LOS ANGELES – Seeking to uncover information about the U.S. government’s 2008 overseas “proxy detention” of American citizen Naji Hamdan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a lawsuit in federal district court here today. The suit asks the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and other intelligence agencies to turn over records about their surveillance of Mr. Hamdan in the United States, and their involvement in his detention and torture in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.
The suit results from the failure of these intelligence agencies to release any information about Mr. Hamdan under the Freedom of Information Act in response to a request from the ACLU/SC filed in January 2010.
Mr. Hamdan lived for two decades in the Los Angeles area, where he ran an auto-parts business and helped manage the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, a mosque and community center. He and his family were living in the U.A.E. when its security forces arrested him in August 2008 – allegedly at the behest of the U.S. government. Agents put a hood over his head, forced him into a vehicle, and took him to a secret prison somewhere in Abu Dhabi, where he was held for months without charge and tortured, according to the ACLU/SC complaint. Mr. Hamdan believes that at least one American man participated in his interrogation and torture in the U.A.E.
The Obama Administration has increasingly relied on foreign governments as their proxy to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects – a practice known as “proxy detention” – in recent years, as the government has closed CIA black sites and reduced the practice of extraordinary rendition. Although the number of people currently in the custody of foreign governments at the U.S. government’s request remains unknown, a 2010 United Nations Human Rights Council Joint Study documented 35 confirmed cases of individuals who were held in proxy detention.
“This suit seeks to shed light on the U.S. government’s practice of contracting with foreign governments to detain, interrogate, and often torture individuals it suspects – rightly or wrongly – of having connections to terrorism, because the U.S. cannot lawfully engage in these tactics itself,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU/SC staff attorney. “The American public deserves to know about our government’s practice of using other foreign governments –that are known to torture detainees – as our proxy to detain and interrogate people outside the rule of law. The public has a right to know how many other people, like Naji Hamdan, are currently detained in secret, without charge, and subjected to torture and other inhumane practices at our government’s request.”
Mr. Hamdan was secretly detained in the U.A.E. for three months until the ACLU/SC filed suit in November 2008 against the U.S. government for Mr. Hamdan’s illegal detention. One week after the suit was filed, Mr. Hamdan was released from secret detention but was transferred to an official U.A.E. prison and charged with vague counts of terrorism. One year later, the U.A.E. convicted Mr. Hamdan of unspecified crimes. Prosecutors introduced no evidence to support the charges, and the court sentenced him to time served without stating what offense he had committed. Mr. Hamdan was released in October 2009, after a more than 13-month campaign by the ACLU/SC and other human rights groups. He lives with his family in Lebanon.
Attorneys Laboni Hoq and Bert Voorhees from the law firm of Traber & Voorhees are co-counsel on the case with the ACLU/SC.