From Google News
US Muslim: I was tortured at FBI's behest in UAE
by MALIN RISING
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — His interrogators usually came in the morning. Peeking under a blindfold in a cold concrete cell, Yonas Fikre says he caught only glimpses of their shoes.
They beat the soles of his feet with hoses and sticks, asking him about his Portland, Ore., mosque and its imam. Each day, the men questioning him in a United Arab Emirates prison told the 33-year-old Fikre he would be released "tomorrow," according to an account he gave on Wednesday at a press conference in Sweden, where he has been since September.
"It was very hard, because you don't know why you are in there and the only person you speak to is either yourself, or the wall, or when you go to the restroom or when you go to the torture place," said Fikre, who was held for 106 days. "I have never been that isolated from human beings in my entire life."
An advocacy group alleges that over the past two years the FBI has been using aggressive tactics against Muslim-Americans travelling abroad to try to pressure them to become informants when they got home. Gadeir Abbas, staff attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says there have been several instances of FBI agents calling travelers into embassies or consulates for questioning.
The FBI is not commenting other than to say its agents follow the law.
Fikre, who converted to Islam in 2003, is the third Muslim man from Portland to publicly say he was detained while traveling abroad and questioned about Portland's Masjid as-Sabr mosque.
The mosque, the largest in Oregon, has been in the news on several occasions. Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali American charged with plotting to set off a bomb in downtown Portland in 2010, occasionally worshipped there. A decade ago, seven Muslims with ties to the mosque were arrested following a failed effort to enter Afghanistan and fight U.S. forces.
Fikre says he met Mohamud a handful of times, but wouldn't call him a friend or even an acquaintance.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed Wednesday that Fikre was held in Abu Dhabi "on unspecified charges." Toner said when State Department officials met with him in July 2011, he showed no signs of mistreatment.
Fikre, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Eritrea, a country east of Sudan. He moved to Sudan when he was a boy, then moved with his family to San Diego in 1991, then later to Portland.
He married in 2008, and says he traveled to Sudan in December of the following year to pursue business opportunities.
Fikre says that in April 2009 he was asked to go to the U.S. Embassy to discuss concerns about "safety and security" for U.S. citizens.
Instead, he claims, two FBI agents told him he was on the U.S. government no-fly list, and they could help get him off it if he gave them information about the Portland mosque and helped them with a "case" they were working on. Fikre says he declined.
Fikre says he traveled to Scandinavia to visit relatives, and then to the United Arab Emirates to pursue business possibilities with a friend who had moved there from Portland.
According to Fikre, non-uniformed police pulled him out of his Abu Dhabi neighborhood on June 1, 2011, and took him to a prison.
Fikre says he was held there for more than three months, with his captors asking him questions like those he was asked at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan — details about the Portland mosque.
He says one of the worst moments was when a U.S. Embassy representative visited him in the prison on July 28. He says he was warned by his interrogators not to tell the representative he was being beaten, or "hell would break loose."
He said he tried to wink and signal to her that he was under duress, but she didn't notice.
"She was the only person that I felt could get me out of that position at the moment because she is my representative to the outside world, she's my representative to my embassy and she just left me there and she walked away," Fikre said.
Toner confirmed State Department officials were granted access to meet with him on July 28.
"According to our records, during the July 28 visit, Mr. Fikre showed no signs of mistreatment and was in good spirits," Toner said. "He reported that he had been treated professionally and was being well-fed, and did not have any medical conditions or concerns."
Fikre says the beatings and interrogations continued, and that during the last days of his confinement an interrogator acknowledged the FBI had requested that he be detained.
State Department officials requested to visit Fikre again in September, but learned days later that he had been deported to Sweden, Toner said.
Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Portland, said she could not discuss specifics of the case.
"I can tell you that the FBI trains its agents very specifically and very thoroughly about what is acceptable under U.S. law," she said. "To do anything counter to that training is counterproductive — we risk legal liability and potentially losing a criminal case in court."
