Archive for Gulet Mohamed

Mother Jones: American Muslim Alleges FBI Had a Hand in His Torture

Posted in Loon Violence, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2012 by loonwatch

FikreJustin Norman/Flickr

We are no longer shocked at crimes and excesses committed by those in authority, we have become complacent and either accept such things as a daily part of life, an aberration or even something praiseworthy.

Below we have another US Muslim alleging that the FBI had a hand in his torture:

MOTHER JONES EXCLUSIVE: Yonas Fikre believes the US government played a role in his hellish three-month detention in the United Arab Emirates.

By Nick Baumann

UPDATE: Fikre’s lawyers have written a letter to the Justice Department about his allegations and released a video of him talking about his ordeal.

Last June, while Yonas Fikre was visiting the United Arab Emirates, the Muslim American from Portland, Oregon was suddenly arrested and detained by Emirati security forces. For the next three months, Fikre claims, he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. Fikre says he was beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions while interrogators demanded he “cooperate” and barked questions that were eerily similar to those posed to him not long before by FBI agents and other American officials who had requested a meeting with him.

Fikre had been visiting family in Khartoum, Sudan, when, in April 2010, the officials got in touch with him. He agreed to meet with them, but ultimately balked at cooperating with FBI questioning without a lawyer present and he rebuffed a request to become an informant. Pressing him to cooperate, the agents told him he was on the no-fly list and could not return home unless he aided the bureau, Fikre says. The following week he received an email from one of the US officials; it arrived from a State Department address: “Thanks for meeting with us last week in Sudan. While we hope to get your side of the issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now.”

“When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question,” says his lawyer. “Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved.”

Fikre made his way to the UAE the following year, where, he and his lawyer allege, he was detained at the request of the US government. They say his treatment is part of a pattern of “proxy” detentions of US Muslims orchestrated by the the US government. Now, Fikre’s Portland-based lawyer, Thomas Nelson, plans to file suit against the Obama administration for its alleged complicity in Fikre’s torture.

“There was explicit cooperation; we certainly will allege that in the complaint,” says Nelson, a well known terrorism defense attorney. “When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question. Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved. Yonas understood this as indicating that the FBI continued to [want] him to work for/with them.” Nelson, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Council on American Islamic Relations are assembling a high-powered legal team to handle Fikre’s case in the United States.

Fikre’s story echoes those of Naji HamdanAmir MeshalSharif MobleyGulet Mohamed, and Yusuf and Yahya Wehelie. All are American Muslim men who, while traveling abroad, claim they were detained, interrogated, and (in some cases) abused by local security forces; the men claim they were arrested at the behest of federal law enforcement authorities, alleging the US government used this process to circumvent their legal rights as American citizens.

As Mother Jones reported in its September/October 2011 issue, the FBI has acknowledged that it tips off local security forces on the names of Americans traveling overseas that the bureau suspects of involvement in terrorism, and that these individuals are sometimes detained and questioned. The FBI also admits that its agents sometimes “interview or witness an interview” of Americans detained by foreign governments in terrorism cases. And as several FBI officials told me on condition of anonymity, the bureau has for years used its elite cadre of international agents (known as legal attachés, or legats) to coordinate the overseas detention and interrogation by foreign security services of American terrorism suspects. Sometimes, that entails cooperating with local security forces that are accustomed to abusing prisoners. (FBI officials have told Mother Jones that foreign security forces are asked to refrain from abusing American detainees.)

It’s difficult to confirm US involvement in the detentions of Fikre or other alleged proxy detainees—indeed, plausible deniability is part of the appeal of the program. But what’s clear is that Fikre was on the FBI’s radar well before his detention in the UAE. (The FBI declined to comment on his case, as did the State Department.) Fikre, whose only previous brush with the legal system came when he sued a restaurant for having ham in its clam chowder, may have drawn the FBI’s interest because of his association with Portland’s Masjed-as-Saber mosque, where he was a youth basketball coach.

The mosque has been a focus of FBI scrutiny ever since the October 2002 case of the “Portland Seven,” in which seven Muslims from the Portland area were charged with trying to go to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in the wake of 9/11. (Six are now in jail; the seventh was killed in Pakistan.) Masjed-as-Saber was in the news again in 2010 when Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19-year-old Somali American who sometimes worshipped there, was charged with trying to detonate a fake car bomb provided by an undercover FBI agent.

More recently, three other men who attended Fikre’s mosque—Mustafa ElogbiMichael Migliore, and Jamal Tarhuni—have found themselves on the no-fly list after traveling abroad. (The government’s use of the no-fly list to prevent American terrorist suspects from returning home after traveling overseas is currently the subject of a major ACLU lawsuit.)

