World

A US Citizen Tortured Abroad by the FBI? -- 5 Cases of Extreme US Govt. Inhumanity in the Obama Era

The U.S. has partnered with unsavory allies abroad to torture people accused of terrorism.

Guantanamo Prison Flight
Photo Credit: Publik15/Flickr

President Obama’s 2009 promise to ban abusive interrogations has fallen far short, with torture by proxy forces a frequent tool wielded in the never-ending “war on terror.” The Obama administration has also continued efforts to make sure nobody is held accountable for torture.

The latest reminder of the administration’s policies on interrogation abuse came last week, when a federal court accepted the Obama Justice Department’s arguments that a case against the Federal Bureau of Investigation should be dismissed. The  U.S. District Court first heard the case of Amir Meshal, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen who says he was abused by FBI agents working in African countries, in 2009.  

Meshal had fled from Somalia in late 2006 to flee growing unrest in that country, and crossed the border into Kenya by boat.  He was eventually apprehended by a U.S.-Kenyan-Ethiopian law enforcement task force. He was secretly rendered from Kenya back to Somalia and to Ethiopia.  In total, he was detained for over three months.

Meshal’s lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union say he was tortured because FBI agents threatened him “with forced disappearance and the infliction of severe physical and mental pain and suffering ... in order to coerce him into confessing to things that he had not done.”  The FBI wanted Meshal to confess to being affiliated with Al Qaeda.

While Meshal’s alleged abuse took place while the Bush administration was in power, it was the Obama administration that defended the FBI during the court case.  And Meshal’s case highlights how the Obama administration has partnered with unsavory allies abroad to detain and torture people accused--often with little evidence--of having links to terrorism.  

Here are 4 more cases of torture in the Obama era--including the cases of American citizens.

1. Yonas Fikre. In 2011, Yonas Fikre was detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), interrogated and allegedly tortured, as Mother Jones’ investigative reporter Nick Baumann first revealed.  Fikre is a Muslim-American from Oregon.  

Fikre’s ordeal began in 2010, while he was in Sudan. He was contacted by FBI agents who wanted him to become an informant for them.  Fikre refused.  A few months later, he was detained while in the UAE. Baumann reports that Fikre says he was “beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions.”  UAE security forces and the FBI agents who spoken to him in Sudan asked him similar questions, and Fikre says he thinks he saw a Westerner in the interrogation room with him.  The UAE is a strong U.S. ally.

2. Raymond Azar: The case of a Lebanese contractor working in Afghanistan, first exposed by lawyer and writer Scott Horton, represented the first rendition of the Obama era.  In September 2009, Horton wrote in the Huffington Post that Azar, working for a Lebanese contractor that did work for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, was seized by at least eight armed FBI agents.  

The case is unique in that Azar was accused of fraud--not terrorism.  Nonetheless, Azar alleges he was hooded, stripped naked and was forced to undergo a cavity search. Agents took him to Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where Azar was shackled to a chair for hours and not allowed to sleep for over a day. Eventually, Azar was taken on a plane, where he confessed to contract fraud charges, and was charged in the U.S.

3. Gulet Mohamed: In early 2011, the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reported that an American citizen had been detained in Kuwait and reportedly abused. Mohamed had traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, and then moved on to Somalia and eventually to the Gulf nation of Kuwait, a key U.S. ally.  

He was picked up by Kuwaiti security forces and told the Times that he was “beaten with sticks, forced to stand for hours, [and] threatened with electric shocks.” The agents asked him detailed information about his family, based on what Mohamed said was American intelligence sharing. The focus of their questioning was on Yemen and whether Mohamed had made contact with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which he denied.

While in detention, FBI agents questioned him and asked him about Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American who was a member of AQAP and was later killed in a U.S. drone strike.  Mohamed’s lawsuit against the U.S. government for placing him on a no-fly list is ongoing.

4. Guantanamo Bay: Under the Obama administration, “black sites”--including one at Guantanamo--where CIA agents tortured people are barred. But there is still torture going on at Guantanamo. It takes the form of force-feeding.

To crack down on hunger strikes by Gitmo detainees protesting their indefinite detention, the U.S. military force feeds prisoners.  They strap a detainee down in a chair.  The military shoves a feeding tube down a prisoner’s nose, and pumps liquid into his body.  Last April, as a mass hunger strike attracted growing attention, the New York Times printed Gitmo detainee Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel’s description of the process: “I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before.”

In May 2013, a UN official called force-feeding torture. International organizations like World Medical Association hold that force-feeding violates the ban on cruel, human and degrading treatment under international law.  

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.