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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Has the Government Come Clean?

At least some of the internal FBI documents indicate that, for nearly a year prior to Mueller's testimony, top FBI officials were strongly objecting to unorthodox practices - such as hooding and slapping prisoners, sleep deprivation and the use of dogs for intimidation by U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. One internal FBI e-mail in December 2003 even calls them "torture techniques."

As Gonzales begins his confirmation hearings, new FBI documents suggest that abuse of Guantanamo prisoners was more widespread than previously acknowledged - and that Director Mueller may be in the hot seat.

While senators prepare to grill attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales Thursday about his role in crafting policies that allegedly led to the abuse of detained terror suspects, a fresh controversy is brewing about previous testimony on the issue from another senior U.S. government official: FBI Director Robert Mueller.

In the past few weeks, a stack of newly disclosed and startling FBI documents recording agents' reports about serious abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been released largely as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. The newly available documents have prompted some senators to question whether Mueller may have misled the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was questioned closely about the subject in an appearance last May.

At least some of the internal FBI documents indicate that, for nearly a year prior to Mueller's testimony, top FBI officials were strongly objecting to unorthodox practices - such as hooding and slapping prisoners, sleep deprivation and the use of dogs for intimidation by U.S. military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. One internal FBI e-mail in December 2003 even calls them "torture techniques."

Moreover, as early as the spring of 2003, according to another document, a senior FBI lawyer was pressing the Pentagon to investigate specific instances of abuse reported by bureau agents assigned to Guantanamo. One case, eerily reminiscent of the scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, involved a report by an FBI agent that a female U.S. military interrogator stroked and applied lotion to a shackled male prisoner, yanked his thumbs back, causing him to grimace in pain and then "grabbed his genitals," according to a later account of the incident contained in a letter to the Pentagon written by T.J. Harrington, deputy assistant FBI director for counterterrorism.

Yet when Mueller appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 20, 2004, just a few weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal had broke, he gave little hint of the concerns by his own agents about the mistreatment of prisoners - much less the apparently intense dispute between the FBI and the Pentagon over the propriety of the "aggressive" interrogation techniques that had been authorized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to be used on prisoners at Guantamamo Bay.

Mueller, staffers say, appeared uneasy and unusually hesitant, at the hearing. He was pressed - in some cases, repeatedly - to explain whether FBI agents were aware of mistreatment of prisoners by the U.S. military or the CIA.

"He gave me a kind of gobbledygook answer," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, told Newsweek this week about the FBI director's response to her questions on whether he had "received any reports" about abuses similar to those in Abu Ghraib. "At best his answer was confusing and at worst it was obfuscatory." (Feinstein added she is especially "disappointed" in Mueller's responses because he is "generally straight as an arrow," adding that she has recently sent the FBI a letter demanding an explanation.)

A transcript of the May 20 hearing shows that Mueller did acknowledge in response to one of Feinstein's questions that there were instances where FBI agents "on occasion ... may disagree with the handling of a particular interview." In those instances, he said, FBI agents have brought it to the attention of "the authorities who are responsible for that particular interview." But he described the entire matter, benignly, as reflecting "differing points of view" about the "most effective way to obtain information" - not about concerns among agents about the abuse of prisoners.

An even more problematic exchange took place earlier in the hearing when Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy pressed Mueller about whether any FBI agents had "encountered objectionable practices involving the treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo?"

Mueller gave a lengthy answer that ended with his saying that an internal FBI investigation concluded that none of the bureau's agents "witnessed abuses" in Iraq similar to those that had been revealed in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Leahy then followed up: "Is the FBI conducting any investigations involving handling of prisoners in Guantanamo?"

Mueller: "No."

Leahy: "It's not?"

Mueller: "We are not conducting any investigations into the handling.

Leahy: "Have you - have you conducted any?

Mueller: "No."

FBI spokesman Michael P. Kortan said that Mueller had not misled the committee in his responses. "Some of Leahy's questions were very specific and Mueller was being very careful to give very specific responses and not go beyond that," he said. When Mueller denied to Leahy that the FBI was investigating abuses at Guantanamo Bay, he was being strictly accurate. "We were not investigating per se," Kortan said. What the FBI was doing, the newly released documents show, was pressing the Pentagon to investigate the abuses that had been documented by the FBI's own agents on the scene.

