Supreme Court hears Somali refugee’s case against the Somali refugee who tortured him

The United States Supreme Court is hearing a torture case today, but not one involving Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, or Bagram. NPR’s Morning Edition reported this morning on the case of Bashe Yousuf, a Somali refugee living in the US suing a former leader of Somalia, Mohammed Ali Samanatar, who is also a Somali refugee living in the US.

The lead plaintiff is Bashe Yousuf, a Somali businessman who was doing volunteer work to clean up hospitals in 1983 when he and fellow volunteers were arrested. He was tortured for several months — subjected to electric shocks, trussed up and hung for hours, and waterboarded. And then he was held in solitary confinement for six years. In 1989, he was finally released and granted asylum in the United States, where he is now a citizen.

Transcript and link to audio here.

The case in front of the Justices pits the Torture Victim Protection Act against the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The conflict, back and forth in Federal courts in Virginia, is essentially over foreign dignitaries can be sued in the US for torturing their own citizens. Although both plaintiff and defendant are both now in the US, at the time of the torture they were not, and so this case wades into the rather sticky legal territory of applying US law to things that happened in other countries.

Although this is clearly not an “enhanced interrogation” case, Mr. Yousuf’s case strikes a particular chord these days, in ways that cases previous to the revelations at Abu Ghraib (e.g., the case of an Ethiopian refugee suing her past torturer a few years ago) did not.

He is suing Samantar, he says, not because he fears for his safety anymore, but to make the man answer for his crimes.

“It’s outraging me,” he says, “that somebody like him can live in America.”

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