MIAMI – Federal agents in Atlanta arrested a prominent Ethiopian human-rights abuse suspect on Tuesday and put him in deportation proceedings – the first use of legal powers granted under a newly signed intelligence-reform law.
Kelbessa Negewo, 54, was not put in removal proceedings before President Bush signed the law Dec. 17 partly because it would have been more difficult to prove he was deportable under previous law – though he agreed to give up his U.S. citizenship in October on the eve of a trial in order to revoke it.
The new law broadened the arrest powers of the immigration service, adding that evidence that a foreign national tortured or killed someone for political reasons is grounds for deportation.
A federal official has said agents are looking at several foreign nationals in Florida for possible removal, including two former Salvadoran generals.
The arrest marked the first time federal officials used new powers under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
“Today’s arrest marks a new chapter in ICE’s longstanding efforts to arrest, prosecute and remove human rights violators from the United States,” said Michael J. Garcia, Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose agents arrested Negewo.
“With the expanded authorities under the intelligence reform act, ICE has a powerful new tool to deny these egregious criminals a safe haven in this country. Human rights violators are not welcome here.”
Negewo’s attorney, John Matteson, said his client is innocent and called the arrest a government effort to showcase the new law.
“It’s good theater,” he said.
Richard Krieger, a Boynton Beach, Fla.-based human rights activist who for years pressured Immigration to arrest Negewo, said authorities should have acted earlier.
A statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Negewo served as “chairman of Higher Zone 9,” a government unit accused of torturing and summarily executing foes of the Ethiopian government, led at the time by a Marxist dictator.
“Negewo was responsible for having numerous innocent civilians, mostly students, incarcerated, tortured, and subsequently executed by firing squad,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement said.
“In some instances, Negewo and his guards forced women to undress, then bound their arms and legs together before hanging them from poles for severe beatings, according to U.S. records.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials would not identify the next targets, but an administration official said last month two former Salvadoran generals in Florida – Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia – could be placed in proceedings in the future.