The FBI’s Right to Threaten Torture

by JAMES BOVARD

A federal appeals court has concluded that an FBI agent must go to trial on charges he coerced a false confession out of a prime suspect in the 9/11 attacks. But the FBI still insists that its agent did nothing wrong. And the feds swayed the court to suppress that portion of a recent decision detailing how the FBI agent used the threat of torture to break an innocent man.

Abdallah Higazy, a 30-year-old Egyptian student, arrived in New York City to study engineering at the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn on August 27, 2001. A U.S. foreign-aid program reserved and paid for his room at the Millennium Hilton Hotel, next to the World Trade Center. After the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, Higazy hot-footed it out of the hotel. After the terrorist attack, the hotel was sealed.

Three months later, guests were allowed to retrieve their belongings. When Higazy went to the hotel on December 17, he was arrested and accused of possessing an aviation radio. (A hotel security guard reported finding the radio in a safe in his room.) Higazy denied owning the radio. He was arrested as a material witness and locked up in solitary confinement.

Higazy wanted to clear his name so he agreed to take a polygraph test. FBI agent Michael Templeton wired him up for the test but then proceeded to browbeat him for three hours until he finally admitted to owning the radio. Higazy said the FBI agent warned him, "If you don’t cooperate with us, the FBI will … make sure Egyptian security gives your family hell." The FBI refused to permit Higazy’s attorney, Robert Dunn, to be in the room while he was given the polygraph. After the interrogation, Higazy was "trembling and sobbing uncontrollably," according to Dunn.

On January 11, 2002, Higazy was indicted for lying to a federal agent. U.S. Attorney Dan Himmelfarb declaimed that "the crime that was being investigated when the false statements [about the radio] were made is perhaps the most serious in the country’s history. A radio that can be used for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication is a significant part of that investigation." The Washington Post noted that "federal officials paraded [Higazy] before the media as a terrorist." The feds never bothered checking with the U.S. foreign-aid program to find out whether Higazy’s story about why he was staying at the hotel next to the World Trade Center was true.

The prosecutorial celebration flopped three days later when an American pilot showed up at the Millennium Hilton Hotel and asked for the aviation radio he had left in his room when the hotel was evacuated on 9/11. It soon became apparent that the hotel security guard (a former cop who had been fired by the Newark Police Department) had lied about finding the radio in Higazy’s room. The case collapsed and, a few days later, Higazy was awarded $3 for subway fare and released from jail. The FBI conducted an internal investigation and absolved Templeton of any wrongdoing.

In late 2002 Higazy sued, asserting that the FBI’s coercive interrogation violated his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Federal judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed his case, declaring, "[Agent] Templeton’s conduct and threats as a matter of law cannot be classified as conscience-shocking or constitutionally oppressive." Perhaps Buchwald believed that as long as Higazy’s mother and sister were not brutalized in front of him during the interrogation, the FBI had done nothing wrong.

A federal appeals court overturned this decision on October 19, declaring that Higazy’s case deserved to go to trial. The original version of the decision detailed the tactics Templeton purportedly used to get Higazy’s confession. Two hours later, the court removed that portion of the decision from the Internet. The redacted portion of the decision (captured by bloggers before it was taken down) noted that the FBI agent admitted to knowing that Egyptian "laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country … yeah, probably about torture, sure." Thus, Templeton was aware that his threat would terrify Higazy.

The revised court decision replaced such key details with the following mundane notice: "For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy’s statements were coerced."

The FBI has long taught its agents that subjects of their investigation have "forfeited their right to the truth," according to the ethics study guide at the FBI Academy. Perhaps, according to federal lawmen, it is a small step from lying to suspects to threatening to have their kinfolk tortured. The agency has done nothing in the nearly six years since this case began to indicate that the methods used in the Higazy case did not receive the full approval of FBI headquarters.

The initial Higazy arrest and release were landmarks showing how far feds would go to gin up evidence and headlines for the war on terror. The fact that the FBI approved of its agent’s methods — and the fact that a federal judge saw no problem with the interrogation — are further warning signs of constitutional decay. Keep your eyes on this case, because it could help determine how far feds can go to destroy innocent people.

JAMES BOVARD serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation and is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books.









 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism