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Former British Citizen Mahdi Hashi Says He Was 'Illegally Interrogated' by US Officials in Djibouti

The stateless 25-year-old is in solitary confinement in New York awaiting trial on terrorist-related activities after his rendition from East Africa. Court documents claim he was threatened with physical and sexual abuse during interrogations.

by Victoria Parsons
Dec 19 2014, 6:53pm

Image via Hashi family

This article comes to VICE News from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

A former British citizen who has been in solitary confinement in New York awaiting trial for terrorist-related activities claims he was "illegally interrogated" by US intelligence officials in a Djibouti prison.

Mahdi Hashi alleges he was also threatened with physical and sexual abuse and "strongly encouraged" to cooperate with American interrogators before being rendered to New York, court documents reveal.

Hashi has been awaiting trial in the US for two years on charges relating to his alleged membership of al Shabaab, the Somalia-based terrorist group. He was arrested in the tiny East African state of Djibouti in 2012, weeks after the British government removed his citizenship, accusing him of involvement in Islamist extremism.

The 25-year-old, who denies the charges, claims that Djiboutian officers warned him that Americans "tortured uncooperative prisoners who refused to answer questions," according to the documents.

The revelation comes just days after the US Senate Intelligence Committee published a damning report about the CIA's use of torture on detainees held in secret prisons between 2002 and 2007. The CIA's program of "enhanced interrogation techniques" was banned years before Hashi was caught.

Mahdi Hashi Is Still Sitting in Solitary Confinement. Read more here.

Documents filed in relation to his case by his US attorney, Mark Demarco, state that Hashi was detained in August 2012 "in a secret Djiboutian facility under extremely harsh conditions."

Hashi was interrogated for two weeks by a mix of Djiboutian law enforcement and American officials without having been told his rights. Demarco asserted this was in "flagrant disregard" of the protections generally given to people in custody.

With the exception of the interrogations, Hashi was not permitted to leave his cell. From it, he witnessed another inmate, naked from the waist down, being beaten by roughly nine Djiboutian officers for several hours. During this time, the inmate was "punched and kicked numerous times in his testicles," it is alleged.

According to the court documents, the interrogation of Hashi was initially conducted by law enforcement agents of the East African country. During this time he witnessed his co-defendant Ali Yasin Ahmed being hung "upside down from his ankles. He was gagged, blindfolded and beaten." Hashi claimed he was blindfolded when taken from his cell and interrogated in his underwear, and threatened during those sessions with physical and sexual abuse. He was also told his co-defendants were being "raped and beaten," he alleged. 

Following this was a two-week interrogation by the Djiboutians along with "Americans" — who Hashi believed to be either CIA or Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and who he claimed repeatedly threatened him with physical abuse and "subjected [him] to psychologically abusive treatment with an aim of obtaining compliance and extracting additional information."

The "Americans" interrogated him more than ten times in eleven days, he claims. Before these interrogations Hashi was not advised of his rights, namely his right to remain silent or to speak to a lawyer — which his attorneys say made the interrogations illegal.

The US government argues that Hashi was not advised of his rights because the purpose of the interviews was to collect intelligence relating to potential — possibly imminent — threats to the United States and its allies.

New York City's "Little Gitmo" Holds Terrorism Suspects in Extreme Isolation. Read more here.

The US government will not use statements made in those interviews in their direct case, which Demarco argues is an acknowledgement that the statements are "fruits of this illegal interrogation."

However, the government does seek to use statements made by Hashi to FBI agents. The FBI began interrogating Hashi several days after the earlier interrogations, according to the US government.

Over the course of a month Hashi was interrogated by the FBI around seven times, he says. Though he was informed of his rights prior to the FBI interrogations, he claims that each session was also attended by at least one of the Djiboutian officers who Hashi had observed torturing his co-defendant or who had previously threatened Hashi himself with physical torture and sexual abuse.

"I feared that my refusal to cooperate would result in physical torture and sexual abuse," Hashi has stated in an affidavit document filed with the US district court in New York.

Somali-born Hashi arrived in the UK with his family as a five-year-old after they fled the civil war in their native Somalia and claimed asylum. At the age of 14, he became a British citizen.

After living in Egypt to study Arabic when he was 16, Hashi claimed he was "harassed" by British intelligence agencies and he and several others went public, telling the Independent newspaper they were being pressured into spying for MI5. Shortly after this he travelled to Somalia to care for an unwell grandmother.

Hashi was stripped of his British citizenship in June 2012, just a few months before he was detained in the tiny east African state of Dijibouti. The letter stated that his British citizenship was being removed on the grounds he was "involved in Islamist extremism."

He was living in Somalia, now married and with a son, when his parents called to tell him that the letter containing a deprivation order from the home secretary had arrived. Under the law he had 28 days to appeal the decision.

His father, Mohamed Hashi, told the Bureau at the time that his son disappeared from his home on the outskirts of Mogadishu weeks after losing his citizenship. The next the family heard of him was when they were contacted by a man who said he had been held alongside Hashi in a jail in neighbouring Djibouti.

Hashi claims he had left Somalia for Djibouti as there was no British embassy in the country from which he could launch an appeal against the loss of his citizenship.

In legal filings the US government says that Hashi, and two others, were then "captured" by foreign authorities on suspicion of being terrorists.

Hashi provided the Americans with information about himself and others, including information about his alleged membership of al Shabaab. He is charged with conspiring to provide material support to al-Shabaab, a designated terrorist organization, and with using firearms during and in relation to violent crimes.

The US government says that Hashi voluntarily provided "extensive statements" to the FBI on his involvement with al Shabaab. But Demarco argues that these statements were "tainted" by the previous threats made to Hashi and the fact that there had been no change in the conditions he was kept in between the initial interrogations and the subsequent interrogations by the FBI.

In November 2012 Hashi and his co-defendants were transported to New York, where they were held in secret for five weeks before the charges against them were made public in late December. Hashi has been in solitary confinement ever since.

For up to 23 hours a day, he is locked in his cell in the federal government's Manhattan Correctional Facility — also known as "Little Gitmo."

In September last year, Hashi went on a month-long hunger strike in protest at his treatment. According to the campaign group CAGE this resulted in a week-long hospital stay and jaundice.

Hashi's attorney Demarco argues that in this case it appears as though a "deliberate, two-step strategy was used by law enforcement to obtain the post-warning confession."

US government attorney Loretta Lynch, recently nominated by Obama to be the new attorney general, argued in previous court documents that Hashi's statements were voluntarily made and therefore admissible. The government has applied to the court for permission to call witnesses from abroad to give evidence on the interrogation of Hashi by the FBI.

Calling witnesses from abroad has caused a delay, and the government was recently given longer by the court to respond to the defendants motion to suppress. They must now respond fully by December 23.

Follow Victoria Parsons of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Twitter: @vicparsons_