20 September 2014

While the major media screams about the latest beheading in the Middle East,
John Ashcroft's destruction of a man in the middle west -- likely for
political purposes -- has gone unnoticed.

The ghastly court appearance here in Columbus, Ohio, of Nuradin Abdi has
underscored the high likelihood that the Bush Administration used variations of
torture to break this impoverished Somali immigrant. And his dubious indictment
may well have been used to overshadow a campaign visit here by John Kerry.  No
Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.  

On Monday, June 14, the eve of Kerry's two-day visit here, Attorney-General
Ashcroft  dramatically seized national headlines by unsealing a month-old
four-count indictment of Abdi, a Somali native living in Columbus. "The American
heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaeda cell allegedly
which included a Somali immigrant who will now face justice," Ashcroft boasted.

Ashcroft failed to point out that Abdi had been in custody since November 28,
2003. Federal investigators claim Abdi allegedly bragged that he wanted to
blow up a mall.  But according to CBSNEWS.com, "no specific mall was targeted.
No explosives were in hand. And it was unclear that the alleged terrorist had
the wherewithal to do it."

Abdi faces up to 80 years in prison and $1 million in fines.  According to
U.S. immigration records, Abdi first entered the United States in 1995, resided
in Canada, then re-entered the U.S. in August 1997. Official statements say
the US granted Abdi asylum as a refugee in January 1999 after Abdi gave false
information to immigration officials. His November 2003 arrest was on
immigration charges.  He has been held in prison under extremely dubious circumstances.

He was not formally charged with terrorism.  His family could not see him and
heard little from him.  He had no legal representation.

Last week Ashcroft charged Abdi with plotting to blow up an unnamed shopping
mall in central Ohio. The super-hyped "findings" immediately followed
embarrassing new revelations about the administration's use of torture, and came just
before John Kerry's campaign appearance in the capitol of this crucial swing
state. Kerry raised a record $2 million in his two days here.  

Ashcroft says that while in prison Nuradin Abdi claimed to have gone to Mecca
on a pilgrimage but instead went to Ethiopia for terrorist training.  In a
BBC interview, Abdi's brother, Abdiaziz, said "Nuradin has not been to Ethiopia.
He hasn't been to Mecca, either."

Federal Magistrate Mark Abel ordered Abdi transferred to a federal
psychiatric facility to determine if he is mentally competent. The evidence used to
determine Magistrate Abel's decision remains sealed.

Here's how ABC's Peter Jennings described the public announcement of Abdi's
indictment:  "In Washington today, the Attorney General said that al-Qaeda has
been planning to blow up a shopping mall in Ohio. John Ashcroft went before
the cameras to say that a man from Somalia, currently in U.S. custody, is at the
heart of this plan. Over the last three years Mr. Ashcroft has made several
dramatic announcements about terrorist plots in the U.S. and it's hard to
verify them because the evidence is held in such secrecy."

In court, Abdi looked nothing like a terrorist -- or his former self. His
family and the larger Somali community here were horrified to see Abdi enter the
courtroom smiling vacantly and failing to recognize his own brother.
Apparently unconscious of his surroundings, Abdi banged his head repeatedly on a table
and grinned at nothing. Many who know Abdi in the central Ohio community say
the vague, sensational charges against him are absurdly out of character.

No photos have emerged of abuse in prison. But Abdi's new attorney, his
family and the community who knew him find little else to conclude. Some say he has
apparently lost his mind under the conditions of his incarceration.

The four-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Columbus
centers around charges that Abdi conspired with Lyman Faris and others to blow up an
unidentified shopping mall. Faris is serving 20 years in prison for allegedly
planning (but taking no actual action) to sabotage the Brooklyn Bridge.

Faris's family says he's had a long-standing struggle with mental
difficulties. Faris was held in prison for several months before suddenly being fingered
as a high-profile terrorist. The Bush Administration says Faris visited the
Brooklyn Bridge and tried to buy equipment to aid an alleged al-Qaeda attack.

Faris and Abdi attended the same mosque in Columbus.  Home to more than
30,000 Somalis, this is the second-largest Somali community in the US after

The Somali community here has met en masse about the Abdi indictment.  It has
been quick to point out the mistake the government made in the November 8,
2001 world headlines touting a Bush crackdown on financial networks allegedly
tied to Osama bin Laden . Among those arrested in a much-hyped Columbus raid was
Somali businessman Hassan Hussein, owner of Barakaat Enterprise Inc., a
financial transfer business.  At the end of August 2002, the U.S. Treasury
Department quietly removed Hussein and two other Somali individuals from its list of
alleged supporters of terrorism and dropped all charges against them.

Hussein's lawyer, Kevin O'Brien, told reporters after the charges were
dropped that "I wish the government would just come out and say, 'We screwed up' and
apologize. For ten months we asked them to produce proof, and not once did
they produce a shred of information."

Somali expert Ted Dagne of the Congressional Research Service in Washington,
D.C. called the government's decision to close down Barakaat "a major blunder"
based on "junk intelligence." The BBC reported that 60% of all Somalians use
Barakaat Financial Services to send money back home.

Local attitudes toward the arrests abound with skepticism.  One June 19
caller to a local talk show charged Ashcroft with targeting unstable Somali men to
whip up fear and tension in the heartland. "I think that the Somalian
community are just easy fodder for Mr. Ashcroft," he said.  "They are black. That
makes it very easy. They are powerless as well. I also think that it had something
to do with Kerry's Columbus appearance Tuesday. It induces fear and panic
reminding us of course that Bush is in control. It put Kerry's visit on the back

Abdi and Faris might ultimately prove to be terrorists. But so far they seem
just hapless patsies, their minds and spirits broken in a Bush-Ashcroft gulag
more reminiscent of Stalin's Soviet Union and Saddam's Abu Ghraib than a nation
governed by the rule of law.

The real source of terror here may be that this is precisely the kind of
treatment in store for countless innocent Americans or foreign-born bystanders.
The badge of terrorism can always be pinned on defenseless, marginalized people
broken in the horrors of a prison system unconstrained by the Geneva
Convention or the Bill of Rights.

Give Bush another four years, and it could happen to you.


Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis are co-authors of GEORGE W. BUSH VERSUS THE
OF THE US is available at http://www.harveywasserman.com/.  Bob Fitrakis's new
book is The Brothers Voinovich & The Ohiogate Scandal.