WASHINGTON (CN) – A U.S. citizen says the FBI had him arrested overseas, then had him “rendered” to Ethiopia, where he was tortured and threatened with “forced disappearance” unless he told his U.S. interrogators what they wanted to hear: a false confession that he had been trained by al Qaeda. Amir Meshal, 29, is a native-born citizen of New Jersey, according to his federal complaint.
He says he was in Somalia in 2006-07, studying Islam, when political unrest forced him to flee its capitol Mogadishu. After wandering in the jungle for weeks with other refugees, he says, he was arrested at the Kenyan border and sent to a Kenyan prison.
That’s when the U.S. agents showed up.
Meshal sued Chris Higgenbotham and Steve Hersem, two FBI supervising special agents, two other U.S. employees or agents whose names he does not know, and other John Does.
His 50-page complaint claims that the agents pulled him daily from a crowded Kenyan jail cell that he shared with as many as 20 prisoners, where he had to sleep standing up. They took him to a room in a nearby hotel, where his wrists were tied and he was hooded, he says.
Meshal says the agents interrogated him for days, threatened him with torture and told him he would be sent to Egypt or Israel where he would disappear, unless he told them what they wanted to hear: that he had received weapons trainings from Al-Qaeda and that he translated for the terrorist organization.
Before each interrogation, Mehsal says, he was forced to sign a waiver that gave him the right to not answer questions without an attorney, but he was never allowed to speak with one.
He says the agents tried to coerce a confession out of him by threats.
“[Higgenbotham] told Mr. Meshal that the agents knew he was hiding something, but that they ‘had ways of getting the information they want.’ Higgenbotham threatened to send Mr. Meshal to Israel, where he said the Israelis would ‘make him disappear.'”
When the agents found that Meshal had been in contact with the Muslim Human Rights Forum, he says, they secretly moved him to an Ethiopian prison, where they continued the intense interrogations.
Meshal says he was in Ethiopia for 3 months until his detention was made public by an Ethiopian military tribunal. Soon after that, he was allowed to return to the United States, though he says he was followed by more FBI agents and questioned by Customs officials upon arriving in New York. He lost 80 pounds during his time abroad.
His complaint states that after FBI agents interrogated him in Kenya, he “admitted to receiving military training in Somalia during December 2007.” It adds that “He was never charged with a crime and is innocent of all wrongdoing.”
Meshal says the 4-month ordeal left him severely injured, emotionally and physically. He seeks punitive damages from the FBI agents for violations of the Constitution and the Torture Victim Protection Act.
He is represented by Arthur Spitzer with the ACLU.