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Legacy of 9-11: F.B.I. Using Proxies to Torture Americans Not Charged With Any Crime

Posted on Sunday, 11th September 2011 @ 10:26 AM by Text Size A | A | A

When Gulet Mohamed finally returned home [7] on a chilly Virginia morning in
January, the 19-year-old from Fairfax was wearing the same outfit he had
on when he disappeared
a month earlier
[8] in Kuwait.
Clad in a fleece hat and a gray Real Madrid sweatshirt, the
straggly-bearded, wide-eyed teenager stepped out of arrivals at Dulles
Airport and into a phalanx of television cameras. He wore a bewildered
smile—as if he was still unsure of what had happened to him but was just
grateful it was over.

For more than a year, Mohamed had been living in Kuwait City with an
uncle. On December 20, 2010, according to
legal records
[9] (PDF), he went
to the airport to renew his tourist visa for an additional three
months. The process took longer than usual. From a waiting area, Mohamed
emailed his brother to let him know he’d run into some red tape.

Soon afterward, two men in street clothes came in, blindfolded him,
escorted him out of the airport, and led him into the back of a vehicle.
They drove maybe 15 or 20 minutes. When the men removed his blindfold,
he was in a cell with white walls.

Later, the men—members of Kuwait’s security forces, Mohamed
inferred—marched him to an interrogation room, where they shouted names
at him in Arabic.

“Osama bin Laden! Do you know him?” “Anwar al-Awlaki?”

When he responded “no,” his interrogators slapped him across the
face. As the days passed, Mohamed claims, they beat him with sticks on
the soles of his feet, asked him to choose between torture by
electrocution or power drill, and threatened his family.

Sometimes, Mohamed later told his lawyer, his
captors escorted him,  blindfolded, to another part of the facility,
where a man who spoke with  an American accent posed specific questions
about his life in the US.  He inquired about Mohamed’s siblings by name.
“Don’t you know we know  everything about you?” he asked.

Mohamed is one of a growing number of American Muslims who claim
they  were captured overseas and questioned in secret at the behest of
the  United States, victims of what human rights advocates call “proxy  detention [10]”—or
“rendition-lite.” The latter is a reference to the Bush-  and
Clinton-era CIA practice [11]
of capturing foreign nationals suspected of  terrorism and “rendering”
them to countries such as Egypt,
Jordan, or  Morocco
[12] (PDF)
for interrogations that often involved torture.

Many of these episodes follow a similar script. A US citizen is
detained, questioned, and sometimes abused in a Middle Eastern or
African country by local security forces. Often his interrogators
possess information that could only have come from US authorities; some
of the detainees say American officials have been present for the
questioning. When the suspect is released from detention, he often
discovers he’s on the no-fly list [13]
and can’t return home unless he  submits to further questioning by FBI
agents. Sometimes he’s denied  access to a lawyer during these sessions.

Gulet Mohamed: Jacquelyn Martin/AP PhotoGulet
Mohamed.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP PhotoIn the past,
the FBI has denied that it asks foreign governments to apprehend
Americans. But, a Mother Jones  investigation has found, the
bureau has a long-standing and until now  undisclosed program for
facilitating such detentions. Coordinated by  elite agents who serve in
terrorism hot spots around the world, the  practice enables the
interrogation of American suspects outside the US  justice system.
“Their citizenship doesn’t seem to matter to the  government,” says Daphne Eviatar [14],
a lawyer with Human Rights First. “It  raises a question of whether
there’s a whole class of people out there  who’ve been denied the right
to return home for the purpose of  interrogation in foreign custody.”

Although it’s difficult to say for certain whether the men in this
story—which is based on interviews with law enforcement and intelligence
officials, court documents, transcripts, and other records—are
terrorists, tourists, or something in between, one thing is clear:
Pakistanis, Saudis, and Somalis aren’t the only ones being captured and
questioned on our behalf. Americans are too.

In October 2008, a few days before
Halloween, a 27-year-old Somali  American drove a car full of explosives
into a government office in  northern Somalia. The bomber’s name was Shirwa Ahmed [15],
and he’d grown up  in Minneapolis playing basketball and listening to
Ice Cube. Ahmed is  widely believed to be the first American suicide bomber [16] (PDF).

What worries federal authorities is that Ahmed was one of at least 20
young men who left Minnesota between 2007 and 2009 for
Somalia—intending, the FBI believes [17],
to join the Al Qaeda-linked  Islamist group al-Shabaab [18].
Since then, several more [19]
of these men are  believed to have become suicide bombers [20]—including
one just this past  May [21].

