NJ man sues FBI over his detention in Ethiopia

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 5:31 PM

A New Jersey man detained for months in Ethiopia on allegations of supporting Islamic militants before being allowed to come home sued the FBI agents involved in his interrogations.

Amir Mohamed Meshal, who was held nearly four months in Ethiopia, claims his constitutional rights were violated when U.S. agents carried out interrogations in the hunt for al-Qaida in the Horn of Africa.

Meshal, of Tinton Falls, said he was questioned by FBI agents more than 30 times. He said the agents threatened him with torture and death, and that he was never allowed to talk to an attorney or contact his family.

He returned to New Jersey, where he was born and raised, in May 2007.

According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, Meshal was studying Islam in Mogadishu, Somalia, when violence erupted and he tried to leave the country.

Hundreds of people, including Islamist fighters, fled Somalia for Kenya in late December 2006 and January 2007 after Ethiopian troops invaded the country in support of a weak, but internationally backed, government.

Meshal said he was arrested by Kenyan police. In Kenya, Meshal said he was held in a cramped cell for days wearing only his underwear and was interrogated by two FBI agents who accused him of receiving weapons training at an al-Qaida camp in Somalia _ a charged he denies. He was then sent to Ethiopia.

U.S. authorities in Washington have said they had interviewed Meshal in Kenya and that they determined he was not a threat and had not violated U.S. law. The State Department also said it formally protested his deportation from Kenya to Ethiopia.

Dozens of others were also held in Ethiopia in what human rights activists say was an illegal detention program that violated international laws on deportations and the treatment of prisoners.

Ethiopia has previously denied the charges, saying the detentions are part of the fight against terrorism and that it has the right to defend itself.

An investigation by The Associated Press showed many of the detainees in Ethiopia had been questioned by members of the FBI and the CIA, raising questions about the United States' role in Meshal's arrest and detention.

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A message seeking comment from the State Department was not immediately returned Tuesday. U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Beverley Lumpkin said the department was reviewing the lawsuit and had no comment.

The ACLU declined to make Meshal available for interviews Tuesday.

In their lawsuit on his behalf, they say the government agents violated his constitutional rights to due process and against unreasonable search and seizure. The suit names two FBI officials and two unknown agents of the U.S. government and seeks unspecified compensation and punitive damages.

During the FBI interrogations, Meshal said the agents threatened to send him to Israel where Israelis would make him "disappear" and alluded to the 1978 movie "Midnight Express," in which a young American student is sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish.

"These threats are shocking and inexcusable," said Nusrat J. Choudhury, an ACLU attorney. "American citizens abroad who seek refuge from hostilities deserve the assistance of their government in getting home safely."