- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

Americans know many details of the firing of U.S. attorneys and Don Imus — along with the horror at Virginia Tech. But how many are aware that the FBI has been interrogating terrorism suspects — including an American citizen — in secret Ethiopian prisons?

On April 5, the Associated Press reported that Ethiopia was under pressure “to release details of detainees from 19 countries… including women and children [who] have been transferred secretly and illegally. An investigation by the Associated Press found that CIA and FBI agents have been interrogating the detainees.” As John Sifton, a deeply experienced researcher at Human Rights Watch, said on the national Democracy Now radio and Internet program (April 5), these suspects would previously have been held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay or the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. But “the Bush administration has shifted gears, and now they have the FBI interrogating people… by local forces, the Ethiopians, the Kenyans… That’s why we call it a sort of outsourced Guantanamo.” These interrogations purportedly are to weed out al Qaeda conspirators and cells in the Horn of Africa.

The American prisoner, Amir Mohamed Meshal of Tinton Falls, N.J., held since late January, was questioned several times by FBI agents as American officials admit without being charged and without having a U.S. consular official present, or an attorney. But Meshal has a very active and properly indignant attorney in Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. On April 2, he wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding that she get the Ethiopian government to release his client. Also, writing to Miss Rice was Rep. Rush Holt, New Jersey Democrat, about his constituent, Amir Meshal: “Our government,” Mr. Holt told Miss Rice, “cannot allow an American citizen to be held by the Ethiopian government in violation of international law and our own due process.” As of this writing, Miss Rice has not replied to the congressman.

Fortunately, Mr. Holt is chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel. I expect that in addition to finding out why his constituent was outsourced to Ethiopia, the congressman will also ask FBI Director Robert Mueller, CIA Director Michael Hayden and other high-level intelligence officials why they have been directly responsible, in this case of an American citizen, for working with the Ethiopian government to violate international law and the very basis of our system of justice, due process. (If they are not directly responsible, who’s running their shops?)

It also would be very useful and indeed necessary if our rule of law is to have credibility at home and in the world to find out from the president and Vice President Cheney how they justify this outsourcing of an American citizen to an Ethiopian dungeon.

Meanwhile, what’s happening to American citizen Amir Meshal? In a dispatch from Addis Ababa on April 12, The Washington Post quoted FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko, who “confirmed that there were no charges against Meshal, and State Department officials said the FBI told them that no charges were pending.” So, Mr. Meshal was set to be released from the secret prison and flown back to the United States where, unlike Ethiopia, every citizen is guaranteed due process of law.

Not so fast. The same Washington Post story revealed that Mr. Meshal is still imprisoned. (As of this writing, he remains in his cell.) Why? “State Department officials booking his flight discovered that his name had been placed on a no-fly list at the request of the FBI and no airline would take him, U.S. officials said.” Then, on Friday, April 13, Mr. Meshal did get out of that lockup to be hauled before an Ethiopian military tribunal. The New York Times on April 14 added: “No news media or members of the public were allowed at the hearing (before the military tribunal), and American officials said that they, too, were barred from attending. Ethiopian officials did not disclose details. Ethiopian Foreign Ministry officials said they were not authorized to talk about it.” Did any FBI agent on the scene call Mr. Mueller? Did any American State Department person there try to reach Miss Rice?

Last year, the president said that no one was still being held in CIA secret prisons, although they remain open, as permitted by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. On what authority has (as reported by The Washington Post) “the FBI carried out interrogations of dozens of detainees in Ethiopian secret prisons?”

What of the international treaties against torture and other abuses by which we are bound? What about American citizen Amir Mohamed Meshal of Tinton Falls, N.J.? Has his citizenship been suspended?