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Muslim detained by CIA granted U.S. visa

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

A German Muslim whose detention and torture by the CIA prompted an apology from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be granted a visa to come to the United States, although he might still be refused entry.

"Khaled el-Masri was found inadmissible to the United States on the basis of ... terrorist activities, and issued a visa on the basis of a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security," a State Department official told United Press International.

The official declined to comment further, saying that the details of visa decisions were confidential.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke also declined to comment on the case.

Under U.S. law, a visa does not give a foreigner the right to enter the United States -- something that is granted at the port of entry by inspectors working for the Department of Homeland Security.

"He could still be turned away" if he was on the U.S. watch list of known or suspected terrorists, said one official.

Mr. el-Masri, a German citizen of Egyptian origin, said in a lawsuit last year that he was stopped at the Macedonian border in December 2003 while on vacation, and handed over to U.S. officials, who beat and drugged him, and took him to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was detained without charge and subjected to "coercive interrogation" for five months.

His case has become a lightning rod for European criticism of the United States over secret CIA prisons and other practices, including secret imprisonment of terror suspects without trial.

Mr. el-Masri has always denied any link to terrorism, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last year that Miss Rice had apologized for what she called "a mistake."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing Mr. el-Masri in his lawsuit, welcomed the news that he would be granted a visa.

"You would hope that after wrongfully detaining this man, torturing him, and then dumping him in Albania, they would have decency to let him come into the country to meet his lawyers," said ACLU attorney Anne Beeson.

But when Mr. el-Masri sought to enter the United States last December under the visa waiver available for German visitors, he was denied entry.

His lawyers said that he was met by homeland security officials and taken to an interview room for what is called secondary immigration screening.

After explaining the purpose of his trip, Mr. el-Masri "quite rightly refused to cooperate with authorities ... until his U.S. lawyer was present," ACLU lawyer Steven Watt told UPI.

He was told he was inadmissible under the visa waiver program, but could apply for a visa.

Two federal officials confirmed at the time that Mr. el-Masri's name was on the secret U.S. watch list of known or suspected terrorists, the Terrorist Screening Database.

One of them told UPI that there was a high-level dispute last year between the State Department and another agency, which had originally "nominated" Mr. el-Masri to the list.

"State wanted him taken off," said the official, adding that the dispute had risen to what he called "a high level" within the agencies involved.