FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The FBI’s Right to Threaten Torture

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.

 

 

 

More articles by:

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com  This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail