America, the Land From Which Torture Victims Now Seek Asylum


If I wanted the rubber-hose treatment, I could have stayed in Eritrea.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of U.S. citizen Yonas Fikre's tale of being detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the request of the FBI is its credibility. Time was, if somebody claimed to have been snatched overseas by sadistic foreign agents so they could be brutally interrogated and coerced into cooperating with sinister officials of the United States government, your first reaction would be an eye-roll or a question about progress on the movie script. Now it's more likely to be, "oh, shit. Not again."

Fikre, a naturalized citizen born in Eritrea, says he was approached by FBI agents while traveling in Sudan. He declined their request to act as an informer. That's when the trouble started. As reported in the Washington Post:

[T]wo FBI agents told him he was on the U.S. government no-fly list, and they could help get him off it if he gave them information about the Portland mosque and helped them with a "case" they were working on. Fikre says he declined.

Fikre says he traveled to Scandinavia to visit relatives, and then to the United Arab Emirates to pursue business possibilities with a friend who had moved there from Portland.

According to Fikre, non-uniformed police pulled him out of his Abu Dhabi neighborhood on June 1, 2011, and took him to a prison.

Fikre says he was held there for more than three months, with his captors asking him questions like those he was asked at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan — details about the Portland mosque.

As detailed at the Website of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is championing Fikre:

Fikre reports that he was "beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions while interrogators demanded he 'cooperate' and barked questions that were eerily similar to those posed to him not long before by FBI agents and other American officials who had requested a meeting with him."

According to Fikre's lawyer: "When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question. Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved."

Fikre was eventually deported to Sweden, from which his status on the U.S. no-fly list rendered him unable to return to the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has applied for political asylum.

The CIA's long-standing policy of extraordinary rendition — transporting prisoners, usually terror suspects, to cooperative countries where they'd be beyond the reach of friends, family, law and civil-liberties attorneys— is a matter of unpleasant public record. Revelations about the practice have caused at least as much fuss in some of the host countries as here at home. That the FBI is engaged in similar practices, with United States citizens, is what you might call fresh and interesting information.

Though, I suppose, it's encouraging that the feds seem to be waiting for Americans to step over the border before having them snatched and beaten. There are still limits, after all.

NEXT: Was Lawrence O'Donnell High as a Kite When He Said That Obama Would Might Legalize Drugs if Given a Second Term?

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  1. I thought Obama ended extraordinary rendition? It’s in my notes somewhere, let me see [shuffles notes].

    1. Well, it’s getting to be pretty ordinary. So it’s not extraordinary anymore. So see, he did end it!

      1. Oh, it’s merely ordinary rendition? Well, okay then–carry on!

  2. Our current President. Change you can believe in.

    1. It’s obviously Bush’s fault (somehow).

  3. Maybe I really just understand how things work, but should FBI agents be doing anything outside of the United States? I mean, isn’t that technically outside their jurisdiction?

    1. Just don’t that is.

    2. Apparently not, Joe. After all, the US has claimed universal jurisdiction in copyright, anti-gambling, and banking cases.

  4. If Obama gets a second term, he’ll stop this. Lawrence O’Donnell says so!

    1. I think he meant a third term.

      1. Unlimited terms! I mean, if he doesn’t do the stuff he promised during his second term, that just means he needs a third. And then when he doesn’t do it in the third, that just means he needs a fourth, and so on.

        1. Wait wait wait. What’s all this nonsense about third and fourth terms? Why not just elect him president for life the second time and be done with it?

          1. So that’s what he meant when he told the Russian President that this would be his last election.

            1. It’s a sad commentary that that was my first thought when I heard what he said.

        2. He’ll need a lot of terms to purge the capitalists, libertarians, Republicans, and other despised groups, then he’ll need many more terms after the Year Zero to establish a neo-Platonic-communist commune/religion with him at the center.

          1. As well he should. Those are all terrorist hate groups.

            1. Maybe he could sic the FBI on them.

      2. If he gets re-elected, we won’t need another election, because the people will have spoken.

    2. If Obama gets a second term, he’ll stop this. Lawrence O’Donnell says so!

      I’m beginning to think that the dems are putting the “obama administration” under the umbrella concept of the Biden administration which will occur in 2016.