Fikre’s case “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US,” says Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. ”It’s not a means of protecting America—it’s a tool the FBI uses to put people in vulnerable positions.”

It “really does make a mockery of the FBI’s use of watchlisting as a means of protecting the US.”

Fikre, who is currently living in Sweden and believes that it would be unsafe for him to return to the United States, has given a series of videotaped interviews detailing his ordeal. His presence in Sweden beyond the three-month window allowed for tourist visas suggests that he has applied for permanent status there, and local media have so far refrained from reporting on the story for fear of affecting his case to stay in the country.

In the interviews, Fikre describes a series of events that are similar to the 2008 case of Naji Hamdan, a Lebanese American auto-parts dealer from Los Angeles who was then living in the UAE. Like Hamdan, Fikre claims he was detained in the UAE, tortured (including with stress positions and beatings on the soles of his feet, so as to not show marks), and asked about his activities in the United States. Like Hamdan, Fikre believed a western interrogator was present in the room at some points during his detention, because when he could peek out under his blindfold (“after being kicked/punched and falling over,” Nelson says) he occasionally saw western slacks and shoes. “In those occasions there was a fair amount of whispering,” Nelson added.

The similarities between the two cases were so striking that Michael Kaufman and Laboni Hoq, lawyers who are representing Hamdan in his separate case against the government, initially thought that Fikre had simply parroted Hamdan’s story. But once they heard more, they decided “the backstory of why the government was interested in him was reasonable and something that didn’t sound fabricated,” Kaufman said. “It seemed like a long way to go for a lie,” Hoq added.

A key difference between Hamdan’s and Fikre’s stories is that Hamdan eventually confessed—under torture, he now emphasizes—to being a member of several terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda. He ultimately spent 11 months in UAE custody before being deported to Lebanon, where he now runs a children’s clothing store. Despite an extensive FBI investigation, he was never charged in the United States.

Fikre, his lawyer says, “never confessed to anything”—”thankfully.”

“The FBI does this stuff because they can get away with it,” Nelson says. “But the bureau has totally destroyed any relationship it had with the Muslim community in Portland.”

Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones’ DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here.

UPDATE, Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. EST: Fikre’s lawyers have released a video of him talking about his ordeal (they’ve also written a letter to the Justice Department). You can watch the video here:

Lawyer: FBI Illegally Interrogating Gulet Mohamed

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2011 by loonwatch

No counsel even if you ask for one. Is this what it has come to and wasn’t this supposed end with the demise of the Bush era?

Lawyer: FBI Illegally Interrogating Gulet Mohamed

(Mother Jones)

FBI agents are taking advantage of an American teenager’s detention in Kuwait to illegally harass and interrogate him without counsel, the teen’s lawyer said Wednesday. Gulet Mohamed, a Somali-born American Muslim, says he was tortured and interrogated after he was detained by Kuwaiti security officials last month. He claims that Kuwaiti interrogators asked him questions about his travels, his past, and his family that he and his lawyer believe were fed to the Kuwaitis by US officials. Kuwait now reportedly wants Mohamed deported, but he’s been added to the no-fly list. Meanwhile, FBI interrogators are continuing to interrogate him in detention and ignoring his requests to have an attorney present, his lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, says.

FBI agents’ most recent visit to Mohamed began around 10:00 a.m Kuwaiti time Wednesday, Abbas told Mother Jones. Agents, he said, questioned Mohamed for several hours, and Mohamed’s uncle (who lives in Kuwait) and brother (who traveled there after Mohamed was detained) were present for part of the time. Mohamed repeatedly told the agents that he did not want to answer questions about his travels to Somalia and Yemen without his lawyer present, according to Abbas. (Mohamed, his family, and his lawyer say the teen was visiting family and learning about the heritage of his father, whom he never knew.)

Cathy Wright, an FBI spokeswoman, said she “cannot at this point verify that a meeting took place today or an interview took place today.”

Mohamed has made similar requests for counsel during previous FBI visits, Abbas said. US law and constitutional precedent generally require that interrogations cease once a suspect asks for his lawyer. The FBI has countered that under Kuwaiti law Mohamed doesn’t have the right to counsel while being interrogated, according to Abbas. That seems to be an agency line: after I called the bureau for comment on Abbas’ allegations, Wright urged me to ask the Kuwaitis about Mohamed’s right to counsel. After I noted that US law is generally understood to restrain FBI agents (even in foreign countries) from interrogating an American after he has asked for a lawyer, Wright acknowledged that the FBI is “subject to the rules of the FBI and the rules of the [Department of Justice] for criminal prosecution,” but added that the agency didn’t “want to be perceived as commenting on [Kuwaiti] rules or laws.”

