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Posted at 8:58 PM ET, 11/29/2010

Leaked cable: U.S. warned Germany against arrests in Masri case

By Jeff Stein

A top American diplomat warned Germany against issuing arrest warrants for U.S. commandos involved in the 2003 abduction of a German citizen wrongly suspected of terrorist ties, a classified State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks reveals.

Khalid al-Masri, a Lebanese who had lived in Germany since 1994, was abducted while on holiday in Macedonia and flown to Afghanistan, where he says he was beaten and sodomized during repeated interrogations before being transferred to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In April 2004 CIA Director George Tenet decided Masri had been mistakenly detained, according to news reports, and the following month he was released.

A prosecutor in Munich subsequently investigated the Masri affair, and on Jan. 31, 2007 issued arrest warrants for 13 of the suspected kidnappers, all thought to be CIA personnel.

Washington was very upset by the action, according to a cable from the No. 2 official at the American embassy in Berlin, deputy chief of mission John M. Koenig. The cable was marked “Secret//Noforn,” meaning no foreign dissemination.

On Feb. 6, 2007, Koenig met with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel to express U.S. unhappiness with the arrest warrants, and cautioned German federal officials against trying to enforce them.

Koenig “reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case,” according to the cable, sent in the name of the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William R. Timken.

The “issuance of
 international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship,” Koenig said, “remind(ing) Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.”

The reference to “repercussions” in Italy was not immediately clear. At the time, a prosecutor in Milan was seeking the arrest of nearly two dozen CIA operatives and a U.S. military officer in connection with the abduction of another al-Qaeda suspect, known as Abu Omar, but the Italian government had refused his request that they be extradited to stand trial. All but a few were convicted of kidnapping in absentia.

Back in Berlin, Koenig told Nikel “that our intention was not to
 threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German Government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”

“We of course recognized the independence of the German judiciary, but noted that a decision to issue international arrest warrants or extradition requests would require the concurrence of the German Federal Government,” Koenig continued, “specifically the MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).”

Koenig said he had thought “that the German federal authorities 
would not allow the warrants to be issued, but that
 subsequent contacts led us to believe this was not the case.”

But the German official pushed back, saying “the case was subject to political, as well as judicial, scrutiny. From a judicial standpoint,” Nikel said, “the facts are clear, and the Munich prosecutor has acted correctly.”

Nikel also noted “our political differences about how the global war on terrorism should be waged, for example on the appropriateness of the Guantanamo
 facility and the alleged use of renditions,” according to the cable.

The Masri case had inflamed public opinion, and German authorities were under “intense pressure from the
 Bundestag and the German media” about it, Nikel said. Resolving it to U.S. satisfaction “will not be easy.”

Koenig replied that Washington “would likewise
 have a difficult time in managing domestic political
 implications if international arrest warrants are issued.”

By Jeff Stein  | November 29, 2010; 8:58 PM ET
Categories:  Foreign policy, Intelligence, Lawandcourts, Media  | Tags:  CIA, Germany, al-Masri, renditions  
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