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Victim of US rendition wins Europe court ruling

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[December 13, 2012]  PARIS (AP) -- The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday in favor of a German man who says the CIA illegally kidnapped him and took him to a secret prison in Afghanistan in 2003. The decision was hailed by critics of the so-called extraordinary renditions programs in the U.S. war on terrorism.

It's Khaled El-Masri's first major judicial victory after trying in the U.S. and Europe to get authorities to recognize him as a victim. He says he was kidnapped from Macedonia in 2003, mistaken for a terrorism suspect, then held and brutally interrogated at a prison run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency for four months.

The European court, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled that El-Masri's account was "established beyond reasonable doubt" and that Macedonia "had been responsible for his torture and ill-treatment both in the country itself and after his transfer to the U.S. authorities in the context of an extra-judicial rendition."

It said the government of Macedonia violated El-Masri's rights repeatedly and ordered it to pay euro60,000 in damages.

Macedonian authorities said they would not comment until they are formally notified of the ruling. The Macedonian government has denied involvement in kidnapping.

Though the case focused on Macedonia, it drew broader attention because of how sensitive the CIA extraordinary renditions were for Europe. They involved abducting and interrogating terror suspects without court sanction in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., under former President George W. Bush. A 2007 Council of Europe probe accused 14 European governments of permitting the CIA to run detention centers or carry out rendition flights between 2002 and 2005.

Jamil Dakwar, head of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling was "a huge victory for justice and the rule of law."

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He predicted "it will make it harder for the United States to continue burying its head in the sand" about accusations that its officials tortured suspects in the war on terrorism under former President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11 attacks.

El-Masri's lawyer Manfred Gnjidic welcomed the ruling. Gnjidic said he hoped that it would inspire El-Masri to reinstate contact with his lawyers and family, which he broke off after he was sentenced to two years in prison in 2010 for assaulting the mayor of the German town of Neu-Ulm. "I hope this will give him a little bit more confidence again that even a little person who has come into a crime of great nations has the chance to have his rights," he said.

The court's rulings are binding on the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog.

[Associated Press]

David Rising in Berlin and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, Macedonia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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