German sues Macedonia in EU human rights court

A German citizen took his claim that the CIA illegally whisked him to a secret prison in Afghanistan to Europe's human rights court Wednesday in what could be the final chapter of a case that has shed light on U.S. practices in the war on terror.

Khaled El-Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, says he was brutally interrogated at a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for more than four months after being kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, apparently mistaken for a terror suspect. He says he went on a hunger strike for 27 days and was eventually flown back to Europe and abandoned in a mountainous area in Albania.

Having failed with previous legal efforts in Germany, Macedonia and the United States, el-Masri has turned to the European Court of Human Rights as a last resort in the hope that it will declare that Macedonia breached his basic rights, said his lawyer.

"Mr. El-Masri has spent the last eight years seeking legal redress for the crimes that were committed against him," James Goldston told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There is abundant evidence including data on CIA flights to and from (Macedonia's capital) Skopje."

Authorities in Macedonia have denied any involvement in el-Masri's alleged kidnapping and sought Wednesday to have the Strasbourg, France-based court dismiss the case. A lawyer representing the small southeast European nation argued that el-Masri was too slow in filing his initial criminal complaint in Macedonia.

Goldston is the executive director of the Open Justice Initiative, a group that campaigns against the United States' so-called extraordinary rendition programs. These involved abducting and interrogating terror suspects without court sanction.

The case has caused diplomatic friction between the United States and Germany, where prosecutors dropped efforts to pursue the CIA agents involved in detaining him after Washington made clear they would not be extradited.

El-Masri himself was not in court as he is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for assaulting the mayor of his hometown in Germany and later a prison employee.

The court is expected to deliver a verdict later this year.