A new report from the Open Society Justice Initiative finds allegations that US officials – possibly including FBI officials – abused World Cup bombing suspects in Uganda credible enough to require “independent, impartial and transparent investigation.”
The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) on November 27 released a new report on their investigation into allegations of human rights abuses, including torture and illegal rendition, by counterterrorism forces in Kenya and Uganda following the 2010 World Cup bombing in Kampala, Uganda.
The report, which also looks at allegations of abuse by the FBI and UK security officials in Kampala, concludes “counterterrorism actions that followed the bombing were characterized by human rights violations, including allegations of arbitrary detention, unlawful renditions, physical abuse and denial of due process rights.”
East Africa is a major focus of US and UK counterterrorism efforts. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on “counterterrorism assistance” to countries in the area. Laws in the United States prohibit the use of such funds in countries with security forces that have committed gross violations of human rights. But as the OSJI report points out, this prohibition does “not apply to assistance funded out of US government intelligence budgets.”
OSJI recommendations include demands that “Kenya, Uganda and the Western countries that support them thoroughly investigate the alleged abuses, and must pursue counterterrorism activities that do not entail human rights violations.” In addition, both the US and the UK are encouraged to be more transparent on counterterrorism funding, especially with regard to rules and procedures for cooperating with foreign security forces.
The report was written by human rights investigator and OSJI Associate Legal Officer Jonathan Horowitz, in cooperation with the East Africa Law Society, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and the Pan African Lawyers Union.
Back on July 11, 2010, there were two bombings at sites in Kampala, Uganda where people had gathered to watch the final game of the soccer World Cup, killing 76 people. One of those killed was US aid worker Nate Henn, who worked with the non-profit Invisible Children, a charity that went on to produce a wildly popular video on Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Somalia’s Al Shabab publicly claimed responsibility for the bombings, and said it was a response to Uganda’s participation in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). According to the OSJI report, “Kenyan and Ugandan security forces cast a wide net” in the weeks after the bombing, “rounding up dozens of people.”
The hunt for suspects spread from Uganda to Kenya, and included Tanzania and Somalia. Approximately 20 suspects were illegally rendered to Uganda, some of whom were later released. US investigators, including a three-person FBI team, were dispatched quickly to the scene. New York Police Department (NYPD) detectives attached to the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) also were sent to be part of the investigation.
In all, upwards of 30 people from various countries were held in relation to the bombing. To date, some have been released, while two have pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
But 12 prisoners are still in Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala awaiting trial. And according to OSJI, “serious questions remain about the human rights abuses they were allegedly subjected to, and the roles of Kenyan, Ugandan, US and UK security forces in those alleged abuses.”
As reported by Truthout in an August 2011 story about Omar Awadh Omar, one of the Kenyan prisoners rendered to Uganda, Don Borelli was the FBI agent in charge of a team that grew to about 60 agents. It was “the largest FBI deployment since the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen,” according to a web page describing Borelli for his current employer, The Soufan Group.
OSJI report author Horowitz told Truthout in a telephone interview that he believed teams of agents circulated in and out of the area during the investigation, and the “60 agents” figure might reflect that fact.
In addition, a third government agency may have been involved in the US effort. The OSJI report describes allegations by Omar Awadh Omar that he was “punched” and “slapped” by men who said they were FBI agents. In addition, Omar “provided the name of an alleged US ‘security officer’ who struck him in the knee with a hard object.”
An affidavit from Mohammed Hamid Suleiman, a Kenyan national rendered to Uganda in August 2010 and still held in prison there, mentions the same “security officer,” but identifies him as an FBI agent. (The OSJI report studiously does not report any of the names of security personnel it may have gathered.)
According to the report, both Omar and Suleiman’s affidavits describe this officer “as an older man who had long hair in a ponytail, wore a blazer, shirt, and khaki trousers.”
“Omar alleged that two other Americans involved in the interrogations saluted this man when he entered the room,” the report states. “This is not a common practice of FBI or NYPD officials and raises questions as to whether other government agencies were involved in the investigation and interrogations.”
Citing a Time magazine article by Mark Benjamin in May 2011, Horowitz speculated that this other government agency could be the secretive High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG), supposedly formed by President Obama in August 2009.
Asked if they could confirm the participation of the HIG in the World Cup bombing interrogations, FBI spokeswoman Kathleen Wright told Truthout, “As it pertains to the HIG, the FBI does not discuss when the HIG was or was not deployed.”
The Associated Press (AP) wrote about OSJI’s report upon its release. The news agency quoted an FBI spokesperson who denied claims of abuse or mistreatment of detainees by FBI employees.
