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U.S. Complicit in American’s Detention and Torture in the U.A.E.

Ahilan Arulanantham,
Senior Counsel,
ACLU of Southern California
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December 12, 2008

More than three months ago, a U.S. citizen named Naji Hamdan was arrested by the State Security forces of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). He was detained without charges or access to a lawyer until the ACLU filed a lawsuit on his behalf. He has since been released into criminal custody in the U.A.E., and reports that he was severely tortured while in detention, apparently in the presence of American officials. Throughout, the U.S. government claimed to know nothing about why he was detained.A few weeks before his arrest, FBI agents from Los Angeles flew to the U.A.E. and interrogated Mr. Hamdan at the Embassy for several hours. This interrogation and the subsequent arrest were only the latest episodes in a two-year period during which the FBI intensively surveilled Mr. Hamdan.Mr. Hamdan’s description of the torture and interrogation he endured strongly suggests that American agents have been involved. Although his captors blindfolded him, his interrogators spoke native English with an American accent and were not fluent in Arabic. In addition, the agents interrogated Mr. Hamdan on topics about which only federal agents could have knowledge, such as a meeting he had with FBI agents at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi. His interrogators also asked him in extreme detail about his life and activities when he lived in the United States.After his transfer into criminal custody, Hamdan told both his family and the U.S. consular officer who visited him that he had been severely tortured: repeatedly beaten on his head, kicked on his sides, stripped and held in a freezing cold room, put in an electric chair and made to believe that he would be electrocuted, and held down in a stress position while his captors beat the bottoms of his feet with a large stick. During this horrific process he said whatever the agents wanted him to say, and those statements may now be used against him in a criminal trial in the U.A.E.We believe that Mr. Hamdan is the latest victim of the U.S. government’s practice of asking foreign governments to detain terrorism suspects whom the federal government cannot itself detain and interrogate under U.S. law — a practice known as “proxy detention.” By asking other countries to detain on our behalf, the U.S. government apparently believes it can avoid the constraints of the U.S. Constitution, allowing federal agents to interrogate individuals held in secret, incommunicado detention, without charge or access to a lawyer, and subject to torture. The countries we partner with, like the U.A.E., typically have poor human rights records and weak protections against prolonged arbitrary detention. Although our government has revealed very little about the proxy detention program, it has been documented by groups such as the NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.In a perverse way, the government’s proxy detention program represents a logical response to the Supreme Court’s rulings in the Guantanamo cases. The Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the government’s attempt to create a law-free zone at Guantanamo, ruling most recently in Boumediene v. Bush that people in U.S. custody must be able to go to court to challenge their detention. In Naji Hamdan’s case, the Bush administration appears to have sidestepped the court by asking a foreign government to detain on its behalf.The ironic twist in this case is that Naji Hamdan was more than willing to talk to FBI agents. He voluntarily submitted to their interrogation several times over the last few years, including meeting them at the U.S. Embassy in the U.A.E. just a few weeks before his arrest. Apparently these conversations revealed no evidence sufficient to allow the FBI to charge him. But instead of accepting that they had made a mistake – as the government has done far too often in terrorism cases over the last several years – they appear to have asked the U.A.E.’s security forces to imprison him so that they could interrogate him free of the constraints of U.S. law. In doing so, American officials would have known that the U.A.E. State Security forces regularly torture those whom they detain. (Amnesty on the U.A.E.’s torture record is here.)Our country owes better to its own citizens. The ACLU’s habeas petition asks the government to correct its error by seeking Naji Hamdan’s release. In addition, we ask the court to order the government to reveal the nature of its involvement in his detention. I hope the courts will step in to correct this grave injustice. Obviously if Hamdan has done something wrong, he should be charged with a crime. But the basis for those charges cannot be statements obtained under torture. If there is no evidence against him, he should be released. Our government owes him nothing less.

TAKE ACTION! Urge Congress and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to urgently intervene to bring Mr. Hamdan home to the United States, and to ensure that he is not prosecuted in the U.A.E. using evidence obtained through torture.

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