When Fikre was released on Sept. 14, he had lost nearly 30 pounds. He has applied for asylum in Sweden.
He, his attorney and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are demanding the U.S. Justice Department investigate his treatment.
Englewood council, police department looking to take steps against underage drinking
by MIKE CURLEY
ENGLEWOOD — The council is set to introduce an ordinance on underage drinking that holds the youth responsible rather than parents in the event of an arrest for underage drinking on private property.
The ordinance, Police Chief Arthur O'Keefe said, would provide the department with more leverage in those cases, and give the youth involved incentive to go through the county's Creating Healthy Attitudes in Teens, or CHAT, program.
"It's a way to have teens reconsider their behavior," Ellen Elias, director of the center, said at the April 3 council meeting where she and Lt. Claudia Cubillos of Englewood 's Juvenile Bureau and Community Policing made a presentation on the program and the ordinance.
"Our primary concern is for them to learn a lesson," Cubillos said. "The ordinance is a great tool for us."
In 2000, a state law was adopted allowing municipalities to pass laws holding youth responsible for underage drinking on private properties.
Afterward, the Bergen County freeholders adopted a resolution encouraging municipalities to pass such ordinances, and since then, 62 of the 70 municipalities in the county have adopted the underage drinking ordinance that Elias presented to the council.
"We don't look at it as a punishment for youth, we look at it as an opportunity for intervention," she said of the ordinance. "So it may provide youth with the opportunity to reconsider either going to a party where they know that alcohol's going to be served, because there may be consequences if the police do come to the situation, and it may in fact prevent young people from hosting a party in their home because they don't want to be that person whose home is going to be drawing police attention."
Many of the youth arrested because of this ordinance, she said, don't get fined but instead choose to go through the CHAT program, which serves approximately 250 children each year.
CHAT is an intervention program which youth arrested for substance abuse can elect to attend instead of facing juvenile charges. In the program, they and their parents receive counseling and speak to people who have been down the path of substance addiction.
"It's designed to help the young people understand the impact that their decisions are having on their future choices," Elias said.
Englewood already participates in the program, O'Keefe said, which has no cost to the taxpayers aside from a $150 charge for the three-session program paid by the family participating. O'Keefe said more than 100 juveniles in the city went through the program in 2011.
"It has been a benefit in providing guidance to juveniles who've gotten themselves into trouble," O'Keefe said.
Elias said feedback on the program has been good, as juvenile officers have appreciated the opportunity to speak to youth early, before substance abuse can become more of a problem.
"We want to keep young people safe, and help them make smart decisions around drinking alcohol," she said.
The council plans to introduce the ordinance at the April 24 council meeting.
"We don't want to saddle someone with a criminal history as a juvenile unless it's absolutely necessary," O'Keefe said, "Children make mistakes."
From the Department of Justice
Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the White House Event on the Violence Against Women Act
Washington, D.C. ~ Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Thank you, Valerie, for your kind words – and for the outstanding work that you, Lynn, and so many of your colleagues here at the White House are doing on behalf of women and girls – all across the country – who need, deserve, and are depending on our help.
It is an honor to join with you, and with this group of policy experts, frontline practitioners, service providers, and dedicated – and courageous – advocates like Dr. Anne Marie Hunter and Sharon Love – as we call for the legislative action, and the continued bipartisan Congressional leadership, that is necessary to better protect women and girls from violence, abuse, and exploitation. I want to thank each of our speakers and panelists for lending your voices to this work – and for sharing your concerns, as well as your remarkable stories, with us.
I'd also like to recognize the law enforcement officials; community leaders; school association representatives; local, state, and tribal advocates; and Congressional staffers who are here with us this morning. Through your partnership in implementing and enforcing the landmark Violence Against Women Act over the past two decades – and your leadership in working to refine, and fighting to reauthorize, this critical law – you have helped to improve – and even save – countless lives.
