ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A jury on Tuesday found a northern Virginia man who once served as a colonel in the Somali Army responsible for torturing a man more than 30 years ago under a government campaign against its perceived enemies.
After more than three days of deliberations, the civil jury in the Washington suburb of Alexandria awarded a $500,000 verdict to Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa, a member of the Isaaq clan in northern Somalia.
Warfaa came to the U.S. and testified at the trial last week. He said he was 17 years old and herding camels and cattle for his family's farm when he was rounded up in a mass arrest In December 1987 over a missing water-tanker truck. He said he was then regularly beaten and hogtied during weeks of incarceration and interrogations. Finally, he said that Yusuf Abdi Ali, a colonel who was known as "Tukeh" or "Tokeh," shot him multiple times and left him for dead when his interrogation was interrupted by an insurgent attack.
According to the lawsuit, Ali ordered his underlings to bury Warfaa, but the soldiers quickly realized Warfaa was still alive and instead solicited a bribe from Warfaa's family to let him live.
Ali, who now lives in Alexandria, acknowledged he was a Somali colonel, but denied torturing Warfaa.
The jury's verdict found Ali responsible for the torture of Warfaa, but it explicitly rejected an allegation that Ali was responsible for the attempted extrajudicial killing of Warfaa, even though Warfaa testified directly that it was Ali who shot him.
Ali's lawyer, Joseph Peter Drennan, said the jury's verdict indicates that it did not believe parts of Warfaa's testimony, and held Ali responsible for the torture only under the theory the soldiers who did torture Warfaa were under the command and control of Ali, who led the Army's 5th Brigade.
The lawsuit was first filed in 2004. It was delayed for 15 years mostly by legal debate over whether a Somali national could bring suit in the U.S. over alleged torture overseas. Parts of the lawsuit were tossed out, but Warfaa was allowed it to proceed to trial under the federal Torture Victims Protection Act.
Drennan said the case left Ali in an almost untenable position of trying to defend himself for the actions of his underlings more than 30 years ago. He also noted those actions occurred half way across the world in a country divided by civil war, where the central government was breaking down.
"This idea of universal jurisdiction, and American courts adjudicating issues like this that happened far away, and long ago, is very problematic," Drennan said.
Warfaa, who brought the lawsuit with help from the San Francisco-based center for Justice and Accountability, said in a statement that the verdict was "a vindication not only for me, but also for many others in Somaliland who suffered under Col. Tukeh's command."
It is unclear whether Warfaa will be able to collect any significant judgment. Drennan said his client does not have that kind of money — he had until very recently been working as an Uber driver until he lost that job because of publicity over his case.
Drennan alleged that the real motive for the case is clan vengeance, and cited efforts by members of the Isaaq clan to establish an independent Somaliland state in northern Somalia.
The judgment comes several years after resolution of a similar lawsuit against Somalia's former prime minister under dictator Siad Barre, Mohamed Ali Samantar, who also took up residence in northern Virginia. In that case, Samantar accepted a default judgment against him on the eve of trial and refused to contest the allegations against him in court, though he said outside court that he committed no wrongdoing.
CJA lawyer Kathy Roberts said the evidence in the most recent case "has confirmed the truth about crimes perpetrated by the Siad Barre regime against members of the Isaaq community during the Somali civil war. Our client Farhan's strength and perseverance is a testament to all those who seek truth, justice and accountability."