LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A U.S. citizen tortured and imprisoned for more than a year in the United Arab Emirates at the apparent behest of the United States government has been released and deported to Lebanon, where he will be reunited with his family.
Naji Hamdan’s release came after a more than 13-month-long campaign by the ACLU/SC and his family to have him freed. During that time, he was arrested, blindfolded, held in a secret prison for months and ultimately charged on evidence obtained under torture.
“Mr. Hamdan’s harrowing ordeal is a troubling example of what can and is likely to continue to occur unless the Obama administration renounces Bush-era policies of proxy detention,” said Ahilan Arulanantham director of immigrant rights and national security at the ACLU/SC. “Turning over suspects to foreign governments with grim human-rights records and little transparency will not make Americans safer. It certainly did not in the case of Mr. Hamdan. Instead, proxy detention undermines the American system of due process and rips apart the lives of innocent people.”
After a trial riddled with problems -- including closed door-hearings, a “confession” obtained under torture, and charges that dealt with events that occurred outside the U.A.E. -- a U.A.E. judge earlier this month found Hamdan guilty of terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to 18 months’ time served.
“I am grateful to everyone that has stood by my side during this difficult time. I can’t tell you how horrific the conditions were and the immense personal and physical toll I have suffered,” Hamdan said from his home in Lebanon. “But just because I am safe now does not mean that others are. My story is destined to repeat itself if the Obama administration does not put an end to this practice.”
Hamdan, who raised his family in Southern California before moving to the U.A.E., was arrested in that country last year by state security forces in a move that appears to have been orchestrated by the former administration of President George W. Bush. For three months, Hamdan was held in a secret U.A.E. prison where security forces interrogated and tortured him until he confessed to whatever the officials wanted. Hamdan believes that at least one American official was present during one of those torture sessions, when the interrogator spoke to him in American English while he himself remained blindfolded.
Shortly after he was imprisoned, the ACLU/SC filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging its involvement. It was only then that Hamdan was transferred from a secret location to criminal custody where he was able to contact his family. Our lawsuit stated that because the U.S. government did not have enough evidence to arrest Hamdan under U.S. laws, it asked the U.A.E. to detain him instead, a practice known as “proxy detention.” We subsequently delivered a petition with hundreds of signatures to incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to look into Hamdan’s case, and lobbied other U.S. government officials. In addition, the ACLU/SC closely monitored Hamdan’s trial, corresponding with him and at times attending court hearings in the U.A.E.
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. His nightmare began in 2006 when he relocated his family and business to the U.A.E. As the Hamdans tried to board a flight at Los Angeles International Airport, FBI agents separated him from his wife and children, detained him and questioned him for hours. He was eventually released and allowed to travel, but when he returned to Los Angeles in early 2007 to check on his business, he was subjected to further intensive FBI surveillance.
In the summer of 2008, FBI agents traveled from Los Angeles to the U.A.E. to question Hamdan further. Shortly thereafter he was detained incommunicado by U.A.E. state security agents. Since Hamdan’s arrest, both U.S. and U.A.E. officials have refused to deny that the United States was responsible for his detention.