An American citizen has been detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the behest of the U.S. government, according to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed in federal court.
The judge has called for a hearing today in Washington, DC, and ACLU lawyers say they hope to hear that their case on behalf of Naji Hamdan, 42, will go forward.
Hamdan, who had moved to Dubai several years ago after living in the U.S. for more than 20 years, becoming an American citizen, and raising a family in California, was arrested in August 2008 by state security forces of the UAE. Several weeks before the arrest, FBI agents interrogated Hamdan at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the lawsuit said.
In a handwritten statement given to the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, Hamdan said he was kept in a frigid cell with blinding lights on 24 hours a day, and only left to be interrogated and tortured and to go to the toilet.
"They sat me on an electric chair; they tied my wrists to it but they did not turn it on," Hamdan wrote in the statement. "He started punching me on the sides of my head, and slapping me straight to my head from the top…. I started to sweat then I lost conscious (sic)…"
He also said in the statement that one person spoke perfect English, and that he believes to be an American, was present at the interrogation: "He said do what they want or these people 'will [expletive] you up.'"
Hamdan said in his written statement, "I am not a terrorist, I never was, I am a regular American Muslim who's looking to raise his kids and live a comfortable life with his family," but that under the pressure of torture and threats of harm to his wife, he agreed to sign a self-incriminating document in prison.
UAE authorities have charged Hamdan with terrorism-related activities, and the Supreme Court there will hold a hearing on June 14.
Three months after he was detained, and one week after ACLU lawyers filed their lawsuit, Hamdan was moved from the high-security detention center to another jail in Abu Dhabi, where he can now communicate periodically with his family.
Hamdan's brother, Hossam Hemdan, said he is extremely frightened about Naji's prospects at trial, particularly given that the Court in which he is being tried does not allow appeals and that he could be sentenced to death.
"This has been a nightmare for our family. My brother has always been an upstanding citizen, strong husband and able father. But when I saw him in prison, I hardly recognized him. He was frail, trembling and very fearful of the fate that awaits him," said Hemdan.
Hemdan, also a U.S. citizen, said he is frustrated that the U.S. has done nothing to try to secure his brother's release: "I don't understand how our own government can just pretend they know nothing. It's as if we aren't even Americans."
His lawyers say that given the intense surveillance of Hamdan, originally from Lebanon, over the past several years by the FBI - intense questioning at airports every time he or his relatives fly and the visit by FBI agents just weeks before his detention - they believe the U.S. government is behind his capture and interrogation.