American alleges torture in UAE detention

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 2, 2008 

WASHINGTON — A Muslim American contends that he was tortured and beaten into confessing to a terrorism-related charge while the security services of the United Arab Emirates held him for nearly three months, allegedly at the U.S. government's request, his brother said Tuesday.

Hossam Hemdan, of Los Angeles, said he received a predawn telephone call from his brother, Naji Hamdan, who he said detailed his treatment by the security services of Abu Dhabi, one of seven oil-rich UAE sheikdoms that have cooperated in the Bush administration's fight against Islamic extremism since 9/11.

"They released him after he gave up and signed whatever they gave him. He was willing to sign anything. Now they have put him into the criminal court system," Hemdan said during a telephone interview in which he insisted that his brother has no links to terrorism. "He is with criminals, like killers and drug dealers."

Hamdan, he said, couldn't give him specific of the criminal charge to which he confessed beyond it's being terrorism related.

Hamdan is the subject of a lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Washington in which the American Civil Liberties Union charged that the administration illegally asked the UAE security services to hold the 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen in order to circumvent his constitutional protection against illegal and unlimited detention.

The lawsuit, which named President Bush, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants, asked that the administration be ordered to demand Hamdan's release.

Jennie Pasquerella, an attorney with the ACLU's southern California office, said that U.S. District Judge James Robertson on Tuesday gave the government 30 days to respond to the ACLU's request.

Hamdan's detention in August followed several years of intense FBI scrutiny in the wake of 9/11 while he lived in Los Angeles. The FBI has acknowledged that the case involved counterterrorism but has denied asking the UAE to hold Hamdan. An FBI spokesman Tuesday declined to comment on the torture allegations.

The State Department and the UAE Embassy didn't respond to requests for comment.

Hemdan said his brother called him from prison in Abu Dhabi at 1:22 a.m. on Tuesday, and they spoke for more than six minutes before the line was cut.

"My brother has been tortured over there," said Hemdan, who owns two vehicle emissions testing centers in Los Angeles. "He was speaking (Arabic) with a Lebanese accent very quickly so that the Emiratis couldn't understand it. He was using Lebanese slang."

Hamdan told his brother that he was held and interrogated in "a very cold room" after UAE security officers learned his "weak spot" of being susceptible to cold. The room was constantly illuminated by very bright lights and "they didn't let him sleep," Hemdan said.

"They beat him very badly. They stood on his back and another person pulled his feet. They beat him on the bottoms of his feet," he continued. "He said he had a liver problem. They beat him on his liver on the right side (of his body)."

Hamdan told Hemdan that the treatment was "unimaginable" and that he'd lose consciousness.

"He asked me why is this happening to him? Why did they pick him up?" said Hemdan. "He's not a normal person anymore. He's lost. He's willing to be accused of anything they want."

Hemdan said he had to press his brother to provide details of his alleged treatment, recounting that he was afraid that "they will disappear him if he says more."

"I told him he had to tell me everything," Hemdan said. "I said we have to do the right thing and get this out. He said 'OK, you know the right thing to do.'"

"Naji was like someone falling from a height and holding onto a thread and begging for help," Hemdan said, adding that he tried contacting a lawyer in Abu Dhabi but was unable to reach one because of a national holiday.

Hamdan, a Sunni Muslim father of two, emigrated from Lebanon to Los Angeles in the early 1980s to attend college, worked as an airplane technician and then opened a used auto parts business. He also served on the board of an Islamic center in the city's Hawthorne district.

He moved in 2006 to Abu Dhabi, where he set up a used car business.

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