Why is Amir Mohamed Meshal in Ethiopia, and why isn’t the US State Department demanding his release?

Amir Mohamed Meshal, a twenty-four year old American from Tinton Falls, New Jersey, travelled to Somalia in December to help the Union of Islamic Courts rebuild Somalia. When Ethiopian forces, with the backing and support of the US military, helped install the transitional federal government, he found himself in an active war zone. Like many people caught in Mogadishu, he fled south, to Kenya.

In Kenya, he was arrested and held so he could be questioned by FBI agents, who were concerned that he might be associated with Al Qaeda – US involvement in “stabilizing” Somalia appears to be based on the premise that the Union of Islamic Courts might create a safe haven for terror by controlling Somalia. The FBI concluded that Meshal had no terror connections. The US State department contacted his family in New Jersey and told them that if they sent a plane ticket, Amir would be able to come home.

But at some point in February, he and between 63 and 150 people who’d been arrested in Kenya, fleeing Somalia, were deported back to Mogadishu and then transferred almost immediately to detention facilities in Ethiopia. It’s unclear what will happen to him now – if the Ethiopians determine that he was an enemy combatant, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.

According to Shashank Bengali and Jonathan S. Landay, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, the US State Department isn’t demanding his release from custody: “‘We have asked that his case be handled in a timely and a fair manner in accordance with local laws and procedures,’ said Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman in Washington.” In other words, good luck with the Ethiopian judiciary, kid. Elizabeth Kennedy, writing for the AP, comes to a different conclusion: “They [the US State Department] have furiously objected to the circumstances behind his presence in Ethiopia, a steadfast U.S. counterterrorism ally.” Given the amounts of military and financial support the US is giving Ethiopia, I find it hard to believe that those objections were too furious, or the young man would be headed home to New Jersey.

The US government knows that the Ethiopian justice system leaves much to be desired – over a hundred journalists and oppositiion activists are imprisoned in Addis Ababa for vague charges of “incitement to genocide”, which appears to translate as “opposition to the Zenawi government.” Accusations of torture and mistreatment within the Ethiopian prison system are widespread.

Evidently we’re more interested in our own citizens when they claim to be Al-Qaeda affiliated. Daniel Joseph Maldonado was also arrested when fleeing Somalia. He confessed to training with Al Qaeda and was extradited to Texas, where he’s facing charges.

The Kenya Human Rights Council is referring to these deportations as “extraordinary rendition“. This shameful technique is one in which the US government turns over suspects to governments which we know practice torture so that we can get information from suspects without getting our hands dirty. It’s unclear to me that this is, in fact, what’s occurring here – the FBI had questioned Meshal extensively and determined he was not a threat. But it’s also not at all clear why the US State Department allowed Meshal to be extradited to Ethiopia and why they’re not raising bloody hell to get him released.

The background to this situation – which doesn’t just affect Meshal but a large number of other detainees deported from Kenya – is the inexplicable involvement of the US military in a third front in the “war on terror”. Not content with our complicated involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US government provided air support, training, financing and, quite possibly, boots on the ground to support the Ethiopian army’s invasion of their neighbor. Prior to the invasion, southern Somalia had reached a low level of stability – it has now descended again into street fighting and warlordism. There’s been little discussion of US involvement in the horn of Africa in the US press beyond triumphalism about chasing Al Qaeda out of the country. I’d like to think that the situation of a young man from New Jersey will bring some attention to the situation and my government’s role in it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Kenya’s role in these deportations is causing predictable anger and dissent within Kenya’s muslim population, who worry that Kenyan muslims may be arrested due to suspicion of Al Qaeda affiliation. The World Cross Country Championships are taking place in Mombassa tomorrow and Kenyan authorities expect widespread protest against these extraditions.

Why isn’t the US government demanding Amir Mohamed Meshal’s immediate release from Ethiopian custody? I have high hopes that we’ll hear more about the situation in the next few days. This is one of those stories where blogger interest may prevent the situation from disappearing under a wave of interest in Democrat/Republican showdowns in US congress – please link to the McClatchy story if you’re as concerned as I am about this situation.


