A former colonel who served decades ago in the Somali National Army was convicted Tuesday in a U.S. court of being responsible for the torture of a teenager in 1987.
Yusuf Abdi Ali, who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, served under Dictator Siad Barre. A civil jury in the Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., found him responsible for the torture of Farhan Mohamoud Tani Warfaa, and ordered him to pay Warfaa $500,000.
The verdict was reached after more than three days of deliberations in a lawsuit that was filed 15 years ago by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) on behalf of Warfaa, who lives in a village in northwest Somalia.
In the lawsuit, Warfaa, who was 17 at the time, says he was tortured, shot and left for dead by Ali during a 1988 interrogation, but he survived only by bribing the men who were supposed to bury him.
Ali denied torturing Warfaa.
Tuesday’s verdict found that Ali was responsible for the torture, but jurors could not establish enough evidence involving the shooting to charge him with attempted murder of Warfaa.
After the decision, CJA lawyer Kathy Roberts told VOA that they were happy with Tuesday’s verdict.
“We are delighted with this verdict. It has been a long time coming and at last this man will be held responsible for at least one of the crimes that he is responsible for. The defendant has to pay $400,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages,” Roberts said.
Wearing a traditional Somali hat and turban, Warfaa came out of the courthouse smiling.
“I am from Horn of Africa and I found my justice here in (the) United States. I am happy and satisfied with the verdict and thank to all who helped me get this justice,” he told VOA Somali.
The lawsuit has been delayed for nearly 15 years, mostly by legal debate over whether a foreign national could bring a lawsuit in the U.S. over alleged torture that happened in another country.
Ben Klein with CJA and one of the attorneys representing Warfaa see it as delayed justice.
“This is a story of justice delayed. Our client has been carrying those scars physical, emotional and psychological for over 31 years, but this story is not ending with justice denied. This is the day of justice delivered to Farhan to this case,” he said.
The defending lawyer
Since the lawsuit was filed against him, Ali has been avoiding the media, especially after CNN reported recently that he was working as an Uber driver.
His lawyer, Joseph Peter Drennan, said the lawsuit was merely based on “clan vengeance” and that the jury’s verdict was reached without concrete evidence.
“There was not clear, convincing evidence adduced at this a trial that my client tortured anybody or directed the torture of anybody. Instead there was this theory of command responsibility that merely because an individual claiming to have been tortured by members of the Somali National Army, that my client being a colonel in the Army during that period is somehow ‘quote, unquote’ civilly responsible,” Drennan said.
He argued that testimonies and witnesses in this case are biased.
“Each and every fact witness who testified for the other side in this case professed allegiance to (the) Isaq clan. It is quite clear that this litigation is being pursued to advance the cause of recognition for the unrecognized state of Somaliland,” Drennan told VOA.
Drennan said his client as a foreign official deserved individual immunity, but this lawsuit was orchestrated against him because he came from Somalia and was too vulnerable in the U.S., under the federal Torture Victims Protection Act.
“Our soldiers (U.S. soldiers) serving or living abroad are protected by having a powerful government. My client was essentially left defenseless because he came from a collapsed state,” Drennan said.
Drennan says they will probably appeal the verdict.
“We are very unhappy with the verdict. He was held liable essentially because he was associated with the regime of Siyad Barre. We are going to review the record and we quietly likely will appeal.”