Kenyan men recently released from an Ethiopian jail say U.S. intelligence officials interrogated them.
By Steve Bloomfield | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Salim Awadh Salim sat on a wooden chair, his hands cuffed tightly behind his back, his feet tied together with rope. All night he had been trying, and failing, to sleep. The lights, bright and white, had been kept on. All told, he had spent 18 days in jails in Kenya, 10 days in detention in Somalia and now four days and four nights in solitary confinement in Ethiopia.
Just after 4 a.m., as he was drifting in and out of consciousness, two Ethiopian guards burst into the cell, blindfolded him and put him in a car. They drove for about half an hour to a villa. Half a dozen white men were waiting in a room for him. They identified themselves as officials from American interrogators. "They told me: ‘Talk and your situation will get better," Salim recalled.
He did talk, but his situation didn’t get better. Every day Salim was taken to the villa to answer more questions about his links to Al Qaeda. Salim insisted he knew nothing and pleaded to be sent home. Every night his Ethiopian guards would take him back to a tiny six-by-six-foot cell, and on more than one occasion he was beaten.
This account is the latest accusation against the United States for using other countries to interrogate terror suspects. It is based on interviews conducted by a NEWSWEEK reporter with Salim and seven other Kenyan men in Mombasa in September 2008, a few days after their release from jail in Ethiopia. The eight Kenyans were part of a group of 90 men, women and children who were illegally "rendered" from Kenya to Somalia and Ethiopia in early 2007. Most were released in May 2007, but the eight men were held for another 16 months. Their accounts were corroborated by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which conducted its own investigation. Two European diplomats in Nairobi, who have knowledge of counterterrorism work and spoke without attribution because of the sensitivity of the subject, confirmed that U.S. intelligence officials conducted interrogations on these prisoners in Addis Ababa.
Jennifer Daskal, senior terrorism counsel at HRW, who has investigated the renditions since 2007, said the U.S. agents involved in the interrogations were "complicit" in the rendition and abuse carried out by the Ethiopian guards. She maintains that the Americans present in the interrogations of the eight Kenyan men were in fact officials from U.S. intelligence services. "The United States agents that were there either knew or should have known that they were interrogating men who had been illegally rendered and abused," she said.
A U.S. official involved in counterterrorism policy in the Horn of Africa, who would not talk for attribution because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the subject, said some of the men sent to Ethiopia were "clearly engaged in what we’d consider acts of terrorism," but would not say whether U.S. officials had any prior knowledge of the actual renditions. Nor would he comment specifically on the eight Kenyans and whether or not the U.S. was involved in their removal to Ethiopia. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano in Washington, D.C., said, "The agency did not, to my knowledge, ever have custody of these individuals. Nor, to state the obvious, would it be complicit in torture. The CIA goes where it must to gather intelligence … but it does so in strict accordance with American law."
The men were rounded up by Kenyan police on the Kenya-Somalia border in January 2007. A month earlier, Ethiopian forces, with logistical support from the United States, entered Somalia to drive out the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), a loose coalition of Islamists which had taken control of the capital, Mogadishu, and large parts of the south.