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# Holiday in Afghanistan
On December 31, 2003, a Kuwaiti-born German citizen named Khaled
El-Masri stepped on a bus in his hometown of Ülm, Germany on his way
to a holiday in Skopje, Macedonia. In order to get from Southern
Germany to Macedonia, El-Masri needed to cross a number of
international borders. According to later testimony [@el-masri:2005],
he did so without incident, until the very last border; that which
divided Serbia from Macedonia. There, Macedonian border guards pulled
him off the bus for questioning about his alleged connections to
Islamic militants. For his family and friends in Ülm, El-Masri then
simply disappeared.
Apparently unconvinced by El-Masri's protestations of innocence, the
guards confiscated his passport and sent him on to a hotel in Skopje,
where he was held in detention for the next few weeks. As he recounted
the story:
> I was guarded at all times, the curtains were always drawn, I was
never permitted to leave the room, I was threatened with guns, and
I was not allowed to contact anyone. At the hotel, I was repeatedly
questioned about my activities in Ulm, my associates, my mosque,
meetings with people that had never occurred, or associations with
people I had never met. I answered all of their questions
truthfully, emphatically denying their accusations. After 13 days I
went on a hunger strike to protest my confinement [@el-masri:2005].
What happened next, according to El-Masri, conjures up images of a
Kafkan nightmare. Macedonian guards handcuffed and blindfolded him and
placed him in a car, explaining he was on his way back to Germany.
In fact, however, his final destination was half-way around the
world, and the journey there a harrowing one. As El-Masri
describes:
> The car eventually stopped and I heard airplanes. I was taken from
the car, and led to a building where I was severely beaten by
people's fists and what felt like a thick stick.... I was dragged
across the floor and my blindfold was removed. I saw seven or eight
men dressed in black and wearing black ski masks. One of the men
placed me in a diaper and a track suit. I was put in a belt with
chains that attached to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs were placed
over my ears, eye pads over my eyes, and then I was blindfolded and
hooded. After being marched to a plane, I was thrown to the floor
face down and my legs and arms were spread-eagled and secured to
the sides of the plane. I felt two injections, and I was rendered
nearly unconscious. At some point, I felt the plane land and take
off again. When it landed again, I was unchained and taken off the
plane. It felt very warm outside, and so I knew I had not been
returned to Germany. I learned later that I was in
Afghanistan [@el-masri:2005].
Khalid El-Masri's is but one of many similar stories of the human
consequences of one of the novel tactics the Bush Administration used
to conduct its _War on Terror_. In the first lawsuit of its kind
[@elmasri-v-tenet:2006], El-Masri claimed he was an innocent victim
of a practice known as “extraordinary rendition.” Extraordinary
rendition is a tactic the CIA used to circumvent both domestic and
international human rights laws by transporting suspects to those
jurisdictional purgatories on the edges of the global human rights
regime. The practice ties together a variety of jurisdictional nodes
and material locations into an uneven terrain of legal-political space
that exists both outside the purview of United States sovereign
jurisdiction, and within ambiguous gaps between international and
domestic law. In El-Masri’s case, his destination was Afghanistan
during a time of ambiguous sovereignty; according to his complaint,
one interrogator told him that he “was in a country with no laws”
[@el-masri:2005].
Beyond legal-geographic transformations, extraordinary rendition has
also been contingent on a variety of other spatial
transformations. First, in the name of justice, the creation of new
practical and imaginative political-geographies of a _War on Terror_
simultaneously fetishized a domestic homeland territory and opened up
expansive spaces of impunity around the globe. Second, the very
geography of El-Masri's rendition was materialized in the
reconfiguration and repurposing of everyday spaces such as civilian
airports and hotels into state-controlled spaces of violence. Finally,
these spaces, while ultimately exploited to hide practices of
rendition and detention, ironically left their own unique traces,
which activists, investigative reporters, and lawyers ultimately used
to make them visible.
Extraordinary rendition is a profoundly geographical innovation in the
practice and the political-economy of statecraft after 9/11. In this
paper, I explore the implications of such new geopolitical strategies
to the intersections of rights, space, and sovereignty, and with it
the challenges of democracy in a post-9/11 imperial order. If Don
Mitchell [-@mitchell:1997:annihilation] argued in a different context
that anti-homeless legislation served to “annihilate space by law”, my
argument is quite the opposite: that the Bush Administration used
tactics such as extraordinary rendition to annihilate law by space. I
present this argument in three major sections. I first present a
conceptual discussion of the connections among legal rights,
sovereignty, and space. I then move on to examine the development of
extraordinary rendition in larger historical-geographical
context. Finally, I examine how Bush Administration lawyers framed
these developments using a very particular argument about
legal-territorial logic.