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German files landmark suit against CIA over secret detention
Yahoo News/AFP
December 6, 2005

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US rights group filed a lawsuit against the CIA on behalf of a German who alleges he was wrongfully abducted in Europe and sent to Afghanistan for anti-terrorism interrogation.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted during talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday that the United States had made a mistake in the case of Khaled el-Masri, the German leader said.

The landmark law suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the first to challenge the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over its handling of secret detainees in the "war on terror".

It charges that former CIA director George Tenet violated US and universal human rights laws when the agency authorized agents to abduct Masri and hold him for five months in Afghanistan in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court in Washington by the ACLU as the US secretary of state held talks in Berlin with the German chancellor.

Merkel's government has come under intense pressure to explain whether German authorities had helped the CIA cover up Masri's case.

The chancellor said Rice had admitted during their meeting that the United States had made a mistake in Masri's case.

"We talked about this one case which, of course, was accepted as a mistake by the US administration," Merkel told reporters. "I'm glad that Rice told me that mistakes would be corrected."

Masri, a 42-year-old Lebanese-born German, says he was detained on December 31, 2003 as he was heading on a bus to Macedonia for a holiday following a dispute with his wife.

He alleges that when the bus reached the Serbia-Macedonia border, guards confiscated his passport and detained him on suspicion he was linked to the Al-Qaeda terror network.

Masri, an unemployed car salesman, was then taken to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan where he was interrogated for several months and held incommunicado long after his innocence was established, according to the lawsuit.

He was flown to Albania in May 2004 and released without being charged.