of failing to help a man who set fire to a supermarket while suffering from severe depression caused by his kidnapping, imprisonment and torture by the CIA.

Khaled el-Masri has been a "psychological wreck" and has lived in constant fear that his children would be shot for the three years since he was released from an Afghan prison by the US, according to his lawyer.

The lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, was attempting to explain why the 43-year-old German of Lebanese descent went berserk at a supermarket in the southern city of Ulm on Thursday and set fire to it, injuring no one but causing half a million euros of damage.

German state prosecutors committed Masri to a psychiatric institution for an indefinite period immediately after the arson attack. Mr Gnjidic said yesterday that in common with other victims of the CIA's controversial "renditions" programme, Masri had been severely traumatised by his experiences and had been unable to recover.

"This is an example of what happens to torture victims when they are left on their own and not given any proper treatment," Mr Gnjidic said. He said he had asked doctors and appealed to the government for help in providing the kind of psychiatric care his client badly needed, but nobody had offered to take him.

He said that since his release from a CIA prison in Afghanistan in May 2004, Masri had received only superficial treatment at a centre for torture victims. "Mr Masri has been left alone. One cannot simply sit back and wait until a case like this explodes," he insisted. "He lives cooped up most of the time in his apartment and in constant fear that his children could be shot. He has suffered a complete nervous breakdown," he added.

Khaled el-Masri was the focus of international attention in 2004 after he was released from US captivity and dumped on a road near the border between Macedonia and Albania where he was told by guards: "Don't bother telling anybody what happened to you - they won't believe you."

But he later revealed to the American press how the CIA had mistaken him for an al-Qa'ida suspect and kidnapped him while he was on holiday and travelling through Macedonia on a coach in December 2003. Masri was then flown to a CIA renditions prison in Afghanistan where he was beaten and sexually abused by his captors for five months before they realised they had detained the wrong person.

His case is the subject of a major parliamentary investigation in Germany over the extent to which the then government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had knowledge of the kidnapping. In America, his case has been frequently cited by human rights activists in their campaign to stop the practice of renditions.

German state prosecutors issued international warrants for the arrest of several suspected CIA agents alleged to have taken part in Masri's abduction and torture in January after US courts refused to take up his case, claiming that to do so would jeopardise national security.

Yesterday it emerged that Masri's arson attack was the latest in a long line of acts of desperation that appeared to stem from the deep psychological trauma he had been suffering from since his captivity.

Prosecutors said that Masri also faced charges for allegedly attacking an instructor who had been teaching him how to drive lorries. They said Masri had lost his temper after the instructor criticised him for failing to attend his lessons.

Prior to his arson attack on the Metro supermarket, they said Masri had spat in the face of one of the store's female staff after she refused to take back an iPod he had bought there.

Posted by marga at Mayo 19, 2007 8:00 PM | TrackBack
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