Somali torture victim will face his abuser after 31 years — in US court

GlobalPost
Somali man wears blue shirt and brown wrap with cream cap and holds a cane.

Somali businessman Farhan Warfaa, 48, was a victim of torture when he was 17. It's been over thirty years since he last saw his abuser. Now Warfaa will finally face him in a US court thanks to universal jurisdiction laws that allow victims of torture to testify in the United States. 

Courtesy of Center for Justice and Accountability 

In December 1987, when Somali farmer Farhan Warfaa was just 17, he and other young men from around the remote town of Gebiley were rounded up and brought to the headquarters of the Fifth Brigade of the Somali National Army for questioning about a stolen water tank. 

Warfaa and the other detainees were all members of Somalia’s persecuted Isaaq clan. Somalia’s then-president, Siad Barre, had deployed troops to the country’s northwest to suppress the Somalia National Movement (SNM), a rebel group formed by members of the disaffected Isaaq clan in 1981.

Warfaa was tortured at least nine times in early 1998 at the army base, according to court documents reviewed by The World. A man named Yusuf Abdi Ali — known locally as Col. Tukeh — headed the Fifth Brigade and led some of Warfaa’s interrogations, it is claimed. Eventually, Ali’s soldiers released Warfaa back to his family in exchange for a bribe, and Warfaa thought he’d never get justice for the torture he endured. 

But next month, thanks to so-called “universal jurisdiction” laws that let foreign victims of atrocities bring complaints in civil courts in the United States, Warfaa, who is now 48, is due to fly to the US under special immigration rules to come face-to-face with the former army chief, who he says tortured him, shot at him five times and left him for dead. 

Warfaa went on to have a family and own a business and has not seen Ali for 31 years. 

Related: Somali civilians bombed by US airstrikes, targeted by al-Shabab

But in the early 2000s, the US-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which tracks and researches former war crimes abusers, discovered that Ali was a US green card holder who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and has worked as a security guard, including a stint at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Lawyers from the CJA reached out to Warfaa and together they began a decades-long quest for justice. 

Warfaa’s case will take place some 7,400 miles away from Hargeisa, Somaliland, where he lives now, in a courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where jurors will decide on the 31-year-old incident. And it comes just in time, as the Supreme Court has begun to limit cases like these in US courts. 

"I want to see justice served, whether it’s in Somaliland or not."

Farhan Warfaa, 48, Somali torture victim

Warfaa declined to speak to reporters before the week-long trial, which opens at the US District Court on May 13, but through his lawyers, he said he was glad to finally get his day in court: “I want to see justice served, whether it’s in Somaliland or not,” Warfaa said. 

His lawyers told The World that “human rights abusers should face the consequences of their actions.” Warfaa’s complaint, filed to the courts, details some of the human rights abuses he suffered under Ali’s control.

Warfaa and the other detainees were held in a windowless cell without a toilet, according to court documents. 

“The soldiers tightly tied his hands and feet together behind his back so that his body was arched backward in a slightly tilted U-shape, with his arms and legs high in the air, causing him excruciating pain,” says the complaint.

“This form of torture was called the ‘Mig’ because it placed the prisoner’s body in a shape that resembled the Somali Air Force’s MIG aircraft, with its swept-back wings.”

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?