- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Federal agents in Atlanta yesterday arrested a 54-year-old Ethiopian national on charges of committing numerous acts of murder and torture in his native country — the first arrest by U.S. authorities of a suspected human rights violator under the recently passed intelligence reform act.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took Kelbessa Negewo into custody without incident using the law, which gives the agency expanded authority to pursue investigations and remove suspected human rights violators living in the United States.

“Today’s arrest marks a new chapter in ICE’s long-standing efforts to arrest, prosecute and remove human rights violators from the United States,” said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE. “With the expanded authorities under the Intelligence Reform Act, ICE has a powerful new tool to deny these egregious criminals a safe haven in this country.

“Human rights violators are not welcome here,” Mr. Garcia said.

ICE Agent Kenneth A. Smith, who heads the agency’s Atlanta field office, said that during the 1970s, a military dictatorship led by Mengistu Haile Mariam and known as the Dergue ruled Ethiopia. He said Negewo served as the chairman of Higher Zone 9, one of several government units in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, that employed a campaign of torture, arbitrary imprisonment and summary executions against perceived internal enemies.

The campaign, he said, was known as Red Terror.

Mr. Smith said Negewo was responsible for having numerous civilians, mostly students, incarcerated, tortured and executed by firing squad.

In some instances, he said, Negewo and his guards forced women to undress, then bound their arms and legs together before hanging them from poles for severe beatings, according to U.S. court records.

Negewo’s actions were so severe, he said, that the Ethiopian dictatorship eventually jailed him.

On his release from Ethiopian prison, Negewo fled to the United States and, according to U.S. records, applied in 1988 for and ultimately obtained immigration benefits there. He later adjusted to permanent resident status and, ultimately, became a U.S. citizen.

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said several of Negewo’s suspected torture victims who had relocated from Ethiopia to Atlanta encountered him in the city by chance, and ICE agents were called in to investigate. He said the agents discovered that to obtain his U.S. citizenship, Negewo had made false statements about his past human rights violations.

As a result of the investigation, Mr. Boyd said Negewo’s U.S. citizenship was revoked in U.S. District Court in Atlanta in October. He remains in ICE custody.

In April 2002, the Ethiopian government convicted Negewo in absentia for numerous human rights violations, including 13 counts of murder, three counts of disappearance of people, one count of torture and one count of unlawful possession of property. In May 2002, the Ethiopian Supreme Court sentenced Negewo in absentia to life imprisonment.

“Negewo’s arrest is the latest under ICE’s ongoing initiative to identify, apprehend, prosecute and remove human rights violators,” Mr. Boyd said.

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