Politics & Government

N.J. man alleges FBI torture threat in Kenyan jail

WASHINGTON — An American Muslim who was captured while fleeing Somalia in 2007 accused two FBI agents and two other U.S. officials Tuesday of illegally interrogating him and threatening torture while he was allegedly held at U.S. behest in Kenyan and Ethiopian jails.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Amir Meshal of Tinton Falls, N.J., the American Civil Liberties Union alleged that he'd been held in "stark and inhuman conditions" and had "suffered physical injuries, pain and suffering, severe mental anguish, as well as loss of income and livelihood."

U.S. officials "threatened Mr. Meshal with serious physical and mental abuse, told him he would be made to 'disappear,' and denied him access to counsel and other due process protections," said the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court.

Jonathan Hafetz, an ACLU attorney, said his client is seeking unspecified damages. An FBI spokesman declined to discuss the case because it's an active lawsuit.

A series of McClatchy reports at the time raised questions about whether the Bush administration asked the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments to hold Meshal for interrogation about alleged terrorist links.

The lawsuit named FBI agents named Chris Higgenbotham and Steve Hersem as taking part in the interrogations. Both were identified during a hearing in 2007 for Daniel Maldonado, a Texas resident who was arrested on the Somalia-Kenya border around the same time as Meshal and pleaded guilty to receiving military-style training from a foreign terrorist organization.

The lawsuit also named two U.S. officials identified only as "Tim" and "Dennis." "Tim" participated in interrogations of Meshal was in Kenya and Ethiopia; and "Dennis" questioned Meshal in Ethiopia, it said.

The lawsuit accused the defendants of violating Meshal's right to due process and his constitutional protections against illegal detention and breaking a U.S. law banning torture "in an effort to coerce him into confessing that he was connected to and/or supported al Qaida."

Meshal repeatedly denied the allegation and has never been charged with any crime since his return to the U.S. on May 26, 2007.

Meshal was captured in late January 2007 by Kenyan border guards as he fled Somalia after Ethiopia invaded Somalia.

The lawsuit said that during two weeks of incarceration, Meshal was removed from his Kenyan jail, taken to a private guesthouse and interrogated at least three times by Hersem, Higgenbotham and "Tim."

Meshal was coerced into signing waivers of his rights, denied a lawyer and told that unless he confessed to links with al Qaida, he'd be sent for interrogation to Egypt, turned over to Israel, where he'd "disappear," or returned to war-torn Somalia, the lawsuit said.

After a Muslim human rights group learned of his incarceration without charges and filed a lawsuit seeking his release, Kenyan authorities flew Meshal back to Somalia and turned him over to Ethiopian officials. They held him in Addis Ababa for more than three months without charges.

Meshal was regularly questioned by "Tim" and "Dennis" while in Ethiopian custody, but was never interrogated by Ethiopian officials, the lawsuit said.

The plaintiff was told that "his truthfulness now would determine if he would ever go home," according to the lawsuit.

Meshal was allowed to speak to a U.S. consular official only after a McClatchy report disclosed that he was being detained without charges in Ethiopia. After his congressman, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J, intervened in the case, he was released and never charged.

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