NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan court has awarded compensation to 11 victims of the largest illegal deportation of terrorism suspects in Africa to countries with appalling human rights records, a lawyer said Thursday.
The illegal deportations to countries that do not uphold human rights were meant to facilitate long periods for interrogations of the suspects — beyond the prescribed periods — by various security agencies including the FBI and CIA, said Mbugua Mureithi, who represented the 11 victims.
Some of the suspects deported to those countries had complained of torture, he said. Judge Mumbi Ngugi ordered the Kenya government to pay nearly a total of $460,000 as restitution and ruled that their 2007 deportations from Kenya to Somalia and finally Ethiopia were unlawful and unconstitutional, Mureithi said.
The court announced the judgment Wednesday but the written report was to be released Thursday, he said. The victims, eight Kenyans, two Tanzanians and a Rwandan, were part of a group of more than 100 who were detained in Ethiopia. Some were caught at different times sneaking into Kenya from Somalia, where they were escaping a U.S.-supported Ethiopian army offensive against an Islamic extremist group that controlled much of Somalia. Others were arrested in Kenya.
The Islamic Courts Union had seized control of much of southern Somalia in 2006. Ethiopian authorities worried the Islamic extremists had designs on Ethiopian territory that is ethnically Somali and the U.S. was concerned the Somali Islamists were harboring terrorists. The Ethiopians entered the country at the end of 2006 and drove the Islamists from power.
The CIA began an aggressive program in 2002 to interrogate suspected terrorists at an unknown number of secret locations from Southeast Asia to Europe. Prisoners were frequently picked up in one country and transferred to a prison in another, where they were held incommunicado by a cooperative intelligence service. But former President George W. Bush announced in 2006 that all the detainees had been moved to military custody at Guantanamo Bay.
Some of the more than 100 suspects held in Ethiopian renditions were detained for more than 18 months before being released without charge. Mureithi said Ngugi found that the 11 suspects had been tortured although she exonerated the companies which provided the planes to ferry the suspects from liability. Mureithi said he was not happy with the amount of compensation the court awarded.
"In order to prevent this from happening again the court should have given higher compensation," Mureithi said. "The compensation is not commensurate to the experiences the victims were put through." He said the court's judgment is "precedent-setting" but is not enough to stop Kenya's government from carrying out such rights violations.
"Unlike in the West where decisions of the court are taken seriously, and it changes behavior, I don't think things are taken seriously in this country. This is just another judgment. I am trying to be optimistic but I don't think this will change things," he said. "That's why substantial damages are necessary they should feel pain in the pocket."
Mureithi said he is waiting for instructions from his clients on whether to sue the United States for its role in the interrogations. Human rights groups have long accused Kenyan authorities of having a tendency to circumvent the law when they face public pressure for action against crime or terrorism.
Rights groups have accused the police of a culture of executing terror suspects when they cannot secure convictions. The group Muslims for Human Rights says 13 people who were suspected of having links to terror groups have either been killed or have disappeared in unclear circumstances in Kenya so far this year. At least 18 people were killed or disappeared last year, it said.