Human Rights Activist Looks at Case of American Held in Ethiopia Jennifer Daskal, U.S. Program Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, advises Congress and the Bush Administration on a range of counterterrorism, criminal justice and immigration polices. She talks to Farai Chideya about the imprisonment of Amir Meshal and the U.S. government's role in the fight for his release.
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Human Rights Activist Looks at Case of American Held in Ethiopia

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Human Rights Activist Looks at Case of American Held in Ethiopia

Human Rights Activist Looks at Case of American Held in Ethiopia

Human Rights Activist Looks at Case of American Held in Ethiopia

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Jennifer Daskal, U.S. Program Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, advises Congress and the Bush Administration on a range of counterterrorism, criminal justice and immigration polices. She talks to Farai Chideya about the imprisonment of Amir Meshal and the U.S. government's role in the fight for his release.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

For more, I spoke with Jennifer Daskal, U.S. program advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. She provides advice and input to Congress and the Bush administration on a range of counterterrorism, criminal justice and immigration policies. She explained why the U.S. has an obligation to secure Amir Meshal's release.

Ms. JENNIFER DASKAL (Program Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch): The United States stands for due process. It stands for justice. It stands for transparency. And the United States cannot support those moral values, that position that the United States - makes the United States' grade. If it implicitly or explicitly allows an American citizen to languish in a situation of incommunicado detention, the United States has an obligation to bring that citizen back to the United States.

To have a transparent and full accounting of the accusations against and if in fact there are such accusations, and to hold them accountable if in fact he did commit acts of terrorism. But it's absolutely unacceptable for the United States to say that they believe that he may have committed acts of terrorism and therefore is going to facilitate and condone his total deprivation of basic rights.

CHIDEYA: Let's go to the broader issues. Is this something that happens often? How common is the case like Amir Meshal's?

Ms. DASKAL: Well, we know that Amir Meshal was detained most likely crossing the border into Kenya. And he was detained with around a hundred people, perhaps more, but joint cooperation between U.S., Kenya, and potentially Somalian entities.

He was one of many individuals who was then transferred, potentially with the assistance or implicit approval of the United States, to Somalia and then transferred or rendered to Ethiopia. We know that there are several dozens of foreign nationals who have been held, like Meshal, incommunicado in detention in Ethiopia. I don't think that we have a good sense as to the numbers around the world where this is happening, but certainly in this case he is not alone.

CHIDEYA: So you've got American citizens being rendered. I want you to define that term for us.

Ms. DASKAL: Rendering - in this context it's illegal rendering. So it's the transfer of somebody without legal process, without any sort of hearing or any other sort of court process, to another country totally outside of the law without any justification - just moved against their will to another country.

CHIDEYA: What are next steps, in your opinion, for this family? Obviously, they are speaking to the media, probably hoping that someone will seize on this case as a human rights issue. What do you think these family's options are, given that right now the government does not appear to be taking an active role in this case?

Ms. DASKAL: Well, I think the family is exactly right to be talking to the media and to be talking to Congress. And I remain hopeful that the United States government will, in fact, has taking active role in this case. It's unbelievable to me that the United States could not help secure fairly quickly Mr. Meshal's transfer if in fact the United States government wanted to do so. The United States has a fairly good relationship with Ethiopia, and has by all accounts been working with Ethiopia in its counterterrorism efforts in Somalia as well.

CHIDEYA: Is your organization, Human Rights Watch, going to get involved?

Ms. DASKAL: We have gotten involved. We've written a letter to Secretary of State Rice asking for information on the case, and we are and will continue to put pressure on the administration to do more as it should in this case.

CHIDEYA: Well, Jennifer, thanks so much for being on with us.

Ms. DASKAL: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Jennifer Daskal is U.S. program advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. We've talking about the case of American Muslim Amir Meshal. He has been held incommunicado in an Ethiopian prison for more than three months.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Next on NEWS & NOTES, one of our greatest living poets, Lucille Clifton, and life lessons from StoryCorps Griot.

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