A new report claims the CIA and FBI operate secret prisons in Ethiopia to interrogate terror suspects. According to the Associated Press, which worked with Human Rights Watch in the investigation, the US has interrogated hundreds of suspects from over a dozen countries in Ethiopian detention facilities—partially because of the lax standards on torture.
The report claims that suspects, including women and children, are held without charge or access to legal representation. They are reportedly flown in from Kenya and Somalia. While the US says it does not use illegal methods to interrogate prisoners, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko does confirm that suspects have been questioned in Ethiopia—although he denies they were in US custody. Ethiopian officials deny any such prisons, which are reportedly in three cities: Addis Ababa, Debre Zeit and Kebre Dehar. Bereket Simon, special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says, “No such kind of secret prisons exist in Ethiopia.” (ANH, April 3)
The April 3 story on ABC quotes one former detainee in the Ethiopian gulag:
“It was a nightmare from start to finish,” Kamilya Mohammedi Tuweni, a 42-year-old mother of three who has a passport from the United Arab Emirates, told AP in her first comments after her release in Addis Ababa on March 24 from what she said was 2 1/2 months in detention without charge.
She is the only released prisoner who has spoken publicly. She was freed a month after being interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by a U.S. agent, she said. Tuweni, an Arabic-Swahili translator, said she was arrested while on a business trip to Kenya and had never been to Somalia or had any links to that country.
She said she was arrested Jan. 10. Tuweni said she was beaten in Kenya, then forced to sleep on a stone floor while held in Somalia in a single room with 22 other women and children for 10 days before being flown to Ethiopia on a military plane.
Finally, she said, she was taken blindfolded from prison to a private villa in the Ethiopian capital. There, she said, she was interrogated with other women by a male U.S. intelligence agent. He assured her that she would not be harmed but urged her to cooperate, she said.
In a telephone conversation with AP, Tuweni said the man identified himself as a U.S. official, but not from the FBI. A CIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the agency had no contact with Tuweni.
“We cried the whole time because we did not know what would happen. The whole thing was very scary,” said Tuweni, who flew back to her family in Dubai a day after her release.
Tuweni’s version of her transfer out of Kenya is corroborated by the manifest of the African Express Airways flight 5Y AXF. It shows she was taken to Mogadishu, Somalia, with 31 other people on an unscheduled flight chartered by the Kenyan government.
Another detainee was a young girl from Sweden:
The family of a Swedish detainee, 17-year-old Safia Benaouda, said she was freed from Ethiopia on March 27 and arrived home the following day. Benaouda had traveled to Somalia with her fiance but fled to Kenya during the Ethiopian military intervention, her mother said.
“She is exhausted, her face is yellow and she’s lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds),” her mother, Helena Benaouda, a 47-year-old Muslim convert who heads the Swedish Muslim Council, wrote on a Web site she set up to help secure her daughter’s release [Release My Child]. “She was beaten with a stick when she demanded to go to the toilet.”
And at least one US citizen appears to have been “renditioned” to Ethiopia:
The transfer from Kenya to Somalia, and eventually to Ethiopia, of a 24-year-old U.S. citizen, Amir Mohamed Meshal, raised disquiet among FBI officers and the State Department. He is the only American known to be among the detainees in Ethiopia.
U.S. diplomats on Feb. 27 formally protested to Kenyan authorities about Meshal’s transfer and then spent three weeks trying to gain access to him in Ethiopia, said Tom Casey, deputy spokesman for the State Department.
He confirmed Meshal was still in Ethiopian custody pending a hearing on his status.
An FBI memo read to AP by a U.S. official in Washington, who insisted on anonymity, quoted an agent who interrogated Meshal as saying the agent was “disgusted” by Meshal’s deportation to Somalia by Kenya. The unidentified agent said he was told by U.S. consular staff that the deportation was illegal.
“My personal opinion was that he may have been a jihadi a-hole, but the precedent of ‘deporting’ U.S. citizens to dangerous situations when there is no reason to do so was a bad one,” the official quoted the memo as saying.
Like Benaouda, Meshal was arrested fleeing Somalia. A Kenyan police report of Meshal’s arrest obtained by AP says he was carrying an assault rifle and had crossed into Kenyan with armed Arab men who were trying to avoid capture.
Meshal’s parents insist he is innocent and called on the U.S. government to win his release.
“My son’s only crime is that he’s a Muslim, an American Muslim,” his father, Mohamed Meshal, said from the family’s two-story home on a cul-de-sac in Tinton Falls, N.J., where he lives with his wife, Fifi.
“Clearly the U.S. government interrogated him, and threatened him with torture according to the accounts that we’ve seen,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law who has been assisting the family.
Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday to demand Meshal’s immediate release. “Our government cannot allow an American citizen to continue to be held by the Ethiopian government in violation of international law and our own due process,” he said.