Saturday, December 10, 2005

CIA scandal deepens in Germany

CIA scandal deepens in Germany

UPI Germany Correspondent

KEHL AM RHEIN, Germany, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The scandal surrounding a German national allegedly abducted by the CIA continues with fresh revelations almost daily.

According to a newspaper report, the German Federal Intelligence Service, known by the acronym BND, fed U.S. intelligence with information on Khaled el-Masri, who says he was kidnapped Dec. 31, 2003, by the CIA in Macedonia and held in a prison in Afghanistan for five months.

"We might have called attention to el-Masri through information we shared with U.S. intelligence," a German intelligence source, who did not want to be identified, told Friday's Berliner Zeitung. "It's quite conspicuous that the Americans asked el-Masri about information they obtained from us."

So far, news reports have claimed Masri was abducted because he shares his name with a high-ranking al-Qaida member linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Masri, however, claims he was not asked about his alleged connection to the terror attacks on New York City and Washington -- his interrogators squeezed him mainly for knowledge of the Islamist scene of his Bavarian hometown Neu-Ulm, a city of 50,000.

The interrogators repeatedly asked about Masri's Neu-Ulm-based acquaintance Reda Seyam, whom the U.S. believes to be a radical Islamist, the newspaper reported. The German intelligence official told the daily he believes Masri's interrogators knew quite well whom they had in custody. He said German intelligence had material on Masri because he popped up in Seyam's environments from time to time. "But he was far too inconspicuous to become a real suspect," he said.

The list of who knew what in the affair over Masri's kidnapping seems to grow longer with each day. Already, former Interior Minister Otto Schily and acting Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have had to admit they knew of the case.

Opposition politicians have called for Steinmeier's head, but the left-right grand coalition of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has so far stood by him. Before becoming foreign affairs chief, Steinmeier had been chief-of-staff to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

As the political career of Schily, 73, is over, it won't have much of an effect on the former anti-terror chief, observers say.

Both politicians, however, will have to testify before a parliamentary commission in Germany that is dealing with the affair. The findings of the commission will stay classified.

But other findings likely won't.

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in the name of Masri against former CIA Director George Tenet and 10 "John Doe" CIA employees involved in his abduction to Afghanistan.

Masri's German lawyer, Manred Gnjidic, said Merkel's remarks from her meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice significantly improve his client's chances in the legal struggle in the United States.

"Mrs. Merkel's comment was one of the most important steps for us in the last months," Gnjidic told Spiegel Online. "They're the first step toward the truth."

Asked over the fate of Masri, Merkel on Tuesday in a news conference after a private meeting with Rice said:

"We talked about that particular case, which has been accepted by the U.S. government as a mistake."

Gnjidic is even considering calling Merkel to the witness stand.

"The chancellor will have to explain to us precisely what she meant when she said it was a mistake and how she came about saying that," he said. "Her remarks have increased the pressure on the U.S. government to finally tell the truth about CIA practices."

Merkel's comment caused considerable discomfort with a Rice aide, who afterward said he didn't know "what went through (Merkel's) head" when she said it.

A German government spokesman, however, since has said Merkel's comments remain "valid."

"The whole affair is unpleasant for the old and for the new German government," Karl-Heinz Kamp, security expert at the Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung, a political think tank with close ties to Merkel's conservatives, told United Press International in a telephone interview.

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