“When investigating cases overseas, all FBI personnel operate within the guidelines established by the Attorney General as well as all other applicable laws, policies and regulations,” the spokesman, Paul Bresson, told AP.
US and Uganda at Odds on Rendition Story
Ten of the 12 awaiting trial in Kampala were rendered to Uganda by either the Kenyan or Tanzanian governments.
Dean Boyd, spokesman for the National Security Division at the US Department of Justice, told Truthout last April, “Mr. Omar Awadh Omar was detained in Kenya and handed over from there to the Ugandan authorities. There was no US government involvement in his detention or transfer of custody. We refer you to the Governments of Uganda and Kenya regarding the bilateral or multilateral agreements under which this transfer occurred.”
But according to a UK court document, the Ugandan government denies it ever received Omar via rendition, claiming he was arrested in Kampala on September 10, 2010.
Similarly, while admitting that five Kenyan prisoners were “transferred” to Uganda, Ugandan officials also deny that Habib Suleiman Njoroge was rendered from Kenya as well. The Anti-Terrorism Police Unit of Kenya (ATPU) also denies involvement in the rendition of Omar and Njoroge.
Yet OSJI’s report states outright that the Kenyan government did not follow legal procedures in its rendition of suspects to Uganda.
“Procedures for a lawful transfer to another country are spelled out in Kenya’s 1968 Extradition Act,” the OSJI report states, “including the requirements to issue an arrest warrant and bring the detainee to a court prior to extradition…. In the aftermath of the World Cup bombing, Kenyan authorities ignored these rules.”
OSJI also criticized the Tanzanian government because prisoners were rendered to Uganda before they had exhausted their appeal rights.
The issue of the illegal rendition of Omar and the others from Kenya to Uganda is a matter of legal appeal in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). According to an EACJ December 2011 ruling, which ruled in favor of Omar and the others pursuing their appeal, the question of whether the prisoners were “abducted and surrendered to Uganda illegally and whether or not the Republic of Uganda failed to provide a remedy are matters for the merits of the case.”
Recent legal decisions in both Uganda and Kenya have curtailed some of the antiterror laws passed since the World Cup bombing, laws that OSJI and others said were overly broad and punitive, targeting political opponents and minority ethnic or national groups. But the abuses detailed in the OSJI report predate these recent legal changes.
A number of ATPU prisoners said they were held incommunicado and not allowed contact with family or attorneys. Some also alleged Kenyan authorities told them prior to rendition they would be tortured by Ugandan officials.
According to OSJI’s report, Kenyan national Idris Magondu stated in a court affidavit, “The ATPU officers threatened to hand me over to the Ugandan Army, who would subsequently torture, shoot and kill me and they also told me that I would never see my family again and that they would kill members of my family.”
Prisoners alleged abuse or torture by members of Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan security forces, and also from FBI and UK anti-terror agents. For instance, in regard to Kenyan security, according to OSJI, Njoroge named “a high level ATPU official who allegedly took a gun, placed it against Njoroge’s neck as if he was going to shoot him, and accused Njoroge of being an Islamic fundamentalist.”
The Guardian UK described Njoroge’s rendition and torture in an April 24, 2012 article. According to the Guardian, Njoroge alleged being hooded and shackled by Kenyan police and driven to Uganda, where he was transferred to Uganda’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU).
According to the Guardian, “While in RRU custody, Njoroge says he was kept naked, beaten, sexually assaulted and forced to sign a statement in which he confessed to being involved in the bombings.”
Njoroge claimed, “Among the officials interrogating him … were men with American and British accents.”
FBI in Charge?
A number of detainees have alleged abuse by FBI officers, including physical threats, hitting, hooding and threat of further rendition to Guantanamo. One prisoner alleged an FBI officer threatened him with a gun, telling him, “There are no human rights here. We are in charge of the police and the courts, and you will spend your life in prison and will not see your family again.”
OSJI detailed the allegations of Kenyan national Yahya Suleiman Mbuthia. Mbuthia said that in his first interrogation “a blue-eyed man who identified himself as an FBI officer” threatened him. He “cocked his gun as if he were going to shoot me, saying that there was a bullet inside with my name on it and showing me a photo of dead people from the Kampala bombing, accusing me of being the person who did it.”
Mbuthia has also alleged physical abuse by FBI officers, writing in an affidavit that he was “repeatedly beaten, punched in the stomach, had my mouth squeezed, and was almost suffocated with a dirty hood.”
OSJI reported that Mbuthia “said there were Ugandans present during the interrogations but it was clear to him throughout the interrogations that the FBI was firmly in charge.”
One purported FBI officer, who one detainee described merely as a “security officer,” was described “as an older man who had long hair in a ponytail, wore a blazer, shirt and khaki trousers.” As noted above, OSJI had reasons to believe this was possibly not an FBI agent.
