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Former CIA Captive Seeks US Apology

A German man who was detained in Macedonia and who says he was tortured while in CIA custody, is in Washington seeking support for his campaign to obtain an explanation and an apology from the U.S. government. VOA's Stephanie Ho has this report.

Khaled el-Masri was detained on the last day of 2003 while on vacation in Macedonia. He was then flown to a prison in Afghanistan. During his five months there, he says he was shackled, beaten, kept in solitary confinement and injected with drugs. He says in May 2004, he was released in a forest in Albania, "dropped off like a piece of luggage."

Speaking at a news conference in Washington Wednesday, Masri said he still does not know why he was jailed.

"There were no accusations leveled against me during the whole period of time," he said. "I was constantly questioned about other people, however. Whether I knew any terrorists or donors of money, contributors, these were the questions that were asked of me."

In May, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought by Masri against George Tenet, the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, accepting the Bush administration's argument that proceeding with the case would jeopardize state secrets.

Masri maintains he is an innocent victim of "extraordinary rendition," which is reported to be the CIA's secret program for transferring terrorism suspects to other countries for detention and interrogation. Though the CIA has refused to comment about the case, U.S. officials have been quoted as saying Masri's was a case of mistaken identity, although he says his abductors knew many details of his private life.

On Tuesday, his lawyers appeared in a federal appeals court in Virginia to argue that the lawsuit should be allowed to go ahead. His legal team includes Steven Watt, of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"It's on appeal, it's pending appeal," he said. "And we're hopeful of getting a decision on that appeal, probably sometime in the new year. It could be weeks, months, we just don't know yet."

The U.S. government was represented by senior Justice Department lawyer Gregory Katsas, who urged the court to accept the executive branch's invoking of the state secrets doctrine.

A few months ago, President Bush said terror suspects have been transferred from secret CIA detention facilities to a U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many experts interpreted this to be a public acknowledgment of the once-secret CIA rendition program.

President Bush has maintained that these kinds of programs have provided U.S. officials with crucial information in protecting Americans from terrorism. This position was stressed in a recent speech in Washington by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"This nation must not and will not relent in tracking terrorist activity with every legitimate tool at our command," he said.

Meanwhile, Masri is in Washington until Sunday. He meets with U.S. lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday and Thursday.

Masri's legal efforts in the United States coincide with the release Tuesday of a European Parliament report charging that 11 European Union governments actively or passively cooperated with the CIA's rendition program. The findings contradict assertions by European countries, including Britain, Italy and Germany, that they did not know about the program.