March 18, 2007 in Nation/World

American being held in Ethiopian prison

Jonathan S. Landay and Shashank Bengali McClatchy
 

NAIROBI, Kenya – A U.S. citizen who was caught fleeing the recent fighting in Somalia was questioned about links to al-Qaida by the FBI in Kenya, then secretly sent back to the war-ravaged country, where he was turned over to Ethiopian forces.

Amir Mohamed Meshal, 24, is now imprisoned in Ethiopia, where the State Department’s 2006 human rights report says “conditions in prisons and pre-trial detention centers remain very poor” and that “there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees.”

The fact that Meshal has landed in an Ethiopian prison without any semblance of due process raises new questions about what role the rule of law plays in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. Other suspected terrorists or “enemy combatants” have been exposed to extreme interrogation methods, secretly sent to countries that practice torture, held for extended periods without charges or lawyers, or put under surveillance without court warrants.

An American official who met Meshal in Kenya but wasn’t authorized to discuss his case publicly told McClatchy Newspapers that the U.S. Embassy asked Kenya to release Meshal so he could return to the United States. There are no outstanding charges against Meshal, and U.S. law enforcement officials weren’t planning to take him into custody, the official said.

“The Kenyan authorities decided otherwise. It’s not something we have control over,” the official said.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. has protested Meshal’s deportation.

Human rights groups in Kenya and the United States, however, disputed the contention that the U.S. was powerless to win Meshal’s release from Kenyan custody before he was deported.

“Anyone who tells you that the United States doesn’t have the clout to convince the Kenyans to return an American citizen is either misinformed or lying,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, in New York.

Kenya and Ethiopia are key allies in the Bush administration’s battle against Islamic extremism in Africa, and President Bush has requested a total of more than $1 billion in aid for the two countries in fiscal 2008, making them among the largest recipients of U.S. aid in Africa.

A spokesman for the Kenyan government didn’t have any immediate comment.

Two U.S. officials in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Meshal was turned over to Ethiopian forces in Somalia and is being held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

FBI agents began visiting him regularly last week, one of the officials said.

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