Kortan also said this week that, at the time of his testimony, Mueller "was not aware of the detail" of the incidents recorded in Deputy Assistant Director Harrington's letter documenting the case of the female military interrogator who had allegedly grabbed the genitals of the male detainee - as well as two other cases reported by FBI agents. (One involved a October 2002 case in which a detainee's head had been gagged with duct tape - apparently to stop him from chanting from the Qu'ran. Another case, about the same time, was said to involve "extreme psychological trauma" after a detainee was found crouching in the corner of his cell hearing voices and talking to nonexistent people following three months of total isolation in which his room was "flooded with light.")

Harrington's letter to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder of the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command documenting these cases is dated July 14, 2004 - nearly two months after Mueller's testimony to the Senate. But the letter was written apparently as a result of the FBI's frustration that no action had been taken by the Army to investigate the cases in the past: the letter reports that the cases were first documented by the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit in a May 30, 2003 "electronic communication" to FBI headquarters and "around the [same] time" the FBI's top national-security lawyer, Marion (Spike) Bowman, had raised the cases with senior Defense Department lawyers.

A DoD official told Newsweek that the U.S. military had originally investigated the case of the genital-grabbing female interrogator at the time it occurred, resulting in a monthlong suspension for "sensitivity training." More recently, the official said, the case has been reopened. The Pentagon's Southern Command, which oversees operations at Guantanamo, today announced a broad new investigation into all the reports of abuse contained in all the newly released FBI documents. "The Command wants to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding all credible allegations," a spokesman said.

After Mueller's testimony, Kortan said the FBI general counsel's office began a more systematic effort to document the abuses that had been recorded by its agents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. The result was a flood of alarming reports that have now been turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union in its Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking the release of government documents on the treatment of prisoners.

The release of these documents has exacerbated tensions between the FBI and the Pentagon over the issue. Defense officials have privately complained that bureau officials affirmatively decided to turn over the documents in the lawsuit in order to protect itself from charges that it was complicit in the improper treatment of prisoners. "This is cover you're a-- at its finest," one Pentagon official told Newsweek. (Kortan said the bureau had no choice: the federal judge in the case ordered the documents to be produced.)

In any event, the new documents clearly suggest that the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo was far worse than the government has ever publicly acknowledged: in one e-mail, dated July 16, 2004, an FBI agent (whose name is deleted) reports seeing one detainee at Guantanamo "sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing."

In another especially hair-raising e-mail, dated Aug. 2, 2004, another unidentified FBI agent reports "on a couple of occasions" entering interview rooms at Guantanamo and finding one of the detainees "chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defacated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked the MPs [military police] what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment...."

"On another occasion," the e-mail continues, "the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor." [Read the full text of the e-mail here.]

Without discussing any case in particular, a Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Lt Col. John Skinner, said the Defense Department has investigated more than 300 cases of detainee abuse in all theatres (Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo) and more than 100 U.S. military personnel have been "held accountable for misconduct," either through courts martial, administrative actions or other forms of nonjudicial punishment. "Any forms of detainee mistreatment is unacceptable," Skinner said. "We aggressively investigate all credible allegations and we hold people accountable when mistreatment is found."

But clearly, the inquiries - and the controversies - are far from over. A broad review of U.S. military interrogation practices conducted by Navy Inspector General Vice Adm. Albert Church is now in its final stages, Skinner said.

In the meantime, said Kortan, the FBI has prepared a detailed 300-page response to follow-up questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mueller's earlier testimony that will address many of the matters raised in the newly released FBI documents. But that response has been sitting at the Justice Department for review since October; apparently neither it, nor the Church report, will be publicly released any time soon - at least not before the nomination of Gonzales, who played a central role in creating the policies that governed the treatment of prisoners, is voted upon by the Senate.

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Thursday 06 January 2005

U.S. Soldiers Flee to Canada to Avoid Service in Iraq

"This is a criminal war and any act of violence in an unjustified conflict is an atrocity.