The Washington Post has a story on Meshal today as well, and includes the quote: “An intelligence official said the CIA was not involved in Meshal’s case, and the State Department said it had formally protested the transfer. It has not officially sought Meshal’s extradition from Ethiopia, however.” The headline for the Post story is “U.S. Presses for Release of American Held in Ethiopia” – it’s not entirely clear to me how that paragraph aligns with the headline. Is the State Department negotiating with the Ethiopian government for Meshal’s release, or merely filing a nominal protest?

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13 Responses to Why is Amir Mohamed Meshal in Ethiopia, and why isn’t the US State Department demanding his release?

  1. mohamed meshal says:

    Honorable Holt, Mr. Black and Mr. Eddignton,
    This is a distress call on behalf of my son Amir.
    The latest development as of 24 Mar, the Ethiopians, under the guidance and supervision of US Government are accusing Amir of baseless charges. Any brutal interrogator can obtain desired confessions from its subject by arm twisting, torture and abuse.

    This case has been dragging on for too long, for about two month now.
    Both the State/Justice Depts. are involved.

    I plead for your immediate assistance in securing Amir’s safe release.
    The British have assisted 4 UK citizens to go home.
    Why the US does not look as good as the British or even better.

    We need to show the world that we care about our citizens constitutional rights and demand that the Justice & State Depts. do their jobs, come clean on this case, and stop playing games.

    As a minimum, we need to discuss this matter w/ Senator/Congressman Lantos, Chairman, Foreign Affairs and Mr. Alberto Gonzales, DA.

    The future and fate of this innocent 24 years old young man are in your hands. The US Government can not plead ignorance and let a third world lawless country determine the fate of my son. Currently, the US is orchestrating the weaving of a hanging noose by its subordinate agents/puppet regimes (Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia). The US is outsourcing its false accusations, torture, tricks and lawless maneuvering business to African Dictatorships.

    We need to improve the image of the US, act immediately to stop the illegal jungle proceedings against Amir, and bring him back home immediately.

  2. J Soo says:

    And, what exactly would they like the Kenyan government to do?
    You end up walking into the US from any conflict zone. The state does with you what they see fit.
    Don’t ask me.. as as the guys in the bay. WHich Bay? Guantanamo Bay.

  3. One Nut says:

    Its a shame; that when the US Gov’t doesnt want soemething, that it will be put off to the side. But we all know that when they get enough people to bark at them for their lack of involvemant and lack of interest in saving the life of Mr. Amir Meshal then they will go ahead and help the American citizen. This story should have not carried this far. His life is in danger and someone that has a good heart could be the reason of bringing this young man home. I think the least we can do is bring him home since the Kenyan Gov’t doesn’t want him. Im sure this wont be as easy as purchasing a plane ticket for him, it is about gaining pride for oneself and then doing something about it. We need to stop thinking about ourselves for 2mins and think about saving someone that wants to come home to his family.

  4. Nora Meshal says:

    What has America come to? Since when do we not protect are own citizens? This is a disgrace to American society. I beg of anyone who can reach out and help. Amir Meshal doesnot deserve this nor does his family. Nor should anyone in a thrid world country perdict the fate of an American citizen! America Please he is one of us lets not turn are backs on him!!! Bring him back home!

  5. nasser osman says:

    Dear fellow:
    We are not accusing US of anything.
    FBI has released the boy with no problem.
    The boy has no link to trror or Alqaeda or anything like that.
    the boy went to Egypt to get a job and he was fired and he went to Somalia to get a job and when the war errubt he fled the country to safe ground.
    it is the simplest as that.
    he is very simple neife kid and did not commit any crime whatsoever by any standard.
    we want his immediate release.
    he was not invove in any war with anyone and FBI knew that and found no evidence against him of any wrong doing.
    he is US citzen worker get cought in fire by mistake and his release is a must.
    Do not mind the high emmotion of his father.
    his father is US citzen working for US army and his grand father was also working for US Army in WWII.
    The whole family are American and good paying taxes citzens.
    All we need is Amir release because he comit no crime against anyone.

