American Muslim Disappears into Ethiopia Prisons Amir Meshal is an American citizen, and he has been held incommunicado in an Ethiopian prison for more than three months, the charges and evidence against him something of a mystery. Amir's father, Mohamed Meshal, and Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at New York University Law School Brennan Center for Justice who is representing the Meshals, talk to Farai Chideya about how Amir landed in prison and what can be done to get him out.
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American Muslim Disappears into Ethiopia Prisons

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American Muslim Disappears into Ethiopia Prisons

American Muslim Disappears into Ethiopia Prisons

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now to the story of an American Muslim whose been held in an Ethiopian prison for more than three months. Amir Meshal was born and raised in New Jersey. His parents are both American citizens. Mohamed and Fisie(ph) Meshal immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt in the 1970s. Together, they have raised five kids. Mohamed, a computer engineer, recently told me about his oldest son Amir.

Mr. MOHAMED MESHAL (Father of Amir Meshal): After high school, he went to a local community college for a while, but, you know, he was not too interested in the subject, so he decided to work and was only able to find work in odd jobs like, you know, supermarket cashier, you know, or a taxi cab driver. Both myself and my wife wouldn't like the idea for him doing odd jobs, so we wanted him to have a different perspective on life so we decided to send him to Egypt back in 2005. The main objective of sending him to Egypt was to learn the language and to learn the culture and see how hard it is in other countries to make a living, so when he come back to the U.S. he will have a better perspective on life and take advantage of the many opportunities that this great country of ours offers.

CHIDEYA: But somewhere down the line, his son, Amir Meshal ended up in Ethiopia and in jail incommunicado. Now the Meshal family is getting help form attorney Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. Here again is Amir's father, Mohamed Meshal, along with Jonathan Hafetz. Mohamed says he first learned of his son's whereabouts from the FBI.

Mr. MESHAL: Two agents came to our door and they told us, I have news for you. He's not in Dubai, but he's in Somalia. The next day we got a call from the State Department, from the consulate affairs in Kenya saying he was in Kenya. They couldn't charge him with anything. He was sent back to Somalia. So we lost the contact with him until we were notified by a newspaper article that he was in Ethiopia.

CHIDEYA: Jonathan, this is a very complicated story.

Mr. JONATHAN HAFETZ (Lawyer, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School): Yeah.

CHIDEYA: Tell us what happened.

Mr. HAFETZ: As Mr. Meshal related, Amir was rendered illegally from Kenya to Somalia around February 10. He was then in Somalia for about a week or so, we believe, when he was taken to Ethiopia. He's being detained in a secret jail. We don't know where he is being held. He has no access to a lawyer. He is being detained without charge. He's being held in essentially what is a legal black hole in a country that is a known human rights violator, and we are greatly concerned about his safety.

CHIDEYA: Jonathan, his status is that he's a U.S. citizen. He is being held so far without charges. Apparently, according to McClatchy newspapers, Amir told his interrogators that he'd been in the training camp near Mogadishu, Somalia, where he believed there were al-Qaida members. But he said he wasn't undergoing training. That, nonetheless, raises these questions about why he was where he was. What do you know?

Mr. HAFETZ: Well, the real question here is the conduct of the government officials. The United States, the FBI has questioned and interrogated Amir Meshal. And according to two reports that we have, the FBI agents threatened Amir Meshal with torture. They told him he would be taken to a secret prison and that he was in a lawless country. And what he's been denied and what we believe the U.S. government is playing a key role in is what I would describe as an outsource detention. And we're asking the committees in the Senate and the House to conduct the full investigation into what's happened here. There needs to be accountability.

CHIDEYA: Jonathan and Mr. Meshal, there was apparently another man, an American Muslim, arrested when Amir was arrested. This country is definitely constantly evaluating and constantly having in the news, and in debates on Capitol Hill and in the White House, how we deal with people who are suspected of terrorism. Do you have any concerns, Mr. Meshal, that your son was involved in terrorist activities?

Mr. MESHAL: No way. I think the only reason he would be there, for humanitarian reason. It's all pure speculation. It has no basis of truth, whatsoever.

Mr. HAFETZ: Let me just add here. The gentleman you referenced, Daniel Maldonado, an American citizen who was seized around the same time as Amir Meshal, was returned by the United States from Kenya to Texas. He was subsequently charged with a crime and pled guilty, but he was given due process and basic American protections. Yet, inexplicably, Amir Meshal, the FBI agent -the FBI and the government has publicly said they have no intent to charge -has been denied due process and has been left to languish for more than three months in Ethiopia.

CHIDEYA: Jonathan, at this point, what's the next step?

Mr. HAFETZ: Well, as I said, we are demanding and seeking hearings in Congress, that there's an inquiry into what's happened and that the United States take all necessary measures to return Amir Meshal safely to the United States. You know, it's very troubling what's happening, and I have reason to suspect that if Amir Meshal's name was Jim Smith, this would not be happening. But the fact that the United States has acted like this, that they've blown off the request of United States Representative Rush Holt for information, that they've blown off Amir Mohamed Meshal, his father's request for information, raises very troubling questions about what the United States does and what kind of policies it has. This is not something that this country stands for, and Congress and the American public should not allow it.

CHIDEYA: Well, thank you so much, gentlemen, for telling us your story.

Mr. MESHAL: Thank you.

Mr. HAFETZ: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, and Mohammed Meshal. His son, Amir Meshal, has been held at an Ethiopian jail for more than three months.

The FBI has publicly stated that no charges are pending against Amir Meshal in the United States. They've also said the U.S. has no intention of charging him with any wrongdoing. So why is he still in jail? We contacted the State Department for some answers. Here's what they said.

Quote, "the Department of State, working through the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, is actively engaged in Mr. Meshal's case. The U.S. ambassador in Ethiopia has personally raised the matter with officials at the highest level of the Ethiopian government both to secure continued consular access and to seek a resolution.

Consistent with our responsibilities to American citizens who are detained overseas, American consular officers met with Mr. Meshal, as is permitted under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to ascertain his welfare and provide appropriate consular assistance.

Officers from our embassy in Addis Ababa have visited him three times to date. We have consistently relayed messages to his family on his behalf, and consular officers have been in touch with his family throughout, sharing what information we have," end quote. That statement is from the U.S. Department of State.

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