He realised that he had made the "wrong career choice"

He said: "At that point a light went off in my head. I was told in basic training that if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it. I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do.''

American Army soldiers are deserting and fleeing to Canada rather than fight in Iraq, rekindling memories of the thousands of draft-dodgers who flooded north to avoid service in Vietnam.

An estimated 5,500 men and women have deserted since the invasion of Iraq, reflecting Washington's growing problems with troop morale.

Jeremy Hinzman, 26, from South Dakota, who deserted from the 82nd Airborne, is among those who - to the disgust of Pentagon officials - have applied for refugee status in Canada.

The United States Army treats deserters as common criminals, posting them on "wanted" lists with the FBI, state police forces and the Department of Home Security border patrols.

Hinzman said last week: "This is a criminal war and any act of violence in an unjustified conflict is an atrocity. I signed a contract for four years, and I was totally willing to fulfil it. Just not in combat arms jobs."

Hinzman, who served as a cook in Afghanistan, was due to join a fighting unit in Iraq after being refused status as a conscientious objector.

He realised that he had made the "wrong career choice" as he marched with his platoon of recruits all chanting, "Train to kill, kill we will".

He said: "At that point a light went off in my head. I was told in basic training that if I'm given an illegal or immoral order, it is my duty to disobey it. I feel that invading and occupying Iraq is an illegal and immoral thing to do.''

Pte Brandon Hughey, 19, who deserted from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, said that he had volunteered because the army offered to pay his college fees. He began training soon after the invasion of Iraq but became disillusioned when no weapons of mass destruction were found.

"I had been willing to die to make America safe," he said. "I found out, basically, that they found no weapons of mass destruction and the claim that they made about ties to al-Qaeda was coming up short. It made me angry. I felt our lives as soldiers were being thrown away."

When he was ordered to deploy to Iraq, Hughey searched the internet for an "underground railroad" operation, through which deserting troops are helped to escape to Canada.

He was put in touch with a Quaker pacifist couple who had helped Vietnam draft-dodgers and was driven from Texas to Ontario.

The Pentagon says that the level of desertion is no higher than usual and denies that it is having difficulty persuading troops to fight. The flight to Canada is, however, an embarrassment for the military, which is suffering from a recruiting shortfall for the National Guard and the Army Reserves.

The deaths of 18 American soldiers in a suicide bomb attack in Mosul, northern Iraq, last month, was a further blow to morale. Soon after, the number of American soldiers killed since President Bush declared that large-scale combat operations were at an end passed the 1,000 mark.

Lt Col Joe Richard, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the US government wanted the deserters to be returned from Canada. "If you don't want to fight, don't join," he said.

"The men in Canada have an obligation to fulfil their military contracts and do their duty. If and when they return to this country, they will be prosecuted."

The penalty for desertion in wartime can be death. Most deserters, however, serve up to five years in a military prison before receiving a dishonourable discharge.

In order to stay in Canada, deserters must convince an immigration board that they would face not just prosecution but also "persecution" if they returned to America. Hinzman's hearing has begun in Toronto and a decision is expected next month.

During the Vietnam war an estimated 55,000 deserters or draft-dodgers fled to Canada. There were amnesties for both groups in the late 1970s under President Jimmy Carter, but many stayed.

One who did so is Jeffrey House, a Toronto-based lawyer, who represents some of the deserters. He said that at least 25 had reached Canada in recent months with the help of "railroad" organisations, and believed that the immigration board would back his clients.

Charles Laurence
The Telegragh U.K.
Sunday 09 January 2004

Defining Victory Down

That's the backward nature of this beast: Deceive, you're golden; tell the truth, you're gone

The president prides himself on being a pig-headed guy. He is determined to win in Iraq even if he is not winning in Iraq.

So get ready for a Mohammedan mountain of spin defining victory down. Come what may - civil war over oil, Iranian-style fatwas du jour or men on prayer rugs reciting the Koran all day on the Iraqi TV network our own geniuses created - this administration will call it a triumph.