When he requested a lawyer, one of the
agents told him: “You’re here; your lawyer is not.”

Cases like Ahmed’s seem to be on the rise. Between 2002 and 2008, an
average of 12 people per year were indicted on charges relating to
“domestic radicalization and recruitment to jihadist terrorism,”
according to a 2010 report by the RAND Corporation [22]
(PDF). That number rose to  42 in 2009. For counterterrorism officials,
the face of Islamic  terrorism was no longer a Saudi trained in the
mountains of Afghanistan.  It was Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter [23],
radicalized over the  internet, or Faisal Shahzad
[24], the Pakistani American who
attempted to  detonate a car bomb in Times Square [25] in May 2010 (PDF). A Senate Foreign
Relations Committee report released in January 2010 warned
that Al Qaeda
[26] (PDF)
“seeks to recruit American citizens to carry out terrorist attacks in
the United States” and singled out Yemen and Somalia as places where
such recruits might travel.

Gulet Mohamed had spent time in both countries—which by itself would
have raised “a lot of flags,” according to a former senior State
Department official familiar with his case. He first visited Yemen in
March 2009, planning to study Arabic and Islam. After a few weeks,
however, he and his mother decided that the country was not safe, and he
made his way to a relatively stable part of northern Somalia to stay
with family. In August 2009 he moved on to Kuwait, where he remained
until his arrest.

After a week of beatings and harsh interrogation, Mohamed was
transferred to a Kuwaiti deportation facility. It was here, he says,
that the FBI showed up. Agents interrogated him repeatedly, asking him
why he had traveled to Somalia and Yemen and whether he knew Shahzad or
Zachary
Chesser
[27], an American Muslim
charged in July 2010 with aiding  al-Shabaab. According to Mohamed,
when he requested a lawyer, one of the  agents told him: “You’re here;
your lawyer is not.”

Mohamed was also informed that his name had been placed on the no-fly
list—effectively blocking his return to the US. “Your government is
not  letting you back into your country,” one Kuwaiti official told him.
Another said: “Gulet, we have relationships with the Americans. This
interrogation is between you and your government.”

Sanaa,  the capital of Yemen, is one of the gems
of the Arabian  Peninsula.  Even as the country teeters on the brink of
chaos, tourists  still visit  the ancient hill city to gape at the
intricate rammed-earth  houses  that compose its crenellated skyline.

One January morning in 2010, Sharif
Mobley
[28]  was drinking tea
outside a  convenience store bedecked with a Coca-Cola  sign when two
white vans  screeched to a halt on the dusty street.  Eight armed men
dressed in  black jumped out. One grabbed Mobley’s  jacket, but the
26-year-old—a  black belt in tae kwon do—slipped away.

Sharif Mobley: Courtest of the Mobley FamilySharif
Mobley.
Courtesy of the Mobley FamilyHe made it a
couple of steps before two bullets fractured his femur.   “I’m an
American!” he yelled as he was dragged away. The men threw him   in the
van and sped off.

Mobley, who was in Sanaa with his wife and two young children, had
been advised not to go to Yemen. “It is unstable,” his childhood imam
had warned. But for young Muslims, Sanaa can be irresistible. Lonely
Planet pitches Yemen as “a great place to learn Arabic,” and it is; the
language schools are cheap, good, and plentiful. It has also become a
place for young western Muslims to complete their radicalization—which
is exactly what government officials say Mobley was doing.

After Mobley vanished, his family would not hear anything
authoritative about him for nearly six weeks. But on March 11, 2010,
news broke that an American had been involved in an action-movie-style
escape attempt at al-Jumhori Hospital in Sanaa. It was Mobley.

According to Yemeni officials, Mobley had tricked
his guards
[29]  at the
hospital into putting down their guns to join him for prayers.  Then he
grabbed one of the weapons, shot two guards—one fatally—and  made a
break  for it. He didn’t get far before the entire floor was on
lockdown.  Yemeni counterterrorism forces—many of which are trained and
funded by  the US—descended on the hospital and eventually
reapprehended  Mobley.

After the firefight, information about Mobley’s past poured out in
the press: He had once called an acquaintance who had fought in Iraq a  “Muslim
killer
[30],” and he was
employed as a maintenance worker at several
nuclear power plants
[31]—a
fact that inspired much
speculation
[32]. By the end  of
the week, the
AP reported that
[33],
according to “US officials,” Mobley  had “traveled to Yemen with the
goal of joining” Al Qaeda. Also  incriminating was the anonymously
sourced allegation that Mobley had  communicated
with Anwar al-Awlaki
[34], the
New Mexico-born Al Qaeda  propagandist now
hiding out in Yemen
[35].

