During most of the month of March, the legal team for a United States citizen, who faces murder charges and is awaiting trial in Yemen, disappeared. They had no idea where he was being imprisoned.
However, a spokesperson for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, DC, denies that he was ever “disappeared.” But the US Embassy in Sanaa has also been unable to provide answers to the legal team, which remains concerned about his safety.
Cori Crider, an attorney for the human rights organization, Reprieve, who is representing Sharif Mobley, told Firedoglake, “As of last night neither we nor the US Embassy in Yemen knew where he was. Both we and they were told by Sanaa-based officials that he had been moved.”
Mohammed al-Basha provided a statement to Mother Jones that indicated he is being held in the Sanaa central prison where he was in February, when his lawyers last saw him. But that has not assuaged the concerns of his legal team.
“I will believe my client is safe and well when one of my staff, or Khaled al-Ansi (his Yemeni lawyer) is able to see him and talk to him about where in the heck he has been,” Crider added.
The disappeared American, according to a press release from Reprieve, was “kidnapped by unidentified gunmen from outside his house in Sanaa, shot in the leg and held incommunicado for several months.” He was held in “secret detention” and “violently interrogated by two US agents.”
One interrogator called himself “Matt from FBI” and the other interrogator called himself “Khan from DOD” or the US Defense Department. The organization also claims that he was “threatened with further abuse” including rape and the rape of his wife and “beaten so badly he had to be re-hospitalized.”
A case description from Reprieve notes, “During one interrogation session, they dangled the keys to his house in his face, implying that his wife was either in their custody or in severe danger. This created in him a terror that his wife would be abducted and assaulted. They also threatened that he would be sent to prison and that he would be raped there, that his wife would be seized as he was, that his children would be placed in an orphanage, and that he would never see his family again.”
In a related case, a court filing indicates that Mobley was taken to the Police Hospital after he was shot and then transferred to prison. Following that, he was transferred to the General Hospital.
“At the Police Hospital, Sharif’s leg was operated on and he was given heavy doses of disorientating post-operative drugs. Afterwards, he was taken up to the Police Hospital’s third-floor ‘prison ward’, where prisoners are held, under no names, for interrogation and detention without trial. On the prison ward, Sharif was blindfolded and shackled to the hospital bed, one arm on either side, effectively for twenty-four hours a day,” Reprieve claims.
FBI agents interrogated him “numerous times” between January 30, 2010 and April 7, 2010, “while he was in Yemeni government custody.” He allegedly attempted to escape the General Hospital and shot a guard, who died later. He was transferred back to prison and charged with murder, and, on March 25, 2010, Mobley’s wife, Nzinga Islam, hired Cori Crider of Reprieve to represent her husband.
Crider said what happened is “the US had him picked up because they hoped, although it turned out to be wrong, he would have information about the (then very recent) attack on the Christmas airliner.”
“The Yemenis were carrying out their instructions, but as so often, were rather heavy-handed in doing so, shooting my client and secretly detaining him for weeks.”
Crider sent a letter to the US Embassy in Sanaa that expressed concern for Mobley’s “safety and wellbeing.” It informed the Embassy that his lawyer last met him on February 19, 2014, during a court hearing. He was seen by two of Crider’s colleagues at the Sanaa Central Prison on February 27.
On March 22, his legal team learned Mobley was being transferred to the Political Security prison, which was “deeply worrying” because “Political Security Officials are implicated” in his “original enforced disappearance in January 2010.” Lawyers tried to visit him, but, for 39 days, there was no news of his whereabouts.
An official at the US Embassy in Sanaa corresponded with Crider. Emails provided to journalist Nick Baumann of Mother Jones indicate that on April 8 Crider was informed that the Embassy had contacted the State Department in Washington. They claimed to be interested in finding Mobley.
“We have contacted all the possible locations where he could be held. We have received denials from everyone except the Ministry of Interior who said they would get back to us. We are sending a diplomatic note out tomorrow and pressing to visit Mr. Mobley,” the official stated. But the official also said, “Someone in the Department asked me if he has already been sentenced,” which is puzzling because this suggests the very people who should be helping Mobley have an institutional indifference to what is happening with his case.
When Mobley’s legal team first asked the US Embassy for help, it informed Crider that “they had no privacy waiver.” Mobley was being held incommunicado and could sign no waiver. And Crider reminded the Embassy that she had “dealt with their predecessor for years.”
The Embassy then admitted that officials had been told he was “moved to an unspecified location.”
“I said I found it surprising that a government that coordinates so closely on drone attacks and other security matters would not be told the location of one of its own citizens,” Crider recalled. “They simply said they were sending a dipnote.”
A “dipnote” or diplomatic note is a formal communication between the US government a foreign government. It is an official communication. This is likely a part of the State Department going through the motions to make it appear that they are doing what they can do to help Mobley because he is a US citizen. However, if US intelligence or the military is somehow involved in his recent disappearance, the Department knows not to step on any agency’s turf and get in the way.
Mobley did face terrorism charges, but in late 2010, those charges were dropped. No official has ever explained to Mobley’s legal team why this happened. And, upon reflection, it is a rather stunning indication of how the US government fouled up.
The Washington Post’s Peter Finn wrote a feature story under the banner of “Paths to Jihad: From New Jersey to Yemen” on September 4, 2010. A US official said to Finn, “He sought out bad actors before leaving the United States and certainly joined up with terrorists after moving to Yemen. That includes, among other things, putting his ideas for terrorist attacks on the table.” This official also accused him of “facilitating the movement of extremists to Yemen on behalf” of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
US authorities believed he had contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric and US citizen who was killed in a drone strike well over a year after he was seized by Yemeni forces. Were they trying to get him to provide intelligence on Awlaki?
What may be most striking is how similar this seem to be to to cases in the global “War on Terrorism” where individuals were subject to rendition and then detained by a government, which was cooperating with US intelligence. There are numerous cases of people being tortured and detained without charge or trial for months.
Mobley was born in New Jersey. He lived in the United States until the middle of 2008 when he decided to move to Yemen with his wife and daughter. But, as security worsened in late 2009, Mobley feared for his family’s safety and thought it was best to return to the US.
US officials, however, according to Reprieve, “refused to process the family’s papers” when he “presented himself at the American Embassy.” The officials interrogated Sharif “about his contacts and activities in Yemen.” When he left the Embassy, he was followed. His family came back to the Embassy multiple times to hopefully “persuade consular officials to help them return to the US safely” but the US Embassy would not help Mobley’s family leave the country.
He was kidnapped on January 26, 2010. Nzinga Mobley, his wife, recalls, “When my husband first disappeared in Yemen we feared the worst. And when we finally found him he had indeed been badly beaten and abused. Now I am told that he has disappeared again, and that even the US government is powerless to trace him.”
“How can the US allow its citizen to be so badly abused? My baby daughter keeps asking when her daddy is going to call – what am I supposed to tell her? We are sick with worry.”
It has been previously reported by Mother Jones that the US government sought to conceal the FBI’s role. US government officials knew Mobley was a victim of proxy detention, even as they told his wife “they did not know his whereabouts.”
Currently, Crider believes that both governments just want his case to go away. Crider has seen an unredacted FBI interview report that contains evidence of alleged FBI misconduct during Mobley’s interrogation, where the law and his rights were likely violated.
There was significant defense evidence that was about to be submitted to the court to help the judge determine whether his arrest and detention were legal.
“It is unfortunate that Mr Mobley disappeared just as a court was about to hear evidence of his violent [kidnapping] in a misguided joint Yemeni-US security operation,” Crider declared.