Federal Judge Mark Abel in Ohio has imposed a $15 million damage award on former Somali colonel, Abdi Aden Magan, who tortured human rights advocate Abukar Hassan Ahmed. What was most striking about the decision was the statement that such damages are necessary to guarantee that the United States is not a “safe harbor for those who commit human rights abuses.” Of course, this follows a series of court decisions barring the victims of the U.S. torture program from even getting a trial, let alone damages. Those responsible continue to appear on television from George W. Bush to Dick Cheney to John Yoo. Indeed, rather than punish those who facilitated the torture program, we made one — Jay Bybee (shown right) — a federal appellate judge with lifetime tenure. That particular “safe harbor” is found in the courthouse of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Ahmed proved that Magan oversaw his torture in Somalia in 1988. Ahmed was a professor at the Somalia International University and a human rights lawyer. Notably, his torture included the use of stress positions which was included in our own torture program. People like Bybee and Yoo advised that short of organ failure or death, such stress positions would not amount to torture.
Magan was investigations chief of the National Security Service of Somalia. One of Ahmed’s lawyers explained that the court wanted to draw the line at our borders to prevent this country from serving as a safe harbor.
Ahmed found Magan living in Ohio. He now lives in Kenya. He tried to dismiss the case as filed in the wrong country. It appears however that such jurisdictional problems only arise when U.S. officials are accused of torture. The Obama Administration (which opposed efforts to even try U.S. officials for torture) supported the right of a court to try a foreign torturer.
The hypocrisy of the United States on torture could not be evident or embarrassing. We have a federal court (correctly) holding a former foreign government official liable while on another federal court a supporter of the U.S. torture program sits in judgment of others without fear of prosecution.