Group says Ethiopia won’t release terror suspects – By Anita Powell(AP)

October 1st, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Suspects arrested in a clandestine anti-terrorism sweep in East Africa nearly two years ago and interrogated by U.S. personnel have been abandoned by their governments, (more…)

Suspects arrested in a clandestine anti-terrorism sweep in East Africa nearly two years ago and interrogated by U.S. personnel have been abandoned by their governments, a human rights group said in a report released Wednesday that also detailed torture accusations from former prisoners.

One Canadian and nine Kenyans are still jailed without charge in Ethiopia after being arrested in 2007 and 22 more east Africans of various nationalities are missing, said a report by Human Rights Watch titled “Why Am I Still Here?”

The men were part of roundup of about 90 people arrested in the months after Ethiopia toppled Somalia’s Islamist government at the end of 2006. They are accused of being members of insurgent and Islamist groups such as al-Qaida.

The prisoners were detained in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia and moved to secret jails where some say they were tortured by Ethiopian guards and often questioned by American interrogators, the report said.

“One detainee said that during one of these interrogation sessions, the U.S. officials yelled in his ear so loudly that he was convinced he would lose his hearing. Another described being forced to stand for some five hours between interrogations with his hands cuffed in a painful position behind his back,” the report said.

Ethiopia is a key ally in America’s war on terror, but is frequently criticized for its poor record on human rights and the suppression of political opposition.

The American government has previously acknowledged questioning foreign terror suspects transferred from other countries to Ethiopian jails, but denied there is anything illegal about the practice. American officials said the suspects were never in American custody.

“No one has any interest in (the prisoners), and they seem to be stuck in never-never land,” said the report’s author, Jennifer Daskal, a senior counterterrorism counsel for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Those governments involved — Ethiopia, Kenya and the U.S. — need to reverse course, renounce unlawful renditions, and account for the missing,” she said.

The group said it conducted interviews with 12 former and current detainees and numerous other sources. Some detainees gave harrowing accounts of being tortured by their Ethiopian captors, including being knifed and having toenails pulled out, the organization said.

Several men said they had been beaten repeatedly, suffered permanent injury and disfigurement, only to be suddenly released after months of interrogation and dumped penniless in Somalia, Human Rights Watch said.

“All the other foreigners we were held with here have been released. No one cares about us. Please help us,” Salim Awadh Salim, a 36-year-old Kenyan, said to Human Rights Watch by telephone from prison.

“The Kenyan government has refused to acknowledge their Kenyan citizenship and bring them back home,” Daskal said.

Kenyan officials did not return calls for comment Tuesday or Wednesday, a public holiday in Kenya.

Ethiopian officials have previously acknowledged holding detainees, both foreign and Ethiopian, without charge or contact with their embassies. In April 2007, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged holding 41 suspects and ordered their release.

Wednesday’s report also says Ethiopia secretly arrested Ethiopian men accused of being members of internal rebel groups, such as the separatist movements the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Ethiopian officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday because of a public holiday in Ethiopia, as well.

The report’s authors say the roundup, intended to diminish terrorist threats in the region, has only increased them.

“This horrific experience … does nothing but breed resentment both against the countries directly involved — Ethiopia and Kenya — and the U.S.,” Daskal said. “This type of activity merely fuels the anti-American militancy.”

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