Awlaki and Mobley spoke on the phone and corresponded over email a
number of times, Mobley’s defense lawyer, Cori Crider [36], told Mother Jones,   but
about religious and personal matters, not terrorism. She says the   two
men met in person once in 2008, more than a year before his arrest.

Initial news accounts mirrored the official version of the incident,
reporting that Mobley had been captured in early March—when in reality
he’d been in custody for six weeks. According to a
notarized letter
[37] to
Crider from two top officials at the police hospital in Sanaa, Mobley
was “admitted to the hospital on the 26th of January to the 10th of
February 2010 post gun shot with a femur fracture. The surgical therapy
was done by one of our orthopedic surgeons on the 26th of January.
After  treatment the patient was discharged and handed back to the
National  Security of the Republic of Yemen.”

Mobley claims Matt and   Khan questioned him
repeatedly, threatening   his family and telling him he would be  raped
in a Yemeni prison if he   didn’t cooperate.

According to legal
documents
[38] prepared
by Crider
[39], Mobley had been
visited by two American agents, “Matt from FBI and Khan from [the
Pentagon],” while chained to his bed in a secure wing of the hospital.
Matt looked “kind of like Matt Damon,” and Khan was a “heavyset person
of South Asian, possibly Pakistani, descent,” Mobley told Crider. When
Mobley asked for a lawyer, the agents told him that he was not under
formal arrest and would not be read his rights. Mobley claims Matt and
Khan questioned him repeatedly over the next several weeks,
threatening   his family and telling him he would be raped in a Yemeni
prison if he   didn’t cooperate. Some of their questions focused on
Awlaki. Eventually,   according to the documents, Mobley was transferred
to a Yemeni   prison—but not before his catheter was removed so roughly
that he   started bleeding profusely from his penis.

In prison, Mobley told Crider, he was beaten and dragged down stairs
before eventually blacking out on a metal slab while the blood from
his   penis soaked through the front of his prison garment. He was later
taken  to a second hospital, where, he said, Matt and Khan returned to
interrogate him at least once more. Eventually, he tried to escape.
“Imagine for a minute you were shot and held in secret for weeks on
end,   beaten up, threatened with rape, and told that your wife and two
babies  would face the same fate you had,” Crider says. “Most of us in
that  situation would go to extraordinary lengths to protect our
families.”

Mobley, like Mohamed, has never been charged with any crime under US
law. Yemeni officials told the AP that he hadn’t even been on their
list  of “wanted militants.” But as of this writing, he’s still in
prison in  Yemen, awaiting trial for allegedly killing a guard during
his escape  attempt.

Prior to the 1993 bombing of the
World Trade Center, the FBI didn’t   maintain much of a foreign
presence. But in the years since, the bureau   has increasingly relied
on its network of legal attaches,  or  Legats—elite FBI agents stationed
at US embassies and charged with   forming counterterrorism alliances
with local law enforcement and   intelligence services.

Between 1993 and 2001, the FBI more than doubled the
number of Legat  offices
[40]
from 20 to 45 (PDF), opening new bureaus in Egypt, Israel, Jordan,
Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Another 14
have opened
[41] since 9/11
(PDF). The FBI
refers to Legats
[42]  as “the
foundation” of its “international program” and  says they are
“essential” to preventing terrorist attacks. Among their  main duties,
according to the congressional testimony of one former FBI  official, is
“coordinating requests for FBI or host-country assistance  overseas.”

Sometimes that entails encouraging a
foreign security service to  detain an American   terrorism suspect and
passing along questions for  interrogators.

This could mean something as routine as setting up meetings between
FBI honchos and foreign intelligence officials. But according to
current   and former FBI officials familiar with the process, sometimes
it also   entails encouraging a foreign security service to detain an
American   terrorism suspect and passing along questions for
interrogators.   According to bureau sources, top FBI, Justice
Department, and sometimes   even White House officials must authorize
such requests before they’re   passed on to the Legat in the country
where the suspect is traveling.

In a statement
to Mother Jones
[43],
the FBI stopped short of   admitting that it has requested the detention
of American terrorist   suspects. The bureau acknowledged, however,
that information it has   “elected to share” with “foreign law
enforcement services” has “at   times” resulted in the “detainment of an
individual.” It also said FBI   agents have occasionally “been afforded
the opportunity to interview or   witness an interview” with detainees
abroad. The bureau maintains that   FBI agents have “acted in accordance
with established FBI policy and   guidelines” in these cases. The
bureau declined to comment on specific   cases.

“America since the fall of the Berlin Wall has
been eager to find  proxies to do our dirty work,” says Michael
Scheuer
[44], the ex-head of
the  CIA’s Osama bin
Laden unit
[45]   and the
author of a recent biography of the  late Al Qaeda leader.   “We’ve been
lucky to find Jordans and Egypts that  were willing to do   that—not
just to help us, but also because the people  we were aiming at   were
the people they were also aiming at.”

In theory, an FBI official says, foreign security forces are told
that US citizens detained as part of this program are not to be harmed.
But, the official acknowledges, foreign security forces are sometimes
overzealous. Torture isn’t the point, though, the source
explains—fear    is. Throwing a guy from suburban Virginia into a Middle
Eastern jail    cell might shake loose information that wouldn’t come
out in an FBI    interrogation room in Washington, DC.

Whether the information is accurate
is another matter. Weeks after    being interviewed by FBI agents in
the United Arab Emirates in 2008,  Naji
Hamdan
[46],   a naturalized US
citizen who had run an auto-parts business  in   California, was
abruptly arrested by the country’s security forces.    Over a period of
three weeks, he was repeatedly
beaten
[47]   and questioned
(PDF).  “If you don’t confess, I swear to God I’m going   to bring your
wife to  this room, and you’ll see what we do to her,”  the  lead
interrogator  vowed at one point. During one interrogation,  Hamdan
says, an American  was present. “I’ve lived enough in the US to
recognize the accent of the  person when he talks,” he says. “I had no
doubt that the person who was  talking to me was a Caucasian American.”
Hamdan’s interrogators kicked  him in the side until he passed out.
When  he came to, the “American”  spoke: “You better do what these
people  want, or they’ll fuck you up.”

“You better do what these  people  want, or
they’ll fuck you up.”

Hamdan eventually confessed to being a member of a variety of
terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, and spent another 11 months in
prison before the UAE deported him to Lebanon. He later said his
confession was fiction—after weeks of torture, he’d told his
interrogators whatever they wanted to hear. The FBI, for its part,
extensively investigated Hamdan’s activities in the US. He was never
charged with a crime.

“From some of the other proxy detentions, it’s clear that the
government has got it flat wrong about which individuals pose a threat,”
says the ACLU’s Michael Kaufman, who’s on Hamdan’s legal team. “It
wouldn’t be surprising if Naji was one of those horrible, horrible
mistakes.”

Along with the cases of Hamdan, Mobley, and Mohamed, there are others
that show indications of US involvement. Yusuf
Wehelie
[48],   another
19-year-old Virginian, claims he was detained and beaten by   Egyptian
security forces in May 2010 after the FBI questioned him and   his older
brother Yahya at a hotel in Cairo. The Egyptians who beat and
interrogated Wehelie “stated over and over that they worked for the
United States government, and that they were questioning me at the
request of the United States government,” he later said. The Egyptian
interrogators asked Wehelie “the same questions that the American FBI
agents had been asking.” Some focused on Mobley. After Wehelie was
allowed to return home, his brother was forced to remain in Cairo for
two more months. Yusuf later
told a reporter
[49]   he was
interviewed by the  FBI 10 times and submitted to a polygraph   test
before he was permitted  to return home. (The Wehelies, through   their
lawyer, declined to  comment.)

In 2007, Kenyan authorities arrested Amir Meshal, of New Jersey, and
New Hampshire-raised Daniel Maldonado [50]
after they sought refuge in Kenya  when Ethiopia invaded Somalia and
displaced its Islamist government.  (Both men claim they went to
Somalia, which was comparatively stable  before the Ethiopian invasion,
only for the experience of living in an  Islamic country.) Maldonado
has  since taken a plea deal and is serving a
10-year sentence
[51] for
receiving training from Al Qaeda. But Meshal has  not been charged with a
crime. Backed by the ACLU, he
is suing the  government
[52]
(PDF), claiming that FBI agents violated his rights by  interrogating
him in a series of African prisons without access to a  lawyer.

“There are still    probably other people
out there that are being tortured like I was.”

Human rights advocates believe many more Americans may have been
subjected to proxy detention but have not come forward for fear of
retaliation or prosecution; some may still be secretly imprisoned. As
Gulet Mohamed declared when he arrived back in the US: “There are still
probably other people out there that are being tortured like I was.
My    voice has been heard, but their voices are not being heard.”

