The Salt Pit (Oh no they didn’t! Oh yes they did!)

“I am not what I am”
-Iago ‘Othello’

“There is a prison in the more ancient part of the world, a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die. But sometimes a man rises from the darkness, sometimes the pit sends something back.”
– The Dark Knight

Khaled EL-Masri also known as Khalid EL-Masri or Khaled Masri (depending on which Levantine Arabic Pronunciation you prefer),was mistakenly abducted and handed over to the CIA.

And after much conjecture and deep seated reflection they kidnapped him, dressed him in a diaper and orange jumpsuit , flew him to Afghanistan and detained him for four months in a detention centre known as ‘The Salt Pit’.

Khaled EL-Masri was detained because his name sounded similar to that of Khalid AL-Masri an alleged mentor to an Al-Qaeda Terrorist Cell.

EL-Masri,AL-Masri? Yeah the names sound similar, but then I’m a lay person and not an experienced, multi-lingual, fluent Arabic speaking , world weary,culturally astute, CIA Operative.

Whilst ‘residing’ at the Salt Pit EL-Masri was sodomized,beaten, starved and repeatedly interrogated.

EL-Masri took part in a hunger strike, demanded that he be offered due process and succeeded in gaining a meeting with the head of the prison and a key CIA Officer.

All the CIA could think about was how to minimize their losses now that they had ascertained that he was not the man they were looking for. They were all for dumping him back in Macedonia and denying any claims he might make as to where he had been for the last four months; but they were not to be let off so easily…


Whilst the CIA was thinking about how to minimize the fall out from erroneous renditions,all EL-Masri could think about and indeed all he could do was memorize the telephone numbers of the families of the other men who were being held captive with him. The idea being to let those families know that these men were still alive.

EL-Masri was eventually released and with the help of a German prosecutor started the lengthy process of validating his claims against the U.S government ( the CIA after all, were in their care).

On the 13 December 2012 he was awarded compensation by the ECHR (his case was rejected by the American courts).

And here’s the punchline,how many more detainees have been mistakenly ‘rendered’ because they looked like or their names sounded like somebody else?

We now know about the Salt Pit AND Camp Bastion, we don’t yet know a great deal about the ‘Ghost Ships’ where prisoners have been held and have been tortured.

How easy would it be to disappear some one who had been erroneously detained in a body bag off the side of such a ship.

But they wouldn’t do that would they?

Erroneous Rendition- Whoops! Our Bad!


In the words of former CIA Director George J. Tenet ‘Extraordinary Renditions’,

“have shattered terrorist cells and networks, thwarted terrorist plans, and in some cases even prevented attacks from occurring”

But what happens when in ‘some’ cases’ you make a mistake? After all giving a former student a bad grade in an exam should hardly necessitate your being abducted and tortured should it? The CIA has created a novel term for these mistakes,‘Erroneous Rendition’ the abduction of innocent people based on faulty analysis.

So, if for example, a CIA translator, listening in on my telephone conversation, mistranslates the Arabic word for ‘tires’, and comes up with the word ‘air-planes’ instead, I’m likely to find myself rendered to the nearest available torture friendly state, without access to any judicial process whatsoever. Well, how about if I bear a passing resemblance to somebody on the CIA hit list? Khaled EL-Masri would know far better than most what the consequences of that would be.

The German citizen was treated so appallingly that the American Ambassador had to tip toe to the German Interior Minister and sheepishly admit they had made a mistake. He then had to ask him and his government not to press charges. His, is not the only case, the former CIA Inspector General (2002-2009), John L. Helgerson, found himself obliged to look into several other CIA renditions. These were mistakes which had been spotted by congressional investigators, and which they stated appeared to rest on ‘a bad legal footing’, the CIA response?

“[They] looked into them and conceded that, yes, the renditions had been based on faulty analysis, but the renditions would have been approved even if the correct analysis had been used”

On the 13 December 2012, Khaled El-Masri was awarded compensation by the European Court of Human Rights; who ruled that he had been tortured by the CIA ,as a result of his transfer into their hands by Macedonia.To conclude with the words of ‘Radiofreewill’

“The 800Ib elephant in this story is the ‘authority’ that made these renditions happen-so powerful that its decisions were beyond the reach of analysis, or due process.”