Recent statistics show that between 1993 – the year before then-Senator Joe Biden authored this transformative legislation – and 2010, the number of women killed by an intimate partner declined by 30 percent. And annual rates of domestic violence against women plummeted by two thirds.
These statistics are extraordinary. They speak to the effectiveness of this important law – and to the immense power of the critical partners gathered here – in strengthening the criminal justice response to violence against women; in improving access to essential services for victims of these crimes; and in directly combating a problem so widespread that one study suggests it affects roughly one in four women – and one in thirteen men – at some point during their lifetimes.
As a former judge, I've seen the consequences that violence against women can have on neighborhoods and families – and, especially and most tragically, on young people. As a former United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, I helped formulate an aggressive response – by establishing a domestic violence task force within my office and enlisting the help of law enforcement officers and community leaders to address these crimes throughout our nation's capital.
Today, as Attorney General – and as the father of two teenage girls – this work remains both a personal and professional priority. And for our nation's Department of Justice, vigorously enforcing the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act is part of our solemn commitment to the citizens we are privileged to serve.
In many ways, fulfilling this commitment has never been more urgent. Estimates show that more than 2 million adults – and more than 15 million children – are exposed to domestic violence every single year. In addition to its devastating human toll – in purely economic terms – domestic violence costs our nation $8 billion annually in lost productivity and health care costs. In fact, it is responsible for the loss of 8 million paid days of work each year – or the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
But we can all be encouraged that, over the past three years, the Obama Administration has taken bold, innovative, and collaborative steps to more effectively prevent and prosecute violence against women and girls, and to help victims seek justice – and rebuild their lives. For example, in January of this year, we took important – and long-overdue – action when the Department amended the Uniform Crime Report's definition of rape. The revised definition – which is used by the FBI to collect information from local law enforcement agencies about reported rapes – now includes non-vaginal forms of penetration, incorporates male victims, and – by providing us with more complete data – will enable us to more effectively combat and prevent these devastating crimes.
In addition to calling for this revision, the Justice Department has also focused on – and worked to raise awareness about – the alarming rates of domestic violence in tribal communities, where violent crime rates are now two, four, and – in some cases – ten times the national average.
The status quo is – quite simply – unacceptable. That's why the Justice Department has proposed legislation – which is included in the VAWA Reauthorization Bill – that would close significant legal gaps and give Indian Country law enforcement officials, investigators, and prosecutors the tools they need to crack down on violence against women and girls.
This would build on the outstanding efforts being led by the Department's Office on Violence Against Women, which has been on the front lines of the Administration's commitment to protecting the rights and safety of women and girls nationwide. Since 2009, OVW has awarded a record number of grants – totaling more than $1.5 billion – to states, territories, local and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations in order to launch, sustain, and strengthen activities related to combating violence against women.
These investments have supported a wide variety of critical efforts – from initiatives aimed at preventing teen dating violence and sexual assaults, to improving the reporting of these crimes, reducing the backlog of rape kits, and building the capacity of Tribal Courts to combat domestic violence. And several OVW programs support initiatives and organizations that – by providing women with job training, financial literacy training, and housing services – have already had a clear economic impact.
But, as everyone here knows, we have more to do. As we look toward the future – and as Congress moves to consider reauthorizing this critical law – it's important to remember that none of the progress we've gathered to discuss – and to advance – has been inevitable. It has resulted from the work of committed advocates like Vice President Biden, whose vision first drove Congress to pass, and President Clinton to sign, this historic law. It's been extended by policymakers like Senators Reid, Leahy, and Crapo – who are fighting tirelessly to secure its timely reauthorization. And it is being realized by Justice Department leaders, Administration officials, law enforcement officers, community activists, victim advocates, and brave survivors like those gathered here today.
As you continue this work, I want you to know that this Administration – and, in particular, today's Justice Department – will do all we can to support you. We are grateful for your partnership and very hard work – and we are proud to stand at your side.