Mohammad al-Asad is suing the government of Djibouti for hosting a CIA "black site". Al-Asad, a Yemeni, claims he was arrested at his home in Tanzania on Dec. 27 of 2003, blindfolded and flown to a location he insists was in Djibouti.
Two US officials who have read an early draft of the US Senate Investigation into the CIA rendition program confirmed that the report found that several detainees had been held in Djibouti at least two wrongfully although they did not know if Al Asad's case had been specifically mentioned.
The Djibouti Ambassador to the US -as reported in Al Jazeera by Jason Leopold-Roble Olhaye maintains that the country was not a "knowing participant" in the rendition program and rejected claims that Al-Asad had been retained there. He also claimed that Djibouti's agreement with the US did not allow for it to be used to house prisoners. But he added:"If something was done in the context of the American base there how would we know?"
Al-Asad claims that after his arrival in what he believes was Djibouti. he was not only held in a prison cell but was also tortured. He claims that there was a picture of the Djibouti president on the wall of the interrogation room. He was interrogated by an American woman about his links to a defunct Saudi charity Al-Haramain. The group was accused by the US of supporting terrorism. The group had rented apartment space from al-Asad in 1994 in a building he owned.
After being held in Djibouti for two weeks al-Asad said he was then rendered to Afghanistan where he was tortured at different places and spent more than a year at CIA black site prisons. He was finally released in 2005 and sent back to Yemen. Before he was released he claimed to have been visited by someone from Washington. Al-Asad said: “What I remember through the interpreter was that he said, ‘I am the head of the prison, and you will be the first one at the top of the list of the people we are going to release because we have nothing on you,’The interpreter said that he was the director of all the prisons.” While Al-Asad was never charged with any terrorism related crimes he did plead guilty in Yemen to making false statements and using forged documents to obtain travel papers to go to Tanzania.
Since his release Al-Asad has been trying to obtain redress from Djibouti officials for his detention. In 2009 he went to the African Commission on Human and People's rights that has jurisdiction over Djibouti. The Commission based in Gambia will decide shortly whether it will take up Al-Asad's case.
The Djibouti ambassador to the US calls Al-Asad a liar: "Everything about his case relies on hearsay and conjecture. There were no flights that came to Djibouti on that day he said he was brought to my country from Tanzania. That was checked by our lawyers." Amnesty International however has pointed out that the CIA could easily evade its flight being in official records: Amnesty says the CIA is exploiting a loophole that allows private aircraft to land at foreign airports without having to inform local authorities - unlike government or military planes. John Sifton of Human Rights Watch who spent more than a decade investigating CIA programs noted that the fact that there are no flight records of CIA aircraft that match Al-Asad's description does not really indicate anything in itself.
Human Rights Watch has demonstrated that CIA-linked aircraft did fly in an out of Djibouti. Al-Asad's lawyers also have documents from immigration officials in Tanzania show that he was sent to Djibouti after his arrest. Margaret Satterthwaite Al-Assad's lawyer said that this was one of the most direct bits of evidence to show that Al-Assad had been held at Djibouti before being rendered to Afghanistan.
Djibouti is home to Camp Lemonnier a key US base on the horn of Africa. A press release in 2012 said: "Camp Lemonnier is the centerpiece of an expanding constellation of half a dozen U.S. drone and surveillance bases in Africa, created to combat a new generation of terrorist groups across the continent, from Mali to Libya to the Central African Republic."