ACLU Appears in Court on Behalf of American Citizen Illegally Detained And Mistreated By U.S. Officials
New Jersey Man Held For Four Months Overseas And Threatened With Torture And Disappearance
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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union will appear in court today on behalf of a New Jersey man who was illegally detained and mistreated by U.S. officials in Kenya and Ethiopia. After fleeing hostilities in Somalia in 2006, Amir Meshal of Tinton Falls, New Jersey was arrested, secretly imprisoned in inhumane conditions and subjected to harsh interrogations by U.S. officials over 30 times in three different countries before ultimately being released four months later without charge.
“The U.S. government cannot hold an American citizen in secret detention in foreign countries without access to courts, counsel or his family. The government cannot lawfully accomplish through proxies what it would be prohibited from doing itself,” said Nusrat J. Choudhury, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, who argued on behalf of Meshal in court.
Meshal was studying Islam in Mogadishu, Somalia in December 2006 when hostilities broke out. With the airport disabled by bombing, Meshal fled to neighboring Kenya, where he wandered in the forest for three weeks seeking shelter and assistance before being arrested. Following his arrest, he was repeatedly interrogated by U.S. officials who threatened to harm him, denied him access to counsel and accused him of receiving training from al-Qaeda, which Meshal denied. He was then illegally rendered to Somalia and then to Ethiopia where he was secretly imprisoned in filthy conditions with inadequate access to food, water and toilets for over three months, and again subjected to harsh interrogations by U.S. officials.
“Any American citizen caught in a hostile situation abroad would expect that his government would provide him assistance,” said Jonathan Hafetz, cooperating attorney with the ACLU who also argued on Meshal’s behalf.
During his detention, Meshal was kept in filthy, crowded conditions in cells infested with cockroaches and given inadequate access to food, water and toilets. While in Kenya, the Americans who interrogated him repeatedly threatened him with torture. The interrogators warned Meshal that he could be sent to Somalia or Egypt, where the Egyptians “had ways of making him talk,” if he refused to answer questions or agree to the interrogators' allegations. Meshal was also threatened with being sent to Israel, where, the interrogators said, the Israelis would “make him disappear.”
At least one consular affairs official from the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi met with Meshal and was aware of his detention but later claimed he lost contact with Meshal following his rendition to Ethiopia. Meshal was finally released in May 2007 with no additional explanation. After nearly four months of being illegally detained in deplorable conditions and harshly and coercively interrogated, he returned to the U.S. and is currently living in New Jersey.
The attorneys on the case, Amir Meshal v. Higgenbotham et al., are Choudhury, Hafetz and Ben Wizner of the ACLU National Security Project and Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.
More information on this case is available at: www.aclu.org/national-security/meshal-v-higgenbotham