Even for a White House steeped in hooey, it's a challenge. President Bush will have to emulate the parsing and prevaricating he disdained in his predecessor: It depends on what the meaning of the word "win" is.

The president's still got a paper bag over his head, claiming that the daily horrors out of Iraq reflect just a few soreheads standing in the way of a glorious democracy, even though his commander of ground forces there concedes that the areas where more than half of Iraqis live are not secure enough for them to vote - an acknowledgment that the insurgency is resilient and growing. It's like saying Montana and North Dakota are safe to vote, but New York, Philadelphia and L.A. are not. What's a little disenfranchisement among friends?

"I know it's hard, but it's hard for a reason," Mr. Bush said on Friday, a day after seven G.I.'s and two marines died. "And the reason it's hard is because there are a handful of folks who fear freedom." If it's just a handful, how come it's so hard?

Then the president added: "And I look at the elections as a - as a - you know, as a - as - as a historical marker for our Iraq policy."

Well, that's clear. Mr. Bush is huddled in his bubble, but he's in a pickle. The administration that had no plan for what to do with Iraq when it got it, now has no plan for getting out.

The mood in Washington about our misadventure seemed to grow darker last week, maybe because lawmakers were back after visiting with their increasingly worried constituents and - even more alarming - visiting Iraq, where you still can't drive from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone without fearing for your life.

"It's going to be ugly," Joe Biden told Charlie Rose about the election.

The arrogant Bush war council never admits a mistake. Paul Wolfowitz, a walking mistake, said on Friday he's been asked to remain in the administration. But the "idealists," as the myopic dunderheads think of themselves, are obviously worried enough, now that Mr. Bush is safely re-elected, to let a little reality seep in. Rummy tapped a respected retired four-star general to go to Iraq this week for an open-ended review of the entire military meshugas.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who devised the debacle in Iraq, is kept on, while Brent Scowcroft, Poppy Bush's lieutenant who warned Junior not to go into Iraq, is pushed out as chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. That's the backward nature of this beast: Deceive, you're golden; tell the truth, you're gone.

Mr. Scowcroft was not deterred. Like Banquo's ghost, he clanked around last week, disputing the president's absurdly sunny forecasts for Iraq, and noting dryly that this administration had turned the word "realist" into a "pejorative." He predicted that the elections "have the great potential for deepening the conflict" by exacerbating the divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. He worried that there would be "an incipient civil war," and said the best chance for the U.S. to avoid anarchy was to turn over the operation to the less inflammatory U.N. or NATO.

Mr. Scowcroft appeared at the New America Foundation with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, who declared the Iraq war a moral, political and military failure. If we can't send 500,000 troops, spend $500 billion and agree to resume the draft, then the conflict should be "terminated," he said, adding that far from the Jeffersonian democracy Mr. Bush extols, the most we can hope for is a Shiite-controlled theocracy.

The Iraqi election that was meant to be the solution to the problem - like the installation of a new Iraqi government and the transfer of sovereignty and all the other steps that were supposed to make things better - may actually be making things worse. The election is going to expand the control of the Shiite theocrats, even beyond what their numbers would entitle them to have, because of the way the Bush team has set it up and the danger that if you're a Sunni, the vote you cast may be your last.

It is a lesson never learned: Matters of state and the heart that start with a lie rarely end well.

NY Times
Published: January 9, 2005

German's Claim of Kidnapping Brings Investigation of U.S. Link

'Where you are right now there is no law, no rights, no one knows you are here, and no one cares about you.'

MUNICH - On the afternoon of Dec. 31, 2003, Khaled el-Masri was traveling on a tourist bus headed for the Macedonian capital, Skopje, where he was hoping to escape the "holiday pressures" of home life during a weeklong vacation.

When the bus reached the Serbia-Macedonia border, Mr. Masri said, he was asked the usual questions: Where are you going? How long will you be staying? Mr. Masri, a German citizen, did not think much of it, until he realized that the border guards had confiscated his passport.

The bus moved on, but an increasingly panicked Mr. Masri was ordered to stay behind. A few hours later, Mr. Masri, a 41-year-old unemployed car salesman, said he was taken to a small, windowless room and was accused of being a terrorist by three men who were dressed in civilian clothes but carrying pistols.

