CIA and FBI agents hunting for al-Qaida militants in the Horn of Africa have been interrogating terrorism suspects from 19 countries held at secret prisons in Ethiopia, which is notorious for torture and abuse, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.Uh huh. These "officials" would have you believe that they are merely taking advantage of Ethiopia's rounding up of terrorist suspects. I mean, if they're there, why not at least talk to them, right? But if you're like me (informed and not guillable to the point of stupidity) you might be inclined to presume that U.S. officials are a little more involved in deciding who got rounded-up and where they ended up going. I'm sure that these prisoners never were actually in U.S. custody, but I'm also sure that American officials had some "suggestions" for who the Ethiopians should look for, and if the Ethiopians weren't that particular about violating a few human rights to round those suspects and anybody else up, those officials were probably not going to make a big deal out of it. And if those same Ethiopians violated a few human rights in the process of "helping" American officials interrogate their suspects, nobody's going to mention that either.
Human rights groups, lawyers and several Western diplomats assert hundreds of prisoners, who include women and children, have been transferred secretly and illegally in recent months from Kenya and Somalia to Ethiopia, where they are kept without charge or access to lawyers and families.
Some were swept up by Ethiopian troops that drove a radical Islamist government out of neighboring Somalia late last year. Others have been deported from Kenya, where many Somalis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland.
Ethiopia, which denies holding secret prisoners, is a country with a long history of human rights abuses. In recent years, it has also been a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, which has been trying to sink roots among Muslims in the Horn of Africa.
U.S. government officials contacted by AP acknowledged questioning prisoners in Ethiopia. But they said American agents were following the law and were fully justified in their actions because they are investigating past attacks and current threats of terrorism.
The prisoners were never in American custody, said an FBI spokesman, Richard Kolko, who denied the agency would support or be party to illegal arrests. He said U.S. agents were allowed limited access by governments in the Horn of Africa to question prisoners as part of the FBI's counter-terrorism work.
Western security officials, who insisted on anonymity because the issue related to security matters, told AP that among those held were well-known suspects with strong links to al-Qaida.
And what's going to happen to those prisoners anyway? Do you imagine American officials are going to go to bat for people rounded up illegally who are not involved in any terrorist activities? Or will those people "disappear" into Ethiopian detention centers? And these "well-known" suspects with "strong links" to Al Qaeda? Do you imagine that those people will ever see a legitimate trial in Ethiopia? Or here for that matter, when they conveniently end up in Guantanamo Bay?
Perhaps CIA and FBI agents merely are taking advantage of fortuitous arrests (though I hope they're not "interrogating" any children.) But you'll forgive me for not being so inclined to trust a government willing to deny anyone basic human rights, even when that government is mine.
UPDATE: Prof. Scott Horton, citing the AP piece, raises an important point I missed:
Amidst suggestions that the entire program was orchestrated by the United States, using local governments as proxies, the report also notes strong pushback from FBI personnel involved, obviously concerned about the illegality and immorality of what was being done.Yes, that sounds familiar does it? And if there's nothing wrong with the program, then what's the FBI's beef?An FBI memo read to AP by a U.S. official in Washington, who insisted on anonymity, quoted an agent who interrogated Meshal as saying the agent was “disgusted” by Meshal’s deportation to Somalia by Kenya. The unidentified agent said he was told by U.S. consular staff that the deportation was illegal.This account reminded me of FBI memoranda from Guantánamo early in the process of establishing highly coercive techniques there. FBI agents recorded their shock at what was being done and took the time to record much of it for posterity. It shows that there are still FBI agents committed to upholding the law.
“My personal opinion was that he may have been a jihadi a-hole, but the precedent of ’deporting’ U.S. citizens to dangerous situations when there is no reason to do so was a bad one,” the official quoted the memo as saying.