Politics

America, the Land From Which Torture Victims Now Seek Asylum

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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.