Condi Rice’s Torture Trip & Why Isn’t El-Masri Suing the US Government for $75 mil Instead of $75,000


Condoleeza Rice is having a tough time in Europe selling the line that the Bush administration doesn’t believe in torturing detainees — and would not “render” terror suspects to other countries for legal processing unless we were sure that they would not be tortured there either.
Yes, she’s been saying that — without coughing or choking — but much of Europe can’t quite gulp down what she’s offering.
From the New York Times:

Responding to pressure at home and abroad to set clearer standards for the interrogation of terrorist suspects, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the policy of the United States was not to allow its personnel, whether on American or foreign soil, to engage in cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners.
But her statement did little to clear up widespread confusion about where the administration draws the line or to dispel hints of an internal debate among President Bush’s inner circle on that topic. It was interpreted variously as a subtle but important shift in policy, a restatement of the administration’s long-held position or an artful dodge intended to retain flexibility in dealing with detainees while soothing public opinion in the United States and Europe.
Ms. Rice, traveling in Europe this week, has faced constant questions about the treatment of detainees, partly prompted by reports that the United States maintained secret detention facilities in European countries. On Tuesday, the issue surfaced in talks with the new German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
And in Washington, the administration is facing a strong push by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for legislation to bar inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees.
Speaking Wednesday in Kiev, Ukraine, Ms. Rice suggested that the prohibitions contained in an international convention against the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment were applied by the United States to American personnel working anywhere in the world.

Rice ‘finally’ confided to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the United States made a mistake in rendering an innocent man, a German citizen, Khaled El-Masri, to an Afghanistan prison for ‘questioning.’
El-Masri is now seeking damages of at least $75,000 in what is being called by some a landmark lawsuit against the U.S. government and the private transportation firms involved in his rendition.
But why a low bar of $75,000.00?
First, Khaled El-Masri was kidnapped by agents acting on behalf of the U.S. government while he was vacationing in Macedonia. Second, He is a German citizen of Lebanese descent, and we sent him neither to German authorities or to Lebanese authorities; we sent him to Afghanistan. Third, he languished in prison for two months AFTER George Tenet was informed that he was innocent. Fourth, the U.S. kept him on a security watch list after confirming his innocence and rejected his entry into the United States through Atlanta — only recently reversed by the Secretary of State herself days ago.
Sidney Blumenthal has a great piece on this very subject that was posted moments ago on Salon, titled similary “Condi’s Torture Tour.” I recommend reading the whole piece.
Whether one supports or opposes any form of rendition practices, when America gets something as systematically wrong as this, the government should have a “restitution program.” George Bush & Co. should be quickly offering this man at least a million dollars for the humiliation and scars from this episode — but the Bush administration repeatedly shows that it needs to be beaten up by peer pressure and public opinion to do the “right thing.”
When the British shoot an innocent man in the head on their subway system — as they did — and lie about the circumstances of his behavior and their surveillance, their should be publicly transparent restitution to that man’s family. When American authorities mistakenly shoot anyone in the name of broad national security objectives — and there was a misapplication of power and force, no matter what the circumstances — there should be restitution and an effort made to understand why that error occurred.
Frankly, when innocent Iraqis are killed by the tens of thousands in America’s so-called effort to liberate them, the only way to encourage military authorities to modify their tactics and stop killing innocents is to somehow acknowledge their deaths, to know their faces, and to offer restitution to those wrongly, mistakenly killed and injured.
And this man is seeking just $75,000.00? It should be $75 million.
— Steve Clemons
UPDATE: A loyal TWN reader, ACP, shared the following: “$75k is the minimum jurisdictional amount for a case brought in diversity in federal court so in the complaint you have to allege ‘at least $75,000.00’ in damages.”
This is a useful technical complement to the above post, but that said, a prominent journalist friend of mine from Egypt stated that winning just “one single dollar” in such a lawsuit would be historic and have significantly positive implications.

— Steve Clemons