Civil Liberties

The FBI Says You're Fair Game On the Other Side of the Border



The Federal Bureau of Investigation held an American citizen for four months, harshly interrogated him, and finally released him without charges. That's the claim of Amir Meshal who, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing the U.S. government and specific individuals involved in his alleged mistreatment. For its part, the Department of Justice doesn't bother denying the charges—it just says that national security concerns preclude the case from even being considered.

According to the ACLU, which appears in court tomorrow on Meshal's behalf:

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union will appear in court on Wednesday on behalf of a U.S. citizen who was illegally detained and mistreated by American officials in three east African countries in 2007. After fleeing unrest in Somalia, New Jersey resident Amir Meshal was arrested, secretly imprisoned in inhumane conditions, and harshly interrogated by FBI agents over 30 times before ultimately being released without charge four months later. …

In December 2006, Meshal was studying in Mogadishu when civil unrest broke out. He fled to neighboring Kenya, where he wandered in the forest for three weeks seeking shelter and assistance before being arrested. He was then repeatedly interrogated by FBI agents, who accused him of receiving training from al Qaeda, which Meshal denied. The American interrogators threatened him with torture and kept him from contacting a lawyer or his family.

Meshal was subsequently rendered to Somalia and then Ethiopia, where he was secretly imprisoned in filthy conditions with inadequate access to food, water, and toilets for more than three months, and again harshly interrogated by U.S. officials, who bore responsibility for his rendition and continued detention.

In response, Justice Department lawyers argue (PDF):

Counts I - III [Fifth Amendment claims] fail as a matter of law because special factors counsel hesitation and preclude the Court from creating the implied constitutional tort damages remedy sought in the new and sensitive context presented by this Complaint - extraterritorial national security operations… even if the Court recognizes a damages remedy without any statutory foundation, all Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Counts I - III , and Higginbotham and Hersem (the only defendants named) are entitled to qualified immunity for Count IV [alleging violation of the Torture Victim Protection Act].

Got that? Never mind what happened, because national security. And besides, the defendants are immune even to concerns about torture.

Whatever Amir Meshal's actual role, whatever the facts of his treatment by U.S. government officials, that's a chilling argument—unless you're the sort of creature who believes individual rights are a function of geography, rather than humanity.