  5. Though, I suppose, it’s encouraging that the feds seem to be waiting for Americans to step over the border before having them snatched and beaten. There are still limits, after all.

    For now. Just wait until the big O gets his 2nd term. Oh wait, that’s when he’ll finally become the pot legalizing, civil lebirties restoring, foreign policy changing arbiter of all “good things”. Lawrence O’Donnell said it so it must be true.

  6. Shouldn’t a story ostensibly about FBI-ordered torture and extraordinary rendition actually contain (a) extraordinary rendition or (b) evidence the FBI ordered the torture?

    The guy traveled to the UAE on his own. That’s not rendition, that’s “voluntarily traveling to a country that tortures people”.

    As for the FBI involvement, everything in the story supports the notion that they shared information with the UAE, but there is no evidence at all that they requested the arrest and torture.

    1. Yes, I’m sure the police in the UAE desperately need to know about mosques in Portland.

      1. If, for example, the FBI told them “we think this guy’s mosque is full of radicals with links to terrorist groups in your neck of the woods” then I can certainly see the UAE taking an interest.

        Anyway, sarcastically invoking the argument from ignorance fallacy doesn’t do much to support the “FBI had him tortured” hypothesis.

        1. Like it or not, Dan’s criticism is on the money here. Thus is shitty, but not rendition.

          That sais, if I were, say, a European country that wanted to flex my muscle a little bit, I’d arrest FBI agents in my borders for conspiracy to commit human rights violations. That oughta get someone’s attention.

          1. Not technically rendition, but only because of the happy accident that Mr. Fikre happened to already be in a country that would torture him at our request.

            Ordinarily, we have to fly people into those countries, but Mr. Fikre flew himself, poor sap.

            Other than that, which I regard as purely incidental, its classic rendition.

            1. So the story is fake, but accurate.

              He wasn’t a victim of rendition (extraordinary or otherwise, “technically” or literally), but we know in our heart of hearts that the villains at the FBI *would* have shipped him to the UAE to be tortured if he hadn’t traveled there on his own.

              So since we know in our hearts it would have happened if circumstances had been otherwise, we can go ahead and claim it happened.

        2. It’s fair to say that we’ll never know the truth or have evidence that would stand up in a court (not that Fikre would ever even be allowed to bring a case). I don’t expect the FBI to open their files on Fikre even though of course they have nothing to hide–“state security” and all that.

          My sarcasm merely reflects my distrust of the U.S. government. Given their history I’m not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, your hypothetical scenarios (not based on any more facts than mine) notwithstanding.

          1. The existence of other reasons for torture (even ones that aren’t provably true) invalidates your argument that the UAE can’t possibly have its own reasons for questioning the guy.

            It has nothing to do with trusting the government. I don’t trust the government either — that doesn’t mean I believe ever act of human evil must be traced back to Washington!

  7. Playing Devil’s Advocate here: do we have any proof that this dude isn’t plotting something? Attending a known extremist mosque, then jet-setting around the world seems like suspicious behavior.

    I also posit that not enough attention has been given to the theory that perhaps there really was a sudden up-tick in witch-related activities in medieval Europe (possibly correlating with the Little Ice Age) which the authorities astutely noticed and took proper measures to protect us against (by killing all the witches).

    1. Do we have any evidence that you aren’t plotting something?
      Visiting a known extremist website, then even commentating on it seems like suspicious behavior.

  8. Borders? pfft. Just expand the Constitution-free zone.

  9. He declined their request to act as an informer.

    Hmmm, I seem to recall another man who declined to be a federal informant. Didn’t work out well for him either.

    Lesson learned I guess. Better obey when an agent ever “asks” you for help.

  10. I’m becoming increasingly confused on the concept of ‘extraordinary rendition’…

    Why bother? When domestic cops can beat, taze, shoot, harass, kick in doors, and search without warrants, why do the FBI, CIA and various agencies continue to do this delicate legal tap dance when they want to question someone?

    1. Extraordinary rendition is a close cousin to plausible deniability.

      1. If they got together, would their children be fucked up?

        1. Extraordinarily deniable!

  11. Assuming this happened the way it is reported, (Sorry Mr. Fikre, CAIR has cost you some credibility points) and not to defend the FBI, maybe it was CIA pretending to be FBI.

  12. Your comment contains a word that is too long.

    Fuck. This. Shit.

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