ACLU Lawsuit Charges American Citizen Illegally Detained And Mistreated By U.S. Officials

For Immediate Release

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Robyn Shepherd, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Lawsuit Charges American Citizen Illegally Detained And Mistreated By U.S. Officials

New Jersey Man Held For Four Months Overseas And Threatened With Torture And Disappearance

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 online at: www.aclu.org/national-security/meshal-v-higgenbotham-complaint

For more information on this case is available at: www.aclu.org/national-security/meshal-v-higgenbotham

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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