The case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent who was allegedly kidnapped and tortured in secret CIA prisons, continues to unfold. According to a report in the German press on Thursday, the US intelligence agents who wrongly abducted el-Masri might be confronted with warrants for their arrest, as details of their identities become known to German prosecutors.
Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that prosecutors had received a list of names of suspected US kidnappers from Spanish officials. "We now have very specific questions for the Spanish authorities," state prosecutor August Stern told the paper.
El-Masri says he was wrongly abducted on New Year's Eve 2003 in Macedonia and detained in various secret overseas prisons often referred to as "black sites." His five month ordeal finally ended when he was dumped on an abandoned road in Albania.
El-Masri's case is one of the best known cases of extraordinary rendition, a practice the United States is thought to use against terror suspects. The practice has come under considerable criticism by human rights groups that allege the US officials spirit the suspects away to countries that use questionable interrogation methods illegal under US law.
Spain provides names
The list from Spain is key to pursuing el-Masri's abductors since many of the secret CIA flights stopped on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca. Several US intelligence employees were there the day before el-Masri's kidnapping and were booked into a luxury hotel -- albeit under fake names. However, Süddeutsche reported that the hotel's staff made copies of their passport photos, enabling them to be identified.
German public broadcaster ARD also reported on Thursday that some of its journalists had been able to uncover the identities of at least three of the US agents in Spain under the aliases Eric Fain, James Fairing and Kirk James Bird, who were all on the plane transporting el-Masri. Perhaps because they were only pilots, the CIA didn't seem to go to great lengths to change their identities. All kept their real first names and all apparently work for the North Carolina firm Aero Contractors, which according to the New York Times has been heavily involved in the CIA's renditions operations.
A German parliamentary committee on Thursday continued its investigation into the el-Masri case. The inquiry is meant to uncover to what extent German intelligence officials knew about the abduction and whether the government at the time was complicit in the kidnapping. Berlin denies keeping quiet about the case.