"They asked a lot of questions - if I have relations with Al Qaeda, Al Haramain, the Islamic Brotherhood," recalled Mr. Masri, who was born in Lebanon. "I kept saying no, but they did not believe me."

It was the first day of what Mr. Masri said would become five months in captivity. In an interview, he said that after being kidnapped by the Macedonian authorities at the border, he was turned over to officials he believed were from the United States. He said they flew him to a prison in Afghanistan, where he said he was shackled, beaten repeatedly, photographed nude, injected with drugs and questioned by interrogators about what they insisted were his ties to Al Qaeda.

He was released without ever being charged with a crime. The German police and prosecutors have been investigating Mr. Masri's allegations since he reported the matter to them last June, two weeks after his return to Germany.

Martin Hofmann, a senior national prosecutor in Munich who handles terrorism cases and is in charge of the Masri investigation, and another official, a senior organized crime investigator in southern Germany, say they believe Mr. Masri's story. They said investigators interviewed him for 17 hours over two days, that his story was very detailed and that he recounted it consistently. In addition, the officials said they had verified specific elements of the case, including that Mr. Masri was forced off the bus at the border.

Still, much of Mr. Masri's story has not been corroborated. His assertion that he was held by Americans in Afghanistan, for example, is solely based on what he said he observed or was told after he was taken off the bus in Macedonia.

Mr. Masri said he was confounded by his captors' insistence that he was a Qaeda operative. He attends a mosque in Ulm, Germany, that has been closely watched by the authorities because several suspected terrorists have worshiped there. But those authorities say Mr. Masri has never been a suspect.

Mr. Masri's lawyer, Manfred R. Gnjidic, said he suspected that his client was swept into the C.I.A.'s policy of "renditions" - handing custody of a prisoner from United States control to another country for the purposes of interrogation - because he has the same name, with a slightly different spelling, as a man wanted in the Sept. 11 attacks. The policy has come under increasing criticism as other cases have come to light recently.

Although the German authorities say they have no specific suspects in the Masri case, they say they are looking into the possible role of the United States and other countries.

"It is an unusual case," Mr. Hofmann said. "The political dimension is huge. Under German law, we can charge a person with kidnapping, but not a country. Countries cannot kidnap people."

Officials at Germany's national intelligence agency said they are also investigating. They said they asked the F.B.I. for assistance last fall but have received little help.

A senior administration official said the Bush administration had been aware of these allegations for some time, but he referred questions to the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.

In a series of interviews, neither the C.I.A. nor the F.B.I. would deny or confirm Mr. Masri's allegations. A C.I.A. spokeswoman said the agency would not comment at all. Senior F.B.I. officials in Washington acknowledged that they received a request for help from the Germans last October, and said they were assisting in the investigation. The officials disputed that they had not worked aggressively on the case.

"This is a very ongoing thing, and we are working together with the Germans to resolve it," a senior official said. "Our hope is we can get to the bottom of it." The official declined to discuss whether the bureau had had any contact with the C.I.A. or Pentagon about the allegations.

Golan Pavlovski, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry of the Republic of Macedonia, said he had no information about Mr. Masri's case.

When he returned home last June, Mr. Masri said, he felt relief but also rage. Asked whom he blames, Mr. Masri, a burly, soft-spoken man, looked at his hands for a long moment before saying, "Of course, I blame the Americans first."

Similar Cases

Mr. Masri's allegations bear similarities to the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian born in Syria who was suspected of being a Qaeda operative. Mr. Arar, who was detained in New York in 2002, says he was sent by the United States to Syria, where he says he was repeatedly tortured during 10 months in prison.

A second detainee, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, has asserted in court papers that he was tortured in an Egyptian prison for nearly six months in 2001 before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The allegations were contained in a motion filed with a federal court recently. Mr. Habib's lawyer has asked the federal district court in Washington to block the Bush administration from sending him back to Egypt, asserting that he would be tortured again there.