During his detention in Kuwait, one of Mohamed’s fellow prisoners had
given him access to a smuggled cell phone. He called his family, who
contacted a lawyer; eventually Mohamed used the phone to describe
his    plight to the New
York Times
‘ Mark Mazzetti
[53].
The story made  headlines, embarrassing the Obama administration and
raising questions  about its track record on civil liberties and human
rights. An irate US  Embassy official later visited Mohamed’s cell
with a   highlighted copy of  the Times story. “You didn’t
cooperate   with the FBI,” he said,  according to Mohamed. “That is why
you didn’t   leave. You went public.  We need to calm this down.”

At a press conference when Mohamed finally did return home, his
lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, addressed the scrum of reporters. “What’s great
about being an American citizen traveling abroad is that you have the
full power and privilege of the most powerful country in the world at
your back,” he said. “But in this situation, it doesn’t look like
Gulet    had those powers and privileges that are routinely granted to
other    American citizens.”

 


Links:
[1]
http://motherjones.com/special-reports/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-informants

[2] http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/fbi-terrorist-informants

[3]
http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/proxy-detention-gulet-mohamed

[4]
http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/brandon-darby-anarchist-fbi-terrorism

[5] http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/terror-trials-numbers

[6] http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/08/fbi-surveillance-video-sting

[7]
http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/01/breaking-fbi-interrogating-gulet-mohamed-without-counsel-dc-airport

[8] http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/01/gulet-mohamed-beaten-kuwait

[9] http://www.cair.com/Portals/0/pdf/noflysuit.pdf

[10]
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2011/01/07/is-proxy-detention-the-obama-administrations-extraordinary-rendition-lite/

[11]
http://www.aclu.org/print/national-security/fact-sheet-extraordinary-rendition

[12] http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/110/34712.pdf

[13]
http://www.aclu.org/national-security/frequently-asked-questions-about-no-fly-list

[14] http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/about-us/staff/daphne-eviatar/

[15]
http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Press.MajorityNews&ContentRecord_id=cbd72c87-7e9c-9af9-7d81-acc5ee830bdf

[16]
http://homeland.house.gov/sites/homeland.house.gov/files/Testimony%20Byman.pdf

[17] http://www.fbi.gov/minneapolis/press-releases/2009/mp112309.htm

[18] http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/07/should-us-work-al-shabaab

[19] http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=13747120

[20] http://www.osti.gov/engage/rrpedia/Battle_of_Mogadishu_%282010%29

[21]
http://hiiraan.com/news2/2011/Jun/militants_somalia_suicide_bomber_from_minnesota.aspx

[22] http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/2010/RAND_OP292.pdf

[23] http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/11/fort-hood-letter

[24] http://motherjones.com/node/128262

[25]
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/100618_ShahzadIndictment.pdf

[26] http://foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Yemen.pdf

[27] http://motherjones.com/node/128582

[28] http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/sharifmobley/

[29]
http://www.northjersey.com/news/87610127_Yemen_suspect_tricked_guards.html

[30]
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/11/sharif-mobley-fbi-investi_n_495172.html

[31]
http://articles.cnn.com/2010-03-12/justice/new.jersey.yemen.terror_1_nuclear-plants-nuclear-regulatory-commission-law-enforcement?_s=PM:CRIME

[32] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06Faddis.html

[33]
http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=7324798

[34]
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/world/middleeast/13terror.html?pagewanted=print

[35]
http://homeland.house.gov/news/daily-news-al-qaeda-going-rogue-us-based-lone-wolves-may-step-terror-strikes

[36] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMkct6oyuFY

[37]
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/235055-letter-from-typical-police-hospital.html

[38]
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/235052-reprieve_foia_mobley_072210.html

[39]
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/235056-reprieves-letter-to-us-ambassador-to-yemen.html

[40] http://www.fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/legat.pdf

[41] http://proceedings.ndia.org/7040/12%20brief%20by%20Mason.pdf

[42] http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/international_operations/overview

[43]
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/235035-fbistatementtomotherjones.html

[44] http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/mfs47/

[45] http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/110/sch041707.htm

[46] http://www.thenation.com/article/naji-hamdans-nightmare

[47] https://www.aclu-sc.org/documents/view/266

[48]
http://www.cair.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?ArticleID=26458&&name=n&&currPage=1&&Active=1

[49]
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/16/AR2010061604529.html

[50] http://motherjones.com/node/127362

[51] http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2007/July/07_nsd_531.html

[52]
http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/Meshal_v._Higgenbotham_Complaint_11.10.09_0.pdf

[53] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/world/middleeast/06detain.html?_

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