At one point during Wednesday’s interrogation, Abbas said, the FBI agents performing the interrogation stood up and started shouting and physically crowding Mohamed. They also reached for his pockets—a move that Mohamed’s brother and uncle believe was an attempt to confiscate the cell phone Mohamed has been using to communicate with the press and his lawyer. At that point, Abbas says, “a Kuwaiti official came into the room and directed the FBI agents to sit down and calm down and told them not to treat Gulet like that.”

“In the absurd world that is represented in this case, Gulet’s torturers are intervening to protect Gulet from his own government,” Abbas said. “Not only is the FBI’s behavior grossly immoral and insensitive to the plight that Gulet Mohamed has endured and is currently facing, but the FBI’s opportunistic actions to leverage Gulet’s dire situation to pepper him with senseless questioning is illegal.”

[UPDATE: Late Wednesday, Abbas sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining his allegations and asking Holder to launch “an immediate investigation into the conduct of the FBI agents involved.” More on that here.]

Mohamed, his lawyer said, is a victim of “proxy detention,” where the US government asks a friendly foreign country to do the dirty work of harshly interrogating an American citizen it suspects of terrorism. Last Friday, in the wake of stories about Mohamed in theNew York Times, the Washington Post, and other major news outlets, the Obama administration finally commented on the story, via a State Department spokesman who denied that Mohamed had been detained “at the behest of the United States government” and promised that the teenager was being offered consular services.

Almost a week later, Mohamed remains in detention. He’s still on a no-fly list, and the White House won’t return calls asking for comment about his situation. It’s possible that the US government believes Mohamed is a terrorist. He recently traveled to Somalia and Yemen, two countries known for harboring Islamic extremists. The questions he says he was asked by Kuwaiti and FBI interrogators suggest that he may have been under surveillance while he was in the US. But being able to return to the United States and facing charges (if there are any) with the assistance of a lawyer are fundamental constitutional rights—rights that Mohamed is currently being denied. So what’s the reason the US claims it can’t help him? They’re desperate to protect his privacy, according to the State Department.

Agency public affairs officers have said that they cannot release information about Mohamed or reveal any suspicions the government might have about him because he has not signed a Privacy Act waiver. According to Abbas, Mohamed only recalls signing a document offered to him by US officials in late December, shortly before his family and Abbas became aware that Mohamed was being detained. The document was presented as a contact form, Abbas said. “They said you’re going to be leaving in 72 hours and we want to know who to contact, so Gulet listed his mother, his brother, and his sister,” and signed the form, not realizing that it would prevent the government from providing information about him to anyone else. Mohamed didn’t recall checking any of the yes/no boxes on a second page of the form (PDF), according to Abbas. On a privacy act waiver, those boxes determine whether or not it’s okay to contact the media, Congress, someone’s employer, and so on.

Mohamed is not the first American to be subjected to “proxy detention.” Last July, 26-year-old Yahya Wehelie, another American of Somali descent who traveled to Yemen, was finally allowed to return to the US after two months stranded abroad. He only received a no-fly list waiver to return after he had “spoken with the FBI 10 times and submitted to a polygraph test,” according to the Washington Post. Like Mohamed, Wehelie says he was visiting Yemen to learn Arabic (he was also hoping to find a bride, according to the Post). Like Mohamed, Wehelie says he was beaten while in the custody of a foreign government (Egypt, in his case) and asked questions that closely mirrored those later asked by the FBI. And like Mohamed, Wehelie has not been charged with a crime.

Human Rights First’s Daphne Eviatar has a good rundown of other people who have been subjected to “proxy detention,” which she calls “the Obama administration’s extraordinary rendition-lite.”

Nick Baumann covers national politics and civil liberties issues for Mother Jones’ DC Bureau. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on twitter. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. Get Nick Baumann’s RSS feed.

 

U.S. teenager tortured in Kuwait and barred re-entry into the U.S.

Posted in Anti-Loons, Feature, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2011 by loonwatch

A Somali-born US citizen was tortured in Kuwait. Glenn Greenwald interviewed him through telephone, what he found out was quite disturbing. You can hear the whole interview by clicking on this link.

U.S. teenager tortured in Kuwait and barred re-entry into the U.S.

(Salon.com)

(updated below)

Gulet Mohamed is an 18-year-old American citizen whose family is Somalian.  His parents moved with him to the U.S. when he was 2 or 3 years old, and he has lived in the U.S. ever since.  In March, 2009, he went to study Arabic and Islam in Yemen (in Sana’a, the nation’s capital), and, after several weeks, left (at his mother’s urging) and went to visit his mother’s family in Somalia, staying with his uncle there for several months.  Roughly one year ago, he left Somalia and traveled to Kuwait to stay with other family members who live there.  Like many teenagers who reach early adulthood, he was motivated in his travels by a desire to see the world, to study, and to get to know his family’s ancestral homeland and his faraway relatives.