The C.I.A. began the renditions program in the early 1990's, but its use has increased since the Sept. 11 attacks. Human rights organizations, who say the policy is tantamount to government-sponsored kidnapping, estimate that dozens of "high value" detainees are being held in secret locations around the world. C.I.A. officials have acknowledged that the agency conducts renditions, but say they do not condone the use of torture during interrogations.

Mr. Masri, who had not gone public with his case, agreed to give an interview last month after being approached by The New York Times. During the interview, he spoke without notes, and in great detail, about his case. He said he was able to recount his time in captivity because he wrote down his experiences right after he was released.

The timeline was corroborated by documents, including a bus ticket and a stamp on his passport in Albania on May 29, the date he said he was released. He returned to Germany on June 3. His account also matched details in a report about his case written by Amnesty International, whose officials interviewed Mr. Masri on June 21.

"Mr. Masri had been questioned twice for a lot of hours, and he always has said the same things, he never changed details," Mr. Hofmann said in an interview about his country's investigation. "Therefore I don't think it would be possible that someone could invent such a story."

Mr. Masri said his ordeal began after he decided to go on a short vacation without his family after arguing with his wife, choosing Skopje because it was inexpensive and friends had recommended it.

After being interrogated the first night in Macedonia, Mr. Masri, who speaks German and Arabic, was taken to a motel on the outskirts of Skopje, where he said several men held him for 23 days. "They told me: 'You are not arrested. You aren't handcuffed, are you?' " Mr. Masri recalled. But he said he was not permitted to leave.

Questions About Al Qaeda

He said the men continued to question him about Al Qaeda. After several days, Mr. Masri said he lost his temper, demanded to speak with officials from the German government and tried to escape. "One man put his pistol in his hand and showed it to me, to stop me from leaving," Mr. Masri said.

Another week went by, he said, before another man arrived to question him. "He was nice to me," he recalled. "He said we'll make a deal - you say you are an Al Qaeda member, and sign a paper saying that, and we'll put you back on a plane and you will be deported to Germany."

Mr. Masri said he refused. The man left but returned two days later, he said, and this time he was more combative. "He said I'm not cooperative, I bring problems on myself, they know everything about me," Mr. Masri said. He said the man asserted that Mr. Masri was originally from Egypt and had been to a Qaeda training camp in Pakistan - allegations that Mr. Masri said he repeatedly denied.

After three and a half weeks, Mr. Masri said he was told that he could return to Germany. The Macedonians took a statement from him on videotape to show he was in good health when he left their country, he said. Afterward, Mr. Masri said, he was permitted to leave the motel, but a few steps down the road, a pickup truck pulled up next to him, and several men grabbed him.

Mr. Masri said that a hood was put over his head but that he believed he was driven to the airport because he could hear the roar of planes. He said he was taken to a room and beaten. He said his clothes were cut off with knives, and he heard the sounds of cameras taking pictures. "After I was naked they took off my mask so I could see, and all the people were in black clothes and black masks," he said. "There were seven or eight people."

Mr. Masri said a couple of men put him in a blue warm-up suit, handcuffed him and tied his hands to his belt, put plugs in his ears and blindfolded him. He said he was put on a plane, where he was forced to lie on the floor. Someone injected his arm, he said, and he fell into a deep sleep.

After an unknown number of hours, he said, he awoke to find that the plane had landed. He said he was taken to a building and imprisoned in a tiny, cold cell. "Everything was dirty - a dirty blanket, dirty water, like from a fish aquarium," he said.

On the walls in his cell were words written in Arabic and what he believed was Farsi. Mr. Masri said that his captors and fellow prisoners told him he was in Kabul, Afghanistan.

That first evening in prison, Mr. Masri said, a man he assumed was a doctor, wearing a thin black mask, came to his cell to take a vial of blood. He said he believed that the doctor was American because he spoke English. Mr. Masri said he was repeatedly punched in the head and neck by several guards who accompanied the doctor. He also said he was forced to run up and down stairs with his arms shackled behind his back.