  6. mat-new jersey says:

    Lets be honest here!! Somalia has been a hotbed of lawlessness for the last 16 years. One thing people forget is the extent to which regional politics/ dynamics play a role. Everyone believes that this is the 3rd front of the war on terror and Meshal to be an innocent Victim. I believe otherwise.

    It is true that the Ethiopian government used the current world politics to advance its agenda of getting rid of the islamic courts. But, here are the facts

    1. Ethiopian separatist groups were operating out of somalia. ( infact some were being trained and armed by Ethiopia’s regional foe Eritrea)

    2. The Islamic courts was extremely hostile to Ethiopia and declared Jihad against Ethiopia

    3. Eritrea was involved in the arming of the islamic courts

    so somalia became a proxy battleground for Eritrea and Ethiopia. In light of the above, and given somalia’s utter lawlessness and lack of a functionaing economy, what was meshal doing there. Looking for a job ?? I don’t think so!! trying to rebuild a nation?? I doubt it…If anything he was a young impressionable fellow who went to somalia not knowing the larger regional dynamics…Probably went to somalia under misguided assumptions and got involved in things that he should not have.

  7. bob-3 says:

    This guy needs to be tried. It is most likely that he was aiding and abetting terrorists in Somalia. Not only should he be tried in Ethiopia, but anyone who in the U.S. who financially supported his travels should also be investigated. The idea he was just casually ‘looking for a job’ in Somalia is laughable.

  8. Adriana Stuijt says:

    There are quite a few questions which should be asked, and which remain murky around this young man’s presence in Somalia. For instance, why would this young American muslim have even felt the need to flee from Somalia after the (pro-American) transitional government had been installed? Wasn’t he actually an American who would have had nothing to fear from a pro-American government unless he was running around with the wrong crowd?

    And according to a Nairobi-based western journalist, Anthony Mitchell of the Associated Press, who now is among the missing from this weekend’s Kenya Air plane crash, his young American muslim ‘had been arrested in Kenya while resting beneath a tree with a group of men who had been armed with AK-47s.’

    While being armed with AK-47s is not at all an unusual occurrance for men in most of southern Africa, the presence of a young American in their presence should also be raising a lot of questions.

  9. Adriana Stuijt says:

    One of the frequent claims made by pro-Sharia muslims is that Somalia had been much more ‘peaceful’ when under a muslim-government. The warnings by Somalian refugees such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali have taught us of late that there simply is no such thing as a peaceful society under any muslim government: there may be an outward appearance of “peace” but this actually is the “peace of suppression” the “peace of totalitarian rule”. For as long as fifty percent of its population — their women and girls — are being constantly brutalized and suppressed by such a society, there is no ‘peace” behind the closed doors.

    The Muslim Brotherhood ‘s preachings have an increasing strangehold on this part of the world — including in Kenya — and these are among the most powerful arguments the Muslim Brotherhood and their adherents always use — namely that “societies are more peaceful and the poor are being taken care of” under muslim governments.

    It’s a grotesquely false claim which unfortunately is being taken at face value by many people.

  10. Beth says:

    I have been researching this for a term paper, and nearly every source I read (American, British, African, etc.) admits that Somalia had significantly less turmoil and significantly more order with the Islamic Courts. These people haven’t had any semblence of a stable government in fifteen years, and this is their 14th attempt at a transitional government.

    Meshal entered Somalia at the time when the Islamic Courts were in power, and it’s possible that he, like several others, had hope that maybe this would be an alternative solution. It may not be the American ideal of peace, but it *may* have been better than what they’ve had for the past 15 years. We’ll never know.

    I think Meshal is simply a naive young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. His case as been investigated by all parties involved, and all claim to find him innocent. As such, it’s time for him to come home. If there’s a reason he’s still there, let’s hear about it.

  11. Beth says:

    P.S. As of the latest article I can find regarding this issue, dated April 29, he is still in Ethiopia.

  12. Amir should face justice to which he is entittled.

  13. As i had stated earier,it is quite absurd that Amir has not yet been granted his justice.Remember justice delayed is justice denied.

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