US Muslim tortured in UAE for 106 days struggles to prove FBI hand

A US citizen, who was put on a no-fly list, declared a threat to national security and tortured in an UAE prison after refusing to become an FBI informant, is having a hard time proving it happened at the behest of the US authorities, his lawyer told RT.

Yonas Fikre is an Eritrean born American citizen who immigrated as a refugee to the US when he was 13 from neighboring Sudan. He became a US citizen and in 2006 settled in Portland, Oregon. His problems began soon after 2010 when he went back to Khartoum, where he still had relatives, to start an electronics import business.

In Sudan he was summoned to the US Embassy on false pretenses and was told by two FBI agents from Oregon that they wanted to ask him a few questions about his mosque in Portland. When Fikre demanded a lawyer and hesitated to answer questions about people he had prayed at the mosque with but barely knew – the agents told him he was placed on a no-fly list. Although there was “absolutely no factual justification” for that, his lawyer, Thomas Nelson, told RT.

READ MORE: US Muslim sues FBI over ‘months of torture on unspecified charges’

Fikre was told he would be taken off the list if he agreed to work for the BFI as an informant. He eventually agreed to answer their questions, but not work for the feds. A couple of weeks later, Fikre says he received a letter from one of the FBI agents, telling him threateningly: “While we hope to get your side of issues we keep hearing about, the choice is yours to make. The time to help yourself is now.”

Taking threats into account, he still managed to fly to his relatives in Sweden. He concluded that he was not in fact deemed a serious threat and the FBI agents had been bluffing, although he wondered whether had he flown to a close US ally such as Britain that this would also have been the case.

He got a chance to find that out after he went to the UAE, one of the US’s closet allies in the Middle East, and was suddenly arrested by the local police.

Fikre was held and tortured in UAE prison for 106 days from June to September 2011. During this time he was continually beaten and repeatedly asked about events in Portland, Oregon – the same questions that the FBI asked him earlier.

“During the torture he was always blindfolded, and so he could not see who was doing the interrogating and who else was in the room, although he was aware that there were others. With the exception that he could occasionally look underneath the blindfold and see pants, trousers, shoes and dress of that sort. Sometimes there was Western dress, sometimes there was Arabic dress,” his lawyer explained to RT.

After eventually being released – without any charges – Fikre managed to return to Sweden and over the next three years managed to prove that he had been tortured while in custody in the UAE, although he and his legal team are convinced they can not prove that this was at the behest of the US authorities.

“During the course of 3 years there, the Swedish authorities investigated what happened to him and they came to a conclusion that Yonas indeed had been tortured. Their problem was that they had a hard time proving that it was the FBI or the American authorities that instigated and performed the torturing. It was not a question of whether the torture occurred, it was a question of whether they can prove that the Americans were behind it,” he explained.

Although there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Thomas Nelson says they are having hard time proving the US authorities took part in the torture.

“It’s one of those difficult things because when the most powerful nation on earth wants to hide something, it can do it very easily. We have litigation going on here where, we’re going to try and chase down those avenues and to prove who was involved, what they did and how they did it,” Nelson said.

The lawyer added that legally one of the major problems lawyers face in issues like this is that it’s very difficult to bring a foreign state as a defendant into the United States court system. He also said that another reason that litigation against the US authorities has been unsuccessful is because the US has been “very effective in scaring and creating fear both in the judiciary and in the general public about Muslims.”