At all times, Mohamed traveled on an American passport and had valid visas for all the countries he visited.  He has never been arrested nor — until two weeks ago — was he ever involved with law enforcement in any way, including the entire time he lived in the U.S.

Approximately two weeks ago (on December 20), Mohamed went to the airport in Kuwait to have his visa renewed, as he had done every three months without incident for the last year.  This time, however, he was told by the visa officer that his name had been marked in the computer, and after waiting five hours, he was taken into a room and interrogated by officials who refused to identify themselves.  They then handcuffed and blindfolded him and drove him to some other locale.  That was the start of a two-week-long, still ongoing nightmare during which he was imprisoned for a week in an unknown location by unknown captors, relentlessly interrogated, and severely beaten and threatened with even worse forms of torture.

Mohamed’s story was first reported this morning by Mark Mazzetti in The New York Times, who spoke with Mohamed by telephone, where he is currently being held in a deportation center in Kuwait.  I also spoke with Mohamed this morning, and my 50-minute conversation with him was recorded and can be heard on the recorder below.  Mazzetti did a good job of describing Mohamed’s version of events.  He writes that during his 90-minute conversation, “Mr. Mohamed was agitated as he recounted his captivity, tripping over his words and breaking into tears.”

That was very much my experience as well.  It may be difficult at times to understand all of what Mohamed recounts because he is emotionally distraught in the extreme, but it’s nonetheless very worth listening to what he has to say, at the very least to portions of it.  Mohamed says he was repeatedly beaten with a stick on the bottom of his feet and his palms, hit in the face, and hung from the ceiling.  He also says his captors threatened him with both the arrest of his mother and electric shock, and told him that he should forget his family.

He still does not know why he was detained and beaten, nor does he know what is happening to him now.  Indeed, although Mazzetti writes that he was detained and beaten by Kuwait captors, Mohamed actually has no idea who was responsible, and told me that at least some of the people interrogating him spoke English.  He has been told that he will be deported back to the U.S., but is now on a no-fly list and has no idea when he will be released.  American officials told Mazzetti that “Mr. Mohamed is on a no-fly list and, for now at least, cannot return to the United States.”  He’s been charged with no crime and presented with no evidence of any wrongdoing.

This event is significant for multiple reasons, many of them obvious.  The questions Mohamed was repeatedly asked — including two days ago by American embassy officials and FBI agents who visited him in the detention facility — focused on whether he knew Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric in Yemen who has become an obsession of the Obama administration, as well as why he went to Yemen and Somalia.  Kuwait is little more than a subservient American protectorate, and the idea that they would do this to an American citizen without the American government’s knowledge, if not its assent and participation, is implausible in the extreme.  That much of the information they sought from Mohamed is of particular interest to the U.S. Government only bolsters that likelihood.

Independent of all that, the U.S. Government has an obligation to protect its own citizens.  Mohamed described to me how both embassy officials and the FBI expressed zero interest in the torture to which he had been subjected during his detention.  The U.S. Government has said nothing about this matter, and refused to comment about Mohamed’s treatment to The New York Times.

All of this underscores the rapidly expanding powers the U.S. Government and law enforcement agents within the country are seizing without a shred of due process.  For the government to put an American citizen on the no-fly list while he’s traveling outside the U.S. is tantamount to barring him from entering his own country — a draconian punishment, involuntary exile, meted out without any due process.  In June, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of several citizens and legal residents who — like Gulet Mohammed — have been literally stranded abroad and barred from returning with no hearing, simply by being placed secretly on the no-fly list.  Add to that the growing seizures of the laptops and other electronic equipment of American citizens re-entering the country without any warrants — or even yesterday’s ruling from the California Supreme Court that police officers can search and seize someone’s cell phone without a warrant when arresting them — and (even leaving aside the administration’s ongoing due-process-free prison camps and assassination programs) these are pure police state tactics.

The Bush-era torture scandal was as much about its use of torture-administering allies as it was the torture regime which the U.S. itself created.  In the face of these credible allegations — just listen to this American teenager talk and assess how credible he is — the Obama administration, at the very least, has the obligation to inform the public about whether this is true, what its role was, if any, and what it’s doing to investigate and protest this abuse of its own citizen.

My discussion with Mohamed can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below.  I’m posting it in its entirety without edits, except for the last minute or so where we discussed how we came to speak, information I’m withholding at his request:

http://images.salon.com/flash/audio_player_mp3.swf

UPDATE:  Mohamed’s family has now secured a lawyer for him, Gadeir Abbas of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who has written a letter to the DOJ raising all the right questions and demanding all the right assistance.  Nobody should have to ask the government to provide this form of assistance to an American citizen under these circumstances.