Ahmed v. MaganTorture of Human Rights Defenders in Somalia Under the Siad Barre Regime
After discovering that his torturer resided in Columbus Ohio, on April 21, 2010, Professor Abukar Hassan Ahmed, a former constitutional law professor and human rights advocate in Somalia, contacted CJA and filed a case against Colonel Abdi Aden Magan for torture, cruel treatment, and arbitrary detention. On May 30, 2013, nearly 25 years after his torture, he finally had his day in court.»Read the AP’s exclusive interview with him here.
On November 20, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio found the former investigations chief of the Somali National Security Service (NSS), Colonel Abdi Aden Magan, liable for the torture and arbitrary detention of Professor Ahmed. The court’s decision in Ahmed v. Magan is historic in that it is the first judgment ever in a court of law to hold a member of the notorious and widely feared Somali NSS accountable for human rights violations committed under the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Somalia for 20 years, the Siad Barre regime. .
In 1969, the Somali Armed Forces, led by Major General Siad Barre, toppled the democratically elected government of the new nation of Somalia. The National Security Service (“NSS”) was created as part of a series of measures designed to suppress and punish opposition to the Siad Barre regime. During the 1970s and 1980s, the NSS, carried out widespread atrocities against suspected opponents of the military dictatorship. Human rights reports implicate the NSS in the systematic use of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and arbitrary and prolonged detention.
The detention and torture of Professor Ahmed, who was arrested and detained for possessing a copy of an Amnesty International report, is an emblematic case of the brutality and impunity of the NSS during the Siad Barre regime. Professor Ahmed was an outspoken critic of the regime’s abuses of human rights and freedom of expression enshrined in the Somali Constitution.
Colonel Magan, served as Chief of the NSS Department of Investigations based at NSS Headquarters in the capital city of Mogadishu from approximately 1988 to 1990. As the head of the NSS Department of investigations, Col. Magan directed the interrogation and torture of civilians perceived as opponents of the Siad Barre regime in order to terrorize the civilian population and deter it from supporting the growing opposition movements.
Col. Magan came to the United States in 2000. He has lived openly in Columbus, Ohio since then. The plaintiff in this case was subjected to brutal torture under Magan’s direct orders:
Professor Ahmed was arrested by NSS officers under Magan’s command, who confiscated the copy of the Amnesty International report he was carrying and transported him to the NSS Department of Investigations in the unventilated basement of NSS Headquarters. He was held in solitary confinement in a small, windowless cell and his left wrist was tightly handcuffed to his right leg for twenty-four hours a day, except during interrogations. The NSS officers first accused him of being a writer for Amnesty International and threatened to kill him if he did not confess. Magan subsequently interrogated him personally. During this interrogation, Magan accused him of being a member of an opposition group established while he was in detention. Magan told him that if he did not confess to being a member of this group, the NSS would torture him and obtain his confession through torture. Professor Ahmed was brutally tortured that same night. Read more . . .
Complaint & Pre-Trial Motions
Ahmed v. Magan was brought before the U.S. District for the Southern District Court of Ohio on April 21, 2010. The complaint accuses Magan of command responsibility and personal responsibility for torture; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and arbitrary detention. The civil action was brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). The case was filed jointly by CJA and pro bono partner, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP. Latham & Watkins LLP became pro bono co-counsel for Mr. Ahmed in the spring of 2011.
Magan was initially represented by counsel, who filed a motion to dismiss on June 11, 2010. We filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss on July 6, 2010. On December 6, 2010, the judge invited the State Department to provide its opinion, before January 31, 2011, as to whether Magan was entitled to common law immunity. CJA attorneys met with representatives from the State Department Office of Legal Advisor on January 18, 2011 to explain why Magan was not entitled to common law immunity. Following our meeting, on January 26, 2011, the State Department filed a Notice of Potential Participation and asked the court to extend the filing deadline to March 15, 2011. The court granted the additional time and administratively stayed the case until the U.S. government submitted its position. On March 15, 2011, the U.S. government filed a Statement of Interest stating that Magan was not entitled to immunity in the case. In April 2011, Magan filed a response challenging the U.S. Statement of Interest and CJA filed a reply in support of the U.S. Statement of Interest.
On November 8, 2011, the court denied Magan's motion to dismiss the complaint converting the motion to dismiss to a summary judgment motion and concluding that our client had timely filed the case and that there were no remedies available elsewhere, thereby precluding Magan from raising those defenses again. Magan filed an answer to the complaint on December 6, 2011.
In December, 2011, the court granted Magan’s lawyer’s motion to withdraw from the case and granted Magan a 28 day stay of the case during which time Magan was required to inform the court and the plaintiff of whether he intended to seek new representation or proceed pro se (on his own behalf). On January 20, 2012, Magan filed a motion to stay the case for an three months to provide him additional time to procure counsel. In the motion, he alleged that he was in Kenya caring for his ailing mother. On January 23, 2012, the court denied Magan’s motion to further stay the case, but it gave Magan the opportunity to renew his motion within 14 days supported by the following information: a letter from Mr. Magan’s mother’s treating doctor describing her medical condition and giving a prognosis; the doctor’s office telephone number and email address; the efforts Magan had made to retain new counsel; and his financial ability to retain counsel. Magan did not renew his motion to stay the case with the requested information and has since remained incommunicado with the court and plaintiff’s counsel.
On April 10, 2012, in defiance of a court order, Magan failed to appear for his deposition. In all, Magan ignored no less than five court orders before the close of discovery. On August 6, 2012, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion for evidentiary sanctions, deeming a number of key facts to have been conclusively established. Read the order here. We presented our evidence in a case-dispositive motion for summary judgment on August 9, 2012. On November 20, 2012, the Court granted our motion for summary judgment.
On May 30, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio, Professor Ahmed finally shared his story in federal court; it is an all too common story of persecution and torture under the brutal Siad Barre dictatorship that once ruled Somalia. On August 20, 2013, the court made findings of fact and concluded that Magan’s conduct “was brutal and egregious.” The court awarded Professor Ahmed $5,000,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages “to deter others from committing such acts and to provide redress.” The court also held that because the defendant was a permanent resident of the United States, the presumption against extraterritoriality set forth in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. was overcome as to the plaintiff’s claims under the ATS.
Read more about the Kiobel ruling and the presumption against extraterritoriality here.
Final judgment was entered on October 2, 2013. On October 11, 2013, Professor Ahmed was presented with the prestigious 2013 International Bar Association Human Rights Award at a conference in Boston. Professor Ahmed was honored for his courageous work representing victims of human rights abuses and seeking justice against individuals responsible for human rights abuses in Somalia.