ACLU Lawsuit Charges U.S. Officials Illegally Detained American Citizen

November 10, 2009 3:55 pm

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New Jersey Man Held for Four Months Overseas and Threatened With Torture and Disappearance

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit 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 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.

“It is simply unacceptable that an American citizen in desperate conditions overseas should be so deliberately and egregiously deprived of his constitutional rights by U.S. officials,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

Amir Meshal of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, 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 detained and 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.

“American citizens abroad who are seeking refuge from hostilities deserve the assistance of their government in getting home safely. It is inexcusable that U.S. officials instead threatened Mr. Meshal with torture, participated in detaining him in secret and inhumane conditions and denied him the chance to contest his detention or contact his family,” said Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

Following his arrest and detention in Kenya, Meshal was illegally rendered to Somalia and then to Ethiopia where he was imprisoned in secret for over three months. There, U.S. officials subjected him to harsh interrogations while denying him due process and access to a lawyer, his family or anyone else in the outside world.

“The harsh treatment and mental anguish this individual suffered should never be experienced by anyone, let alone an American citizen at the hands of his own government,” said Hafetz. “This violation of basic constitutional rights must be remedied.”

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 United States and is currently living in New Jersey.

Today’s complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against two agents of the FBI and two other U.S. government officials for their roles in subverting Meshal’s rights.

The attorneys on the case, Amir Meshal v. Higgenbotham et al, are Hafetz and Choudhury of the ACLU National Security Project, Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area and Hope R. Metcalf of the National Litigation Project of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

A copy of today’s lawsuit is available at:

More information on this case is available at:

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