[Ppnews] The FBI's Right to Threaten Torture
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Oct 27 13:35:56 EDT 2007
October 27 / 28, 2007
Breaking Down an Innocent Man
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
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
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.
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San Francisco, CA 94110
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