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The Government Let a U.S. Citizen Spend Months in a Foreign Prison for No Good Reason

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Patrick Eddington | 9.21.2021 1:30 PM

Would the U.S. government deliberately allow an American citizen to languish in a foreign intelligence service prison in the hopes of getting an admission (true or otherwise) of involvement with Al Qaeda? Based on a State Department cable obtained by the Cato Institute via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, the answer appears to be yes.

In mid-March 2007, while I was working for then–Rep. Rush Holt (D–N.J.), journalist Jonathan Landay alerted me to the fact that one of Holt's constituents, Amir Mohamed Meshal of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, had apparently been in the custody of Ethiopia's National Intelligence and Security Service for more than a month. The State Department had apparently done little, if anything, to get him out.

As Landay would later report, Meshal's own actions had contributed to his plight. In late 2006, after visiting relatives in Egypt, Meshal told his parents he was going to Dubai to become a tour guide. His real destination was Somalia, where he intended to assist the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in establishing an Islamic government in Somalia, though allegedly in a noncombatant role.

The Bush administration had viewed the ICU as an Al Qaeda affiliate and persuaded the Ethiopian government to launch a military campaign against ICU forces. In the wake of the fighting, Meshal ended up as one of the refugees pushed from Somalia into neighboring Kenya in late January 2007. It was at this time that the FBI learned of Meshal and presumably asked Kenyan authorities to detain him until FBI agents could question him, which happened on multiple occasions according to State Department officials I spoke with at the time and Landay's reporting.

During March and April 2007 in conversations and email exchanges I had with State Department and FBI officials, it became clear that a U.S. government element other than the State Department had sought Meshal's involuntary transfer to Ethiopia. Whether the FBI legal attachés in Nairobi, Kenya, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, had conspired to transfer Meshal there, or whether the CIA had played a role—this happened during the height of the CIA's infamous torture program—was unclear.

What was clear was that by late March 2007, FBI agents had been able to interrogate Meshal multiple times—and never with counsel present, despite his American citizenship. On........

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