The following morning, Mr. Masri said, an interrogator walked into his cell and, in a thick Lebanese accent, began shouting at him. "He told me, 'Where you are right now there is no law, no rights, no one knows you are here, and no one cares about you.' "

Mr. Masri said the man had a stack of documents and told him they knew "everything" about him, including that he was an associate of Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who is believed to have helped the hijackers. They also accused him of being a senior Qaeda operative who was trained in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, he said. "I denied everything - I kept saying, 'No, no, no.' "

His lawyer, Mr. Gnjidic, said he thought that his client had been confused with the Sept. 11 suspect Khalid al-Masri, because that man is believed by American authorities to have had contact with Mr. bin al-Shibh and Mr. Atta and to have been partly responsible for directing them to a Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. It was there that the two men met Osama bin Laden, who enlisted them for the Sept. 11 mission.

More weeks went by, and Mr. Masri said he then met a man who presented himself as a top lieutenant at the prison. He believes that man was also an American, based on his accent.

"They asked me about Ulm, how many people go to the mosque, how often do they pray," he said. "I told them. When I asked why I was there, I never got an answer."

A Hunger Strike

In March, Mr. Masri said he began a hunger strike. On the 35th day, he said an Afghan prison guard told him, "The Americans don't care if you live or die."

Two days later, he said, he was beaten again and forcibly fed liquid through a tube shoved down his throat.

Mr. Masri said he then ended his hunger strike. He said he was getting to know his fellow prisoners - there were two Pakistani brothers and a man from Tanzania who had been there for several months. He also said there was a Pakistani man who had been there nearly two years.

"I'm sure those men will take revenge, after what was done to them," Mr. Masri said. "Some said to me - we hope to get out of here and then have the power to make something happen against the Americans."

Weeks went by. In May, Mr. Masri said he met a man he believed was German and who was introduced as "Sam." The man posed the same series of questions - mostly about any dealings he may have had with Mr. Atta and Mr. bin al-Shibh. "He was friendly," Mr. Masri said. "So I said, 'Can you please tell me if my family knows where I am?' And the German said, 'No, they don't know.' "

The German authorities said they were unable to confirm Mr. Masri's account of a German agent.

The Return Home

A week later, Mr. Masri said, he was blindfolded, taken to the airport and put on a flight, and then placed on a bus and driven for six or seven hours. His blindfold was removed, and a man told him to walk down a deserted, winding mountain road, he said. "I had the feeling after a few steps, they'd shoot me in the back."

He walked around the bend and came upon a border crossing, where three men in uniforms waited for him, he said. Mr. Masri said he told one of the men about his five months in captivity. "The man was laughing at me," he said. "He said: 'Don't tell that story to anyone because no one will believe it. Everyone will laugh.' "

Mr. Masri asked where they were; the man said in northern Albania, near the Macedonian border. The border officer handed Mr. Masri a plastic box containing the belongings that were taken from him on the first day of his captivity, including his passport and cash, he said. The man told him he was free to go, and his passport was stamped by the nation of Albania, on May 29, 2004.

From there, he bought an airplane ticket and flew to Frankfurt. Once in Germany, Mr. Masri said he returned to his hometown, Ulm, but his wife and four sons, ages 2 to 6, were not at home. "I feared the worst - I feared something happened to my family," he said. Four days later, he found them at his wife's mother's home in Lebanon.

In an interview, Mr. Masri's wife, Aischa, said she had moved back to Lebanon after not hearing from her husband. She said she began thinking, "Maybe he has gone to marry another woman."

Mrs. Masri, 29, said she did not expect to see him again. "The boys have cried a lot in Lebanon. They always have asked me, "Why are we here, Mom, and where is Daddy?' " she said, and then began to weep. "From time to time, I called his friends in Germany and asked them if they heard anything from him or about him. But no one knew anything."

Mr. Masri said he was still trying to rebuild his life. He said he had no steady employment, and almost no friends. "The phone doesn't ring - people have heard, and they don't want to see me," he said.

It was not until last August that Mr. Masri was told by his lawyer that he had the same name as the Sept. 11 suspect.

Mr. Masri said he was bedeviled by questions that he and the German authorities still could not answer. "There are so many questions," he said. "How did it happen? Why did it happen? I don't know."

NY Times
Published: January 9, 2005