In a telephone interview with Truthout, OSJI report author Horowitz wondered about possible misdirection regarding the identity of interrogators.
Horowitz said, “There is a history of other parts of the US government involved in a clandestine manner more than the FBI.” He noted there have been allegations elsewhere, as at Guantanamo, where other officials or agents falsely identified themselves as FBI. The FBI, said Horowitz, is known for “a cleaner record” on detainee abuse than some other government agencies.
Indeed, the OSJI report states that “a former US government official with knowledge of the investigation” said that FBI involvement “had successfully reduced human rights violations” by security forces in the region. FBI agents supposedly “persuaded Ugandan authorities to conduct a more focused investigation rather than mass round-ups.”
But OSJI was dubious about such claims. Their report describes how human rights workers in the area who investigated the abuses were themselves jailed, or deported from the country.
The OSJI report states that civil rights groups in Kenya and Uganda have been critical of both the United States and the United Kingdom “for blindly supporting domestic security forces that violate human rights and the rule of law, including their close partnership with the now disbanded Ugandan Rapid Response Unit.”
In a review of instructions given to FBI agents for interrogations in foreign detention centers, Truthout found that interrogators are to supposed follow certain “non-coercive” rapport-building techniques, as well as the 18 “approach” techniques approved by Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Human Intelligence Collector Operations). Such “approaches” include the use of “Fear Up,” “Emotional Pride and Ego Down” and “Emotional Futility.”
There is a 19th technique in the Army Field Manual, involving the use of isolation on a prisoner (Appendix M of the AFM). While not formally placed in the FBI’s list of techniques, the Agency’s manual does recommend “isolation of the detainee,” stating, “In order to create the optimum conditions for productive interview, if the policy of the facility permits, consider having your detainee placed in an individual cell several days before you begin interrogation.”
Asked to respond to the varied abuse allegations, Wright, the FBI’s spokeswoman, told Truthout in an email exchange, “The FBI demands strict adherence to both the letter and the spirit of all applicable laws, regulations, and policies. Each employee has the responsibility to uphold the FBI’s core values of integrity and accountability so that the Bureau maintains the public’s trust.”
Wright said the Bureau’s Inspection Division (INSD) reviews all allegations of misconduct, and “the facts generated by INSD during the investigation are turned over to the Office of Public Responsibility (OPR) for adjudication based on those facts.”
Asked if there had been an investigation by either INSD or OPR into the allegations surrounding FBI abuse during the World Cup bombing interrogations, or whether FBI agents had documented the condition of those it interviewed, as required by FBI manual procedures Special Agent Wright said, “The FBI cannot comment on investigations or on reports related to a particular investigation.”
Wright said that the FBI had taken “considerable care and consideration” and made “an accurate and appropriate response,” when they told AP abuse charges were “without merit.”
She referenced a statement by FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Senate Judiciary Committee last May.
Mueller told the committee, “Every FBI employee takes an oath promising to uphold the rule of law and the United States Constitution. I emphasize that it is not enough to catch the criminal; we must do so while upholding civil rights…. In the end, we will be judged not only by our ability to keep Americans safe from crime and terrorism, but also by whether we safeguard the liberties for which we are fighting and maintain the trust of the American people.”
Wright further said FBI policy “forbids abuse, threat of abuse to the interviewee or any third party, or imposing severe physical conditions on the interviewee. Agents may not participate in a circumstance in which the agent knows or suspects that a co-interrogator or the detaining authority has used a method that is not in compliance with FBI policy, even if the method is in compliance with the co-interviewer’s or detaining authority’s guidelines. “
But according to the FBI’s Cross Cultural Rapport-Based Interrogation manual, revised in February 2011, FBI agents working in a “foreign detention facility” have “limited or no authority” over how detainees are treated.
The manual tells agents [bold in original], “You have no control over the detention conditions of your subject so you need to document his condition every time you interview him.”
As the FBI says it will not comment “on investigations or on reports related to a particular investigation,” we do not know what the FBI found regarding the condition of detainees held in Uganda, or rendered from Kenya and Tanzania. Nor do we know what was found on any internal investigation related to the charges, or if indeed such an internal investigation ever took place.
Horowitz labels much of the FBI’s response to press questions as “stock language,” and noted that the FBI refused multiple times to respond to official requests for comment or questions from OSJI.
Horowitz told Truthout the allegations of FBI mistreatment of prisoners “certainly require a serious, detailed, comprehensive public response.”
Regarding allegations that US officials abused World Cup bombing suspects in Uganda, the OSJI report itself concludes, “If an independent, impartial and transparent investigation” into these allegations did not take place, [the US should] conduct one as a matter of urgency.”